New Dell Server Play Hinges on Nehalem, IT Tools

SAN FRANCISCO — Dell today threatened to put a room full of reporters to sleep with its familiar pronouncements of focusing on customers’ needs.

But the hardware giant instead detailed an aggressive new slate of technology, software and services in the rollout of its 11g servers here at the Four Seasons Hotel, putting a fair bit of meat on the bone while renewing efforts to challenge rivals like HP.

Given the economic downturn, “We think we have exactly the right products at the right time,” said Steve Schuckenbrock, president of Dell’s Large Enterprise Group. “As I’ve traveled around the world, customers keep telling me the same thing: ‘Help me become more efficient and get the cost out.'”

Dell’s (NASDAQ: DELL) answer is a series of new energy-efficient blades, servers and workstations, coupled with new system management tools. Those tools are designed to make it easier for IT to mange Dell hardware from a single console, as well as that of competitors including HP (NYSE: HPQ), IBM and Sun.

Dell’s latest 11G PowerEdge servers and Precision workstations are based on Intel’s soon-to-be-released Xeon processors, codenamed Nehalem. Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) will detail benchmark performance and other features of the new processor at a press event for its formal unveiling on Monday.

During its presentation today, Dell officials boasted new systems’ performance advantages and power-saving improvements of 40 percent and greater, compared to currently shipping servers and blades of competitors like HP. But since HP, IBM and others haven’t publicly revealed their Nehalem plans, the comparisons weren’t necessarily apples to apples.

“As soon as the competition makes systems available, we’ll compare and provide those comparison benchmarks,” said Brad Anderson, senior vice president of Dell’s Enterprise Product Group. Dell also plans to release pricing information in concert with the Nehalem launch.

Regardless of what new Nehalem-based processors ship with competitors’ offerings, Dell feels confident it has an edge when it comes to the new lifecycle controller embedded in its new servers. Instead of loading and installing software from a package of CDs that typically ship with a new server, the controller stores the pre-ordered configuration of software and applications, so the server can be switched on and ready to run off-network after it’s plugged in.

Additionally, IT can return to that initial configuration if problems or issues crop up later as new software and applications are added, Dell said.

Steve Hassell, CIO at manufacturing and industrial technology giant Emerson, said Dell’s new hardware is key to his company’s plans to overhaul its datacenter operations. Emerson is consolidating its 140 datacenters worldwide down to just a handful.

“A big part of this is virtualization — we’re building our own private cloud,” Hassell said. “It’s going to result in about an 18-to-1 reduction in servers, literally thousands of servers around the globe replaced by a few hundred.”

He also said Emerson’s datacenter setup would be 30 percent more power efficient thanks to the new servers.

Dell also announced it has partnered with Altiris, a unit of Symantec focusing on IT management tools, to create a new Dell Management Console (DMC) for systems management. Dell claims the DMC manages Dell and other vendors’ hardware on the network from a single console, versus what could be as many as eight consoles required by for equivalent functionality in an HP configuration.

Analyst Charles King said the partnership with Symantec is a smart move because it addresses an issue Dell’s competitors have sought to exploit.

“The rap Dell has gotten over the years, at least from competitors, is that it’s just a box maker that doesn’t offer a true end-to-end solution for the enterprise,” King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told “Dell realized it could go to Symantec and end up with a heterogeneous solution that spans multiple platforms — including Windows, Linux, HP-UX and Solaris.”

Sayonara single-core?

Intel is being fairly tight-lipped about Nehalem details ahead of Monday’s rollout. But Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of server platforms at Intel, made a few pointed references to the opportunity Dell and other manufacturers have to change the server landscape.

He noted that about 40 percent of the industry’s 30 million installed servers run on legacy, single-core processors. He said a conservative estimate is that companies could consolidate eight single-core servers onto one Nehalem-based server and, with energy savings and other efficiencies, expect a payback within eight months.

“Nehalem significantly reduces idle time. There are more levels of power management and it really helps with energy efficiency,” he said. At the same time, he also said Nehalem represents the largest jump in performance in the history of Intel’s Xeon line.

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