Dell's Soviet style two-year plan results in fresh blade servers
55,000 man hours and four acres of pines
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.
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.
That said, we're very impressed by a rather prosaic element of Dell's blade story and that's how the systems arrive at the customer.
Dell ships customers a single box with the chassis and blades all ready to go. HP and IBM, by contrast, bombard you with dozens of boxes. So, as Principled Technologies sees it, you need about 14 minutes to unpack and install Dell's blade server, while it will take you close to two hours to deal with an IBM unit and more than three hours to deal with an HP unit. For a good chuckle, check out Principled's PDF report  on the unpacking affair. (Oh, if only we could get paid to unpack things.)
The M1000e boasts a couple of other nice but pedestrian additions. For example, there's an LCD display on the front of the chassis that can be tilted up or down, depending on the system's placement in a rack. Adminstrators can use the screen for basic configurations tasks such as setting up IP addresses for the hardware.
In addition, the back of the chassis has a KVM module and a management module.
On the networking front, Dell has bundled in one of its very own switches - a M6220 Ethernet switch that has four 1Gb ports and upgradeable ports for stacking or 10Gb. You can also pick up Cisco and Broade gear, including Fibre Channel and InfiniBand hardware.
Blade Some Things
Regular Register readers will find few surprises with Dell's new blade system, since we've documented the system's specifications over the last few months. Those same readers will also be accustomed to Dell's line around blade systems.
Dell claims that blade server market leaders HP and IBM have gone hyping mad with their compact gear.
"We are not about blade everything," Becker said. "We are about listening to our customers and selling them the solution that makes the most sense.
"I have the best blades on the market and am still only going to recommend them where they make sense."
Oddly, Becker talked very little to us about the new blade's price. That's quite the change for a company that has long beat away at the "low cost" theme at every opportunity.
The M1000e starts at $5,999, while the individual blades start at $1,849.
Dell will support Windows and Linux now, and Solaris, if customers ask for it. In addition, the company may roll out double-wide blades one day if it sees a need. The M1000e has been built to hold the fatties.
You can see the Dell unit for yourself here .®