Blade server review: Dell PowerEdge M1000e
Dell's M1000e blade system lags HP and IBM in features and options, but hits the mark in performance and priceFollow @pvenezia
Unlike the HP and IBM blade systems, Dell's setup doesn't have virtualized network I/O. The 10G pipe to each blade is just that, a raw 10G interface without the four virtual interfaces provided by HP's Virtual Connect and IBM's Virtual Fabric. This means that the onus of QoS and bandwidth limiting and prioritization falls to the OS running on the blade, or the QoS present in the PowerConnect 8024 10G modules. On one hand, this is a drawback, but on the other hand, it simplifies management in that the PowerConnect 8024 10G switch is really a switch and can be configured as such. No specialized management structure is necessary, unlike with the HP and IBM solutions.
One of the knocks on Dell's blade solution has always been the spartan management tools. Although functional, they were definitely not overly featured. That changes with this test, however, as Dell introduced a completely rebuilt Chassis Management Console that offers a wide range of new features.
Leveraging a bit of AJAX magic, the new CMC is a highly functional and attractive management tool. A lot of thought has gone into making it simple to push actions to multiple blades at once, and even demanding tasks such as BIOS updates and RAID controller firmware updates can be pushed to groups of blades with a few clicks right from the CMC.
It's also easy to get an idea of the overall chassis health, as well as the status and particulars of any given blade or other component. The main page displays highlighted images of the chassis that you simply mouse over for details. By clicking on a blade, for example, you can get all the relevant information on that blade, including the hostname, operating system, iDRAC (Integrated Dell Remote Access Controller) version, MAC addresses, and so on.
Generally speaking, when I expected to find a particular piece of information on a page in the Web UI, I found it. One notable exception was specific temperatures within the blades and chassis. There's definitely thermal monitoring, but you can't pull the temps of individual components directly from any management tool.
Setting up and configuring a new blade is extremely simple. Drop the blade in, choose either DHCP or a static IP address for the iDRAC management controller, wait for the blade to boot, and then click through the CMC's pages for that blade to launch the Java-based remote console. Most features you might need when building or troubleshooting a blade problem are available right from that console, so you won't have to flip back to the CMC management pages. I was also quite impressed with the console's nearly perfect mouse tracking on Windows.
Building out the blade with an operating system can be done in several different ways, including direct ISO mounting from a local NFS or SMB share, rather than mapped from the client system. This means that if you're 1,000 miles away from the chassis, you can mount and boot off an ISO image stored at the remote site just as easily as you would by mapping that ISO from your laptop or workstation, but you get the obvious benefit of greatly increased throughput from a local connection.
Naturally, you can mount CD/DVD and floppy images or physical media from the client as well. After that, it's just a matter of a normal OS install. I did run into a few snags with the remote console revolving around remote media mounting. Occasionally when disconnecting a mounted ISO, the remote console app would suddenly quit, forcing a restart. This may have been related to the version of Java on the Ubuntu Linux laptop I was using for the management tasks, but it happened several times. Nevertheless, each time I was able to get right back to where I was and complete the ISO remount without issue.