Dell PowerEdge 6950 review

Price when reviewed

Dell’s move into AMD territory late in 2006 wasn’t a big surprise and here we bring you the first look at its PowerEdge 6950, which supports up to four dual-core Opteron 8200 series processors.

Dell PowerEdge 6950 review

This server is one of the main reasons Dell had to diversify, since it needed to offer a competitive multiprocessor server solution in the mid-range and enterprise markets, and Intel’s delays with its Xeon MP were becoming cause for concern. Weobserved this with Dell’s PowerEdge 6850 – at the time, Intel still didn’t have either the 7100 series Xeon MP processors or the E8501 chipsets available, limiting both Dell and HP in what they could offer. For the latter, this wasn’t a problem, as it already had a well-established Opteron multiprocessor server range. But after dropping Itanium, Dell’s higher-end server products were looking a bit thin onthe ground.

No doubt the biggest competition to the 6950 comes from HP’s ProLiant DL585 G2, which, as our review of the first-generation DL585 indicates, makes a formidable opponent. The 6950 certainly delivers in the build quality department. Most of the front panel has been handed over to two large grilles that facilitate an unobstructed airflow throughout the chassis. In the centre is a six-bay hard disk hot-swap cage, within which Dell supports 3.5in disks, whereas the DL585 G2 uses up to eight 2.5in drives. This gives HP a slight advantage in the disk count stakes, but Dell has the edge on performance, as by using the larger drives it can offer 10K and 15K versions.

Internal design is neat and tidy, with the processor sockets arranged in two groups. Each is staggered so as not to obstruct airflow for those further back. The price of the review system includes a quartet of 2.6GHz Opteron 8218 modules and each one is cooled by a large passive heatsink. With the processors rated at 95W, cooling can be reduced and the main chassis is serviced by two pairs of 120mm-diameter hot-swap fans mounted behind the front-panel grilles. This has the added bonus that once the server has settled down after power-up it runs very quietly.

Airflow is further aided by three large plastic shrouds, with the largest sited behind the hard disk backplane. Storage looks good, as the server was supplied with a trio of high-performance 15K SAS drives serviced by Dell’s PERC 5/i RAID controller. This occupies a dedicated PCI-E slot on the motherboard. The reason for this is that the two SAS interface cables are routed through to the disk backplane across special cut-outs in the cooling shrouds. The RAID card also comes with a battery backup pack, but Dell has mounted this as far away as possible, requiring the power cable to berouted across the chassis. Network options are superior to HP, as the 6950 has the hardware enabler key that activates the embedded TOE (TCP offload engine). This will be useful for several apps, including iSCSI, although it’s only supported under Windows Server 2003 and you’ll need to install Microsoft’s Scalable Networking Pack to use it.

Management is probably Dell’s weakest link, as even though it provides a wide range of tools these aren’t as sophisticated as those offered by HP. The bundled OpenManage suite comprises the Server Assistant and Administrator, IT Assistant and Array Manager, which provide plenty of remote monitoring and alerting facilities. The server can be locally and remotely managed using the Server Administrator, while the IT Assistant targets Dell-centric networks and can manage any of its systems running the appropriate agent software.

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