By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2005-01-03 Print this article Print

Dell Inc.s latest PowerEdge 1855 server blade platform packs a solid design, a good management package and competitive pricing, making it a worthy competitor in the high-end blade server space. Although it doesnt include groundbreaking innovations, the PE 1855 will appeal to companies and ISPs looking for a high-end 64-bit blade system to host a variety of midtier applications.

The PE 1855, which was shipped last month, is a latecomer into the high-end sector of the Intel Corp. Xeon-based server blade market. Most of the other major players already have unveiled two-way and four-way Xeon-based blade systems. These players include IBM, with its BladeCenter; Hewlett-Packard Co., with its ProLiant BL p-Class; RLX Technologies Inc.s High Performance ServerBlades; and Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp., with its Primergy BX600.

RLX says its exiting the blade server hardware business. Click here to read more.
However, the PE 1855 is a second-generation, higher-end blade system than its predecessors and one that puts Dell on par with other blade vendors.

Dell delivered its first Pentium-based blade system in November 2002, and although the company took two years to release a Xeon-based blade system, it seems to have used that time wisely. We are impressed with the well-rounded design of the PE 1855 chassis and blades, which combine to offer high modularity with strong built-in redundancy. In fact, the design of the PE 1855 is similar to the Fujitsu Primergy BX600 system we reviewed in November.

The PE 1855 offers good overall blade density. Its 7U (12.25-inch) modular chassis can hold 10 two-way Xeon EM64T (Extended Memory 64-bit Technology) blades, providing a maximum of 60 blades, or 120 Xeon CPUs per industry-standard rack. However, we were disappointed that the PE 1855 does not support four-way blades because this limits its scalability. IBM and HP offer four-way blades in their respective high-end blade platforms. The IBM BladeCenter also has an edge by supporting as many as 14 two-way Xeon blades in the chassis.

Dell is known for competitive pricing, and the PE 1855 is no exception, with an entry-level price of $1,699 per blade and $2,999 for the chassis. The entry-level blade includes a single 2.8GHz Xeon processor, 512MB of DDR2 (double data rate 2) memory and a 36GB SCSI drive. The entry-level chassis comes with three 1,200-watt redundant power supplies, a DRAC (Dell Remote Access Card) module, a built-in analog KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) switch and a Gigabit pass-through module.

The $18,000 system we tested had two blades, each of which was outfitted with dual 3.6GHz Xeon EM64T processors, 2GB of DDR2 memory, dual 73GB SCSI drives, a QLogic Corp. HBA (host bus adapter), on-board RAID and dual Gigabit Ethernet. The chassis we tested includes two Dell PowerConnect switches, a Fibre Channel pass-through module, four 1,200-watt power supplies and a DRAC module.

We used the DRAC module to carry out remote system management tasks, such as accessing the power control, checking event logs and generating inventory reports. (We accessed the Web-based DRAC interface using the management NIC.) Two DRACs can be installed in the chassis for redundancy.

The PE 1855 offered good I/O connectivity in tests but isnt quite as expandable as its two-way competitors. The PE 1855 chassis can support two Fibre Channel pass-through modules for connection to external storage arrays or SANs (storage area networks). Networkwise, the PE 1855 chassis can also support two Gigabit Ethernet pass-through modules or two Gigabit Ethernet switch modules. We hope to see Dell include Fibre Channel switching and InfiniBand options in the future.

Sites already using Dells OpenManage management suite to manage other PowerEdge servers can continue to use the same tool to manage the PE 1855. We tested the latest version of OpenManage, 4.0, with the PE 1855 and found the free tool offers the same easy-to-use interface for system monitoring and alert management.

Click here to find out why an increasing number of IT managers are turning to blade servers. For blade server deployment and provisioning tasks, the Dell OpenManage suite worked well with Altiris Inc. deployment solutions in our tests.

OpenManage 4.0 integrates with Microsoft Corp.s SMS (Systems Management Server) 2003, enabling administrators to use a single GUI to perform system management tasks.

OpenManage also integrates with Microsofts Automated Deployment Services for sites running a Windows Server 2003 environment.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at francis_chu@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.


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