Dell PowerEdge 1850 review
Along with the move to Intel’s latest processing technology, one of the most significant developments in 1U rack server design recently has been power fault tolerance. We saw Supermicro introduce this at the end of last year in the guise of transtec’s 1001 SCSI, while the MSI package from Tatung delivers a pair of redundant supplies. Now Dell steps into line with the latest PowerEdge 1850. This server is aimed primarily at high-density rack server applications such as HPCC (high performance computing clusters) and web services in data centres, so it needs the same levels of fault tolerance as larger rack servers for these mission-critical tasks.
One of the reasons it’s taken so long for this all-important feature to be offered in low-profile rack servers is the amount of redesigning required to accommodate a hot-swap power bay, which is quite a bit larger than a normal supply. Internal real estate is always at a premium, and this has required a substantial redesign of the motherboard and the location of critical components to ensure cooling isn’t restricted. With the lid removed, we can see Dell has made a good job of this. The power supply bay takes up most of the right side of the chassis and the new L-shaped motherboard occupies the remaining space.
The pair of 3.6GHz Xeons is located towards the front and partnered by large passive heatsinks. The cooling towers to each side stretch almost the entire width of the chassis. Four pairs of fans sit in a bank in front, and each pair can be easily unplugged from the motherboard and slipped out for replacement. Some server manufacturers such as Supermicro, MSI and Tyan could take a few lessons from Dell in reducing operational noise levels too. Whereas their rack servers are incredibly noisy, the 1850 merely whispers once the variable-speed fans have settled down after power-up. One drawback of these cooling arrangements is that Dell has had to leave the centre of the front panel clear to allow unrestricted airflow through the chassis. Consequently, you only get a pair of hard disk bays to play with, although these are hot-swappable and RAID does feature in Dell’s storage picture.
Due to the location of the hot-swap power bay, there’s no room for expansion slots on the motherboard, so these have been moved onto an easily removable daughtercard connected at the edge of the main board. This plays host to a number of components – the LSI Ultra320 SCSI controller and optional PERC 4e/Si RAID are also sited here. RAID capabilities are enabled simply by plugging in a hardware key on the motherboard. The controller came with a battery backup and a healthy 256MB of DDR2 cache memory. Along with stripes and mirrors, the controller also supports RAID10 and 5 arrays, but this is academic on the 1850, as the SCSI controller is only the single-channel variety and can’t be expanded further. The supplied expansion cage came with 100MHz PCI-X slots on each side, but you can opt for a version featuring PCI-Express 4x and 8x slots instead.
Standard server management and monitoring are handled by Dell’s OpenManage software suite, which comprises its Server Administrator and IT Assistant utilities. The latter offers remote monitoring and management of any Dell server, workstation or notebook that has the relevant agent component and SNMP service installed. The former provides web-based access to individual servers and gathers data from the motherboard sensors, provides status readouts of power, temperatures and voltages, and brings good alerting facilities to the table as well. Dell has recognised the need to reduce the burden of patch management on network support and, at the time of writing, announced that OpenManage would integrate with Altiris’ Patch Management console, allowing updates to be deployed to multiple servers from a single location.
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