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Dell joins blade server fray

Dell's introduction of its first own-design blade servers will shake up the market - to the detriment of HP and IBM, say observers

Dell has belatedly joined its competitors in offering own-design blade servers with the launch in Paris on Monday afternoon of the PowerEdge 1855.

With shipments of blade servers due to double each year until 2008, according to industry analysts IDC, Dell is keen to take a share of the increased enterprise spend. IDC puts this at $7.2bn a year by 2008.

The PowerEdge 1855 is a 7U-high chassis, which can house up to ten blades and a fibre channel link for connecting to storage area networks. Each blade comes with two Intel Xeon EM64T processors, up to 16GB of DDR2 memory, up to two hot plug SCSI hard disks and two Gigabit Ethernet ports.

A deployment toolkit will contain plug-ins for deployment software from Microsoft and Altiris. Dell did not immediately provide pricing, but Neil Hand, Dell's worldwide director of enterprise systems marketing and product management, said a full chassis would be 25 percent cheaper than the same computing power bought any other way from the company.

Observers say the announcement will cause a shake-up in the still nascent blade server industry. Bob VanSteenberg, chief technology officer and vice-president of platform development at RLX Technologies, the company that kick-started the industry, said "Blade servers are still at the innovation phase. Dell will really help drive prices down -- they will grow at the expense of HP."

The move is likely to help Dell's enterprise ambitions. Daniel Fleischer, senior research analyst at IDC, said Dell "just hasn't been able to penetrate the enterprise space" to the degree it would have liked. He put this down to issues with the brand, and a perceived lack of global services which, he admitted, has been aided by the recent Platinum Services launch "which demonstrated worldwide support for enterprise infrastructure".

Dell also faces political issues, said Daniel. "An IT manager won't get sacked for buying IBM or HP, but Dell remains an unknown [in the enterprise area]."

An increasing number, it seems, are willing to take the risk, as IDC's own figures show Dell experienced a 34 percent unit growth for server shipments in the UK and Ireland last year, with similar figures reported for the rest of Europe.

One chassis starts at £1,841, with a blade costing from £908. So, a Chassis with five blades would cost upwards of £6,380, while one with ten blades would be at least £10,918 (all prices excluding VAT).