Wikia Dell Spat Highlights Divide Between Corporate and Web Computing

Wikia, the service that hosts wikis for any known subject, is quitting Dell servers thanks to both a functional and philosophical disagreement stemming from Dell’s new demands that all hard drives in its 11th-generation PowerEdge servers are certified by the Round Rock, Texas-based company. Artur Bergman, director SVP of engineering and operations at Wikia, in a conversation conducted via chat, told me that “Dell basically wants $2500 for 100GB SSD [solid-state drives], and their plan is to only allow dell [sic] drives in their servers.”

Wikia, which has only 200 servers for its popular web site, may not be the largest buyer of Dell servers, but it is part of a community of startups and web-based companies that are becoming more frustrated with the products the traditional server and chip vendors are pushing at them. For example, Facebook VP of Technical Operations Jonathan Heiliger said last year at our Structure Conference that web companies and the vendor market were far out of step — a divide that startups such as SeaMicro and Smooth-Stone are trying to bridge with new products optimized for web-scale companies.

For Wikia, Dell’s moves mean that it couldn’t run the Intel x25e 64G, which Bergman pegs at about $750 on Amazon — about a third of the cost of the approved Dell hardware (although smaller). He also uses the Intel 160GB x25m, which costs $450. Dell has said the certification ensures reliability for customers, but Bergman said he’s OK with his drives failing, and has planned for that in his network architecture (he uses RAID 0), so Dell is “optimising for something we really don’t care about.”

Given the cost differential, Bergman said he has “a hard time seeing this as anything but dell trying to increase margins.” And considering the bifurcation of the demands of web-scale companies and enterprise-class corporate data centers that will willingly shell out for more expensive optimized gear, I think these sorts of spats will become all the more common. Whether it will be common enough to support a new breed of equipment startup, only time will tell.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user JonSeb

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