December 1996 Reviews This Month
By Art Brieva
Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have marketed PC servers for small, midsized and large businesses for quite some time. While prices of these servers have dropped dramatically, they are still unaffordable for many organizations. Dell hopes to grab a larger piece of the server market by introducing a new line of affordable Pentium Pro-based file servers called PowerEdge.
I evaluated Dell's PowerEdge 2100 file server for Windows NT and Novell NetWare networks, focusing on four key areas: robustness, expandability, manageability and support. I also employed several shareware benchmarks downloaded from Novell's Netwire on CompuServe to test the server's performance.
The system came configured with a 200MHz Pentium Pro, three 2GB hard drives, 64MB of ECC/DIMM memory, a 3Com 10/100 Ethernet network card and an 8X CD-ROM drive. It includes Intel's LANDesk Manager software, which loads as NLMs (NetWare Loadable Modules), for monitoring the server. The PowerEdge 2100 came preconfigured with NetWare 4.1 and all of the latest drivers and patches.
Dell gave me a completely configured file server that was ready to put on the network, so I took it apart to see what was under the hood. For quick access, the company should replace the Phillips screws with thumbscrews for removing the server cover. Also, the PS/2 keyboard/mouse ports are not labeled, so you have to guess which goes where when you're setting up the server.
The Dell motherboard uses the integrated Adaptec PCI AIC 7880 UltraSCSI disk controller, which is capable of up to 40MB-per-second data-transfer rates. Attached to it are an 8X CD-ROM drive and three 2GB Fast/Wide SCSI-2 Seagate 32550W Barracuda disk drives that support 20MBps data-transfer rates with an average seek time of 8 milliseconds. The performance capabilities of the drives don't match those of the SCSI controller, but 4GB UltraSCSI disk drives are available.
A SCSI tape backup unit will fit easily into the available 5.25-inch bay and attach to the internal SCSI ribbon cable, but an external tape drive will require another SCSI controller because there is no external port. Although an external port is common on HP, Compaq or IBM servers, it's not a bad idea to use a separate controller for tape backup. Three available PCI slots, three available EISA slots and three available drive bays provide good expandability. One PCI slot is used by the 3Com 3C59x 10/100 BaseT network card, leaving two free.
Cooling a server that typically stays on all of the time is very important, especially when using a Pentium Pro processor and Barracuda disk drives, which run very warm. Dell's server uses only one fan, while other vendors provide two fans-one for intake and one for exhaust. I spoke with Dell's engineers, who assured me the thermal design for this machine is quite good, and articulated the advantages of a single fan, including lower power consumption and fewer moving parts. I'd still prefer a second fan, just in case.
Dhrystone tests that evaluate the processor's performance came up with 714,285 Dhrystones per second-over three times the performance of 229,412 Dhrystones per second that we clocked on a Compaq 90MHz Pentium server. Disk channel throughput measured an impressive 215.5MBps. We ran another test that creates a file, writes, reads and then erases a 25KB file. The PowerEdge sustained respectable scores-an average throughput for writes of 42 seconds and average throughput for reads of 37 seconds from one workstation.
My server was connected to a hub using a 100BaseT connection, and the three workstations running this operation were connected using slower 10BaseT connectors. This type of constant traffic is not normal for most servers, but the Dell system handled it very well.
Intel's management software is very good and is hardware-specific, so you'll know if ECC (error-correcting code) memory has a failure, a DIMM needs replacing or a disk begins to fail. Warnings are posted to logs. Tech support from Dell is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I called tech support when the Dell-specific MIB (Management Information Base) modules for the management software caused server utilization to hang around 90 percent. I got through within five minutes to a tech rep who seemed knowledgeable about the product and the NetWare 4.1 operating system. The problem hasn't been resolved yet, but there also has not been any server degradation.
The PowerEdge 2100 is robust enough for small or medium-sized LANs and is expandable enough to suit most small companies. You won't be able to add a second processor, but the SCSI controller, disk drives and network card are good performers that can sustain high I/O demands. Memory can be upgraded to 256MB, and the 230-watt power supply will have no trouble at all supporting three disks in its internal bays. The server presently supports up to 12GB of disk space.
The server management software brings this server to life. It can even inform system administrators of a voltage problem or fan fault. The administrator can then reboot the PowerEdge remotely, or the internal Watchdog timer can reboot it. Support for the server seems right on target for quick-response hardware and software resolutions.
A benefit to buying direct from Dell is that you can order the server custom-configured. This server could easily support 30 to 50 users, depending on the type of traffic.
The PowerEdge 2100 is a basic, entry-level system that doesn't have all the bells and whistles of higher-priced alternatives, such as hot-swappable RAID drives. But it's affordable and easy to set up and use. If you're budget-conscious and want a good all-around small to midrange server, give the PowerEdge 2100 a serious look.
-- Info File --
Dell PowerEdge 2100
Pros: Inexpensive; high powered; good server management
Cons: Only one cooling fan
Dell Computer Corp.
WinMag Box Score: 3.5