Dell Talks 13th-Generation PowerEdge Servers as 12th-Generation Hits Market

Dell executives say they are ramping up customer interaction as they plan for PowerEdge servers that will hit the market in 2014.

Just as Dell officials were preparing to roll out the twelfth generation of their PowerEdge servers earlier this year, they were already talking with customers about what would be needed in the thirteenth-generation systems that will come out sometime in 2014.

And as Dell customers now bring the new twelfth-generation tower, rack and blade PowerEdges into their data center environments, Dell engineers will soon be working on prototypes of the next generations, which will go out to some users next year for testing.

The effort around the thirteenth-generation systems is part of an initiative Dell executives got underway as they started planning for the twelfth-generation servers two years ago, according to Forrest Norrod, vice president and general manager of Dell Server Platforms.

The company ramped up its customer interaction during the two years of developing the new systems, which officially launched in March. Dell officials took a different approach than they and other OEMs have done in the past, Norrod said in a recent interview with eWEEK. Rather than build prototypes, let some customers test them and then tweak them to accommodate the user input, Dell created a three-phase approach to planning, talking with customers to find out what they needed in their PowerEdge servers, creating prototypes that were tested by customers and adjusted, and then sending out more prototypes for further customer input.

In all, Dell had 7,700 customer interactions in planning the twelfth-generation systems.

€œWe sort of kicked our planning process to a different level,€ Norrod said. €œWe just kept refining our handiwork.€

The goal was to create systems that were less defined by Dell engineers and more by customers. With the eleventh-generation PowerEdge systems, Dell officials felt they had refined the server attributes as far as they could. Those servers were solid machines, and the company needed to take a €œless obvious road map path,€ Norrod said. €œWe really needed to take our customer interaction€ to a higher level.

What customers told Dell was that they needed better performance and energy efficiency, but also systems that were easier to manage, with a lot of the tasks that are needed to deploy the systems eliminated or automated, particularly when deploying in virtualized environments. In response, Dell took the embedded management capabilities in the eleventh-generation PowerEdges and made an agent that could be used to monitor, deploy and manage guest virtual machines, Norrod said.

Based on the customer feedback, Dell also got rid of several tasks, which makes system management easier and faster. Among the tasks was server discovery€”once the servers are plugged into the network, they are automatically discovered before the system is booted€”and updating the systems to the BIOS, which is solved through embedded intelligence.

Dell was able to start shipping the new PowerEdges the same day that Intel rolled out its Xeon E5-2600 €œRomley€ server chips in March, something that was made possible by the early and strong customer interaction, Norrod said.

Looking forward, Dell next year will outfit the current generation of servers with Intel€™s Ivy Bridge chips, and will come out with the thirteenth-generation servers in two years, he said. However, work on those new systems already is underway, and next year Dell will send out thousands of prototype systems to customers.

€œWe€™ve been talking with customers about 13G for about a quarter,€ Norrod said. €œIt€™s a continuous conversation.€

Dell is undergoing a transition away from being simply a PC or server maker, and more toward being an IT solutions provider, bulking up its capabilities in everything from software to storage to networking. That said, the company was able to grow its server revenues and shipments last year.

According to market research firm Gartner, Dell in 2011 saw revenues jump 7.7 percent, to almost $7.8 billion, and shipments grow 2 percent, to more than 2.1 million units. It continues to be the third-largest server maker in the world in terms of revenues, and the second in shipments.