Q&A: Dell's European server head speaks out for AMD

We spoke to Dell's European server chief Andy Rhodes to find out more about the company's thinking about AMD and the future of the data centre


Q&A: Dell's European server head speaks for AMD
Our customers vote with their wallets

Following on from the official launch of Dell's first AMD Opteron-based servers, the four-socket PowerEdge 6950 and the HPC-targeted SC1435, we spoke to Dell's European server division head Andy Rhodes to find out more about the company's thinking about AMD and the future of the data centre.

Q: Why has Dell chosen to sell AMD-based servers? A: It's all about assessing market demand. Our customers vote with wallets and there's a high adoption of AMD's Opteron in Europe, and it's market share is growing -- there's lots of demand out there. It's not because they don't like Intel but because of a gap in the Intel portfolio.

The issue is heat, power and cooling, about price performance per watt in the data centre. So it's about energy efficiency, and how to cram more CPUs into an expensive data centre room.

The debate is about the processors now, about running costs. And the AMD CPUs allow better efficiency. But Intel has made huge gains with Woodcrest and its new quad-core -- Clovertown -- which launches in November. It has huge performance per watt -- Intel has caught up and regained its time to market advantage.

Q: How important are the other components in the server in the energy equation? A: People talk about how to increase consolidation and utilisation but disk arrays also need to be consolidated. Our approach is to use VMware for servers plus SAN consolidation. It's also about the data centre's layout, air-conditioning, and floor panelling, which all contribute to making the data centre more efficient.

But within the box, the CPU, fans, hard disk and power supply are the main issues, as is the thermal design of the server -- the CPU is only five pc of the whole chain. But despite that, the AMD CPU performed better from a compute power and energy use perspective.

Q: Will the energy envelope within which IT managers can operate need to be reduced? A: Yes, there are environmental concerns, and energy costs are increasing. IT budgets haven't included energy costs until recently but the paths of facilities managers and data centre managers are now crossing so data centre managers now have to take energy costs into account. Also, if you need more compute power, often the only way is build a new data centre which is very expensive on the - capex budget. Despite the desire to cut down, however, companies are being driven to build more storage by legislation such as Sarbanes Oxley.

Our approach is different. Unlike our competitors, we see AMD and Intel CPUs performing differently according to the situation. We say to our customers that they're buying a PowerEdge server from a trusted partner, so we choose the CPU to suit their application. They don't want to know what's inside any more than they ask which make of hard disk we supply.

What does that mean? AMD is best for four-socket servers which are used for large consolidated databases such as SQL and Oracle, as virtualisation platforms, and for high performance computing applications.

But for general purpose twin-socket servers, running messaging and home-grown applications, Intel is better. We want to be the guiding partner for the best technology. We would never have had quad-core CPUs without that competition.

Q: Which virtualisation vendor do you prefer? A: More customers are moving towards virtualisation and tomorrow's debate will be about managing the VMs, moving them around according to resource availability. I think VMware has the leadership position there and the industry sees VMware as the expert in that area.

Q: What in the future for Dell? A: Over next 24 months, requests for more CPU power won't decrease and IT will be expected to deliver. If you're a CIO, your job now is dependent not just on keeping IT running -- you were a hero three or four years ago if you delivered stable IT at the lowest cost but now it's about delivering value to the business. We want to make it easy to put the infrastructure in place to gain competitive advantage through IT. Now is about systems management and heat/power/cooling.

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