Dell Unveils PowerEdge FX Modular Server Architecture

Dell Wednesday unveiled a modular server architecture that pulls storage out of the server modules and makes it available to multiple servers inside a single chassis as needed.

The new architecture was unveiled at Dell World, which is being held this week in Austin, Texas.

With the new Dell PowerEdge FX architecture, Dell becomes the latest server vendor to enter the modular server business following the release of the HP Moonshot line and the Cisco M-Series.

[Related: Modular Servers, UCS Mini And More: Cisco Makes Biggest Refresh To UCS Line In Years]

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Brian Payne, senior product planning manager for Dell's PowerEdge server portfolio, called the PowerEdge FX modular server solution Dell's next generation of converged infrastructure architecture.

"It's very different from what is in the marketplace today," Payne told CRN. "It was built for the future, with a mix of software-defined and traditional architecture."

Dell already has a number of converged infrastructure solutions. These include Active Infrastructure, which is a broad ecosystem containing discrete storage, server and networking components, as well as the PowerEdge VRTX, which is a branch-office solution with storage, server and networking in a single chassis.

Dell also offers a couple of more tightly integrated hyper-converged infrastructure appliances including the newly released Dell XC solution based on software from Nutanix and its new solution based on VMware's EVO: RAIL software stack.

The PowerEdge FX modular server solution is different in that it is a data center-optimized infrastructure that lets customers support a wide variety of enterprise workloads, Payne said.

The PowerEdge FX features a 2U rack-mount chassis, with the upper 1U having four bays for modular server cartridges. Those servers eventually will be available in several versions from system-on-chip processors to having four server processors per module. The bottom 1U is up to 16 2.5-inch, half-height hard drives that can be configured as direct-attach storage for the four server modules as needed.

Dell has included eight PCIe slots, which allows any type of connectivity solution to be configured.

The modular architecture allows channel partners and customers to configure it for a variety of solutions, Payne said.

"They can combine compute and storage in different ways, such as direct-attach storage for VMware or Hadoop, or using CPU-heavy InfiniBand in a high-performance computing configuration for test and development," he said. "This normally requires up to five different architectures with some vendors. We can do it with a single architecture."

NEXT: Going For Maximum Flexibility With Dell PowerEdge FX

Dell has been talking about the PowerEdge FX architecture under NDA for about a year but waited for the release of its new 13G (13th generation) servers before releasing it, said Michael Tanenhaus, principal at Mavenspire, an Annapolis, Md.-based solution provider and longtime Dell channel partner.

"This is not a niche solution," Tanenhaus told CRN. "It's a new computing architecture building block with CPU and storage options to make it a converged solution. If you want a virtualized data center with four servers connected to Ethernet or Fibre Channel storage, you can do it. Or you can configure it as a hyper-converged infrastructure solution or use as a way to reduce rack space."

Dell's decision to make the eight PCIe slots separate from the server modules was a good idea, Tanenhaus said. This allows, for instance, the servers to work with Dell Fluid Cache for SAN, a technology that ties the flash storage of multiple servers into a pool of high-performance storage for mission-critical applications. "That's a lot of flexibility," he said.

Dell is right in calling the FX an architecture, and not a server, Tanenhaus said. "When we go to customers, we talk solutions," he said. "The industry today is really hot on converged infrastructure, space-saving and software-defined. I look at it this way: When you go to a customer site, do you sell servers, or what customers will do with them?"

Tanenhaus said that when Cisco talks about UCS, it talks about the Cisco vision, not servers. "The FX will be similar," he said.

Mike Davis, vice president of technology at Broadleaf Services, a Billerica, Mass.-based solution provider and Dell channel partner, said he is glad to see Dell's new PowerEdge FX start to compete alongside the HP Moonshot and the Cisco M-Series.

The Cisco M-Series features a single-processor module with up to 16 cores, making them very discrete machines, while the Dell PowerEdge FX will be more CPU-rich and memory-rich, Davis said.

"And, with PCIe, Dell can jack it up with lots of GPUs," he said. "It sounds like tremendous flexibility in a very small footprint."

The Dell PowerEdge FX is a true data-center-in-a-box, said Chris Pace, founder and CEO of Centre Technologies, a Houston-based solution provider and Dell channel partner.

The new PowerEdge FX gives a glimpse at how Dell is investing in the future of IT, Pace told CRN.

NEXT: Dell Shows New Focus On Innovation

"Even last year with the VRTX, we could see Dell is doing a lot more with R&D," Pace said. "The FX is a new move to solve customer requirements. Dell's products have gotten more innovative over the past year than I have ever seen."

Customers are looking to increase the efficiency of their operations with such capabilities as connecting ever-more virtual machines to shared storage environments, Payne said. But as they move forward, they have to deal with new ways to deliver IT, including software-defined storage for virtualized or private cloud workloads, which makes direct-attach storage important, he said.

The Dell PowerEdge architecture, including the PowerEdge FX2 chassis and a couple of initial server cartridges, is slated to start shipping in December. Other server cartridges are expected to ship in the first half of 2015. Beta units are currently being tested by customers, Payne said.