Dell Blade Is a Worthy Competitor

Dell Computer Corp.'s first entry into the server blade market comes bundled with robust management and provisioning tools.

Dell Computer Corp.s first entry into the server blade market, the PowerEdge 1655MC system, comes bundled with robust management and provisioning tools packed into a compact 3U (5.25-inch) form factor. Sites with minimal real estate that are looking for ultradense blade servers to tackle Tier 1 applications should consider the PowerEdge 1655MC.

The PowerEdge 1655MC (MC stands for Modular Computing), which shipped late last month, can accommodate six dual-processor blade servers. The PowerEdge 1655MC features standard Intel Corp. hardware components used in Dells PowerEdge line of rack-optimized servers, such as the PowerEdge 1650. (See eWeek Labs March 18 review of the PowerEdge 1650)

The PowerEdge 1655MCs management and provisioning tools can greatly help IT managers during rollouts. Based on Jareva Inc.s OpForce imaging engine, the Dell OpenManage Remote Install software enables administrators to easily configure and provision the PowerEdge 1655MC blades.

The OpenManage Remote Install software can be installed on one of the blades or on a separate server on the network. In tests, we easily configured, captured and deployed images (whether bare-metal or re-provisioned systems) and monitored server blades using the Remote Install utilities.

Dell has partnerships with Jareva, F5 Networks Inc. and BMC Software Inc. to provide better management tools for current and upcoming blade systems. The PowerEdge 1655MC enclosure comes with an ERA/MC (embedded remote access/MC) controller and a built-in KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) switch.

We tested the PowerEdge 1655MC using Ziff Davis Media Inc.s WebBench 4.0 benchmark, which measures each server blades response to Web requests. As expected, the PowerEdge 1655MC performed comparably to its rack-optimized counterpart, the PowerEdge 1655, since both systems use the same processors and similar chip sets. The PowerEdge 1655MC delivered more than 7,700 transactions per second in the WebBench test using a static HTTP workload. We were disappointed that the PowerEdge 1655MC supports only Intel Pentium III processors; competitors, including IBM, already have blade systems that ship with more powerful Intel Xeon processors. Dell plans to release Xeon blade servers in the first quarter of 2003, company officials said.

The PowerEdge 1655MC chassis has an aggressive base price of $1,500. The blades, which cost $3,502 each, have dual 1.26GHz Pentium III processors, 512MB of error-correcting code synchronous dynamic RAM, two 18GB SCSI hard drives, embedded RAID controller hardware and two built-in Gigabit Ethernet NICs.

Each blade comes with Windows 2000 Server and OpenManage system tools. We tested a fully loaded Power-Edge 1655MC system with a price of roughly $24,000. Our system included six blades and an enclosure with dual Gigabit Ethernet Layer 2 switches, an ERA/MC controller and a KVM switch. The system also comes with hot-plug redundant power and cooling fans, along with external Universal Serial Bus, CD-ROM and floppy drives.

The PowerEdge 1655MC competes with similarly priced blade offerings from RLX Technologies Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM. (Sun Microsystems Inc. plans to release server blades with Intel and UltraSPARC processors.)

RLX doesnt offer dual-processor blade systems but does boast the highest blade density in the market. Its RLX System chassis can hold as many as 24 blades in a single 3U chassis, providing 336 blades in standard racks. In contrast, the PowerEdge 1655MC holds 84 blades per rack.

HPs ProLiant BL p-class blade servers are similar to the PowerEdge 1655MC in that both series use ServerWorks Inc. chip sets and full-power Pentium III processors. HPs p-class dual-processor blades are designed for high I/O applications and have a modular infrastructure in which blade enclosures and interconnects are mounted as modular components in a rack. The 6U (10.5-inch) BL p-class enclosure, with support for eight blades, sacrifices density to accommodate the drive bays and more memory.

By comparison, the PowerEdge 1655MC has internal drives that are not easily accessible and only two memory slots, so its not as scalable.

IBMs higher-end eServer Bladecenter features dual Intel Xeon processors, 8GB of memory, integrated management and Fibre Channel support.