After a couple of false starts, Dell appears finally to have a blade server platform to rival those from HP and IBM. Moreover, in the past few months, Dell has extended its M-Series Blade Server family, adding yet more server options plus flexible new I/O modules developed in conjunction with Cisco and Brocade.
Dell has also updated its management interface, and with the offer of exclusive access to Dell's proof-of-concept lab in Ireland, we thought it time to investigate exactly what the M-Series is all about.
The first thing we learned was that the 'M' in M-Series stands for modular, with a single 10U chassis - the PowerEdge M1000e - at the heart of the product.
Capable of accommodating all of the current M-Series blades and future additions for at least the next few years, it's a compact and very smart piece of kit. Built to the usual Dell high standards it has room for eight full-height blades, or 16 half-height servers for customers wanting maximum processor density.
The blades plug into the chassis from the front into a passive single-board mid-plane. With no electronics to go wrong, this makes for a very robust and reliable arrangement. Moreover, the Dell engineers were at pains to point out the use of female connectors on the mid-plane and male on the blades so that, if a pin gets damaged, it affects only that single blade rather than the entire mid-plane.
The mid-plane, in turn, connects the blades to power, a plug-in management controller and a variety of I/O modules, about which more shortly.
The blades come in a range of specifications to suit every application from simple web server farms, through scalable virtualisation to high-end application and cloud hosting. Intel-and AMD-based blades are both available, and the PowerEdge M610 (from £1,837 ex VAT) is a popular choice across a wide range of applications and a typical starting point for many deployments.
A half-height blade, the M610 sports dual CPU sockets to take quad-core or six-core Xeon processors, which means up to 12 cores per server backed by up to 192GB of DDR3 memory on a very compact, hot-pluggable board. There's even room for a couple of 2.5in hot-swap drives, with a choice of SATA/SAS or SSD devices plus an optional RAID controller.
Our test system was populated with six M610 blades alongside two full-height M910 blade servers, the latter of which are available from £5,021 (ex VAT).