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4/10/2007
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Dell Claims Rack Servers Better Than Blades

Dell says its super-energy-efficient rack servers based on multicore processors provide 15% more output for less wattage than rack systems designed by IBM or HP.

Dell executives made aggressive claims Tuesday suggesting that Dell rack servers in some cases would save customers more money in a data center than initiating a total makeover with blade servers made by either IBM or Hewlett-Packard.

"HP and IBM are prescribing that their customers rip and replace servers to make way for their proprietary blade servers. It's not really an option as much as it is a mandate," Jay Parker, director of PowerEdge servers in Dell's Product Group, told a group of reporters Tuesday.

Despite reports that customers can consolidate space taken up by rack servers, Parker explained, data center customers more often than not can only get 20 blades in a rack and achieve a minimal amount of performance savings.

"In that case you might be better off with rack servers that are more energy efficient," he said. Parker said that third-party data shows that Dell's super-energy-efficient rack servers based on multicore processors give 15% more output for less wattage than rack systems designed by IBM or HP.

The assertions coincided with the release of two new Dell servers -- the PowerEdge 2970 server and the PowerEdge Energy Smart 2970 -- that are powered by Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processors with the chipmaker's new dynamic power management configuration. The servers are engineered to draw up to 34% less power and deliver up to double the performance per watt over previous Dell servers, the company said in a statement.

While Dell also sells blade servers, Parker said Dell is choosing to adopt a server portfolio populated primarily with one-socket and two-socket rack servers powered by dual-core and quad-core processors.

"We have two four-way servers for sale now. We are hoping to reduce that number in half pretty soon ... and eventually drop them altogether," Parker said. Dell has traditionally shied away from mainframes and larger box servers (eight-way and above) -- a mainstay of IBM and HP's business.

Dell's stance on rack servers doesn't surprise IDC server analyst Jed Scaramella, who notes that Dell's lack of blade business is insignificant since the company has traditionally found it hard to compete with HP and IBM's blade server products.

"There are advantages to the blade servers, of course," Scaramella told InformationWeek. "If you have to retrofit your data center however, that will add more to the cost in the end. Dell's advantage is that they are approaching customers that have stacks of rack servers. If you have an existing data center and you don't want to spend money on replacing systems, then you are going to go with the most efficient server you can. Dell understands that."

Scaramella also is skeptical that the processor will be the ultimate deciding factor for Dell customers since both HP and IBM have access to the same dual- and quad-core chips. Instead, Scaramella suggests Dell's strong play will be in servers that support two sockets and quad-core processors.

Dell's other stance is that virtualization will allow rack servers to be better performers than their blade counter parts. Parker said the company's 5-year-old services division gave 600 of its major customers a virtualization readiness assessment and found that moving to virtualized servers could allow the kind of growth that IDC suggests -- about 5% of all servers have some type of virtualization technology in operation and that number should rise to 15% by 2010.

"The key is going to be optimizing around quad-core processors, which might mean there will be slower demand because most software applications are not written for quad core," Scaramella said.

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