Dell Computer plans to jump back into the blade server game with both feet in this year's fourth quarter, when it introduces a new system that lets corporate users put one and half blade servers into the same space that now accommodates a 1U rack-mounted server.
Dell officials believe they can gain a technical advantage over archrivals in this market such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard by also including other leading-edge technologies in the upcoming box more typically found in larger single-processor units.
The unnamed system, to be part of Dell PowerEdge series, will use Intel's upcoming Nocona chip that is capable of running both 32- and 64-bit applications, along with the accompanying Lindenhurst chip set. The system will also feature fast DDR 2 memory, a PCI Express bus, a remodeled chassis, and the ability to support redundant drives and power supplies, although the latter components likely will not be integrated onto the blade chassis but more likely into a separate storage unit.
The new system can use the same systems management software now available with Dell's existing series of 1U servers, company officials said.
Characteristically, Dell will also attempt to use pricing as a competitive weapon. Company officials said they plan to price the unit the same as a similarly configured rack-mount server, but that it will offer more value because of its added density. Dell officials contend that most blade servers today typically cost between 30 percent and 40 percent more than their rack-mounted counterparts.
"When the chassis is halfway full of blades, it will be cross neutral. When it is completely full, there will be upwards of a 25 percent cost improvement. We think users not only get the benefits of better management and consolidation and maintainability, but they do not have to pay a premium for it," said Paul Gottsegen, vice president of worldwide enterprise marketing at Dell.
Part of the reason for blade servers accounting for less than 5 percent of the overall server market, according to Gottsegen, is not just their cost but the fact that most corporate users have been satisfied with the job that existing 1U rack-mount servers can do for them.
"Up until now users have been very happy to use 1U servers instead of blades for just about anything because the functionality tradeoffs of blades have been too severe for them. But they can't take advantage of inherent benefits like much better cable management, port count reductions, and get around the network switch," Gottsegan said.
Dell will focus more on enterprise-class users than small and medium-size businesses, although they expect to sell some units to the latter category as well. Company officials believe the units will be best suited for Web server farms and High Performance Computing applications.
At least over the short term, Dell plans to deliver one basic flavor of the technology. It will not deliver a family of several different systems each crafted to address the individual needs of niche markets, as some of its competitors have done, according to Gottsegen.