Dell Commits to Next-Generation Server Technologies

Dell Computer Corp. started talking the talk of bricks, blades and InfiniBand.

The computer giant made a series of announcements at an enterprise-focused event in New York City on Wednesday that included plans for a 3U blade chassis that holds up to six, two-processor servers.

Solid shipment plans only extended to a more traditional pair of servers disclosed Wednesday -- a tower and a rack-mounted version of a four-processor machine based on the new Intel Xeon MP processors and a ServerWorks chipset. Those models, the PowerEdge 6600 and the PowerEdge 6650, will be available in May at prices starting at $5,500 and $5,200, respectively.

However, Dell did vow to deliver the blade chassis, dubbed the PowerEdge 1655MC, in the third quarter. Pricing on that model won't be released until the product ships.

The Q3 roadmap is Dell's first public step into the form-factor changing technologies that are expected to alter the appearance and plumbing of server computing over the next few years. Dell joins IBM, HP, Compaq and Unisys in embracing the technologies.

Previously, Dell had stuck primarily to current industry-standard server approaches. A brief flirtation with the cell or brick approach in Unisys' 32-processor ES7000 ended recently when Dell decided to pull back from an OEM agreement to resell the high-end, Intel-based servers. Also, Dell scaled back sales of systems based on Intel's 64-bit Itanium processors after citing low demand.

Dell's 1655MC chassis will feature redundant Ethernet switches, power supplies and cooling switches, along with an integrated management card. According to Dell, the modular design and shared resources can cut rack space by up to 50 percent and cabling by more than 80 percent.

Specifications for individual server blades will include up to two 1.26 GHz Intel Pentium III processors with 133-MHz front-side bus, dual SCSI hard drives with integrated RAID chips, 2 GB of memory capacity and dual 10/100/1000 MB NICs.

New Dell OpenManage software, announced simultaneously, will unify configuration and management of Dell server products across different underlying server technology approaches.

Beyond Q3, Dell plans to broaden its line of modular PowerEdge systems with additional blade designs based on Intel's low-power processors and with brick designs, which Dell says "will combine the flexibility of blades with the power of traditional enterprise servers."

IBM uses a brick approach in its eServer xSeries 440 server, which can be expanded from four-processors to eight with the addition of a brick. Unisys originally called the approach "cellular multi-processing," but now officials there have taken to calling the cells "bricks" in line with industry momentum. In any case, the ES7000 can be configured with up to eight four-processor bricks or cells that can be added as needed in the field.

"Dell plans to integrate InfiniBand technology into its next generation PowerEdge 'brick' servers with Intel's Xeon processors," the company said in a statement. Unisys and IBM have used pre-InfiniBand technology for their brick approaches in order to ship them sooner, but there are a lot of sensible technology reasons to take an InfiniBand approach with bricks.

Dell and Microsoft said in joint statements Wednesday that they are partnering to bring InfiniBand technology to next-generation enterprise servers.

"We believe that InfiniBand with its high bandwidth and low latency, will become a significant server blade interconnect technology," said Cliff Reeves, vice president of Microsoft's Windows Server Division. "We will support InfiniBand in future versions of the Microsoft Windows Server family of operating systems."

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.