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New Servers Advance Dell Further into Data Center

Dell this week continued solidifying its position as an enterprise supplier of data center gear with the latest rollout of its PowerEdge servers. The firm said this 12th generation is the highest performing line it has yet delivered.

Dell held off from saying that integration of technology from its 2011 acquisition of high-performance computing data center leader Force10 Networks has made its way into this new crop of hardware. Forrest Norrod, vice president and general manager of Dell's Server Platforms, called the renamed Dell Force10 a "crucial puzzle piece that connects Dell servers and Dell storage."

The Austin-based company acknowledged at a media and analyst event in San Francisco that it was still filling in gaps in its enterprise end-to-end capabilities. Dell recently announced the hiring of a former CA CEO, John Swainson, to head up a new software group and in the last two years has acquired 12 companies, including AppAssure in cloud technology, SecureWorks in the managed security space, and Compellent Technologies in storage, in addition to Force10.

The methodical expansion isn't over. Chairman and CEO Michael Dell said that the overall IT industry is worth about $3 trillion. Of that, he noted, "Dell has about 3 percent." Given that, he added, "We think we have tremendous opportunity to grow in IT services, in software, and in infrastructure -- in hardware." He specifically pointed to data backup and virtualization as two areas where Dell expects to be active. "I would say, stay tuned."

Hitting hard on infrastructure was what the rollout of 12G servers was intended to do. The new family of products, said Norrod, "includes members optimized for every deployment scenario":

  • The PowerEdge R820 for high-performance database processing;
  • The C6220 for high performance computing in a shared infrastructure;
  • The R620 for dense virtualization deployments;
  • The R720, for virtualization operations where power conservation is important;
  • The R720xd for collaboration operations;
  • The M620, the blade server with the greatest density potential; 16 can be incorporated into one chassis;
  • The M420, a quarter-height blade, which will formally make its appearance in a couple of months; and
  • The T620 for small business and remote office scenarios. Norrod joked that this server has been “certified” for libraries everywhere, to address customer scenarios where users “don’t want to have servers that drown out the conversation.”

New aspects of 12G highlighted by Dell include:

  • Extended systems management capabilities for deployment, updating, monitoring, and maintenance of servers. The company said internal testing showed that its new server line delivers bare-metal deployment and provisioning that requires up to 86 percent less engineer time and up to 86 percent fewer manual steps.
  • The ability to use fresh air to cool the servers. "We spent three and a half years in research to create a set of servers, storage, and networking equipment that can be cooled using only outside air -- almost anyplace on the planet," said Norrod. Fresh air servers, he explained, can reduce data center utility bills by $3 million every year for every megawatt not used. "For every five degrees [data center administrators] raise the temperature, they can save 15 percent of their energy bill."
  • The use of hot swappable PCIe solid state disks connected to the server and accessible from the front of the rack. According to Dell, Express Flash, supported in the R720xd configuration, can provide up to 10.5 times more Microsoft SQL Server transactions per second than hard disk drive storage.

John Mullen, Dell's vice president and general manager in charge of the education, state, and local government sectors, said that what he hopes higher education customers come away with in this latest round of hardware deliveries is the sense that Dell is addressing the budget scrutiny that currently dominates university decision-making. "On average, most leading universities are maybe 40 [percent] to 50 percent virtualized on the server side," he said. The 12G generation of server technology will "allow them in a smaller footprint with less power per square foot to be able to virtualize even further."

Jay Boisseau, a director for the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at the University of Texas at Austin, has been a Dell customer for at least a decade. Although those early acquisitions focused on "getting everybody's workstations up to date," when the research operations unveiled its first terascale open cluster, Lonestar 2, in 2003, the set-up was built in part using Dell hardware. Now TACC has a Lonestar 4 in operation, also using Dell's previous generation of server gear, as well as a massive high-resolution tile display using 75 4 megapixel Dell displays.

The next generation of cluster at TACC, called Stampede, is expected to appear at the beginning of next year, and it will, Boisseau said, initially deliver 10 petaflops--30 times the performance of Lonestar 4. He said although the hardware being used in that new cluster doesn't include 12G technology, since the work for that began before this announcement, he's pleased to see that Dell is "continuing to evolve the performance characteristics and performance per watt." In supercomputing environments, he noted, "You care about both -- total performance to do the biggest problems possible, and performance for watts, so you can afford to operate the center."

Calling the 12G servers "great," Boisseau predicted that TACC would "absolutely end up deploying different ones of those models at the Center." But what really stands out for him is Dell's attention to detail on trying to provide an end-to-end solution. "To me the most interesting thing about today's news was the high level picture of how much they've completed in the portfolio of software and services on top of the different kinds of hardware they have."

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