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Dell Kills Eight-Way Xeon Plans, Debuts Puppy Intel Server.

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

Dell Inc yesterday let the word out that it has killed a development project with Intel Corp to deliver a high-end machine that lashes together eight of Intel's "Gallatin" Pentium 4 Xeon MP processors. The killing of the eight-way server means that from here on out, Dell is going to focus on pushing clusters of two-way and four-way machines for both commercial and technical customers. Dell also rolled out a new, low-cost entry PowerEdge server aimed at small and midsized businesses.

Bruce Anderson, a spokesperson at Dell, confirmed reports that the company has indeed taken the eight-way Xeon MP machine off its roadmap. "This move is consistent with our strategy of scaling out, which has been in place for years. Nothing has really changed here."

Dell has been talking up this scale-out clustering strategy for a few months, and has a significant partnership with database maker Oracle Corp to peddle its Oracle9i Real Application Clusters to push clusters of two-way and four-way rack-mounted servers as alternatives to monolithic SMP servers running Unix, Windows, or mainframe environments. The Oracle RAC software is well regarded, and appears to scale on commercial applications. Clustering is also the name of the game in the high performance computing (HPC) segment of the market. And increasing number of academic, government, and research institutions that would have once bought Unix-based vector or parallel supercomputers are now buying relatively cheap Lintel clusters. Two way machines are very popular for this purpose, since you can have one CPU handling I/O and one CPU handling processing in each two-way node, and given the relative inexpensiveness of these two-way Lintel machines - somewhere around $2,500 for a reasonable configuration - it is not that costly (compared to vector or parallel Unix boxes) to build a cluster with hundreds of gigaflops or even teraflops of aggregate, raw computing power.

This is Dell's vision of the future, and that is why it is not all that keen on trying to sell an eight-way box. Moreover, Hewlett-Packard Co, IBM Corp, Unisys Corp, NEC Corp, and Fujitsu Siemens are all chasing this market, and have the customer bases with big SMP machines already in their folds. Dell is predominantly selling uniprocessor and two-way machines to companies, and has become a force in the four-way market in recent years. It plays to Dell's strengths to demonstrate that big Wintel and Lintel iron is not necessary to do big computing. And it is much easier to sell a new idea to any customer than to sell what is essentially the same eight-way iron to a competitor's customer. Hence, no more eight-way PowerEdge server using Xeon MP processors. Dell, of course, will say that it only sells a few thousand eight-way machines a year, and that is why it is not pursuing this market. But it is a $1bn+ market, and the fact of the matter is that IBM, HP, and Unisys have it pretty much locked up. Dell would have to spend a lot of money just to get a piece of this market, and it might not net out to anything in terms of profits.

Incidentally, the odds do not favor Dell introducing a 64-bit Itanium-based eight-way server any time in the future, either, but if the memory requirements of Dell's customers expand beyond the 32GB limit of the current PowerEdge 6650 or the theoretical 64GB upper limit of the current 32-bit Windows platform, Dell might have to do a bigger Itanium box. But again, with databases being clustered and sharing memory, this doesn't seem to be necessary - if the clustering technologies from Oracle perform as advertised and if HPC clustering of Linux servers (which is an inefficient way to aggregate computing power) are sufficient to do big jobs. Clusters of four-way Itanium 2 machines should make formidable database servers - if Dell ever gets one out the door. The company has only committed to bringing a two-way Itanium 2 box, the PowerEdge 3250, to market this far. This is a great box as a compute node in an HPC cluster, and while it might make a decent database server for a small business, it is not really what anyone could call big iron, clusters or not.

Dell is keeping the heat on at the low end of the Intel-based server market that it rules with the new PowerEdge 400SC, which was announced yesterday. The machine supports 2GHz Celeron processors with a 400MHz front side bus (FSB) or Pentium 4 processors at 2.26GHz with a 533MHz FSB or at 3.2GHz with an 800MHz FSB. Dell says that this is the first Intel server with an 800MHz FSB in the entry server space. The PowerEdge 400SC uses the Intel 875P chipset and supports up to 4GB of main memory. The tower chassis has room for two disk drives, with either IDE or SCSI units supported. The base machine is listing for $499, but is available on the company's direct sales Web site for $374 this week, including a free processor upgrade to the next highest clock speed in any comparison (which normally costs $99). Dell is also offering a 120GB, 72K RPM IDE disk drive at half price as an add-on for $85 and a 50% discount on a RAID controller.

Dell is supporting Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003, and Red Hat Linux on this box, which are not included. A reasonable configuration of this box with the 2.8GHz P4, 1GB of main memory, 120GB of RAID protected disk, a 16X DVD drive, a 20GB quarter-inch Travan tape, a license to Windows Server 2003, and three year's of on-site, 4-hour response tech support costs $3,349. Don't think that a cheap initial price for a server means customers don't still end up spending a few grand. The trick with Dell is that it can do a machine like the PowerEdge 400SC for a little bit less than its competition, and that is why it gets a lot of sales in the entry server market.
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Title Annotation:PowerEdge 400SC
Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 22, 2003
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