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Dell shoots low for SMBs

New servers, NAS box

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If you are a small and medium business getting ready to buy servers or storage, Dell wants to talk to you.

Dell fancies itself as a big player to big customers in the server biz, but it really got its start among the small and medium businesses who first took a shining to its direct sales model and less expensive x86 PCs, and who eventually figured out that they needed servers running NetWare, Unix, Windows, or other network operating systems to help them run their companies.

Dell doesn't talk about it much, but according to Antonio Julio, global SMB enterprise director, the company has over 10,000 employees dedicated to the SMB market who, in aggregate, have over 1 million customer interactions per week with SMB shops. In terms of PC and server shipments, SMB shops account for about 35 per cent of the Dell pie, with public companies, large private companies, and governments and educational institutions collectively getting the other 65 per cent.

Dell's initial PowerEdge 11G launch coincided with Intel's debut of its quad-core Nehalem Xeon 5500 processors in March. These were not really SMB machines. And then the PowerEdge line was expanded again in June to have more Xeon boxes as well as some machines supporting Advanced Micro Devices' six-core Istanbul Opteron 2400 and 8400 processors. Again, these were not really SMB machines in terms of features and pricing, since they all were two-socket machines with lots of oomph, excepting the larger four-socket R905, which has four Istanbul Opterons and packs an even bigger punch - and a price tag to match.

Today, Dell is rolling out a bunch of new servers and storage aimed at those SMB shops it wants to pursue with more of a vengeance, particularly since SMBs are still, of necessity, spending money to upgrade servers and storage.

Three of the four new servers are based on Intel's Lynnfield Xeon 3400 series of processors, which came out Tuesday. The other one is a new 2U rack box based on the Xeon 5500s.

The Xeon X3400 processors are aimed at single-socket boxes and use Intel's P55 chipset. They have four cores running at between 1.86 GHz and 2.93 GHz and two threads per core excepting the X3430, which only has one thread per core. The P55 chipset supports up to eight PCI-Express 2.0 slots, fourteen USB 2.0 ports, and six SATA 3Gb/sec ports (with various RAID protection levels). The Lynnfields have the memory controller as well as the PCI-Express logic on the chip and also sport Turbo Boost capability, which allows the clock speed to be goosed on one, two, or three cores when the others are put to sleep because they aren't being used.

The T110 is a tower server (hence, the T in the name) intended to be the first server that an SMB buys when they graduate from just having a network of PCs. The machine comes in a desktop chassis that is only 18 inches deep. Any of the Lynnfield chips can plop into the machine, which has four DDR3 main memory slots for a maximum of 16GB using 4GB modules. The T110 tower has room for four 3.5-inch SAS or SATA disks (maxing out at 4TB of capacity) and optional SAS controllers if you don't want to use SATA. Networking eats up one of the slots, it looks like. The T110 has a 305-watt power supply.

The T310 server, also a tower, supports 8GB DDR3 main memory modules and hence can support up to 32GB of capacity (in theory, for in practice this is very expensive). The T310 has five PCI-Express 2.0 slots and also sports hot-swap disks if customers want to pay for them. (If you are cheap, you can get less expensive cabled disks). Disks in both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch form factors are supported in this machine, and it looks like networking eats one of the slots here, too. The T310 has a 375-watt power supply.

The R210 is 1U rack-mounted server for the SMB shop that wants to put a rack of low-end uniprocessor boxes in a closet somewhere. It is essentially a T210 server put into a standard rack chassis. But the machine has only one PCI-Express slot and only room for two SAS, SATA, or SSD drives. (You can choose between 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drives).

The various editions of Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 come pre-installed at the factory (including the forthcoming R2 update to Windows Server 2008) on any of these three boxes, and do does Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 5.3 and Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11. If you really want Windows Essential Business Server 2008, you have to pay Dell to put it on the box. You can also plunk Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor onto the machine if you want to go virtual from the get-go.

The R510 is a new Xeon 5500 2U rack server, which comes in a 24-inch deep chassis (that's shallow as rack servers go) and that has lots of configurations - the "Swiss army knife of servers," according to Sally Stevens, director of server product marketing at Dell. Whatever it is, the spec sheets were not available for the box as we went to press, but Stevens said it was aimed at midrange shops who want a balance of storage, redundancy, and low price, perhaps for boxes that would be put into remote offices.

Dell's pricing and configuration information for these servers was a little thin ahead of the announcement, and all that it said is that the new boxes would be available in September with prices starting at $599.

For SMBs looking for external NAS appliances when their internal disk capacity runs out on their servers, Dell is also today announcing the PowerVault NX300, which is basically an R210 server equipped with four 1TB disks and Windows Storage Server 2008 to make it a NAS. The list price for the NX300 is $3,000, and it will be available on October 12.

Dell is also today announcing 28 - count them - 28 new uninterruptible power supplies as part of the SMB launch today, which have energy efficiency ratings of 95 per cent or higher.

The company adds that Microsoft's Hyper-V R2 has been certified on all current PowerEdge machines, not just ones running the latest Xeon and Opteron chips, but anything that is in the product catalog. ®

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