Caption by: Alan Stevens
With the new generation of Xeon 5500-based servers, direct sales specialist Dell has reached the eleventh generation of its PowerEdge range, and has clearly learnt a great deal along the way.
The first thing that strikes you about the PowerEdge R710 is the build quality. Previous models were pretty good, but the new ones are even better with an plenty of new and useful features. For example, the optional front bezel has been redesigned to stop customer-applied labels interfering with airflow, while the chassis has been tweaked to provide even easier access to all of the components. A lot of work has also gone into optimising airflow and reducing energy consumption, making the R710 one of the coolest and quietest servers we've tested — only HP's ProLiant DL380 G6 bettered it in this respect.
The PowerEdge R710 provides easy access to internal components, while optimised airflow helps to make it run cool and quiet.
Other nice features include a mini-LCD status panel at the front and a pull-out identity label. We also liked the easy-to-remember colour coding, with blue indicating removable parts and orange signifying hot-swappable components like fans and disks.
At the back of the chassis are bays for the power supplies — which are also hot swappable, with two 570W units available as standard and 870W PSUs on offer to handle the demands of fully loaded setups. Four Gigabit Ethernet ports are also to be found at the back, powered by a pair of Broadcom NetXtreme II controllers with support for failover and load balancing plus TCP offload on Windows Server 2003 or above.
The Xeon E5520 processors sit beneath huge heatsinks in the middle of the motherboard, flanked by two banks of nine DIMM slots.
Inside the case, the processors are located beneath huge heatsinks, more or less in the middle of the motherboard with nine DIMM slots on each side for the RAM. Filled with 8GB DIMMs, that gives a total RAM capacity of 144GB, which is more than enough to support large numbers of virtual machines, big corporate databases and other memory-hungry applications. That said, 8GB DIMMs are still premium components and, according to Dell, most customers are sticking with 4GB until prices drop.
The 2U chassis can be configured to take a variety of hard disks, although the R710 is a little limited here compared to some other 2U racks. On the plus side there's a choice of either 2.5in. or 3.5in. configurations, but you can only have eight drives if you go for 2.5in. disks — just half of what can be fitted into HP's ProLiant DL380 and the Sun Fire X4270, while 2U racks from Fujitsu, IBM, Lenovo can all take twelve drives.
Six 3.5in. disks can be fitted instead, which is better — only Sun offers more with twelve on the 3.5in.-equipped Sun Fire X4275. Alternatively you can specify just four disk bays to leave room for an internal backup drive.
Of course you can always add plug-in HBAs (Host Bus Adapters) and connect the server to external storage or a SAN. Nonetheless, storage is far from a strong suit on the R710 and may cause some buyers to look elsewhere.
The story improves when it comes to the disks themselves, with support for hot-plug SAS and SATA drives (mixed together in some configurations) plus SSD, although with limited capacity (just 25 and 50GB). Two RAID controllers are available, using plug-in adapters, with four PCI Express slots available for this and other adapters, located on riser cards at the rear of the chassis.
An embedded hypervisor is rapidly becoming a must-have, and Dell was one of the first vendors to provide this option on its servers. Two internal storage interfaces are available on the R710 for this purpose (USB or SD): VMware, XenServer and Hyper-V are all supported, while SD cards are available from Dell with the VMware and Citrix software preloaded.
You also get 1GB of flash memory on the motherboard to support Dell's unique Lifecycle Controller. This does away with the need for a setup CD/DVD, providing the same software — setup utilities, diagnostics and drivers — preloaded onto the motherboard, with automatic updates to make sure it's kept current.
A separate network port is provided for remote management linked to one of Dell's well established iDRAC Express management controllers. This provides web-based remote console access with an optional upgrade available (iDRAC Enterprise) to add support for remote virtual media and other more advanced options. The latest implementation of Dell's OpenManage suite of management tools is also bundled with the server, while the web-based Dell Management Console (DMC), based on extensible Altiris (now Symantec) software, can be used to remotely manage large server deployments. Additionally the Dell servers can be integrated into third-party management tools from Microsoft and others.
Caption by: Alan Stevens
Caption by: Alan Stevens