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Dell unleashes blades of fury

Rivals and readers perform dissection

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Analysis When Dell last week issued a new blade chassis and servers, we knew a certain amount of competitive fury would hit the internet. There's something about blade systems that makes HP, IBM, Sun and Dell particularly hostile. Perhaps that's because blades are some of the more unique and more profitable systems in the x86 market or because there's a firm split between the Haves - HP and IBM - and the Have Nots - Sun and Dell.

With a few days passed since the Dell launch, we thought it might be useful to have a look at how rivals and our readers evaluated the Dell systems. Dell - through an analyst firm called Principled Technologies that, frankly, we've never heard of - made a number of provocative performance, energy efficiency and simplicity of packaging claims against HP and IBM.

Now we've been peppered with e-mails from readers and rivals, charging that Dell stacked these performance, performance per watt and packaging tests in its favor. You can always rig a benchmark, even one like SPECjbb2005 that's standard and used by a lot of vendors. But we've dug through the data - and you can too here in PDF - only to find something that looks an awful lot like apples to apples comparisons on the performance and performance per watt fronts. All of the systems from Dell, HP and IBM run on the same Xeon chips, the same memory, the same disks and use equivalent numbers of power supplies. Under such conditions, Dell exhibits a relatively slight raw performance edge over HP and IBM and about a 25 per cent performance per watt edge, which is ground we've covered before and that Dell covers here in a PDF report.

So, let's turn to some more debatable areas.

Eclipse

As we see it, Sun has a right to complain about the benchmarks because Dell failed to measure itself against Sun's comparable Sun Blade 6000 chassis, which holds 10 blades in a 10U unit. (Dell's M1000e chassis currently holds 16, dual-socket half-height blades in a 10U chassis.)

Sun executive Marc Hamilton stepped in to do the dirty work for Dell on a blog post.

"Dell's new blade does have half the memory, half the CPUs, half the disks that the SunBlade 6000 can pack in the same 10 RU of space, but that is not all it's missing, it also comes up short with no RAID5/6, no SAS backplane and no storage blade," Hamilton wrote. "Of course just for fun, I went ahead and configured one of Dell's new blades on their web site, and received an estimated ship date of March 10.

"Can't wait until March 10th to get your blade, don't despair, you can get a SunBlade 6000 shipped to you in a few days."

Hamilton does catch Dell on a couple of issues, although he's not exactly doing apples to apples comparisons. The "half the CPUs" crack relies on Sun comparing its four-socket blades against Dell's two-socket blades. And, we, we're pretty sure Sun has yet to ship the four-socket blades in volume. In fact, the four-socket units fail to show up as options if you try and configure a Sun Blade 6000 chassis.

Bricks? Kettles? Glass houses? Pots?

On we go.

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

Next page: Pack Rats

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