Dell Updates Its Appliance Line

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Dell Updates Its Appliance Line
R. Krause - April 28th, 2000

Event Summary

Dell Computer Corporation introduced its new line of Dell PowerApp appliance servers as part of Dell's comprehensive Internet infrastructure strategy.

PowerApp appliance servers focus on Web hosting and Internet caching. For Web hosting, PowerApp.web products are dedicated Web servers that include optimized versions of Web hosting software from Microsoft or Red Hat Linux. The PowerApp.web 100 products can be ordered today and will ship in early May.

Optimized Web server software from Microsoft includes Microsoft Windows Powered Web hosting server software, co-developed by Dell and Microsoft, and Microsoft Internet Information Server. Optimized Web server software from Red Hat includes Red Hat Linux and Apache Web server. For Internet caching, PowerApp.cache products are dedicated Internet caching servers that leverage Novell Internet Caching System (ICS) technology. PowerApp.cache 100 and 200 products can be ordered this month and will ship in May 2000.

International Data Corporation, a respected industry consulting firm, forecasts the worldwide appliance server market will grow dramatically, from virtually no market presence in 1998 to an estimated volume of over two million units by 20032.

The 1.75"-high (1U) PowerApp.web 100 for Linux is pre-configured and includes Red Hat Linux 6.2 featuring Apache Web Server 1.3.12, Sendmail, and Piranha load balancer installed. The PowerApp.web 100 for Windows, based on Microsoft's Windows Powered Web hosting server software, includes Internet Information Server 5.0, Microsoft Network Load Balancing Service, and Microsoft Terminal Services for remote administration.

The 1U PowerApp.cache 100 and 2U PowerApp.cache 200 (3.5-inches) appliance servers are pre-configured with Novell's Internet Caching System application stack.

Market Impact

With Dell's new professed focus on Internet infrastructure (II), this announcement comes as no surprise. Dell has been dropping hints about server appliances for months.

Until this point, Dell customers wanting an appliance would have to buy a PowerEdge 1300 with Novell's ICS caching software pre-loaded onto it. Obviously, this was not aimed at Web serving, but at Web users/clients. Although these units functioned adequately, they were clearly not geared toward ISPs or toward companies trying to rackmount a bunch of caching servers. The 1300 was 5U tall, too large for a highly-dense configuration.

Clearly, these products are to be used in trying to gain a major foothold in the non-transactional section of Web infrastructure, with "Transactional" used here to mean the database and "back office" or "back end" of a given Web business. Dell believes that it can translate its success in the general-purpose server market - currently #2 in both U.S. and worldwide (Intel) market share - into a leading II position. Although skills in one area don't necessarily map well into another, we believe Dell's business model combined with its recent alliances give it a better-than-even chance at meeting its goals.

This is also a signal of a more aggressive stance toward Sun Microsystems. Although Dell's offering is not aiming directly at big systems such as Sun's E10000, it believes it can surround the "Big Iron" and bide its time until Windows 2000 is proved to be more robust than Solaris. Of course, we're not holding our breath for that. (Linux is also an option, but Dell is still primarily a Windows shop.)

User Recommendations

For the time being, this announcement is of limited interest to the general business public. The current set of PowerApp models is aimed at ISPs and ASPs. In this space, the competition includes smaller systems from Sun, as well as other Windows-based or Linux-based systems such as IBM's Netfinity 4000R and the upcoming 4500R.

Dell believes that a single-CPU system is sufficiently powerful to drive xSP-type applications, with the bottleneck being the network. IBM believes that for heavy-duty Web applications, dual-CPU systems provide a more robust and powerful infrastructure.

We advise customers to test these contentions for themselves before committing large amounts of money to revamping (or building up) their infrastructure. For example, back-end loaded (e.g., calculation/processing-intense) sites might benefit more from a dual-CPU system, while high-bandwidth-required sites might not need all the computing horsepower of a dual.

Client-side Web caching, for example, might not need all that power. As a general rule, customers will need to review their requirements and compare them to the benefits from each server.

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