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Wikia Dell Spat Highlights Divide Between Corporate and Web Computing

Wikia, the service that hosts wikis for any known subject, is quitting Dell (s 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 (s intc) 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

13 Responses to “Wikia Dell Spat Highlights Divide Between Corporate and Web Computing”

  1. As far as I know this only applies to Dell’s “PERC” RAID controllers, and although I personally think this is a bit of a silly policy on Dell’s part.

    If Wikia aren’t using these hardware RAID controllers, then I don’t see why this would impact them at all – surely they should just be using the machine’s non-RAID SATA controller instead? They are also free to use third-party hardware RAID controllers (without such limitations) in these servers if that’s what they want, or override this limitation by other means.

    Personally I use Linux’s software RAID where-ever possible, and only grudgingly use HW RAID if I need the extra write-performance that battery-backed-up write-caches can give in certain usage scenarios…

  2. Jack Dan

    It seems to me to be a support issue. If Wikia puts non-Dell approved SSD’s into the system and they break in the future – who are they likely to call? Dell. What is the customer satisfaction when Dell says it’s not their issue and points them to Intel/Amazon and then Intel/Amazon point them back at Dell? If the drives and the server come from Dell, there is one point of contact, and one “throat to choke” so to speak.

  3. A bit surprised it’s taken Wikia this long to come around to that conclusion. We’ve been using white-label hardware from day one and it’s been exactly as expected — much cheaper and slightly less reliable.

    • Second this…and not only because I am pretty familiar with your setup, Nathan… ;)

      We used SuperMicro servers when I ran a hosting company. Over 200 of them, and they were overall fantastic. InterProMicro is a great company out of Fremont (so, local for many Bay Area startups) that will build to order 2nd day. I’d recommend them if you need hardware with a warranty.

      Also, SuperMicro itself has an office in south Fremont and will RMA parts for you there. Much nicer than having to ship stuff.

      –Set up over 500 web servers as former CEO of managed hosting company