Dell's 8-CPU Intel Servers -- Increasing Its Enterprise Focus

Incomplete OS Support Until the end of October, the 8450 will only support the various versions of Windows NT, in contrast to the competition which offers Novell NetWare, SCO UNIX/UnixWare, et al. (Solaris support will be available in late October, NetWare is scheduled to be available in late November.) Windows NT is not yet considered a robust enterprise-class OS, so the lack of alternatives is a deficiency. Dell will certify other OSes (through its DellPlus group), but this is a less compelling message than having those OSes installed in a production environment. AC Voltage Support The PowerEdge 8450 requires 208VAC, unlike Compaq's ProLiant 8000 and 8500, which can run off either 110 VAC or 208 VAC. Although 208VAC is required for either system (Compaq or Dell) to run a fully-loaded server, having the option is a modest benefit. Redundancy Although Dell's system provides redundancy in most subsystems (fans, power supplies, etc.), there are a couple of areas where there could be improvement. In the power subsystem, Dell has redundant power supplies, while Compaq has redundant Voltage Regulator Modules (VRMs) in addition to the redundant system supplies. (Note that redundant supplies have become a requirement - not an added feature - for enterprise class systems.) For cooling: the system is characterized by Dell as N+1 redundant, that is five fans plus one backup fan. Customers may prefer 2N redundancy, for a broader safety margin. General Technology As mentioned earlier, Dell purchases the board set directly from Intel. Given that, the logical conclusion would be that Intel would be able to release this system for shipment before Compaq could ship the ProLiant 8X00. However, this has not happened, due to the current problems with some of the Xeon 550 MHz processors and how they work with the Saber board set [Ref. "Flaw in Intel Xeon 550 Chip Set: Shipments Stopped", TEC]. This is not Dell's fault, and it will not be a long-term problem, but the situation bears scrutiny nonetheless.


Vendor Recommendations

Although Dell has made its name in the Windows NT market, it should consider offering more than just one factory-installed operating system. UNIX is not dead, and the acquisition of ConvergeNet (with its ability to operate SANs in heterogeneous OS environments) should lead Dell into more than just NT. The ConvergeNet acquisition also allows Dell to provide a more flexible SAN solution than it had previously, and Dell should market this aspect aggressively. Using the DellPlus organization to provide installation and support for other OSes is a way of addressing this, but customers may prefer a factory installed solution. Dell should use its clout with Intel to get power supplies that operate in either voltage range (110/208 VAC), since this puts Dell at a disadvantage relative to Compaq and IBM.

User Recommendations

Dell began shipping its eight-CPU Intel server, the PowerEdge 8450, in late September. This comes on the heels of Compaq's shipment of its ProLiant 8000 and 8500

The PowerEdge 8450 is a good choice for those clients who have high-end computing environments, such as data warehouses or server consolidation, and users who need high performance computing plus the flexibility of mixing and matching components in a rack. The feature set and hardware reliability features are good, and the only technology concern is based in the Profusion chipset, due to its newness. However, Dell's use of an Intel-designed board set should reduce Profusion-related concerns, after the current Xeon/Saber problems are resolved. The limited OS offerings should be used as leverage, especially by customers who need something other than Windows NT. Graph 1

Compaq 32.7 36
Dell 14.7 23.3
IBM 15.7 12.6
HP 11.8 9.5
Others 25.1 18.6
Table 1


  • OS = Operating System
  • VRM = Voltage Regulator Module (used to provide DC power directly to the processors)
  • SAN = Storage Area Network
  • ERP = Enterprise Resource Planning
  • Solaris = UNIX-like OS produced by Sun Microsystems
  • NetWare = Network operating system produced by Novell
  • SCO = Santa Cruz Operation, developer of SCO UNIX, UnixWare

This article was originally published on Oct 1, 1999
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