Dell Launches New, Power-Efficient Blade Servers
Published: January 22, 2008
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
PC and server maker Dell was getting kicked around in the IT sector throughout 2006 and 2007, but 2008 might be shaping up to be a year of recovery for the company. Dell has competitive market share in the entry X64 server market, but has been an also-ran in the blade server space dominated by IBM and Hewlett-Packard. The new PowerEdge M series blade chassis and related X64 blade servers could get Dell its rightful share of the blade space, which should account for around $5 billion in sales in 2008.
The new Dell blade servers will be marketed with the same mantras that other blade server makers have tried over the past seven years--simplifying infrastructure configuration and management as well as ending sprawl in the data center through consolidation, virtualization, and density. Energy efficiency is also going to be a big selling point. According to the tech specs of the new PowerEdge M1000e chassis, Dell can get the power supplies inside the box to run at between 88 percent and 91 percent efficiency when loaded up with between 20 percent and 60 percent of the peak loading on the power supplies in the box--the latter being the typical loading for enterprise customers using Dell's current PowerEdge 1955 blade servers. But in that same loading range, the PowerEdge 1955's power supplies run at a much lower efficiency (particularly under lighter loads), although they do get more efficient as the load rises and eventually match that of the new power supplies used in the M1000e chassis at 100 percent of power load. The difference in efficiency may not seem like a lot, unless you are a data center that is at maximum power and cooling.
The new M1000e chassis is a 10U form factor, rack-mounted box that can hold up to two rows of 8 half-height blade servers, for a total 16 blades in the front of the box. It looks a lot like HP's c7000 chassis, in fact, which is even funnier when you consider that Rick Becker, vice president of blade servers at HP, and Brad Anderson, general manager of its Industry Standard Server division, are both ex-HPers.
But anyway. The M1000e box has room for three power supplies rated at 2,360 watts, and a total of six power supplies can be added to the chassis if customers want spare supplies to protect against outages caused by failures. The power supplies are not just efficient--anything above 90 percent is state of the art--but also have a new feature called Dynamic Power Supply Engagement, which puts the power supply into standby mode and allows blades and networking gear to draw power from loaded supplies. Increasing the load on one power supply increases its efficiency, and shutting down other supplies in the chassis reduces the overall electricity usage in the box, which in turn creates less heat and requires less cooling. It is a bit of a bummer that the power supplies run on 200 volt power input, not normal 110/120 volt power. That pretty much restricts the M1000e chassis and its blades to data centers and places that have been wired for 220/240-volt power. The blade chassis does not have separate storage modules, as do new 120-volt blade chasses, aimed at small and medium businesses, from Intel, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard.
The M1000e currently only supports half-height blades, but the design will allow Dell to plug in up to 8 full height blades. (Such as when Advanced Micro Devices gets quad-core "Barcelona" Opteron 8000 series chips out the door in late Q1 or early Q2 or when Dell sees the wisdom of putting Intel's "Tigerton" Xeon 7300 series chips, which can cram 16 cores into a single system image, on a blade as well.) Dell could also, like IBM, do a double-wide blade server implementation; this is how IBM does four-socket SMP configurations with its LS41 blade server, which is two LS21 blades connected by an Opteron HTX HyperTransport link. The M1000e costs $5,999, which is a lot for an empty box, if you think about it. (And perfectly in line with the exorbitant pricing IBM and HP have for the chasses.) Dell's prior design, the PowerEdge 1955, put 10 two-socket blades in a 7U chassis.
The PowerEdge M1000e chassis can be equipped with two different blade servers. The first is the M600, which is a two-socket blade server based on Intel's 5000P chipset. This blade supports Intel's dual-core "Woodcrest" Xeon 5100s and quad-core "Clovertown" Xeon 5300s, which are based on the Woodcrest core (Intel's second-generation Core microarchitecture design), as well as the new "Penryn" cores used in the quad-core "Harpertown" Xeon 5400s, just announced as 2007 was coming to a close, and the future quad-core "Wolfdale" dual-core Xeon 5200s. Dell is supporting Xeon chips that range in speed from 2 GHz to 3.16 GHz in this blade. The M600 blade has 8 fully buffered DIMM slots running at 667 MHz, and supports up to 32 GB of main memory using 4 GB DIMMs; Dell says that it plans to support 8 GB DIMMs in this blade as well, when they become more cost-effective, boosting memory to 64 GB. Practically speaking, from an economics point of view, most customers will probably go cheap and only put 8 GB of main memory on the boards, using 1 GB DIMMs. Even 2 GB DIMMs radically raise the price.
Each blade has its own local disk storage, and Dell is using energy-efficient 2.5-inch SAS drives spinning at 10K RPM or 15K RPM or 2.5-inch SATA drives spinning at 7200 RPM. The SAS drives are very expensive, too, but they use a lot less energy than 3.5-inch drives do. The disk drives are hot pluggable, and slide into the front of the blade, which in turn slides into the front of the M1000e chassis; they are operated by an integrated disk controller, which supports RAID 1 mirroring. These drives are not intended to do real work, but just store local operating system images. A lot of customers, particularly those virtualizing their PowerEdge environments, are going to be more interested in an iSCSI or Fibre Channel storage area network that is shared by all the blades. That is less money for disks, less heat in the blades, and more flexibility in the virtual environment. Each blade also has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and can have a second Gigabit Ethernet or Fibre Channel card plugged into the two PCI-Express x8 peripheral slots on the blade.
The base configuration of the M600 blade that Dell is trying to sell on its Web store comes with a single quad-core Xeon 5310 processor running at 1.6 GHz, a single 1 GB FB-DIMM, two 36 GB 15K RPM SAS drives. This configuration costs $3,897, without an operating system. With two 3 GHz Xeon E5450s, 8 GB of main memory (using only four slots, leaving room for expansion), and the two SAS disks drives, the price goes up to $7,024.
The other two-socket blade being offered with the M1000e chassis is the M605 blade server, which is based on AMD's Opteron 2000 series of chips and which uses nVidia's MCP55 chipset. The M605 blade is currently configured with the dual-core "Santa Rosa" Rev F designs, the Opteron 2200s. As soon as the Barcelona Opteron 2300 series of quad-core processors is available from AMD, they will plug right into this M605 blade. Dell is selling Opteron 2200s that range in speed from 2.2 GHz and 3 GHz, and is also offering standard 95-watt parts as well as the 68-watt Opteron HE parts. The M605 blade has 8 DDR2 memory slots, for a maximum of 32 GB, just like the M600 Intel-based blade, and will similarly support 64 GB of main memory when 8 GB DDR2 DIMMs are available. The M605 has the same peripheral expansion as the M600.
The base M605 blade that Dell is selling has a single Opteron 2214HE running at 2.2GHz, 1 GB of memory, and two 36 GB SAS drives spinning at 15K RPM; it costs $3,897. Cranking up to two Opteron 2222 processors running at 3 GHz and boosting memory to 8 GB (again, using only four slots), costs $6,315.
Dell is factory installing a variety of operating systems as well as VMware's virtual machine hypervisor on these boxes--not just Windows. Specifically, the M600 and M605 blades support Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 R2 (both 32-bit ands 64-bit variants of Standard and Enterprise Editions), Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 4 and 5, Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 and 10. VMware's ESX Server 3.0 and 3.5 hypervisors are also supported.
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