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Dell downplays blade servers

Blade servers aren't a good fit for many data centers, and traditional rack-mount systems may deliver better density, according to executives at Dell Technology Day.

Speaking at Dell Inc.'s Technology Day in New York City this Tuesday, Dell executives said blade servers weren't...

a good fit for many data centers, and that traditional rack-mount systems may in fact deliver better density.

"In very high-density, very new data centers where power can be optimized, blades can deliver lower cost, lower management and a greater possible degree of standardization," said Neil Hand, vice president of worldwide enterprise marketing.

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But "there are challenge areas for blades," Hand said. "Some older data centers just don't have the air handling capabilities to handle blades." In those data centers, it may actually be possible to fit more rack-mounted servers in a chassis than you could blades. "Theoretically, blades offer more density, but only if you have the ability to cool them."

Hand was careful to point out that sales of Dell's PowerEdge BL 1995 systems are growing. From Q1 2005 to Q1 2006, sales of the systems grew 37%, he said. Overall, Framingham, Mass.-based IDC ranks Dell third in the blade server market behind IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), with just under 14% market share.

But Hand wouldn't venture a guess as to how many of the servers it sells going forward will be blade-based. "We are not maintaining a specific mix goal. We do not believe that blades are a bet-the-future solution," Hand said, but rather, "just another option."

'We overestimated Intel'

Dell executives also talked about why they took so long in deciding to offer servers based on Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) Opteron chips. The delayed decision was the result of a miscalculation about Intel Corp.'s ability to speedily rectify power consumption and performance problems with its Xeon chips, said Jeff Clarke, senior vice president (SVP) in Dell's product group.

"We overestimated Intel's ability to deliver [a competitive chip] and catch-up," Clarke said.

At the same time, Dell "underestimated" AMD's ability to continue to produce high-performance, low-wattage chips, said Brad Anderson, another Dell SVP in the products group. "We believed that AMD's ability to sustain its performance advantage was not going to continue," he said. "We missed that."

Thus, the company reiterated its commitment to bring to market two new AMD-based servers by the end of the year: one two-socket model competitive with the HP DL385 and a four-socket entry aimed at the DL585.

But Dell refused to speculate about how many AMD-based systems it will sell going forward. "More than zero, less than 100%," quipped Michael Dell, company chairman.

Furthermore, Dell does not believe that AMD Opteron chips hold an advantage anymore, thanks to Intel's new Woodcrest Xeon chips. "Until very recently, AMD did have the performance and price-per-watt advantage," Hand said. However, "Intel's new designs versus AMD are very competitive."

But Dell concedes that many data center customers have already taken the AMD plunge; offering both Intel and AMD chips allows Dell to "get back to fundamentals -- are you delivering aggregate value?" Clarke said.

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