Dell delays debut of 'modular' servers

The company's chunkier, more powerful take on blade servers won't appear until November. Dell had previously said the systems would ship in the third quarter.

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MILLBRAE, Calif.--Dell Computer's "modular" computers, the company's first crack at the blade-server market, will appear a little later than expected, with two-processor systems first arriving in November, a Dell executive said Thursday.

Blade servers, on sale now from RLX Technologies and Hewlett-Packard, typically pack numerous smaller servers side-by-side in the same enclosure, like books in a bookshelf. Dell is taking a related but different approach called "modular computing," which uses chunkier, more powerful modules instead of the thinner blades.

Dell's first system, the previously announced 1655MC with dual Pentium III processors, will arrive in November, Darrel Ward, a vice president in Dell's server division, said at IDC's Enterprise Server Vision conference here. Dell had previously said the systems would ship in the third quarter of the year.

Delays aren't uncommon in the computing realm, particularly for servers, higher-end systems that handle round-the-clock jobs such as running sales-order databases or processing e-mail. Servers require a longer development and testing period than PCs because customers are less tolerant of crashes and demand more sophisticated management software.

IBM also delayed its coming 16-processor x440 servers, machines using Big Blue's Enterprise X Architecture (EXA) "Summit" chipset. IBM had originally said the machines would arrive in the third quarter. Early customers will get the 16-way machines in coming weeks, with volume shipments later this fall, IBM spokesman Tim Dallman said.

However, the company has shipped thousands of units of the eight-processor version of the x440 so far and has taken eight-processor market share from Hewlett-Packard and Dell, Dallman added.

Dell's Ward also said Dell's second-generation modular computing products--thicker modules with two or four Xeon processors--will arrive in the first half of 2003.

Dell spokeswoman Michelle Hanson declined to comment on the schedules.

The higher-end systems are "a bit behind the competition, given where IBM and Egenera are and where HP will be," said Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice. But given the down economy, Dell won't be lagging customer demand, he added.

The two- and four-processor systems will have high-speed InfiniBand connection ports, Ward said. InfiniBand, the current leader of the high-speed connection technology race. Once expected to be widely used in servers, it's now more of a niche technology. It's still useful for connecting Dell's modular computing components to one another, though, Ward said.

Though Dell's modular computing systems aren't thin like blades, they have some similarities. For one thing, multiple servers can share a smaller number of power supplies. For another, the tangled profusion of cables that sprout from the back of today's servers is reduced to a much smaller number with blades or with modular computing.

Dell's approach will allow servers to be stacked more densely than with conventional rack-mounted servers, though density alone isn't a compelling reason to buy new products, Ward said. Instead, Dell will emphasize that its modular computing systems will cost less than conventional servers.

Dell's modular computing approach splits storage into a separate module from the modules with processors and memory, Ward said. The design lets customers select configurations that are most appropriate for them with the right amount of capacity and performance.

Processing modules will come with one PCI slot and the ability to install software with a CD-ROM or floppy drive, Ward said.