Future-proof blade server shrinks down

Two years after its first blade server appeared, Dell has launched a follow-up: the Xeon-based PowerEdge 1855.

Two years after its first blade server appeared, Dell has launched a follow-up: the Xeon-based PowerEdge 1855.

The blades will slide into a new 7U (31cm) chassis that will house up to 10 of the dual-processor servers and will accommodate the emerging 10-Gigabit Ethernet networking technology as well as the power requirements of Intel's next generation of Xeon processors, which are expected to emerge next year.

Bruce Kornfeld, Dell's director of worldwide enterprise marketing, said the extremely dense blade design, which lets systems share common networking, power and cooling components, would allow users to squeeze up to 62% more servers into their data centre racks compared with Dell's rack-mounted 1U (4.4cm) PowerEdge 1850 server.

Although he had not yet got his hands on Dell's new servers, Darrin Hyrup, director of operations with Mythic Entertainment, said the 1855 appeared powerful enough to be a viable alternative to rack systems.

With almost all the space in Mythic's data centre currently in use, the company is looking to blades to enhance performance. "This will allow us to expand our services without having to buy a lot more real estate," said Hyrup.

While blades have always taken up less space than rack-mounted servers, the extreme density of the blade architecture has forced some blade designs to use cooler, less powerful processors than those that go into rack systems. The 1855, however, uses the same processor as its 1U rack counterpart.

"We were waiting for the technology to mature," Hyrup said. "Up until recently, we weren't sure we were going to get the performance and space gains we had wanted."

Mythic is also interested in evaluating a low-power version of the 1855, which should appear within a few months. Hyrup expects the new blade to have significantly lower power requirements than the 1855, which itself uses around 15% less electricity than the 1850.

But Gartner research vice-president John Enck said a major issue for Dell customers was that the new blade chassis did not yet support switching technology from Brocade and Cisco. Support is expected in early 2005, but until then Dell's 1855 systems may hbe less appealing to enterprise customers, who will have to do more work to integrate them into Brocade or Cisco environments.

"What you'd pretty much have to do today is cable everything to the blade, which pretty much bypasses one of the major value propositions of blades," said Enck.

Available from today, the PowerEdge 1855 chassis will start at $2,999 (£1,600). Blade servers will start at $1,699.

Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service

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