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By | Ashlee Vance 7th May 2008 14:11

Dell issues virtualization wonder box despite AMD

Veso happy to see the light of day

As long promised, Dell has gone hog wild with virtualization. The company today dished out a couple of new boxes geared toward running VMware and Citrix's virtualization wares, tuned its iSCSI storage gear for virtual servers and produced a couple new services bobs as well.

The real show-stopper here is probably the R805 server, which Dell has been talking about for months under the Veso code-name. You have to feel for Dell a bit with this unit because it doesn't look as flashy now as it might have last year, when it was originally meant to ship.

The 2U box runs on a pair of quad-core 2300 or 2200 series Opteron chips from AMD. And it's those damned chips that have caused most of the problems.

Dell once hoped to ship the R805 back in November, billing it as a one-of-a-kind unit with VMware's 3i hypervisor embedded and twice the memory and I/O of a typical 2U box. The delays around the four-core Opterons have left Dell in a position where it's delivering a nice box that's rather similar to other stuff out there. A number of hardware makers, for example, now ship x86 gear with embedded hypervisors, and Dell has been forced to say that the R805 has twice the memory and I/O of previous Dell servers rather than the older marketing material which aimed the 2x claims at competitors.

The two-socket R805 can support up to 128GB of memory via 16DIMM slots (so 8GB DIMMs for max) and has a pair of hard drive bays. It's also got four PCI Express slots. That makes it kinda like Sun Microsystems Sun Fire X4440 except with half as many DIMM slots and one-quarter the number of storage bays. But who is keeping track?

Dell has done some nice things with the unit by giving customers the option of either embedded VMware ESX 3i or the embedded Express Edition of Citrix XenServer. On the VMware front, customers gain access to free trials of some higher-end tools such as disaster recovery that you find with full blown ESX. If the 60-day trials float your boat, Dell will help you upgrade "with a single click" via its VMware now web site. You can more or less do the same thing with Citrix upgrades, but Dell doesn't have as fancy a web site for XenServer.

Now Dell didn't provide any benchmarks or cost comparisons with the R805 (starts at $3,049), which we find curious. A sauce close to Dell dribbled into our inbox saying that the company has struggled mightily with the 3i/Barcelona integration. So, perhaps that delayed the benchmark fanfare.

Dell, however, did have a number of comparisons for the new R905 server, which is a four-core Opteron version of the existing four-socket R900. We're told the R905 offers the "ultimate in 4 socket virtualization performance" by beating HP's ProLiant DL580 by 23 per cent on VMmark testing and knocking IBM's x3850 by 8 per cent and Sun's X4450 by 16 per cent on the same benchmark. You can see the results here where you'll note that Dell is the only vendor on the latest update to ESX 3.5. Without the update, Dell's Xeon-based R900 ties Sun and trails IBM.

Dell also said that the R905 "delivered price per virtualization performance at 25 percent less cost than the IBM x3850, 36 percent less cost than the Sun X4450, and 15 percent less cost than the HP Proliant DL580." So there you have it.

When the PAN Man Testifies

Surrounding this virtualization gala are a couple more bits and pieces.

For one, Dell has reconfirmed its love for Egenera's PAN Manager software. It's going to ship re-branded Dell PAN software on the PowerEdge 1950 and 2950 servers sometime this summer. We're told that similar PAN support will arrive "shortly thereafter" for blades. The PAN code will be tied to XenServer initially, and VMware support will follow. "There's an Egnera port that's going on," Dell VP Rick Becker, told us.

Dell also just loves the idea of customers tying its new EqualLogic storage gear to virtualization servers, so it has offered up "SAN-aware integration with VMware Site Recovery Manager." Basically the EqualLogic iSCSI gear now recognizes VMware's disaster recovery application. Dell continues to argue that iSCSI is better suited to virtualization than Fibre Channel because it lets you take advantage of abstractions between servers and storage systems rather than requiring physical mapping between virtual machines and LUNs. It's also proud of the way that the EqualLogic arrays spread data evenly across disk drives, since this improves performance in a virtualized world.

With regard to services, Dell will do just about anything you could ever dream - or fear. It's got virtualization workshops, assessments and healthchecks. As we read it, that means Dell can teach you about virtualization, decide where you can use it and then come back a couple months later to describe all the ways you've screwed up the initial plan. It's also got services around processing area networks, remote advisory and higher-end virtualization tools.

The underlying message with the appliance, software, storage and services pieces - if you haven't caught it - is that Dell is not just a box shifter. You're supposed to see all of these announcements and have that notion seep into your brain.

Dell is the first Tier 1 server vendor in a very long while to bring four people to an interview with us about a new system. All of the major food groups mentioned were represented, and, quite frankly, we appreciated the effort, as Dell did tell a rather complete story.

Customers will likely find Dell's total virtualization package more attractive than just the Veso on its own had the box shipped back in November as planned. But, you know, it would have been glitzier to knock HP, IBM and Sun around with a first of its kind unit. We're guessing the Veso will be Dell's last "let's lead with Opteron" design for awhile. ®

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