Dell PowerEdge 860 review

Price when reviewed

Small businesses looking for their first rack server may find those equipped with Intel’s series 5000 and 5100 dual-core processors a little pricey and over-specified for their needs. Instead, this is prime territory for the series 3000 and 3200 processors. Single-socket systems score highly where processing performance isn’t the highest priority, since they can satisfy a wide range of demands, from web serving to file and print duties, but still keep costs down.

Dell’s PowerEdge 860 specifically targets these markets and is a versatile beast. It not only supports Intel’s dual-core and quad-core Xeons, but Pentium D and Celeron processors as well. Management options also look good, as unlike most of Dell’s entry-level systems, which aren’t designed to be remotely monitored, the 860 comes complete with Dell’s OpenManage software suite. This comprises Dell’s Server Administrator, IT Assistant and Array Manager utilities. Installation is simple enough. Dell supplies one CD-ROM that automatically sets up a server to be managed and another that turns a networked system into a management console.

The server can be locally managed using the Server Administrator, which offers browser-based access to the server and provides plenty of information about motherboard sensors. All operational data is presented in tabular format and you can see the status of the processor, power, hard disks, chassis intrusion detectors, temperatures and voltages. Alert management is particularly good, as any faults can be linked to actions such as network broadcasts, sending emails and running an application. The IT Assistant targets Dell-centric networks and can manage any of its servers, workstations and laptops running the appropriate agent software. It requires MSDE2000, which is included on the product CD-ROM, and uses this to store basic inventory information about each system.

Basic remote access is facilitated by the IPMI 2-compliant BMC (baseboard management controller) chip, which allows the server to be remotely accessed over the LAN or serial port, regardless of its condition. Unfortunately, to access the controller, all Dell offers is a simple command-line shell. It’s limited in its capabilities, but it does allow you to control the server’s power supply and flash the status LED on its front panel.

The review system included Dell’s DRAC 4/P management card, which comes with its own processor, graphics chipset and network port. The server is accessed remotely via a secure browser session and security is provided with a user list, which determines what can be accessed on the server. With full administrative access, you can shut down the OS, recycle power and turn off or switch the server back on. Full remote-control sessions allow the server and OS to be accessed, while virtual floppy and CD-ROM support means it can be booted from an image stored on another system. Note that HP offers only the latter features as optional extras with its integrated lights-out (iLO2) controller.

General build quality is up to the high standard we expect from Dell. The front panel has three grilles to allow a good airflow through the chassis. Although not included as standard, there’s room to add an optional DVD-ROM drive if required. The front panel has a modest range of status indicators on show for power and hard disk condition, plus a useful warning LED that will glow amber if a hardware error has been picked up. For the latter, there’s also a row of four diagnostic indicators, which will help pinpoint the problem.

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