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Dell PowerEdge 2850

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Dell’s answer to the EM64T question is a complete new family of four PowerEdge servers with the 2850 on review sitting at the top of this tree and taking over from the 2650 which is now over two years old. The low-profile 2U chassis delivers a good specification and matches the ML370 for base storage capacity as it too provides six hot-swap drive bays in the front panel. A new feature is a smart LCD panel which glows blue to indicate all is well and turns amber to indicate a fault with the power supplies, fans, system temperature or hard drives. An optional bezel converts this to a single indicator but either way you’ll be able to spot a faulty server easily in a densely populated rack environment.

Compared with the Mission and HP servers, the 2850 presents a comparatively busy interior mainly due to the requirement to provide fault tolerant power capabilities. Unlike the ML370 there’s not enough room to fit the supplies under the motherboard so the dual 700W power supply assembly in the 2850 takes a large chunk of internal real estate. Consequently, there’s no room for PCI expansion slots on the motherboard and these have been moved to a vertical riser card mounted to one side and accompanied by a large lever facilitating removal and fitting.

The review model has three 133MHz PCI-X slots but Dell expects to offer a version with one PCI-X plus x4 and x8 PCI Express slots. An embedded LSI 1030 chipset provides dual channel Ultra320 SCSI services but is also RAID enabled and the price for this system includes the PERC 4/Di package which includes the RAID enabling key, 256MB of DDR2 cache memory and a small battery backup pack. Three 36GB Seagate Ultra320 hard disks were supplied and configured as a fault tolerant RAID-5 array. Six hot-swap internal fans ensure cooling is handled efficiently, while a pair of 3.4GHz Xeon processors topped off with industrial strength passive heatsinks provide the horsepower. You get 1GB of DDR2 memory included and the six DIMM sockets allow this to be expanded to 12GB.

Management capabilities come a close second to HP as Dell bundles its OpenManage software suite and also includes the optional DRAC 4/I controller card. Using the dedicated 10/100BaseTX port the server can be accessed over a secure browser session and the system monitored and controlled regardless of its condition. The server can also be remotely booted from any media on the management station using the virtual boot disk feature.

This new server family also finally introduces an embedded IPMI (intelligent platform management interface) 1.5 baseboard controller as standard, although we found the remote alerting and management facilities difficult to use. As with HP general management facilities are far superior to those offered by the Mission with the IT Assistant component providing full access over the network to any Dell system running the agent software. Server Administrator locally monitors server health and the RAID controller gets its own Array Manager utility as well.

Verdict

Dell delivers a very good specification for the price which includes RAID and full remote management tools. Storage density is superior to the ML370 but the 2850 isn’t quite up to high standards set by HP’s build quality.

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