Power at the Low-End

FRAMINGHAM (04/18/2000) - The new Dell Computer Corp. PowerEdge 2400 is a workgroup server that packs plenty of power and sports redundancy features that could easily push it into the departmental server space.

The box has two 667-MHz Pentium III processors, 2G bytes of RAM and 180G bytes of internal storage. Along with this processing power, the PowerEdge 2400 supports fault-tolerant power supplies, and error checking and correcting memory RAM.

In the performance category, the Dell PowerEdge 2400 scored better than any of the dual-processor servers we have tested in the past year. This can be attributed to the server 's 667-MHz CPUs and 133-MHz front-side bus. The front-side bus links the processors and memory, which typically only transfer data at 100 MHz.

This speedy combination of 667-MHz processors and 133-MHz front-side bus also helped the Dell 2400 to score the highest ever on the networking tests for a workgroup-class server with two processors. In the file tests, the Dell 2400 only scored in the top third of the dual-processor machines we have tested, due in part to the built-in PowerEdge RAID Controller 2/Si (Perc2/Si RAID controller). The built-in controller only has 64M bytes of cache, as compared with beefier controllers that have 128M bytes of cache. However, we found the built-in controller to be a justified price/performance tradeoff.

The PowerEdge 2400 also had a strong showing in manageability and serviceability, earning a perfect score in both categories. The manageability score was high because of the server 's ability to interact with the major management platforms, and the serviceability score was high due to the accessible and roomy chassis design.

The flexibility score was low due to the low number of PCI slots, no support for hot-plug PCI and limited memory support compared with other dual-processor boxes.

The standard PowerEdge 2400 ships with 1G byte of RAM, five 9.1G-byte hard drives, a built-in RAID controller, a built-in 10/100 Ethernet network interface card, a PCI 10/100 Ethernet NIC and one power supply.

The Perc2/Si built into the motherboard is a cost savings because it does not require its own PCI slot. The Perc2/Si has one U2 SCSI channel with 64M bytes of cache. The Perc2/Si has an attractive price of $299. The Dell 2400 can be ordered with or without the RAID functionality enabled. If you choose not to enable the RAID controller when you buy it, you can get the functionality later by installing a kit. The add-on RAID kit costs $299 and includes a key (small PC card that plugs in to the motherboard), a driver and a dual in-line memory module (DIMM) for the RAID cache.

The case and chassis are well-designed, making repairs and configuration changes very easy to accomplish. The case cover can be removed by loosening thumbscrews behind the front bezel. The front bezel has a key lock to protect the internal drives and case interior. Inside the case, there is plenty of room around the components for easy servicing. Large, easy-to-read diagrams on the inside of the covers make servicing less confusing. The expansion card slots have flip tab restraints for toolless removal of the cards.

The internal drive bay can house six, 1-inch drives or - with a simple bracket change on the front of the server - four, 1.6-inch drives. This internal drive cage is accessible from the front of the machine. The hard drive backplane supports hot-swapping the drives. There are three half-height fixed bays on the front of the server. An optional drive cage is available that fits in two of the half-height bays to allow support for two additional 1-inch hot-swap drives.

The motherboard has a built-in Intel Pro100+ Ethernet network interface card (NIC). Our server was shipped with an additional Intel Pro100+ PCI NIC for testing purposes.

The server we tested included the optional second power supply. One power supply is certainly enough to run the server, but adding a second power supply gives 1+1 fault tolerances with load balancing. The power supplies are hot-swappable.

Configuring the server was very simple. The five drives are controlled by the built-in Perc2/Si RAID array controller. One container was defined for the operating system, and another RAID 0 container was defined for the data partition. The CD drive was connected to the built-in UltraNarrow SCSI controller.

Manageability is another strong suit for this server. Dell 's OpenConnect software provides software hooks that pass information about the server up to major enterprise management platforms. Dell also offers optional remote management, allowing the administrator to remotely monitor the server 's environmental conditions, and easy-to-use proprietary management software called Dell OpenManage.

Dell has added a couple of new features to its management arsenal. Resolution Assistant is software installed on the server that gives a Dell support representative complete remote control of the server. OpenManage Version Assistant gives the server administrator the ability to keep the server drivers current by alerting the administrator of updated drivers when they become available and provides a repository for necessary drivers if they need to be reinstalled in the future.

The Dell PowerEdge 2400 is a good compromise between price, performance and scalability. Network and CPU performance are strong. If file service performance is an issue, consider configuring the server with the Perc2 RAID controller instead of the onboard Perc2/Si controller.

Server testing is performed at North Carolina State University 's Centennial Networking Labs (CNL) in Raleigh, N.C. CNL tests networking equipment and network-attached devices for interoperability and performance. John Bass, a senior technical staff member at CNL, designs and leads the execution of the test suites. He can be reached at john_bass@ncsu.edu.

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