Dell servers--long live the ROI

The big names in servers are IBM, Sun, and HP. But if you're running an enterprise with huge mainframes, Bill O'Brien thinks you may be surprised at how Dell's lower-end servers can still help improve your ROI.
Written by Bill O'Brien, Contributor
Early last week, Dell announced a new server, the PowerEdge 1600SC. Of course, you realize that the big names in servers are IBM, Sun, and HP, but if you're running a vast and huge enterprise don't turn the page just yet. Dell may surprise you with a solution that not only saves you money but also makes you more productive.

Technically, "1600SC" denotes a line of a small-business tower-based servers with one or two Xeon processors and a top CPU cruising speed of 2.8GHz. At the bottom of available configurations, you can probably fish around under the cushions on the couch sitting in your foyer to come up with its $999 cost. It's a fairly stripped down model with only 128MB of DDR SDRAM memory and only one 18GB Ultra320 SCSI hard drive, has no hot-plugability, and no operating system when you yank it out of the box. On the high-end configuration side, you get a pair of 2.8GHz Xeons, 4GB of memory, six 73GB Ultra320 drives, a tape backup drive, Windows 2000 Server, and a bunch of garnish--including a 3-year, next-business-day, onsite service plan with lifetime technical support. The latter is based on the phenomenal service and support plan that Dell offers to the desktop crowd. Apparently, Dell hasn't yet learned to gouge people on service/support contracts yet because even at the high end of the 1600SC it will only set you back about $13.5K (including service and support).

Now you're looking at the six-figure invoice for your $uper$erver and trying to figure out how a $999 dumb box could possibly fit into your dream of a future with long halls lined with racks of blades. Either that or you're trying to convince yourself that nothing costing under $1,000 could possibly be relevant to you at all. That's the TCO side of your brain doing the thinking. There is another important consideration--your return on investment (ROI). Most people will only talk about TCO, and the PowerEdge 1600SC does deal with that. ROI is more difficult to quantify, but Dell has taken aim at that statistic as well. How? Read on, MacDuff.

TCO is probably what made you first think about consolidating, but ROI was what made it a reality. You rolled in your $uper$erver to replace all those tiny boxes spread out on the floor and you also paid a premium for it. That's because it was faster than fast, posting thousands of transactions per second in the major league benchmarks. You got it because you were promised it would lower your TCO with reduced square footage, lower maintenance, and increased productivity. It does all of that so it delivers on the promises, and the amount of increased productivity indicates the level of your ROI. But then you added mail and print server functions to it--things that weren't really enterprise-class tasks, things you really don't need a $uper$erver to do. But it was already there, and mail and print functions are part of the mundane back office functions that your business needs to keep operating. That's also where your ROI starts to suffer.

If you're using your amazingly expensive $uper$erver to run mail and print functions that could be handled instead by a $1,500 Dell 1600SC (and that's a roughly reasonable price for a functional base box), your ROI has the potential to drop. If your transactional capability begins to suffer due to the mail, print, and/or telecom functionality, then you're fulfilling the potential and you're losing money, no matter how small your TCO might end up being. (Does consolidation always end up in reduced ROI? Certainly not. When you consolidate similar tasks it succeeds amazingly--it's only when you try to consolidate a diverse array of tasks that you get into trouble.)

And finally, "Why Dell?" While its competitors pandered to gaming and consumer electronics to garner every last dollar in a tight economy, Dell has been sharpening its business skills. According to statistics provided by Dell, it's just surpassed HP, the old leader, in the Standard Intel Architecture Server (SIAS) market and has led in SIAS satisfaction for 18 of the last 19 quarters. Why that's an important consideration should be obvious. For companies like HP, Sun, and IBM, the low-end server space is a supplement to their high-end business. To Dell, the high-end market is currently the height of its aspirations in the upwardly spiraling set of goals the company has set for itself. Dell's hungry. That's always a better environment for a deal and nothing gets your ROI off to a better start than a good deal.

Would running mail and print services on Dell boxes help lower your ROI? TalkBack below or e-mail us with your thoughts.

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