Dell PowerEdge R805 review

27 Aug 2008

A slick virtualisation solution that is quick to set up and provides a well specified platform to run multiple VMs from.

Price when reviewed: 
5,071exc VAT
5

There's no denying that virtualisation is a hot topic this year, as businesses look to maximise their investment in server hardware. There are plenty of other driving forces, with datacenters maxing out their utility supply and looking for new ways of doing more with existing systems. This hasn't gone unnoticed by Dell, and its latest PowerEdge R805 is designed from the ground up to provide a server virtualisation environment straight out of the box.

In this exclusive review, we look at the model that comes with VMware ESX Server 3i Embedded, but Dell offers options for VMware ESX 3.5 Standard and Enterprise plus Citrix XenServer Express and Enterprise versions. Your choice will depend on a number of requirements, as 3i Embedded offers a basic feature set and supports a single virtualisation host. It doesn't support instant server provisioning, VMotion, VMware DRS load balancing, VMware Distributed Power Management or AD integration for centralised access controls. But a key feature of VMWare's embedded hypervisor is that it occupies 32MB, doing away with the need to use a standard OS and all its unnecessary overheads as a foundation for presenting VMs.

Installation is simple, as ESX Server 3i is implemented on an SD card which the server boots the hypervisor from. It loads a direct console from where you secure administrative access and set up the management network. Next, you install the VMware Infrastructure (VI) client on your chosen management system and point it at the server's IP address. The client can be installed from the supplied CD, or you can use a web browser to download it from the server. Either way, it only takes a minute and you can then start creating your virtual machines (VMs).

The R805 comes with four Gigabit NICs as standard, with one allocated to VMware management, a second for presenting your VMs to the LAN and a third for optional storage networks, where you can present external iSCSI targets to VMs to use as storage. All the versions of VMware offered by Dell support external fibre channel storage arrays as well. The VI client interface is a tidy affair, with the left pane listing all available VMs, which can be arranged into different pools containing CPU and memory resources allocated to them.

Within these pools you create your VMs and set how many CPUs they should have, as well as memory, storage and virtual network adapters. We had no problems creating VMs of Windows Server 2003 R2 and 2008 by booting the VM from the installation media in the local DVD-ROM drive. Once created, you can power them up and down, switch easily from one console to the next, suspend selected VMs and take snapshots which act as backups of a VM environment.

In terms of the server platform itself, the R805 is well constructed with a good specification. The price of the review system includes a pair of 2.2GHz quad-core Opteron processors, each teamed with a generous 16GB of DDR2 memory. Storage is handled by a pair of 73GB SFF SAS hard disks mounted in hot-swap bays at the front, and these are linked up to Dell's SAS 6/iR RAID controller and configured as a mirror, where ESX Server 3i Embedded runs from the SD card and the disks provide storage for the VMs.

Internally, the server is very well put together, with the processors mounted by solid passive heatsinks and all key components covered with sturdy plastic shrouds to direct airflow, which is handled by six hot-plug fan modules producing very little noise. The SD card is fitted into a slot on the side of one of the riser cards, and doesn't preclude both pairs of PCI-e slots to be used if required. The first two Gigabit ports are embedded on the motherboard, while the other two come courtesy of a mezzanine card alongside. All four also have a TOE (TCP offload engine) enabled as standard.