The new Dell PowerEdge R520 rack server is more than just the next iteration of a product line. Dell has put some serious engineering effort and innovation into this product cycle.
They've also paid attention to trends like the push to go green in multiple ways, from cooling to noise and power. You'll see phrases like "fresh air compliant" and "library quiet" in the marketing literature, but in reality these are features driven by customer input.
Dell's attention to detail extends to little things like a QR code on the inside of the removable cover (see Figure 1). For now, it takes you to the home page for the server family, but in the not-too-distant future you'll be able to scan the service code and see a page for the server as configured.
It's also evident in things like an illuminated power cord guard that glows green when the box has power. You'll really appreciate a seemlingly small detail like this if you've ever opened the back of a server rack with limited lighting looking for a power problem.
It's important for any company to listen to their customers, and Dell has made a significant investment in soliciting feedback to determine what the real customer needs were. In fact, they talked with over 7700 different customers to get a feel for the issues across a wide variety of usage cases. They also paid attention to the numbers and types of calls coming into their service center to influence changes like the inclusion on the inside cover (see Figure 1) of clear diagrams and wording on correctly installing memory.
Manageability is huge for any organization with more than a few servers. Dell has recognized this and has extended their management platform to include the R520 line (see Figure 2). They've also extended their management platform to include the ability to manage HP servers.
There's a downloadable module that adds devices with HP's iLO client to the list of devices you can connect to with Dell's OpenManage Server administration tool. The management software comes standard with every machine and includes all the features you'd expect in a high-end tool, including the ability to set alarm thresholds for things like system temperatures (see Figure 3).
Cutting costs are at the top of the list of most IT managers, and Dell has listened to these needs as well. The R520 is an ideal solution for customers looking to drop down from older, higher-end servers like 710 / 720 series.
This is now a real option for many customers, as the R520 offers a high-end memory capacity of 384 GB and support for up to 16 CPU cores. The box is also two to three inches shorter than similar offerings from competitors, giving you a little extra room in the rack or the option to go with a smaller rack all together.
Configuring a server for a specific workload can be a daunting task when the options are so varied. Dell has traditionally offered a wide range of configurations to meet different needs.
The R520, on the other hand, comes with a base set of functionality in terms of maximum capacity from a memory and storage perspective, although things do get a bit more interesting depending on how many CPUs are installed. You won't get as much memory and I/O capacity with a single CPU as you would with two, but there are other tradeoffs from a cost and power perspective.
Virtualization is obviously a primary target for this type of machine, and Dell has that covered in spades. Through a partnership with VMware, Dell offers embedded ESXi on an internal SD card, making it possible to boot straight into the hypervisor.
That frees up all disk storage for use by ESXi without the need to maintain any boot partitions. We tested this option and were able to boot into ESXi with a few simple changes to the BIOS. Couple the boot feature with a dedicated hardware RAID controller slot, and you have a powerful virtualization platform in a single 2U box.
On the power supply front, Dell offers a basic 550W unit for the cost conscious plus several hot plug redundant modules (the box is dual redundant capable) at 495W, 70W and 1100W. If you need lots of I/O capacity, you'll find one x16 PCIe slot with x16 bandwidth for a half-length, half-height board; one x16 PCIe slot with x16 bandwidth for a full-length, full-height board; and two X16 PCIe slots with x8 bandwidth for half-length, full-height boards. The PCIe options and memory are less for a single processor configuration.
The Dell R520 is definitely a worthy successor to the R510 and delivers many features previously found only on higher end models. While the starting price for a minimally configured system is $1799, the suggested price for our test machine with 24GB of memory, dual 6-core Intel Xeon processors and a 100GB SATA drive comes in at $5007.
Paul Ferrill, based in Chelsea, Alabama, has been writing about computers and software for almost 20 years. He has programmed in more languages than he cares to count, but now leans toward Visual Basic and C#.