Dell Soups Up Server Line

By Andy Patrizio (Send Email)
Posted Nov 12, 2007


Dell is announcing a refresh to its server line that offers some major changes to more than just the CPU. The server launch is taking place with Oracle OpenWorld as the backdrop and Intel's concurrent, but unrelated, Penryn launch.

From the chips inside to model numbers that reference them, Dells is shaking up its server lineup. The new approach reflects CEO Michael Dell's emphasis on strategic simplicity.

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As part of its server refresh, Dell is changing its modeling and numbering scheme. Servers now start with an R, T or M for Rack, Tower or Modular, followed by three digits. The first indicates the performance, with 9 standing for a 4-socket quad core and 1 referring to a single-socket dual-core system. The second digit is for the generation in that server line and the final digit is a 0 for Intel-based and 5 for AMD-based.

At the top of the food chain is Dell's new PowerEdge R900, a Xeon 7350-based, 4-processor server running Windows Server 2003 or Red Hat Linux. This 4U server will replace the PowerEdge 6850 on the high end.

In addition to the new chips inside, Dell has added standard-based power-monitoring capabilities for controlling power consumption, added its Trusted Platform Module (TPM) for improved security, and updated Dell OpenManage to version 5.3 to provide customers with greater and more simplified control of data centers and virtual environments.

One step down the product line are the PowerEdge 1950, 2950 and 2900 models, which are not part of the new naming scheme. These servers will run the new Intel Penryn-based Xeon 5400 processors, feature optimized energy consumption technologies and support PMBus, iSCSI boot and 10-gigabit Ethernet.

"The 5400 series will be important," Daniel Bounds, senior manager for Dell's PowerEdge servers told InternetNews.com. "They are adding standards-based power monitoring capabilities inside the box and we're adding hardware hooks back to OpenManage to get a richer view of how the server is performing from a power perspective."

The 5400 shows a 15 percent improvement in Web benchmarks and 23 percent improvement in Java transactions compared to the 5300 processors, he added. They will also be 90 percent power efficient, up from the 86 percent power efficiency of the older servers.

On the more affordable end of the spectrum, sit the PowerEdge R200 and PowerEdge T105. The R200 is a 1-socket, 1U rack, while the T105 is a general-purpose tower that will feature a Budapest processor. Budapest is the codename for AMD's single processor version of the Quad Core Opteron, while Barcelona is for dual- and quad-socket servers.

Dell OpenManage 5.3, the company's systems management software, has been updated to provide advanced power monitoring and virtualization management features. It will allow for updating serial attached SCSI drives while they remain online. Older versions required that the storage be disconnected and shut down for maintenance, but this version allows them to remain running.

"Across the board, Dell is working on how to simplify IT," said Bounds. "We have a practice associated with virtualization. Our own IT shop has been taken down from 85,000 servers to 20,000 servers using virtualized environments, and we're applying that to customer bases as well."

James Staten, an analyst with Forrester Research, said these changes are important, necessary and can be credited to the return of Michael Dell. "A lot of the revamp is part of the bigger strategy to simplify things and they are finding things they weren't looking at in the past, like realizing their machines were slower, more power consumptive and a pain to manage," he said.

So Dell is looking at all of these things and the result is systems that are faster, more power efficient and easier to use. Its competitors, IBM, HP and Sun, all had these features, so Dell is playing catch up.

"This is efficiency not in a 'what's in it for Dell mode,' but a 'what's in it for the customer,' and that's a really important change that Michael is bringing back," said Staten. Dell wasn't even building or designing its own servers for a while, it was outsourcing that work just to get into the market.

"It was faster and easier and be cheaper. Now they are realizing that it only got them into the game, but it wouldn't keep them there. It's certainly Michael's doing. He's taking a personal interest in driving this kind of change," Staten said.

This article was originally published on InternetNews.com.

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