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Dell Aims Four-Way Servers At Data Centers

PowerEdge servers boost performance by a third without increasing costs
Dell has conquered the desktop and the commodity server market. And last week, the computer maker introduced more-powerful and less-expensive servers and more-intuitive systems-management software in an effort to move the "Dell effect" deeper into companies as it seeks to gain a greater share of the database market.

"This is the final frontier for Dell," says Nick Gall, an analyst with Meta Group. "They've done quite well in the presentation tier and the application tier. Now they're really eyeing the last bastion of big RISC--the database tier."

The new servers lower the barrier to entry for companies wanting to deploy high-performance, four-processor computing systems by boosting performance by a third without an increase in cost, Dell says. The company also rolled out an upgrade to its systems-management software and new data-center validation and testing services.

DELL'S NEW HIGH END
Last week's rollout included:
SERVERS: Four-way PowerEdge 6800 tower and 6850 rack-mounted systems
SOFTWARE: OpenManage 4.3, an upgraded version of Dell's systems-management software
SERVICES: A data-center environmental-assessment service to help evaluate power and thermal requirements
SUPPORT: An Oracle Competency Center to improve the use of Oracle's 10g database on Dell servers
Data: Dell
"These moves speak to the Dell effect," says Jeff Clarke, senior VP of Dell's Product Group. "We're taking a standards-based solution, increasing performance, providing better value. ... This is the next wave of data-center servers, software, and services."

The four-way PowerEdge 6800 tower and 6850 rack-mounted systems will be available over the next few weeks and are priced beginning at $3,999 and $4,899, respectively. The servers are based on Intel's Xeon processors with up to 8 Mbytes of internal cache and clock speeds of up to 3.3 GHz.

"We're making four-ways available to the masses," says Bruce Kornfeld, director of worldwide enterprise marketing for Dell. Unit sales of four-way servers have been stagnant for the past few years, and volume growth is in two-way servers, where the company is strong. The sales gap between two- and four-way servers has been caused by the "significant premium" customers have been forced to pay for four-way servers, Kornfeld says.

Dell intends to reduce or eliminate that premium. While it has placed greater emphasis on the two-way server market in the past, "there's no rule written in stone that says two-ways will be the only volume servers," says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata. "With the increased use of virtualization, and the ability to carve systems up fairly easily, there's thought that we may be seeing a shift to four-ways."

In 2003, Dell shipped about a fourth of all servers using an Intel-based processor and running an Oracle database, according to the company. That makes up about 12% of all servers running an Oracle database.

"That's a pretty reasonable share to begin with, but these four-way boxes will accelerate penetration into the database tier," analyst Gall says.

Another element of Dell's invigorated corporate push is the availability of its OpenManage 4.3 systems-management software, which Clarke says is the first to let users complete patches across both applications and servers using a single tool. "Over the past year, we've transitioned from being a systems-management follower into being a leader," he says.

That effort is helping Dell evolve into a broad-based supplier of enterprise equipment, software, and services, a mission that CEO Kevin Rollins has called the company's "manifest destiny."

"Just as we've seen Dell use steady and gradual improvement and expansion on the hardware side, they can commoditize systems management and services as they keep grinding along," Gall says.

The IT market is "ripe" for changes in systems management, Gall says. "Like the PC and server markets before, Dell now looks at systems management as having very expensive, very high-margin, very customized solutions. If anyone can begin to drive standardization and commoditization of systems management, it's Dell."