Dell slices into blade market

Dell Computer Corp. recently sharpened its blade server attack, announcing the release of hefty, single-board computers attuned to load balancing, Web serving and caching for business.

The company launched a server blade, the PowerEdge 1655MC, a 3U enclosure that can accommodate up to six blades, each with up to two Intel Pentium III and up to 2GB of memory. Dell also announced two high-end servers and a set of rack-mounted modular components for network support, storage and processing known as bricks.

Also introduced: two high-end servers, the PowerEdge 6600 and 6650, which can support up to four Intel Xeon MP processors and are intended for transaction-based applications in corporate data centres.

The most obvious benefit of these new servers is rack density, said Don Kerr, Toronto-based director of Dell Canada’s Canadian Advanced Systems Group.

“The high performance flavour is designed for heavier computing tasks and has a dual processor, a little bit faster bus speed and a larger footprint, and we can fit eight of these into a 2U rack space,” Kerr said.

“People who have a proliferation of servers in their infrastructure and are looking to consolidate and centralize would be the ideal customer. Some people who naturally profile into that are ISP and ASP companies who are very heavily Web-intensive, also companies who are very server-based computing intensive and run a lot of thin client stuff, be it Citrix, MetaFrame or whatever,” he said.

Kerr added that blade users can instantly scale and add computing power by either physically moving blades from one array to another, or re-provisioning them with Dell’s OpenMange software.

With this release, the company is trying to maintain a flexibility and an agility that is at the core of its business, said Jamie Gruner, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group in Boston.

“Dell is focusing on high-performance instead of the modular low-power, high-density space. Dell has a [blade] roadmap that will position the company at the higher end of the market,” he said. Gruner also noted that the market for server blades is expected to grow from US$150 million this year to US$3.5 billion in 2005.

Peter Strifas, senior engineer at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, said that although he may not buy blades this year due to budgetary constraints, he finds several aspects of them quite interesting.

“We are looking for a blade that we could run single applications on, much as we would do on a 1U server, so we need an easy connection into a back-end SAN (storage area network) and compact equipment. With Dell’s SCSI controller we could connect to a Fibre Channel router and then to our Compaq or EMC storage-area networks,” he said.

Kerr also said that Dell’s blade launch intentionally lagged behind the competition to make sure its systems management platform was solid, and to allow standardization to occur across the market.

“One of the things that you have to remember about Dell is that our whole focus is on standardization. If I have to do anything proprietary it’s a bad thing at Dell, because it costs me more to support and my customer has less investment protection,” he said.

Dell will not disclose the price of its blades until they ship this fall, but the 6600 and 6650 servers are expected to ship this month for US$5,500 and US$5,200, respectively. For details, visit