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6/9/2010
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Dell Offers Open Data Center Convergence

PowerEdge servers, storage arrays, and management software promise a more open approach to data center convergence.

Dell announced Wednesday "business-ready," preintegrated servers and storage arrays designed to host highly virtualized environments. The engineering represents Dell's "open, modular, and pragmatic" response to the challenge of providing a "converged" data center.

PowerEdge blades and rack-mount servers, based on the latest Intel and AMD processors, can be equipped with InfiniBand, Ethernet, iSCSI or Fibre Channel I/O devices that can handle existing 1-Gb Ethernet network speeds, more advanced 10-Gb Ethernet, or 40-Gb Fibre Channel speeds, Dell said.

The PowerEdge M610x and M710HD can be equipped with 192 GB of memory for a greater density of virtual machines per host. The 610 and 710 models both can use up to 12 cores in two CPU sockets running either Intel Xeon 5520s or 5600s chips.

In a highly virtualized environment, servers are heavily loaded with memory and CPUs to handle multiple virtual machines. But they tend to become bogged down in I/O as the virtual machines require data off the network or send data to storage. By converging traffic, the I/0 devices -- network interface cards and host bus adapters -- don't need to be divided for two different purposes. If the network is idle, then storage can momentarily make use of as many I/O devices as it needs to complete a burst to the storage array, and vice versa.

"Virtualization is an enabling technology that allows a new level of flexibility and automation in the data center. Dell is focused on bringing the full benefits of that" to its customers, said Matt Baker, enterprise strategist, in an interview prior to Wednesday's announcement.

In part, the offering is Dell's answer to Cisco Systems' converged networking and server environment, its Unified Computing System with which it entered the server market in March last year. Dell's offering is also a more concerted response to HP's BladeSystem Matrix, which uses HP blades and switches to accomplish a similar goal.

For heavily virtualized servers to function at full potential, they need to be attached to a shared storage system that is being managed as a pool with a single file system.

Dell is addressing that need with software that manages new EqualLogic storage arrays that are half SAS disk drives and half solid state drives in a single enclosure, the PS6000XVS and the PS6010XVS.

With high-speed storage systems underlying their servers, Dell customers can use VMotion to maneuver virtual machines from one spot to another without interrupting the users using them, Payne said.

EqualLogic 5.0 firmware supports VMware's vStorage API. Dell EqualLogic Host Software, such as EqualLogic Auto-Snapshot Manager, combined with the firmware can reduce SAN network traffic involved in a copy process by 95% and CPU usage by 75%, said Brian Payne, Dell product planning, in an interview.

The Dell storage and server configurations will work with Dell PowerConnect switches but "unlike competitors," they will work with other vendors' switches as well, said Baker.

Baker and Payne repeatedly emphasized that Dell is trying to give customers the benefits of a converged data center infrastructure, while sticking to open standards and known technologies to do so.

They said the benefits of converged server and storage management can be obtained with the pieces and architecture that Dell now supplies through its expertise in the x86 hardware field.

Some of that expertise comes from its Data Center Solutions business unit, which has been supplying servers to Microsoft, Ask.com, and Amazon for their Internet-based businesses. Microsoft uses Dell servers in its Azure cloud operations in Chicago.

Cisco uses a new standard approved by the IEEE that it helped write, an implementation of Fibre Channel Over Ethernet known as Data Center Ethernet, in its Unified Computing System.

"The iSCSI protocol isn't less efficient or slower than DCE," said Payne. It's more commonly implemented in 1-Gb Ethernet settings because it works in what is a common, low-cost networking environment today there. But it can ramp up to 10-Gb Ethernet or 40-Gb speeds if its users choose to.

He suggested Dell was protecting customers interest by highlighting a technology already well known and available as opposed to offering one that tied customers into particular product lines.

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