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Dell re-enters the blade-o-sphere

Cheap, thin and middle of the road

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After talking up its new line of blade servers for months, Dell went ahead today and delivered some product.

Dell, not surprisingly, is touting its new blade server as a space and cost-saving improvement over standard 1U rack servers. Customers can fit 10 of Dell's PowerEdge 1855 servers into a 7U high chassis. All in all, this means customers can squeeze up to 62 percent more blade servers than typical 1U boxes in a standard rack.

"Dell has designed its blades to offer the right balance of performance and density at a price point that enables customers to deploy blades cost effectively alongside 1U servers," said Jeff Clarke, SVP in Dell's product group. "Initial blade investments from Dell are no longer prohibitive and customers will save more with every blade they install -- improving their TCO as they scale out."

Dell's latest blade product doesn't arrive without controversy.

Way back in 2001, your reporter was at Dell's Round Rock headquarters when the company first revealed its intentions to enter the blade market. It later put a system on the market only to see the most mediocre of sales. Small companies such as RLX and Egenera dominated early blade sales, and then big rivals such as HP and IBM took over the market. Dell never registered at all on the sales charts and decided to go back to the drawing board with a new design.

Dell claims to have designed the 1855 on its own, but sources have noted that the product is remarkably similar to a system from Fujitsu. This likely means the two vendors have tapped the same Asian design house, which would be standard procedure.

While Dell is touting the compactness of the PowerEdge 1855, the product isn't all that dense. IBM, for example, can fit 14 blades in the same 7U chassis that holds only 10 Dell blades. RLX has an ultra-dense product that puts hundreds of blades in a standard rack.

Dell, however, has taken an interesting middle of the road approach. Its blades aren't all that dense, but they aren't all that expensive either. The chassis starts at $2,999 and each blade starts at $1,699. A customer will pay $11,494 to fill up half the chassis and $19,989 for the whole shebang.

In general, and it's tough to do apples to apples from the vendors' web sites, Dell's individual blades come in cheaper than those of rivals. As is typical with Dell though, the company is offering you a pretty basic product.

If you're looking for a high-end, mature blade product, IBM and HP clearly have the superior offerings. They've spent years tuning their chassis and software for blade servers, have denser designs and more of the management features seen on higher-end gear. IBM also has a new line of less fancy, low-cost blade systems, and HP has a high-powered line of Opteron blades on the way.

It will be interesting to see how much headway Dell can make in the blade market. Sun Microsystems has been battling to take share from IBM and HP for some time with little luck. Dell's less compact design could offset some of the heating issues that blade customers face, but it's not clear that customers want a middle of the road approach in this segment of the market. Time will tell. ®

Related stories

Dell booms in record Q3
IBM touts poor man's blade server box
HP summarizes blade strategy with new marketing term
HP gears up for Opteron server binge
IBM and Intel open some blade server specs
Orion delivers first 'personal cluster' workstation

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