Dell Gets Into Blade Market

New PowerEdge 1655MC will compete against offerings from HP and IBM, among others.
After months of anticipation and several weeks of delay, Dell Computer has formally entered the blade-server market with the launch of its PowerEdge 1655MC. The new server features a chassis that can hold as many as six dual-Pentium III processor blades, SCSI hard-disk drives with integrated hardware RAID, hot-plug redundant power supplies and cooling fans, an integrated management card, and redundant Ethernet switches--all within 5-1/4 inches of space.

Following Monday's launch, Dell now faces the real challenge--selling its new servers in a market that's quickly been crowded by similar offerings from Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and a number of smaller vendors. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., is considering a move to blades as a way to add processing power to its data center at a lower cost than rack-mounted servers, while consolidating space. For this, the hospital is considering Dell's PowerEdge 1655MC or HP's ProLiant BL20p, introduced in early September. The 1655MC with chassis, two processors, two disk drives, and 512 Mbytes of memory is priced at about $3,700. Pricing for a comparable ProLiant BL20p and chassis is about $5,900.

"We're running out of space with all the equipment in here," senior system administrator John Senter, says of the hospital's 1,200 square-foot data center. St. Jude plans to start off with one or two chassis full of blades to serve as a test environment for the hospital's migration from Windows NT and Exchange 5.5 to Windows 2000 and Exchange 2000. If all goes well, Senter would take Windows 2000 live on the blade servers and move Exchange 2000 to rack-mounted Dell PowerEdge 6550 servers. The key decision-making criteria will be how quickly the hospital can deploy the servers and how easily they can be managed. While Senter uses Dell OpenManage to manage the hospital's 80 Intel-based servers, he says he would be willing to integrate HP's management software if that turns out to be a better deal for St. Jude.

Each vendor's blade-server offering is slightly different, and the real impact of blade servers in the data center won't be felt before next year, says IDC server research analyst Mark Melenovsky. IDC estimates that the blade market saw $21 million in sales for the third quarter of this year, amounting to about 9,600 blades sold. Although the market is beginning to take off, it's still a very small portion of the $12 billion overall server market, he says.

Blade servers for the commercial market--as opposed to the telecom provider market where Sun on Monday unveiled two new servers--will undergo a lot of testing before they're actually deployed to run applications in a production environment. For now, the key distinction among vendors will be the manageability of their products, Melenovsky says.

Sun's new Netra CT 410 and 810 cPCI blade servers are targeted specifically at telecom providers whose servers need to be able to operate under more adverse physical conditions, scale quickly depending on user traffic, and have built-in redundancy. The servers, which feature CP2140 and CP2160 blades that use Sun's UltraSparc IIi 650-MHz processor, are designed to help provide telecom providers with the infrastructure needed to offer a greater number of wireless applications, says Arlen Vanderwel, VP of Sun's Netra Systems. Priced starting at $19,195 for the CT 410 and $22,995 for the CT 810, the servers feature a 50% performance improvement from their predecessors.

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