Dell targets hyperscale wannabes with new line of bare-bones servers

It's just one of the announcements from the Dell World conference kicking off Tuesday evening

Dell has released a new family of servers aimed at companies that want some of the cost savings of using custom-built hardware but without having to do as much of the engineering work.

The servers are aimed at what Dell calls the second tier of hyper-scale customers -- those big enough to buy hundreds or even thousands of servers at a time, but who aren't as massive as a Google or a Facebook. That includes smaller Web-scale companies as well as telcos, financial services firms, cloud software companies and others.

The Googles of the world design their own hardware to make it as energy- and space-efficient as possible. That means stripping out management software and redundant components, and building resiliency into their software stack rather than the hardware itself.

Those changes can result in big savings when they're spread across thousands of servers, but most "normal" companies don't have the time or the expertise to design their own hardware. So Dell is offering a middle ground with its new Datacenter Scalable Solutions server line, or DSS.

It announced a few months ago that it was working on the products and launched the first four systems at its Dell World conference on Tuesday.

Dell DSS 7000 Dell

Dell's DSS 7000 server packs up to 720TB of storage in a 4U chassis

One of them, the DSS 7000, is for service providers that need a lot of storage capacity in a small space: it packs up to 720TB in a 4U chassis, using 90 3.5-inch disk drives.

The other three boxes are for compute workloads. There's a 2U, two-socket system for Big Data applications like Hadoop; and two 1U servers for Web serving, financial services applications, dedicated hosting environments and high-performance computing.

Dell DSS specs Dell

Dell's first DSS branded products

What they have in common is less serviceability and redundancy features than in Dell's standard PowerEdge servers. There's no license upgrade for Dell's iDRAC remote management software, and no "n-1" OS support, meaning only current OS releases are offered. (The servers come with either Linux or Windows.)

"A lot of these companies are hiring tech-savvy people who are using open source software to do the orchestration, monitoring and management of their boxes, so they don't need all the iDRAC features that our PowerEdge boxes have," said Jyeh Gan, Dell's director of product management and strategy for DSS.

The servers are sold with more basic, "break-fix" warranty options, since most customers know how to fix their servers and need only access to the parts, he said.

The servers are available now; pricing depends on order size and configuration, Dell said.

The company is responding to a wider shift in the server market, in which companies that compute at scale are looking for more options in the hardware they use. Dell has a separate business called DCS that serves the true hyperscale market, and DSS reflects the trend trickling down to smaller players.

Patrick Moorhead, principal at Moor Insight & Strategy, says the type of customer Dell is targeting might employ engineers who previously worked at giants like Facebook and Google. They're versed in minimalist server designs but don't have the resources now to use them in the same way.

"They don't have the thousands of engineers they need to develop the software and hardware to make one of these mega data centers work, so they need a level of consistency and support, and that's what Dell is providing here," Moorhead said.

Dell is competing with Hewlett-Packard, which partnered with low-cost manufacturer Foxconn to build no-frills servers for scale-out data centers. And both Dell and HP are competing with the so-called ODMs, or original design manufacturers -- Taiwanese "white box" makers like Quanta and Compal -- who are selling to hyperscale customers directly and make up the fastest growing piece of the server market.

Some of those designs come out of the Open Compute project, an effort started by Facebook through which hyperscale players collaborate to come up with new hardware designs that fit their needs.

The DSS servers were just one of the announcements Dell is making at its Dell World conference this week. Among the others:

-- The new SC9000 storage array, which is says offers the industry's lowest cost per gigabyte for SSD storage, at $0.65 including the array, all storage software and three years of Dell Copilot support. With a capacity of more than 3 petabytes, Dell says the 9000 delivers 40 percent more IOPS than its predecessor. It's available worldwide now.

-- A new version of Dell's Data Protection and Rapid Recovery software, which was designed with cloud recovery in mind. It adds a feature called Rapid Snap for Virtual which Dell says protects VMware environments without agents, and automatically detects and backs up VMs provisioned on an ESXi host. The software will be available later this quarter starting at $1,199, and as a free upgrade to AppAssure license holders.

-- New models for Dells' XC line-up of converged appliances, which combine compute, storage and hypervisors in a pre-integrated system. The XC6320, available now, is its densest XC appliance yet, with four compute nodes supporting up to 44 terabytes of storage in a 2U box. It also introduced its first all-flash XC appliances, the XC630-10F and XC6320-6F, which will go on sale in November.

Dell World gets under way properly on Wednesday morning with a speech from CEO Michael Dell.

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James Niccolai

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