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Dell's Soviet style two-year plan results in fresh blade servers

55,000 man hours and four acres of pines

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Dell 2.0 is full of surprises. For example, the hardware maker today unveiled the HP C-Class blade server chassis - its third take on the blade design.

Well, okay, Dell really unveiled the PowerEdge M1000e chassis, which we've been writing about for months. Thing is the system eats up 10U of rack space and holds 16 half-height blades just like HP's C-Class chassis.

Dell takes umbrage at the C-Class comparisons even though you'd need a degree in bezelology to tell the system apart from the M1000e. The server maker spent two years and about 55,000 man hours (like woman hours but with less pay) designing the M1000e and has - get this - around 30 patents pending on the hardware. That intellectual property magic translates into a blade chassis that demonstrates far better performance per watt than either HP or IBM, according to Dell's chief bladetologist and VP Rick Becker, who the company acquired from - we'll give you one guess - HP.

Initially, customers can only buy half height versions of the new M600 and M605 blades to slot into the fresh chassis. The M600 systems will ship with dual- and quad-core versions (65nm and 45nm) of Xeon, while the M605 will ship with dual-core versions of Opteron until AMD manages to find some bug free four-core chips to give to Dell. Full height blades will arrive later this year.

The dual-socket servers look a lot like the other vendors' units, although Dell claims some cooling advantages thanks to smart component placement.

The real performance per watt gusto, however, stems from the chassis where Dell has relied on slick fans and up to 93 per cent efficient power supplies.

Pining Away

There's a good chance that you'll need a sick bag for this next bit, so get one ready.

According to the folks at Dell, the M1000e delivers four acres of pine trees per year in power efficiency over the competition. Yeah, like every other vendor, Dell has jumped onto the green bandwagon and now dishes out carbon dioxide offset figures.

What you'll want to know is that Dell claims to have crafted a blade system that's 19 per cent more power efficient than HP and 12 per cent more power efficient than IBM. If you take Dell's metrics and annualize them out at nine cents per kilowatt hour, you'll save $2,600 per rack per year versus HP and $1,500 per rack per year versus IBM.

The cynical customer will have doubts about these figures, and that's fair enough. To counter such skepticism, Dell's dishing out a report from Principled Technologies - how can you not trust that name - which shows the M1000e besting HP and IBM by about 25 per cent on performance per watt measurements.

The analyst firm used the SPECjbb2005 benchmark to test a variety of configurations, including systems with a couple blades right on up to fully-packed units. In each case, Dell won the war.

You could argue that HP and IBM would see similar performance per watt figures if they went with more efficient power supplies and fancier fans too. And, in fact, we think they would see significant gains. Dell, after all, relies on "industry standard" components that rivals can purchase.

Dell counters by saying that the competition will struggle to match its power efficiency because of the air flow design in the M1000e and because of Dell's management techniques. Dell's base system, for example, can perform real-time power management on the chassis as a whole or individual blades, and let administrators set a power threshold for the chassis.

We're a tad iffy on the power efficiency claims given that vendors always seem able to out tweak each other on various benchmarks.

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