Review: Dell PowerEdge VRTX hits the high notes

Dell's four-blade, 32-drive 'cluster in a box' packs high performance, high availability, and high-end management in a tidy package

Basically a small blade-server chassis, Dell's PowerEdge VRTX packs up to four server blades and as many as 32 small-form-factor disk drives into a self-contained, cluster-in-a-box solution. From a cost and convenience perspective, the cluster in a box is compelling for a wide range of use cases. It's an ideal hardware setup for virtualizing a branch office infrastructure or even certain small to medium-size enterprise workloads.

Review: Dell PowerEdge VRTX hits the high notes

The PowerEdge VRTX has the horsepower to handle workloads like Microsoft Exchange and the storage space for a large Microsoft SharePoint deployment. The secret sauce is in the Series-8 Shared PowerEdge RAID Controller (PERC) that handles the sharing of storage among all of the blades in the chassis. Internally, the VRTX supports a variety of I/O fabric interfaces including 10GbE, though the current switch only supports 1Gb speeds. An integrated gigabit switch with eight external ports on the rear of the chassis can be used for connecting external Ethernet devices.

My review unit came equipped with two Dell M620 blades each containing two Intel Xeon E5-2650 CPUs and 96GB of memory. You could pack up to 768GB into the 24 DIMM slots inside the M620, if needed. The VRTX chassis will function in either an upright tower configuration or in a standard 19-inch, 5U rack mount. It supports the M620 or M520 blade servers, or a mix of both. Storage options include 12 full-sized drives in lieu of the small-form-factor drives.

Redundancy is a foundational design principle in the VRTX, and you see it everywhere. Four independent power supplies rated at 1,050W support multiple modes, including 2+2 for AC redundancy and 3+1, 2+1, and 1+1 for power supply redundancy. The minimum number of power supplies required will depend on the load out of the system and total power requirements. For cooling, the standard configuration includes six hot-pluggable redundant fan modules and four rear-mounted blower modules. Surprisingly, despite all of this cooling hardware, this system is superquiet.

On the software side, Dell supports Microsoft Windows Server 2012 and VMware vSphere 5.1 for clustering and virtualization. Fully certified support for Windows Server 2012 R2 and vSphere 5.5 won't arrive until Q1 of 2014, but you can upgrade now if you want to test the new releases. You won't be able to implement the storage spaces feature of Windows Server 2012 as it requires the disk controller to support a JBOD configuration. Each storage blade includes redundant internal SD memory card slots for booting into VMware ESXi without the need to install the hypervisor to a local hard drive. A total of eight PCIe slots are available for adding more interface cards. Each slot can, in turn, be assigned to any of the four blade servers, one at a time.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Setup (10.0%)
Management (20.0%)
Features (20.0%)
Availability (20.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Performance (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Dell PowerEdge VRTX 7.0 9.0 9.0 10.0 9.0 8.0 8.8
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