Dell Servers Buyer's Guide

by Drew Robb

In the past few months, Dell overhauled its PowerEdge server line to provide its x86 servers with greater reliability, improved performance and the ability to handle tougher workloads. Here's what to expect if you're in the market for Dell servers.

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A few months ago, Dell made some major changed to its PowerEdge server line. As usual, these changes are intended to make the machines more reliable, able to handle tougher workloads and improve performance.

The changes were implemented in three stages. In March, Dell refreshed its 2-socket PowerEdge models, which include the M610 and M710 blade servers; the R410, R510, R610 and R710 racks; and the T410, T610 and T710 towers. All contain the Intel Xeon 5600 processor.

That was soon followed up with three more -- the R810, R910 and M910 -- which took advantage of Intel's latest "Nehalem-EX" -- the Xeon 7500 and 6500 processors. Not to show too much favoritism, Dell released the R815 rack based on AMD Opteron's 6100 series processor.

The latest development is three new servers released in June.

"Dell bolstered its PowerEdge portfolio again by introducing the M710HD and M610x blades as well as an AMD-based rack server known as the R715," said Armando Acosta, a senior product line consultant for Dell's 4-socket rack products. "These new servers come with unique features and design advancements."

What he's talking about are basically bells and whistles in the areas of flexibility, virtualization and management. FlexMemory Bridge Technology gives users the ability to select 2-socket PowerEdge blade and rack servers while accessing up to 32 DIMM slots for memory scalability. That aim here is to make it possible to reach an expanded memory capacity without paying a premium price.

"Fail-safe" virtualization is an embedded hypervisor to help speed the deployment and operation of virtualization. The company offers dual embedded hypervisors to provide customers with the added security of a redundant hypervisor.

Last is Dell's Lifecycle Controller, which provides IT administrators with a single console view of their IT infrastructure. It also supplies provisioning functions, such as system deployment, system updates, hardware configuration and diagnostics.

Model Selection

With Dell's new upgrades, there are many attractive models from which to choose. Which should you choose? Let's take a look at the various categories.


Dell offers many rack servers -- from lightweight and inexpensive to heavy-duty workload boxes. Some models are designed for specific tasks.

"Dell provides a range of rack-based servers tested and optimized for database software, such as Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and Oracle," said Acosta. "These rack servers are ideal for handling departmental computing needs, building out network infrastructures, Web applications, additional storage capacity and mission-critical business applications."

The PowerEdge R710, for example, is a 2U rack server based on Intel Xeon's 5500 and 5600 processors. It comes with up to 18 DIMM slots and up to 192GB of total RAM. It also features four integrated NIC ports and four PCIe Gen 2 slots. Acosta reckons this one is best suited to virtualized environments.

The PowerEdge R815 is based on AMD 6100 processors. It comes with embedded diagnostics and an interactive LCD display. It has a maximum internal storage of 3TB and up to 256GB of RAM to perform heavy workloads.

For even more strenuous tasks, the PowerEdge R910 is a high-performance, 4-socket 4U rack. This machine can harness up to four eight-core Intel 7500 series processors and up to 1TB of RAM.

Dell Towers

Dell's tower servers are general-purpose servers that can handle small-business tasks to medium-sized database workloads. The T410 is a low-cost and flexible 2-socket tower that can power general business applications or be placed in remote offices where it takes up little room --- it stands only 24 inches deep. It uses Intel's 5500/5600 series processors, comes with up to 64GB RAM and up to 6TB (SAS or SATA) of internal storage.

The PowerEdge 610 has a little more horsepower at an added price. It is also aimed at SMBs, and departmental and remote office functions. It has a 2-socket Intel-based 5500/5600 series processor server. It comes with up to 96GB RAM and 8TB internal storage.

The PowerEdge 710 is at the high end of the Dell towers. It is aimed specifically at high performance and capacity for server consolidation and virtualization. It is powered by Intel Xeon 5500/5600 series processors and comes with up to 144GB RAM and up to 8TB of internal storage.

Dell Blades

Two good candidates in the blades space are the M910 and the M710.

The PowerEdge M910 is a 4-socket, full-height blade server that is ideal for virtualization workloads or core applications. It has Intel Xeon 7500 or 6500 processors. It can scale up to 512GB RAM.

The M710, on the other hand, is a full-height blade server with large memory capacity and several I/O options that delivers good virtualization and data center performance per watt, according to Acosta. It's equipped with Intel Xeon 5500/5600 series processors, 18 DIMM slots that provide up to 144GB of RAM and up to 1.2TB of internal storage.

Speaking about the value of servers using the latest Intel processors such as the Xeon 5600, Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT said Dell customers gain the advantage of better security, more performance and lower power draw.

"Dell said that data center owners stand to benefit from the new processors' energy efficiency," said King. "A 2-socket server using the new low-voltage Intel Xeon L5640 series can deliver the same performance as one using the previous generation Xeon X5570 series, but with up to 30 percent less power."

Dell Servers -- At a Glance

Name Towers Rack Servers Blade Servers Target DeploymentGeneral-purpose servers featuring remote manageability, expandability and deployment flexibility. Suitable for SMB and departmental needs as well as databases serving one to 100 users. Also suitable for small workgroups needing high-availability features and memory capacity to drive productivityDepartmental needs, ideal for network infrastructure, Web applications, additional storage capacity and high-performing and demanding business applicationsEnvironments that must consolidate computing resources to maximize efficiency, front-end mainstream business applications, virtualized environments demanding the utmost in performance/watt, memory-intensive applications, front-end HPC nodes, server consolidation, high-density environments running network infrastructure, Web applications, compute nodes, HPC applications, and file and printProcessor TypeIntel Xeon 5500 & 5600 series processors, Intel Xeon quad-core and dual-core, Intel Celeron (D), Intel Core Duo 2, Intel Pentium D dual-core, AMD Opteron dual-core and quad-coreLatest Intel Xeon 5600 "Westmere-EP," Xeon 7500 and 6500 "Nehalem-EX" series processors, as well as new AMD 6100 Opteron series processorsIntel Xeon 5500, 5600, 7500 and 6500 series processors, as well as new AMD 6100 Opteron series processorsOperating SystemsWindows Server, Red Hat Linux, SUSE Linux, Solaris, VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServerWindows Server, Red Hat Linux, Red Hat Linux, SUSE Linux, Solaris, VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServerWindows Server, Red Hat Linux, SUSE Linux, Solaris, VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServerServers T110
Entry PriceFrom $449From $749From $1429

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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This article was originally published on Friday Jul 2nd 2010
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