Server Snapshot: Spotlight on Dell

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Oct 5, 2007


Once the darling of the analyst community, Dell (Round Rock, Texas) has had a tough time as of late. Even in the customer service area, where it has historically excelled, Dell has taken a hit. For example, Beaverton, Oregon based Gabriel Consulting Group's (GCG's) annual Server Vendor Preference Survey released this week revealed Dell to be lagging behind its rivals in several metrics related to satisfaction and customer care.

Dell is all about the future as it revamps its server lines to combine AMD and Intel quad-core processors. Will that be enough to makeover its somewhat tarnished image?

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"Enterprise customers see the x86 server market as a two-horse race between IBM and Hewlett-Packard," said Dan Olds, principal of the GCG. "Sun Microsystems finished third in our survey, significantly ahead of Dell — despite having been in the x86 market for only a few years."

This may all be changing soon, however, as the company is in the midst of a major revamp of its server lines based around the combination of AMD- and Intel-based quad-core processors.

"In my mind, the most important aspect about the Dell line is how it will be refreshed during the next six months with new blade products and new virtualization-enabled products," said John Enck, an analyst at Gartner (Stamford, Conn.). "These new products will allow Dell to better compete with HP and IBM, with respect to blades and virtualized servers."

Damon Turnbull, client/server planning & program manager, at Dell agreed. He admitted that the biggest change since our previous Dell Server Snapshot in December 2006 occurred last month when AMD announced its Opteron 'Barcelona' processors. At the same time, Dell announced that as soon as volume shipments of the processors begin, it will offer them in all of its AMD-based servers.

"Our tests have shown that these new quad-core processors offer performance that is competitive with Intel's offering, and significantly better for floating point intensive applications, which are used by scientific and engineering departments," said Turnbull.

"We expect that the Opteron story will get even better in coming months as higher frequency quad-core Opteron processors become available and virtualization software comes out that supports the new Rapid Virtualization Indexing technology that is built into these processors," he added.

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Meanwhile, the Dell line is largely as it was at the end of last year. No servers have disappeared, though models are periodically updated with the latest proven technology.

Dell also introduced two new servers: the PowerEdge 2970 and the PowerEdge Energy Smart 2970 rack servers, both of which have an AMD Opteron processor and were the first servers on the market from a Tier 1 server vendor to include AMD Dual Dynamic Power Management, a feature designed to boost performance and optimize power consumption. These general-purpose mainstream, 2-socket, 2U servers are similar to the PowerEdge 2950 and Energy Smart 2950, with the main difference being the 2950s have Intel processors.

Turnbull characterizes the new 2970 as being very quiet. Tests of idle and stressed conditions, he said, have shown the HP DL385 G2 is 116 percent louder than the Dell PowerEdge 2970, and the IBM x3655 is 58 percent louder. He said the 2970 provides up to 27 percent greater performance per watt, as compared to the HP DL385 G2, and up to 18 percent, as compared to the IBM x3655.

Otherwise on the Dell server front, it's all "watch-out for what's coming." In May, for example, the company gave a sneak peek of its next-generation blades, due out by the end of 2007. At VMworld in September, it provided a few details about an upcoming virtualization-optimized server. This product is due out toward the end of 2007 and is code-named VESO, said Turnbull.

"Our virtualization-optimized server won't just have an AMD processor or virtualization software loaded on the hard drive, which are the two approaches that many other vendors have taken for their so-called virtualization-optimized servers," said Turnbull. "Instead, we've built a unique architecture using plenty of RAM, lots of I/O and an SD card onto which software such as ESX 3i can be loaded."

The SD (Secure Digital) card approach provides: a reduction in initial boot-up time from 15 to 17 minutes down to less than two minutes; diskless operation; and better reliability and performance over time than flash-drive implementations. Such diskless operation can avoid the hardware and energy expense of buying and running hard drives in their servers.

Changing Server Dynamics

Dell's ongoing server revamp is in response to the three key server trends: growth in the use of virtualization, a rise in the importance of power and cooling, and increasing adoption of multi-core processors.

"Customers are increasingly looking to virtualization to solve a wide variety of challenges, including optimization of server utilization, disaster recovery capabilities and workforce effectiveness," said Turnbull. "Dell is working closely with every major virtualization software vendor to make sure that our servers provide the best possible support and compatibility for customers implementing virtualization.

In the power and cooling arena, Dell is optimizing server power consumption via its Energy Smart program, which uses energy-optimized components. Dell has also partnered with Emerson Network Power (Columbus, Ohio) to combine Liebert power and cooling technology with Energy Smart servers. Liebert XD supplemental cooling technology and Liebert DSroom cooling systems are being used to deliver an increase of up to 80 percent in systems performance and a reduction of up to 42 percent in the facility power required compared to prior generations of Dell servers, according to Turnbull. Dell's PowerEdge Servers, At a Glance
 
Towers
Rack Servers
Blade Servers
Target Deployment Lightweight file, print, and e-mail serving for one to 10 users; suitable for SMB and departmental enterprise needs as well as database serving for one to 100 users Departmental enterprise needs, larger needs via HPC and high-availability clusters General use and HPC clusters
Processor Types Intel Xeon dual-core and quad-core, as well as single-core Xeon, Pentium D and Celeron Intel Xeon dual-core and quad-core, as well as single-core Xeon, Pentium D and Celeron Up to two dual-core or quad-core Intel Xeon 5000 sequence processors
Operating Systems Win200X, Linux Win200X, Linux Win200X, Linux
Servers SC440
SC1430
840
2900
1900
6800
Entry-level SMB towers
860
SC1435
1950
2410
2970
2950
2900
4210
6800
6850
6950
Entry-level SMB racks
1955
Entry Price From $411 From $711 From $1,348

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