Dell packs value into thin server

Price is always an important consideration in selecting hardware but never more than when the economy is struggling, as it has been lately. With that in mind, Dell Computer Corp.'s new PowerEdge 1650 server should be welcomed warmly to the marketplace.

Yes, you can find servers with higher performance. And yes, you can find systems with stronger embedded management tools — a top priority for many agencies and departments. But if the PowerEdge, an 1U server, is a tad wanting in those areas, it makes up for it with a low price tag and high usability.

The 1U design, which stands less than 2 inches tall, allows for compact stacking of servers in racks. And for many departments and agencies, especially those with rapidly expanding Web server farms, space is at a premium. The efficient design of a 1U server, however, presents a challenge for those who are intent on including extras, such as redundant power supplies and fans.

The PowerEdge 1650 comes in a slim, rack-mountable box, and it is the first such 1U server we've seen that offers hot-swappable redundant power supplies. While the second power supply is an extra-cost option, the base unit comes with redundant cooling fans.

The power and cooling redundancy would be appealing to those looking to hold down costs and footprints at the same time. While such redundancies are common in servers with larger form factors, this is the first time we've seen them in a space-saving 1U form factor. And, obviously, it's much less expensive to add a power supply to the PowerEdge 1650 than it is to have a backup server in case of system failure.

The box itself is intelligently designed. No tools are required for swapping drives or opening the case. A security screw can be used to prevent unauthorized access to the inside of the server. Otherwise, it's simple to open the two flap doors on the top of the unit to access the power supplies and the motherboard, respectively.

One of the most obvious draws of the PowerEdge 1650 is its low-cost entry point. In its base configuration, which carries a list price of $1,699, the PowerEdge 1650 offers a single 1.13 GHz Intel Corp. Pentium III processor, 256M of system memory, an 18G hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, two integrated Gigabit Ethernet Network Interface Cards and an Ultra3 (U160) SCSI controller.

From that, you can add a second processor, both of which can be 1.4 GHz Pentium III processors, two additional hot-swappable Ultra3 SCSI hard drives, which can be up to 73G in size, and up to 4G of system memory. The 4G limit on system memory may restrict the unit's role in some agencies and departments.

Other options include embedded dual-channel Ultra3 Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) support and remote management capability. And thanks to 128M of battery-backed cache in the RAID controller, you'll have up to 72 hours to move your buffered data to another server in the event of power failure.

As for the remote management, buyers will soon have a choice of implementations. The unit we tested was equipped with the DRAC III (Dell Remote Assistant Card) PCI card. The DRAC III card costs $499, or $699 with an onboard modem.

We found that the card worked just fine for remotely accessing server configuration, monitoring performance and conditions, and restarting the server if necessary. The card — which has its own IP address — can be accessed even if the server is down. And in the event that there is no power supply to the server, the onboard battery will power the DRAC III for about 30 minutes.

Also, it's a snap to set up the DRAC III to monitor the server for failures or conditions that may cause failure or impede performance.

An even better remote- access solution should be available this month when Dell says it will offer an Embedded Remote Access Option that will have the same capabilities — with the exception of the optional modem — without occupying one of the PowerEdge 1650's two 64 bit/66 MHz PCI slots.

We were also impressed with Dell's OpenManage HTML-based server- management tools, which are bundled at no additional charge.

The OpenManage Server Administrator lets you manage any server through either Netscape Communications Corp. Navigator or Microsoft Corp. Internet Explorer browsers, or from a command line, regardless of operating systems being employed. Once logged on to the server, you can remotely configure BIOS settings, perform diagnostics, set alerts, monitors and inventory, and analyze logs.

If you want to manage multiple systems, servers and clients, you would turn to the IT Assistant. Like the Server Administrator, the IT Assistant is a browser-based tool, and it can be used with Dell's Desktop Management Interface, Simple Network Management Protocol and Common Information Model management agents to configure systems, manage assets, set alerts and examine logs. You can also configure the system to send notifications when alerts are triggered.

Finally, you can use the Array Manager to manage local and remote storage devices — including RAID and non-RAID devices — without taking the system off-line.

Although the most natural role for the PowerEdge 1650 might be as a Web server, and possibly as an application server in some configurations, systems administrators should also take note that the device offers additional flexibility through its support for Microsoft Cluster Server and for storage-area networks.

We found the PowerEdge 1650's performance to be up to any of these tasks. The unit we tested carried two 1.13 GHz Pentium III processors with 512K of cache, 1G of system memory, three 18G hard drives, and a DRAC III remote management card without a modem. As configured, the device costs $5,171.

The PowerEdge 1650's low basic price, combined with its power redundancy gives information technology administrators a flexible, low-cost option for such critical roles as application and Web serving. If you need more power, consider the new PowerEdge 4600, which employs Intel Xeon processors, which are as fast as 2.2 GHz and have up to 10 hard disk drives. Both servers come with three-year warranties and can be pre- installed with Microsoft Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server, Windows NT 4.0 and Red Hat Inc.'s Linux Version 7.2.

REPORT CARD

PowerEdge 1650

Score: A-

Dell Computer Corp.

(800) 915-3355

www.dell.com

Base price, $1,699. As configured with two 1.13 GHz Intel Corp. Pentium III processors, 1G of system memory, three 18G hard drives and a DRAC III remote management card, it is priced at $5,171.

The PowerEdge 1650's redundant power and cooling give the 1U system potentially new roles for agency and department server farms. Its low base price and flexible expansion options make it an attractive buy.

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