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Dell EMC Takes On HPE Synergy With 'Breakthrough' Composable Infrastructure

‘Our MX platform is differentiated without a mid-plane, unlike any other offer in the industry, which is an important breakthrough in modular systems,’ says Dell EMC vice president Brian Payne.

Dell EMC is going to battle against Hewlett Packard Enterprise in the modular infrastructure arena by launching its groundbreaking PowerEdge MX, a future-proof composable architecture offering high performance, modular computing, storage and networking infrastructure.

The PowerEdge MX differentiates from HPE's composable infrastructure, Synergy, with the ability to provide customers "true server disaggregation" and "full composability that can deliver cloud-like velocity," according to Brian Payne, vice president of PowerEdge Product Management and Marketing for Dell EMC.

"We support the same level of composability that exist today in the market just like HPE, but our difference is our kinetic infrastructure and the fact that other designs in the market are limited in their ability to support fabrics that are required to enable full disaggregation," said Payne, in an interview with CRN. "Our MX platform is differentiated without a mid-plane, unlike any other offer in the industry, which is an important breakthrough in modular systems to eliminate that single point of failure and that constraint which could limit customers' ability to keep up with the changing network fabrics that we're going to see over time."

[Related: Dell's Public Journey From Private Equity Buyout To VMware Share Swap]

Round Rock, Texas-based Dell EMC gave a glimpse into PowerEdge MX at Dell Technologies World in May. HPE responded with a blog post titled, 'HPE Welcomes Dell to Composable Infrastructure … Three Years Too Late.' The post touted HPE Synergy's more than 1,4000 customer that began buying the solution in 2016.

"While late to the party, I understand Dell's eagerness to launch an HPE Synergy-like composable solution," said HPE Chief Sales Officer Phil Davis, in the blog post. "The future will tell if Dell's latest foray meets the standards our customers have come to expect from composable infrastructure."

HPE Synergy is fueled by its hybrid cloud management platform, OneSphere, and infrastructure management software OneView. Comparably, Dell EMC's PowerEdge MX is managed by its new OpenManage Enterprise Modular Edition system engine, which differentiates itself from HPE in several ways, according to Payne.

Dell's multi-vendor OpenManage software enables customers to perform lifecycle management on all PowerEdge MX components including storage, compute and networking across multiple chassis' at once. It allows users to access servers remotely via the OpenManage Mobile application and offers management of rack and modular solutions via a single interface.

"We can provide automated and simplified network configuration for MX that plugs into higher-level orchestration tools with north-bound APIs, so we make it very simple to integrate into existing tools like VMware's vCenter or Microsoft's Systems Center," said Payne. "We also have compatibility for RESTful APIs. So if you're in a DevOps world developing a scale-out application, we can easily support RedFish APIs to enable the hardware configuration that supports a workload orchestration."

A key to PowerEdge MX is what Dell EMC calls Kinetic Infrastructure. The company defines the term as providing true composability by extending the flexibility of configuration down to the individual storage device and, eventually, all the way to memory centric devices. Dell said the PowerEdge MX portfolio is designed with kinetic infrastructure which has built-in future-proofing to easily support configurations down to memory-centric devices such as GPUs and storage class memory.

The PowerEdge MX is designed without a mid-plane, enabling support for multiple generations of technology releases – such as processor technologies, new storage types and connectivity innovations -- well into the future. Specifically, the absence of a mid-plane enables direct compute to I/O module connections, allowing for technology upgrades without disrupting customer operations and without a mid-plane upgrade needed, according to Payne.

Rick Gouin, chief technology officer at Waltham, Mass.-based Dell EMC partner Winslow Technology Group, said Dell EMC is providing a "significant" tool in channel partners’ tool belts to go after HPE accounts as well as new customers. The future-proof PowerEdge MX story is a much better sell to customers compared to Dell's current M1000e blade chassis offering.

"This new platform being a little smaller than the M1000e and being able to tell such a future proof story – as well as having all of the most modern connectivity options built-in, the availability of the latest blades and this new storage blade – I'll be able to position this to customers where I couldn't really position anything before," said Gouin. "I don't see this as a move to try to shadow HPE. This is the next logical step for their blade chassis platforms."

The new components inside the PowerEdge MX modular infrastructure include the PowerEdge MX7000 chassis; two-and-four-socket blade servers, dubbed the MX740c and MX840c; the PowerEdge MX5016s storage sled; and new low latency, high-bandwidth MX Ethernet and Fibre Channel switches.

Dell EMC partners hailed the components and overall PowerEdge MX strategy as a way to future-proof customer environments designed to support traditional and emerging data center workloads.

"Dell is positioning their blade chassis to have a lot of modular hardware as well as be ready for technologies like the Gen-Z type interconnect," said Robert Keblusek, CTO of Sentinel Technologies, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based Dell EMC partner. "It seems like they built it ready for the future fabric technologies that might be used to interconnect things and abstract things like the CPU from the memory. … It's going to make it easier to build racks for the future."

Keblusek said Dell EMC is making the backplane "as flexible as possible" to support future technologies which provides "investment protection for customers," he said.

The Dell EMC PowerEdge MX700 chassis offers a hardware foundation with support for multiple server processor generations in a scalable system with end-to-end lifecycle management and a single interface for all components. The 7U chassis includes eight bays to accommodate a variety of full-and double-width compute and storage combinations.

Dell EMC's PowerEdge MX740c and MX840c servers are two-and-four-socket blade sleds that deliver high performance and a rich set of storage options including NVMe drives. The full width MX740c and double-width MX840c support the Intel Xeon Scalable Processor family with up to six terabytes of memory. The MX740c can house up to six 2.5 NVMe, SAS or SATA drive bays, and the MX840c can hold up to eight.

"With that modularity on the MX740c and MX840c, you can really build out a nice data center in a chassis," said Keblusek. "Even a midsize organization can benefit from having that level of modularity."

The company's new direct-attached scale-out storage sled, the PowerEdge MX5016, can hold up to 16 hot-pluggable SAS storage hard disk drives, with a maximum of seven MX5016s sleds in the MX chassis for up to 112 drives of direct-attached storage. The drives can be individually mapped to one or more servers.

Dell EMC's new networking components inside the modular infrastructure are the PowerEdge MX Ethernet and Fibre Channel switching modules, which provide 25GbE and 32Gbps fibre channel host connectivity with 100GbE and 32G uplinks. The low latency, high-bandwidth switching modules for multi-chassis environments include automated processes for topology compliance, quality of service and autonomous healing for peak network performance with the PowerEdge MX single management interface.

"We're delivering differentiation even in the implementation of Ethernet by providing the lowest latency connectivity across all of our nodes," said Dell EMC's Payne.

Partners are planning to attack the midmarket and scale up to large enterprises with the new PowerEdge MX. "We love the idea of not having a mid-plane and the storage options, and connecting multiple systems together," said Gouin. "This is going to be a really strong offering for us."

The Dell EMC PowerEdge MX will be available globally for partners to sell beginning Sept. 12.

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