Server Snapshots: Dell PowerEdge R900

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Mar 20, 2008


Drew Robb
The 4-socket segment is a cash cow for the x86 space. With the PowerEdge R900, Dell is entering territory formerly the domain of the higher-end OEMS. How does the server handle this new terrain?

For years, Dell has made its mark on the server landscape primarily in the lower end of the x86 space. Low cost, good performing 1P and 2P servers (of 1U and 2U rack size) were the bread and butter of the company that grew from nothing into being locked in a battle with Sun to be the No. three server vendor

"Dell's business strategy thrives on standardization and mass volumes, and its sweet spot has been the 1- and 2-socket server segments," said IDC analyst Jed Scaramella.

When it came to 4P, however, the company sometimes struggled against by its competitors. Scaramella noted that the 4-socket segment is considered a relatively profitable space in the x86 server industry. IDC estimates that although the 4-socket segment accounts for just 4 percent of worldwide units, the segment generates 14 percent of total x86 revenue.

"Historically, the segment has been dominated by IBM and HP, which control over 70 percent of the revenue in 4-socket space," said Scaramella. "A well-designed product and concise marketing message is crucial to succeed in gaining share in this segment."

Dell's answer is the PowerEdge R900. The quad-core 4U rack server offers high enough performance for major SQL or Oracle databases, as well as the ability to host core applications such as SAP.

"The PowerEdge R900 is Dell's highest performing server ever," said Glenn Keels, director of PowerEdge servers in the global commercial marketing branch of Dell (Round Rock, Texas). "This 4-socket server is designed from the ground up for customers running mission-critical enterprise databases and applications. The PowerEdge R900 is also an ideal platform for virtualization environments with enhanced expandability, memory and Intel Xeon quad-core processors."

To ensure the R900 copes well with an enterprise environment, Dell hasn't stinted on management tools. It comes with a decent suite of systems management programs, including Dell OpenManage, which helps IT managers to reduce deployment time and simplifies the management of multiple servers. For example, power and virtual machine monitoring is available via a single interface. An optional PCI-based Dell remote access card enables administrators to log in securely for remote troubleshooting, repairs and server updates. To promote ease of maintenance, the chassis has tool-less access and color-coded hot-plug components. Dell's intent to make an impression on enterprise computing is evident in the fact that it is the first in the industry to deliver inline hard drive firmware updates for its servers, without the need of any downtime.

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"The Dell PowerEdge R900 is ideal for growing data center environments, as it is designed for high performance, high availability, ease-of-management and simplified serviceability," said Keels. "The R900 also supports redundant power with auto-sensing power supplies, and hot-plug hard drives and cooling fans for full system redundancy."

Benchmark Validation

All the effort that Dell has put into the R900 has paid off in terms of benchmark success. This 4P box just earned top marks on several benchmarks. "The Dell PowerEdge R900 owns the number 1 score of any four-socket server in the industry on VMmark testing for virtualization as well as SPECjbb testing," said Keels. "It also delivers unmatched database performance running Oracle Database 10g Release 2, topping SPECjAppServer2004 results from Sun and Hewlett-Packard for 2-node servers."

In December 2007, the R900 earned top marks on the VMmark benchmark, which quantifies the performance of virtualized environments to determine the scalability of consolidated workloads. Similarly, on the SPECjbb2005 test (SPEC's Java server benchmark), an R900 with four X7350 quad-core chips and 16GB memory beat all other 4-socket results with regard to server side Java. And on the SPECjAppServer2004 tests, an R900 64GB of memory running Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Oracle Database Enterprise Edition Release 10.2.0.2 also scored highest — although it was up against 2-node servers.

The R900 achieves these results using Intel Xeon quad-core processors in the 7300 sequence — the 7350 to be exact. They run at 2.93 GHz and have a 1066 MHz system bus. With up to 16 processing cores available on these 64-bit chips, the performance is clearly enough for many enterprise functions. At the same time, Keels touts its efficiency in terms of high performance per watt.

"This server is designed to offer a dramatic performance boost at a lower energy consumption rate for large memory and compute-intensive solutions," he said.

Smartly, Dell has made sure that shortage of memory isn't an issue. PowerEdge R900 has up to 128GB via 32 DIMM slots. Seven I/O slots are also available. Storage, too, is provided in ample quantity. This 4P unit can supply up to 1.5 TB internally. This server makes use of serial attached SCSI (SAS) drives of either 2.5 inches or 3.5 inches. 10k rpm and 15 rpm choices, as well as SAS drives of 73 GB, 1446 GB or 300 GB are also available.

For anyone requiring more storage, a PERC 6/E SAS external RAID adapter should be added to provide connectivity to another box — the PowerVault MD1000 SAS storage enclosure.

Competitive Picture

As the R900 has now been in action for a few months, Dell has a long enough timeline to know which vendors it tends to come up against in bids. As expected, it tends to compete with similar 4-socket systems from HP, IBM and Sun. Dell claims, for example, that the R900 has 154 percent faster information processing than current HP DL580 G4 4-socket servers. Keels said, as a result the R900 sometimes finds itself positioned against 8-socket and higher systems from the big OEMs.

"Our competitors have staked a claim that form factor will constitute the future of enterprise computing, advising companies to blade everything or promoting a mainframe resurgence," said Keels. "Like previous attempts to consolidate on a specific form factor, the customer generally ends up paying the price."

Instead, he said, Dell is not focusing on the box. Rather, Dell is attempting to broaden its product portfolio so it can fit the box to the need.

"In some cases, such as density or power, blades may provide the best solution, and PowerEdge MSeries blades are the most energy efficient blade servers on the market," said Keels. "In other cases, though, a different form factor coupled with the right components, software and services will provide a significantly better deal. This is where Dell is spending its time and effort."

The R900 represents Dell's attempt to provides its customer base with a higher-end machine to handle most of their more heavy duty needs.

"Dell developed the PowerEdge R900 to target client's virtualization and consolidation initiatives, as well as database applications; common workloads for the 4 socket space," said Scaramella. "An important element of the design was to include enough I/O and memory in the server to adequately support the higher demands of quad-core and virtualization technologies."

The Dell PowerEdge R900 Close Up

Name PowerEdge R900
Vendor Dell
Platform x86
Dimensions 4U
Processor Details Up to 4 quad-core Intel Xeon processors (7300 sequence)
Hard Drives Up to 1.5 TB of internal storage
Operating Systems Windows, Linux and VMware
Configuration Options For a starting price of $11,258, 2 quad-core E7310 Xeon (1.6GHz), no OS, 4 GB RAM, two 73 GB SAS drives, and 4 NICs
For 4 quad-core X7350 Xeon ( 2.93GHz), 128 GB RAM, 146GB 2.5-inch 10k RPM SAS drives, RAID controller for RAID 1/6, and 4 NICs , the price is $42,29
Availability Server now available
Warranty 3 years

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