The Dell R710 PowerEdge 2U rack-mount server is a worthy combination of compute and performance power, and the first system I've seen that provides an alternative to BIOS for power-on system setup and configuration. Many of the Dell R710 PowerEdge's most compelling characteristics are driven by the need to optimize the data center for virtualization tasks.
The Dell R710 PowerEdge 2U rack-mount server is a worthy combination
of compute and performance power, and the first system I've seen that
provides an alternative to BIOS for power-on system setup and
Dell ships the R710 PowerEdge with BIOS as the default but with UEFI
(Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) as an optional method for
initially booting the hardware system. Firmware management has taken on
new importance and a higher profile as physical servers play host to
virtual environments, and Dell's introduction of UEFI will be an
interesting development in this space. For another approach, see my
exclusive review of Cisco's UCS
that bakes firmware management into what it calls "system profiles."
Check out eWEEK Labs' gallery: Dell R710 PowerEdge.
Also new in the R710 PowerEdge is an on-board utility called the
Unified System Configurator that is based on UEFI. This utility
provides a pre-OS environment where platform updates-including BIOS,
diagnostic utility and firmware, rollback, physical system diagnostics,
and OS deployment-can be performed. I will be interested to see if this
type of utility breathes new life into the DMTF's SMASH initiative
or if vendor-specific hardware management tools will continue to rule the Jurassic period of commodity server virtualization.
The Dell R710 PowerEdge server began shipping earlier this year and
starts at $4,677, according to Dell's Website. The system I used priced
out at approximately $7,270 on the Dell site, and was equipped with two
quad-core Intel Xeon E5520 processors, 32GB of DDR3 RAM and dual,
high-power 870-watt power supplies. The HP ProLiant DL380 is a direct
competitor to the R710 PowerEdge.
R710 PowerEdge Hardware
The R710 PowerEdge 2U form factor makes it a good fit when
additional PCI cards must be fitted into the system. The roomy
interior, large fans and extensive internal heat shrouds keep the CPUs
and memory cool without a NASA-grade wind tunnel. Much of the thermal
control work must be credited to the Intel Xeon 5500 series processors,
which are able to consume power at a rate that is more closely
associated with actual workload than previous-generation CPUs were.
My test system was equipped with two 73GB 10K 2.5-inch hard-disk
drives. The system can accept up to eight 2.5-inch drives or six
3.5-inch drives. Drive configurations are available in the usual
variety of capacities and speeds.
The R710 has 18 available DIMM slots that can be configured with a
maximum of 192GB of DDR3 RAM. My test system had 32GB of RAM. The
potential for RAM expansion is an important consideration for IT
managers as memory prices come down and virtual machine usage
increases. And this sets the stage for IT managers to pay even greater
attention to cable management and racking gear, to accommodate changes
over a system's lifetime.
The R710 can be installed with a slide-out rail system and cable
management arm. In the past, I might have overlooked such niceties
because, once a system was installed with the OS and applications
running smoothly, I probably wouldn't touch it again unless there were
some kind of hardware failure. With virtualization, however, physical
servers might realistically be accessed to upgrade installed memory, so
IT managers should consider using premium racking and cable management
options to help accommodate these kinds of changes.
Embedded Server Management
Dell has leveraged the UEFI with special hardware and embedded
software. These aren't your father's tools, and server virtualization
is again the change driver.
The R710 has a Lifecycle controller, which is a physical component
that hosts the embedded management features of the server. I accessed
the Dell Unified Server Configurator from the boot menu to access the
embedded management system.
IT managers will find investigating the capabilities offered by the
Configurator time well-spent. These capabilities include drivers for
installation of Windows, Red Hat and SUSE OSes; system diagnostics; and
hardware configuration utilities.
I was able to keep my system updated with the latest versions of
system firmware by using the Configurator to directly connect to Dell
support. I would like to see the ability to point this connection to an
internal depot to keep protected workloads from accessing an external
site until the security of the update system is more fully proven.
The diagnostic tools were helpful, especially for ensuring that the
physical system was fully operational prior to deployment. I also like
the idea of having a fairly simple test that can be run by a technician
after a system arrives at a branch location to ensure that the internal
physical components haven't been damaged in shipment.
The embedded system management tools are a move in the right
direction to enable that the R710 will be able to keep pace with the
horsepower embodied in the processors and large RAM resource pool.
Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at email@example.com.