The Dell M-Series blade server is being touted as using 19 per cent less energy than the company's previous blade offering while still providing a jump in horsepower. I had a chance to use this beast as part of the Interop iLabs, and after a false start caused by missing software in the pre-production unit, I found myself wondering if I had enough shekels to buy one for my lab. Instead of forcing me to surround my servers with additional out-of-band management gear, the M-Series has several cost- and labor-saving features built right in. Those features include IP KVM, intelligent power control, serial over IP, Virtual Media over IP, and power and environmental monitoring.
Since I didn't have a chance to tear into Dell's previous generation of blades, I don't have a way of confirming its 19 per cent power savings claim; however, I can say that for the six days we ran the system, our biggest, baddest blade (dual Quad Core Intel Xeon E5430 2.66GHz) used a grand total of 21.7 kilowatts of power. That's nice!
We really didn't expect the chassis to sip power, especially when we unpacked the system and found nine big-throated fans that looked like the business end of a wind tunnel. We also didn't expect it to be as quiet as it was, but what we did expect were some hellaciously fast blades -- and that's what we got. We ran a combination of Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors, along with CentOS Linux and VMware ESX server. While the Dell Open Manage installation DVD lists only Suse and Red Hat, the CentOS installation was able to deal with the LSI SAS RAID array and the Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet NICs just fine. Since we didn't have the SPEC benchmarks available to us in this round, I don't have direct performance numbers to compare with other servers InfoWorld has reviewed. However, it did run five virtual servers just fine, and the performance for the Unified Communications demonstration at Interop was more than adequate.
The configuration begins
We started off assigning IP addresses to the Chassis Management Controller (CMC) by connecting a local keyboard, mouse, and monitor and putting those onto our isolated control network. It's worth noting that this functionality uses the same Out Of Band Management Interface (OOBI) employed by many Avocent iKVM products. While the CMC OOBI interface required only a single Ethernet uplink, each blade got a separate management address, as did the CMC, providing access to both control and environmental monitoring widgets in the CMC and Integrated Dell Remote Access Controller (iDRAC) browser interfaces.
It should be pointed out here that if you wish to use the remote GUI console capabilities of the system, you will need to run an ActiveX-capable browser, which means Windows under IE for most people. As of the time of this writing, there was no word on if/when Avocent (Dell's choice of OEM for the iKVM capability) will support non-ActiveX browsers for full KVM over IP capability. This is an odd oversight since Avocent bought Cyclades, which did have a full Java iKVM solution that worked great on my old Sony Picture Book running Debian Sarge.