Dell Delivers Eco-Friendly SAS Server for SMBs

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As the old saying goes, "When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail." For me, this means more than just seeing a storage angle everywhere I look. Lately, it also means seeing the environmental impact of every product I review.

Both hammers -- storage and green tech -- saw a worthwhile nail in the PowerEdge T300, an entry-level server recently launched by Dell.

Why both hammers? For starters, Dell "gets" storage. In a few short years, the company has moved from a bit player in the storage industry to one capable of holding down a prominent role. Don't be confused; the partnership with EMC has helped, but Dell has created its unique persona for the storage stage with significant, strategic moves, including its acquisition of EqualLogic.

A large part of this shift has been fueled by Dell's responsiveness to environmental concerns.

Take the PowerVault MD1120, a 2U enclosure that packs 24 SFF (small form factor) 2.5-inch SAS drives. A first in its class, the MD1120 offers space/performance and power/performance ratios worth evaluating. It's worth noting that other vendors of self-standing storage, with the notable exception of Infortrend, have failed to provide anything similar, at least for now.

As for the PowerEdge T300, its tower-unit form factor (photo) provides plenty of room to install more drives and controllers, a real boon for a storage addict like me. However, for those who favor compact dimensions, the R300 offers the same characteristics as its tower-shaped cousin in a 1U, rack-mount box.

The T300 can be opened without using any tool, but you can lock the front bezel and the side panel with keys, if needed. The first thing I noticed after opening the server was its large black divider, as shown in the photo above. That divider may be an eyesore, but it helps the tall CPU sink (photo) behind it take full advantage of the airflow created by a large fan in the back of the server and a smaller fan on the front.

Removing that divider -- it is actually split into two sections -- gives access to the six memory slots (photo) and the six built-in SATA ports (photo) on the motherboard. The cables on the last two SATA ports connect to the DVD drive and to an empty 5.25-inch drive slot. An indication of how popular serial protocols such as SAS (serial attached SCSI) and SATA have become is that recent servers such as T300 have no trace left of legacy parallel technologies such as SCSI or IDE.

For example, the server mounts two fast Seagate Cheetah 15K SAS drives connected to an LSI Logic controller, and there is room for two more drives. Removing the lower part of that divider, I gained access to the PCI Express ports (photo) of my T300, one of which hosts the SAS controller.

That tool-less design extends to what's inside the box as well. For example, the disk-drive sleighs can easily be pulled out after pushing two flaps toward the middle of the drive (photo). Removing the drive from the sleigh is also a tool-less job, thanks to four built-in pins (photo) that fit into screw holes in the drive.

I haven't clocked the exact time, but it should take less than a minute to replace a T300 drive -- a short wait that you'll appreciate if one fails when the server is up and running. It also helps that the SAS and power connectors are clearly labeled to help keep you from pulling out the wrong drive. Paradoxically, shutting down the OS will probably take much longer than that.

After using it for quite some time, I've found little to dislike about the T300. One, though, is the inability to mount more drives, which seems to have been prevented by design, because the server doesn't have a spare power cable beyond the two additional drives I mentioned earlier.

On the positive side, my test unit has reassuringly low power consumption: When the server is idle, my power meter registers a sober 130 watts, which for me, compensates for the limited number of additional drives you can stack in the unit.

What are the most important features you want in an entry-level server? Is moderate energy consumption a primary factor? Feel free to leave a comment below or e-mail me.

This story, "Dell Delivers Eco-Friendly SAS Server for SMBs" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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