An Inside Look At Dell's Cloud Server Lab

dell-dcs-cloud-serversOn Tuesday, I visited Dell’s Data Center Solutions group, a separate unit inside the computing giant that design, builds and sells servers for companies that need a huge, highly scalable server infrastructure. I also was given the rare opportunity to visit the testing lab. Alas, I couldn’t bring my camera, but I did come across some pretty awesome examples of how Dell is cramming a lot of memory or bandwidth into small spaces for current customers, including Facebook, Microsoft’s Azure cloud and Ask.com — as well as some potential ones.

For the networking geeks, I’ll mention seeing a 1U switch that offered 480 Gigabit-Ethernet, according to Jimmy D. Pike, distinguished engineer and director of System Architecture at Dell. The maker of that switch happens to be Arista Networks, from Andy Bechtolsheim’s new company. It was pretty sweet seeing that switch connected to 48 fiber cables and realizing it replaces the entire rack of networking gear below it. It’s also pretty sweet because Dell is likely testing the switch for use with one of its customers — a group that includes companies that run some of the the largest data centers in the world — and such a customer win would be a coup for any startup.

Pike says fiber is still unusual in large, scaled-out data centers, as most customers are still so cost-conscious they’re using 10 Gigabit Ethernet over copper or even 1 GigE. No Dell customers are using Fibre Channel and only one is using Infiniband (for a high-performance computing situation.) However, Pike is convinced fiber costs are coming down rapidly and he expects more customers to ask for fiber in the year ahead.

The other example of cramming a boatload of technology into a pretty small rack was a 4u box that contained 35 1-terabyte drives and is on its way to stuffing 75 terabytes of data into that space by the end of the year. A box like that eliminates the need for a storage area network for some clients, according to Pike.

But no matter how cool the technology is, customers seeking to build out giant server farms to run one application, or host a cloud, are after one main thing — the most performance for the least power. That’s because the cost of power is one of the biggest expenses for these companies. And there’s still not a lot Dell, or its customers, can do about the cost of electricity.

image courtesy of Dell

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