Dell Precision Workstation Moves into Data Center

Dell is converting its Precision desktop workstation into a rack-mounted system that will move more computing into the data center. The Dell R5400 workstation server is equipped with Intel Xeon processors and will compete against IBM and HP blade-based workstations.

Dell is moving its Precision workstation into the data center.

On July 22, Dell introduced the Precision R5400, a rack-mount workstation server that is based on a previous Dell workstation, but in this case the company is looking to move the hardware from under a desk and into the data center, which frees up space and adds a layer of security by centralizing the location of the data.

Hewlett-Packard, IBM and other vendors have been offering workstations that are housed in the data center, but that are based on blade architecture, for some time. Dell based its workstation on an existing piece of hardware, the Precision T5400 desktop workstation, and converted the desktop model into a 2U (3.5-inch), two-socket rack-mount server.

This approach to a more centralized computing infrastructure allows Dell to differentiate its products from the blade workstations offered by IBM, HP and ClearCube Technology, and it also allows customers more flexibility in fitting the Precision R5400 workstation system into a standard data center rack.

Michael Basore, a senior product manager for Dell, said the company also redesigned the motherboard of the Precision R5400 to provide for two PCI Express x16 graphics cards, which means the hardware can support graphics from both Nvidia and ATI.

"You can choose our graphics cards and can put them into the system," Basore said. "You are not limited in your graphics choices the same way you are limited in a blade architecture. Since it's a 2U form factor you also don't have to worry about enclosures or other investments. It's a very different approach from what our competitors have taken with blades."

In addition, Basore said he believes that Dell would have a difficult time competing against the likes of HP and IBM when it comes to a blade-based workstation because HP and IBM combined control about 75 percent of the world's blade market.

Since IBM and HP are pursuing customers in the financial industry with their blade workstations, Lloyd Cohen, an analyst with IDC, said he believes Dell is looking at more vertical markets such as health care. In that case, patient information is protected in the data center, but the workstation provides the graphics and processing power to render high-resolution medical images.

"The blades that are out there now have been designed for the financial industry and have limited success so far," Cohen said. "Dell is going after much more vertical markets. They are looking at medical imaging and factory floors and really they are going after much larger segments."

The workstation market is worth about $5.3 billion annually, and Dell, HP and Lenovo, which continue to make traditional desktop workstations, are also pursuing workstation sales since the margins are double those of sales associated with traditional desktop PCs. While Dell and other vendors also sell mobile workstations, these high-end notebooks do not offer the type of power that a traditional desktop workstation can produce.

In addition to graphics, Dell is also looking to improve remote access to the R5400 with the FX100 Remote Access Device. The FX100 uses chip technology from Teradici. This silicon-based technology allows for what Dell and Teradici call "PC over IP," which compresses rendered display data and USB signals into a digital format and then sends a signal from a company's network through an IP network to the desktop. This also allows a Precision R5400 to support two displays.

The Teradici chip technology is also used with IBM's blade workstation and with ClearCube's PC blades. The Dell Precision 5400 also works with a standard 1 Gigabit Ethernet cable.

In addition to the remote access capabilities and graphics, the Dell Precision R5400 also supports dual- and quad-core Intel Xeon processors, up to 32GB of RAM, two SATA (Serial ATA) hard disk drives with a combined capacity of up to 2TB, and either Microsoft Windows or Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

The Dell Precision R5400 starts at $1,869 and the FX100 remote device sells separately for $800, according to Dell. The displays for the workstation are also sold separately.