Review: Dell blade servers tip the scales

Dell's M1000e blade system wows with novel new blades, improved management, modular I/O, and 40G out the back

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Code-named Colossus, this little monster can hold up to 14TB of raw storage with 14 1TB SAS disks, or it can be split into a tiering solution with five SSDs and nine SAS disks. Further, up to four PS-M4110 storage arrays can be housed in a single M1000e chassis, taking up eight slots, but leaving another eight for compute blades.

It's important to note that unlike some storage blades offered by other blade vendors, the PS-M4110 is not designed to connect directly to an adjacent blade as a DAS solution. It's a fully functional iSCSI SAN array that connects to the network just like any other iSCSI SAN would.

An abundance of blade options
In addition to the Colossus, Dell has added an array of compute blades to the lineup. The baseline blade would probably be the PowerEdge M520. This is a two-socket, half-height blade designed for general virtualization and business application workloads. It houses two Intel Xeon E5-2400-series CPUs, up to 384GB of RAM with 32GB DIMMs across the 12 DIMM sockets, and four gigabit NICs, plus the option to add up to two mezzanine I/O cards, such as Fibre Channel or 10G Ethernet. Up front are two hot-swap 2.5-inch SAS bays, though the M520 also has dual internal SD cards that can be used to boot embedded hypervisors and remove the need for physical disks.

Like all the other blades, the M520 has an embedded iDRAC remote management card that allows for remote access to the blade's console and provides myriad management capabilities.

Next up is the M520's bigger brother, the M620, which is essentially identical in form but adds horsepower with Intel E5-2600-series CPUs, up to 768GB of RAM, and embedded dual 10G Ethernet interfaces. As with the M520, that I/O can be expanded with one or two mezzanine I/O cards, so you could conceivably have six 10G interfaces, or four 10G and two Fibre Channel or InfiniBand interfaces. Suffice it to say, there's plenty of available I/O.

Kicking things up another notch, we find the M820. This is a full-height, four-socket blade with heavy specs. It runs Intel E5-4600-series CPUs, up to 1.5TB of RAM, and two dual-port 10G interfaces. There are four 2.5-inch hot-swap SAS bays up front, and there's room for four mezzanine I/O cards; you can really pack this blade full of network and storage I/O. The mezzanine cards are not only interchangeable, but they work with all the blades. The same dual-port 10G, Fibre Channel, and InfiniBand cards can be used in all blade models. The M820 is a big-time blade, destined for large, heavily threaded, and RAM-hungry workloads.

One of the more interesting blades is the M610x. This blade is destined for a niche market, as it sports two full-length PCIe expansion ports within the blade, with the card edges exposed at the front. The compute side of the M610x is based on two Intel "Westmere" 5600-series CPUs, up to 192GB of RAM, and two gigabit NICs.

But those PCIe slots set this blade apart. They can support dual PCIe GPUs for VDI deployments, for instance -- or any compatible PCIe card, such as RAID controllers and so forth. Since the card edges are accessible from the front of the blade, these blades can be cabled up to external storage arrays. It's not a common requirement, but if you have a need for blades to house PCIe cards, the M610x is right up your alley.

Also in the mix is the M910, which offers four 8-core or 10-core Intel Xeon CPUs, up to 1TB of RAM across 32 sockets, and two 2.5-inch hot-swap drive bays. As with all the other blades, the I/O options are backed by the same mezzanine cards and include 1G, 10G, and Fibre Channel ports, as well as a dual-port InfiniBand module.

On the AMD side, there's the M915 blade. This is another full-height blade driving four 16-core AMD Opteron CPUs, up to 512GB of RAM, and two 2.5-inch hot-swap disk bays up front. The I/O capacity of this blade is substantial, as you can drive up to a dozen 10G Ethernet ports. The 512GB max for RAM seems a bit low, however.

The EqualLogic PS-M4110 Blade Array holds 14 2.5-inch SAS drives or five SSDs and nine SAS drives. The M1000e enclosure can accommodate four PS-M4110 Blade Arrays, leaving eight slots for compute blades.
The EqualLogic PS-M4110 Blade Array holds 14 2.5-inch SAS drives or five SSDs and nine SAS drives. The M1000e enclosure can accommodate four PS-M4110 Blade Arrays, leaving eight slots for compute blades.
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