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Server Snapshots: Dell PowerEdge 2970

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Only a few months ago, ServerWatch reviewed the Dell 2950 server. Since then, the company has followed up with the Dell PowerEdge 2970. Not only are the server model numbers very similar, so too are the specs — with one big exception: Instead of Xeon chips, the 2970 is AMD Opteron dual-core processor based.

The biggest difference between the PowerEdge 2970 and its 2950 sibling may be the processor, but a deep dive reveals others. Why such similar offerings? According to one analyst, as 4-socket servers continue to squeeze downmarket, Dell is holding tight to its 2-socket sweet spot.

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“In terms of AMD vs. Intel, I believe that Dell will use AMD in those cases where it sees a price/performance or watt/performance over Intel,” said John Enck, an analyst at Gartner (Stamford, Conn.). “In other words, whereas HP offers the exact same server configurations with AMD and Intel processors, Dell will pick and choose which processor is appropriate for which configuration.”

The PowerEdge 2970 has up to two dual-core 64-bit AMD Opteron processors with 2MB L2 cache, up to 32GB (8 DIMM slots) memory as well as a range of SAS or SATA drives. It is intended for database applications, network infrastructure, Web applications, messaging/groupware, edge-of-network, file and print and as a virtualization platform. It also shares common specifications, layout and labeling conventions with PowerEdge servers of the same generation.

While the box itself is fairly compact, it can pack a lot of storage space. It includes up to eight hard drives of various configurations, and 2.5-inch SAS disks running at 10K rpm are available in 36GB, 73GB and 146GB sizes. For those who want 15K rpm SAS, only 36GB and 73GB are available. Also available are 2.5 inch SATA II disks, although they run at only 5.4K rpm and come in one size — 80GB.

“This range of hard drives gives customer choice in optimizing price per GB and power/GB depending on the workload,” said Glenn Keels, senior manager for the commercial server team at Dell (Round Rock, Texas). “Total storage goes to 4.4TB, though some choose to deploy the server without a hard disk and to instead use a USB drive inside the enclosure.”

Keels admitted that the rackmount 2970 is indeed very similar to the 2950. But he also stressed some of the differences. As well as the obvious point about AMD/Intel, the 2970 has an internal USB port that can use a USB-based security token or a flash drive as a boot or utility partition or as a place to store configuration data, drivers or diagnostic tools. The 2950, on the other hand, provides the freedom to have six 3.5 inch drives, which Keels said is attractive to customers that have standardized on such drives. The 2950 also supports the older PCI-X expansion cards in addition to PCIe, easing legacy system integration and enabling a wider variety of expansion card choices. Memory technology is slightly different, too, with the 2970 using DDR2 RAM instead of the Fully Buffered DIMMs in the 2950.

“The PowerEdge 2950 and 2970 are both designed as general-purpose servers that are used in a very wide variety of situations, including as application, database, file/print, messaging/e-mail, network infrastructure, terminal services, and firewall servers, as well as for enabling virtualization, Web services, and load balancing,” said Keels.

Another thing Keels touted is the model’s focus on energy efficiency. In fact, Dell offers the PowerEdge Energy Smart 2970, a version of the 2970 with specific energy optimization features included. According to Keels, the PowerEdge Energy Smart 2970 provides up to 27 percent greater performance per watt compared to the HP ProLiant DL385 G2 and up to 18 percent better compared to the IBM System x3655. Note that the PowerEdge 2950 is also available with an Energy Smart configuration.

The PowerEdge 2970 can currently be ordered with up to a 3.0GHz AMD Opteron 2200 processor. Future releases of the 2970 will contain quad-core AMD processors. When this occurs, Dell will be adding 8GB DIMMS capable of delivering up to 64GB of memory. Current servers already incorporate AMD Dual Dynamic Power Management. When used with a quad-core AMD Opteron “Barcelona” processor, this further improves performance and reduces power consumption.

“To include this technology, other server vendors will need to change their motherboard and BIOS,” said Keels. “The PowerEdge 2970, on the other hand, has been designed from the start to enable a seamless upgrade to quad-core.”

Bigger Picture

Beyond the Intel vs. AMD contest of the Dell 2950 vs. the Dell 2970, Enck sees these servers as part of a bigger battle within the server space. He believes these servers are representative of Dell’s desire to keep 2-socket configurations as the sweet spot in the x86 market.

Both IBM and HP, for example, are piling on the pressure with announcements and upgrades on the 4-socket front. By making these powerhouses more affordable and more capable, they hope to entice customers away from their traditional reliance on 1- and 2-socket servers. As Dell has always been strong in the 2-socket market, its response to this pressure is seen in the early 2950 announcement and now with the release of the PowerEdge 2970.

“By investing in the 2-socket market supporting additional cores, larger hard drive capacities, and larger memory footprints, Dell hopes to keep 2-socket configurations as king of the hill,” said Enck. “The 2970 is a good example of Dell investing in the 2-socket server market; Dell very much wants to keep buying patterns centered on 2-socket configurations.”

The PowerEdge 2970 Server Close Up

Name Dell PowerEdge 2970 The PowerEdge 2970 Server
Source: Dell
Vendor Dell
Platform x86
Dimensions 2U Rack-mountable chassis; 29.31 inches (74.4cm) deep x 17.5 inches (44.43cm) wide x 3.4 inches (8.64cm) high
Processor Details Up to 2 dual-core, 64-bit AMD Opteron 2200 Series Processors with 2x1MB L2 cache at up to 3.0GHz
Hard Drives From zero to eight hard drives; 2.5 inch SAS (10K rpm): 36GB, 73GB or 146GB; 2.5 inch SAS (15K rpm): 36GB or 73GB; or 2.5 inch SATA II (5.4K rpm): 80GB.
Operating Systems Windows Server 2003, Red Hat Linux Enterprise and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server
Configuration Options 2x dual-core AMD Opteron 2210; 1.8GHz, 2X1MB cache, 1Ghz HyperTransport; no OS; 4GB DDR2, 667MHz, 4x1GB single-ranked DIMMs; integrated controller card; 3 x 73GB 10K RPM Serial-Attach SCSI 3Gbps 2.5-in hotplug hard drives; integrated SAS/SATA RAID 5 — $5,641
Single processor system (dual-core Opteron 2210) with IGB memory, 3 x 73 GB SAS drives — $4,873
2x dual-core AMD Opteron 2222SE; 3.0GHz, 2X1MB cache, 1Ghz HyperTransport; 32 GB memory; Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise x64 Edition with SP2, includes 25 CALs; 8x 146 GB SAS — $19,751
Availability This server is currently available.
Warranty Three years

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