Dell unveils new server appliances

In an effort to increase its presence in the Internet hardware market, Dell Computer Corp. last month unveiled its latest PowerApp server-the PowerApp.Big-IP, a load-balancing machine designed to manage and route Internet traffic through a Web site.

In April, Round Rock, Tex.-based Dell shifted its market priorities to Internet hardware and services, although at that time the company said it wasn’t walking away from the PC business. Also at that time, Dell introduced PowerApp appliances for Internet infrastructure tasks such as Web serving and caching.

Dell designed the new server to address the needs of Internet service providers, application service providers and e-commerce companies, as well as enterprise and on-line retailers, said Karl Chen, director of systems for Dell’s Enterprise Systems Group.

“Internet-intense companies need to deliver a highly available, scalable infrastructure, and be able to load balance,” Chen said.

The PowerApp.BIG-IP features software from Seattle-based F5 Networks Inc. According to Dell, the new server appliance is designed to send incoming requests for data from Internet sites to servers that can best respond, balancing users’ requests across multiple back-end servers.

By doing so, the company said, the PowerApp.Big-IP relieves network traffic overload, reduces the Web server burden and improves the browsing experiencing for customers.

International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass., predicts that by 2003, more than 2 million server appliances will be in operation worldwide-representing revenue of approximately US$7.9 billion.

In a market that is continuing to grow, demand will be especially strong for appliance servers targeted at the front end of network architecture, according to IDC analyst John Humphreys.

Humphreys said Dell’s PowerApp appliance servers, as well as its back-end service and support, combined with F5 Networks’ software are tailor-made for companies developing their Internet infrastructures.

Mark Melenovsky, also an IDC analyst, said the Big.IP is a critical front-end appliance needed in the new Internet infrastructure market to balance the workload across multiple back-end servers.

“It’s a trend,” Melenovsky said. “All of the major server vendors [are now interested] in the front-end Internet infrastructure space.”

Steve Goldman, F5’s senior vice-president of sales and marketing services, said that from a software perspective, the PowerApp.Big-IP is important because it allows companies to get a “bullet-proof Internet infrastructure” from one vendor, rather than from a number of different vendors.

“Dell can be a one-stop shop for customers,” Goldman said.

Joyce Becknell, an analyst at Aberdeen Group in Boston, agreed. “It’s important to deliver what [users] are looking for, all the pieces [already configured in one appliance] so they can just plug in and go,” Becknell said. “This makes it very easy for customers to do business with Dell.”

Prices for the three PowerApp.Big-IP models, which will begin shipping Oct. 13, range from US$7,900 to US$30,500.

Dell also introduced the single-processor PowerEdge 1400 server, which designed to meet the needs of small- and mid-size businesses. The PowerEdge 1400, priced at under US$1,700, began shipping last month.