Inside a Dell server

In this Server Month video, the features and functionality of the Dell PowerEdge R415 1U rack server is analyzed and discussed.

“The PowerEdge R415 provides cost-efficient processing power. Like other 1U servers in its class, the R415 is intended for basic  tasks, like file and print, Web applications, email support and some server virtualization,” said Colin Steele, senior site editor.

This video includes an overview of the Dell system’s exterior and interior, as well as its specs and special features to note. Walk through a boot up of the system, find out how to change settings and configurations and learn how to use the Unified Server Configurator in System Services. 

Check out the rest of our Server Month tips and videos.

Read the full text transcript from this video below. Please note the full transcript is for reference only and may include limited inaccuracies. To suggest a transcript correction, contact     

Inside a Dell server

Colin Steel: Hi, I'm senior site editor Colin Steel.

Steven Bigalow: I'm Steven Bigalow, senior technology editor.

Carl Brooks: And I'm Carl Brooks, senior technology writer.

Colin Steel: Let's take a look at this 1U server.

Dell says it's PowerEdge R415 provides cost efficient processing power. Like other 1U servers in its class, the R415 is intended for basic tasks like file and print, web applications, email support, and some server virtualization. Let's take a closer look at Dell's 1U system. Steve, could you provide us with an overview of the exterior of the Dell system?

Steven Bigalow: No problem, Colin. There is quite a bit to see on the front of the Dell 415. The first thing we see here on the right side of the unit is a DVD-ROM drive, very convenient for installing operating systems or applications or running diagnostics--anything that needs to be installed on the system. Below the DVD-ROM, of course, we have some of our hard-drive bays. Quick-release lever and a gentle pull and the drive will come right out. We can see here that unlike other 1U servers in this group, the Dell server uses full-sized 5 1/4 inch hard-drives which makes a lot of sense. They're commodity drives, very inexpensive, easy to obtain and to replace the drives. You just put it back in the slot and secure the drive door.

This particular 1U server came from Dell with four 146 gigabyte, 15K rpm SAS drives installed, so that's a pretty fair amount of storage on this unit. We also see two USB ports, an electronic status display here which gives quite a bit of information about the status of the R415 and what it's doing. There is a series of rocker controls here to let you scroll around and get good insights on what the unit is doing for you. There is also a standard VGA port, and all the way to the left is a power button. So, with the front panel ports available to you, you can actually install and set up the R415 directly from the front rather than having to get around to the rear or the unit. And what do you see on the back panel, Carl?

Carl Brooks: Looking at the back of the Dell: two redundant power supplies. Dell brand, they clip in; they don't have a bare bust. They have included cable management, which is a little Velcro strap, so I guess that's nice. Pops right back in. Vented at the top. You can't see but it's actually kind of busy in here; there's a bunch of stuff in here but it probably needs to be cooled too. An expansion slot here. One gigabit, two gigabit here; and you really can't make it more plain than that. Two USB ports, on-board management, VGA, and on-board serial port which have been on servers since before I was born, I'm fairly sure. So there you go, that's the back of the Dell.

Colin Steel: Now that we've check out the exterior of the unit, it's time to open it up and take a look inside. Carl, can you take us through that process?

Carl Brooks: Well, it's the famous Dell "tool-less" server design, except for the tool you need to get it open. To be charitable, I suppose you could do that with a nickel. Handy instructions. If you need to look at these you probably shouldn't be installing the server.

Steven Bigalow: But of course once you are installing the server, there's really quite a bit to see here. Of course one of the first things to catch our attention is the enormous amount of plastic duct-work that goes on to this as well as an array of fans to direct the cooling air. So when you go to remove the duct-work, you can see there's a lot of cabling that needs to removed; everything is very neat and tidy and orderly. But as you can see, the duct-work does a great job of directing air through the unit, and the piece of plastic is actually pretty rugged, so it should be very effective.

And once the duct-work is off, and the cabling of course is easy to move aside, you can see the two processors. This particular unit uses AMD Opteron 4100 series processors. The large copper heat-sinks clearly denoting the direction of air flow will do a great job of keeping the processors underneath cool. There are also an array of dim slots, located in line with the air flow that will also take advantage of some of the cooling. And there are eight dim slots on this chassis, supporting up to 128 gigabytes of DDR3 memory, so quite a bit of memory available to this unit to handle multiple workloads at the same time. In this configuration I believe there's only eight gigabytes installed as two gigabyte memory modules. Carl, how about some of your thoughts?

Carl Brooks: Okay, well, fortunately this server is crammed full of helpful hints like "goes this way." That's nice. I've also noticed that they have split the air into two banks, one bank here; they've staggered the CPU and the DIMMs just like so, so they can get both of those CPU, both of those memory banks behind one rack of fans, channeled through the duct-work. Check out that cable discipline, Dell is famous for this. Also the acid green PCB; this will be quite familiar to anyone who has worked on Dell computer in the last seven or eight years. The other set of fans go here, generally at the back of the power supply, which is as it should be.

Another piece of shrouding, same sort of thing, a little black thing. They've put a couple of riser cards, a couple big banks of capacitors here, so these are important, probably we're never really going to know. Again, tool-less design here and here; little things like this, should you want to take out the entire back pane from the hard-drives in the front, so I don't really recommend doing that. Front panel IO, again Dell is famous for these, these are proprietary. This front panel bank of indicators has some stuff you need on it and some stuff you probably could run the server without. But this little connector here cuts down, goes back to an on-board connector.

Other things of note: there's a big, giant add-on card here. This runs the rig, here's the cabling. This is bigger than some of the others we've seen, another add-on on top of that. Beneath that card for an add-on, or if you want to reconfigure here. Here's the riser back plane for those add-on cards. Power supply is nice and protected. They've basically filled it up full of stuff but it's mostly all full of stuff that you're going to need. Those big giant hard drives in the front, they take up all that room, DVR-ROM drive on front. So you can see that there's not a lot of expandability, they probably have some wasted space. But on the other hand they've managed to fit into the server everything all the other ones did and with the smaller hard drives as well.

Colin Steel: And to see what all of these components do, of course, we need to turn this thing on. What's involved there?

Steven Bigalow: Well, like most ordinary PCs it's a matter of connecting the display, the keyboard, and the mouse. In this case, we're making all the connections from the rear of the unit. The biggest difference here is that an enterprise class server with redundant power supplies will use two utility sources, perhaps one from a UPS and another one from a separate utility circuit just to give it that extra bit of redundancy. Once the unit is fully connected, it's just a matter of pressing the power button, and the unit will start its post process. If there's an operating system installed, the unit will start loading the operating system, and then from there an operator could just install applications or virtual machines. Carl?

Carl Brooks: Taxiing for takeoff. Power up engines. Oh Dell, my observation 1.01 for system setup. This is the Dell Bios. Anyone who has used a Dell should be familiar with this Bios system to some extent. We'll check out some of those other options, too, after we look at the basic bios here. This one has an add-on card, the Broadcom NetXtreme II Ethernet boot agent, which I believe is IPCV6 enabled, so they've actually put an add-on card in that is IPCV6 ready, which is nice if your data center runs IPCV6, which it almost certainly doesn't. And the Dell PowerEdge expandable RAID controller which is a famous Dell perk adapter. If you've ever installed Windows on a computer and you're wondering what it looks through as it tries to load up Perk 3, it means it's looking for a Dell RAID Bios.

Dell BIOS, unlike your laptop they've colored this one snazzy grayish, blackish, but it's all basically the same stuff. It does have a few more options than your standard Dell PC. System memory and information. So you can turn various things like this on and off. These are all basically the same in most server settings; you're just going to see them in the amenable Dell fashion here. HD assist, virtualization technology. This is on-board virtualization hardware acceleration, which nobody really knows what that means or does, but AMD will tell you it works. VM Ware is very happy to cheerlead for it, and Dell will sell it to you. I would ignore it if I were you. It tells you about the processors. The amount of cache they've got and all sorts of interesting sorts of things here.

Execute/Disable. This is good to know. This is a fairly basic security feature at this point. Mostly you're going to leave it just like that. Hardware prefetcher; again, you can leave these things more or less the way they are, they're not going to hurt anything. You can turn them off if you have a necessity to, like if you have a C application or you have something really in mind that you want to take care of with boot settings. Remote BIOS with sequence, SATA hard drive. Notice the Dell actually recognizes the on-board Raid as a separate hard drive; that one's of the benefits of integrated hardware and management. That is to say, buy Dell everything, and you'll get some perks from that. No pun intended.

Integrated devices, standard stuff that inside, embedded, one gig NIC. You can look at those various types of things. PCRIQ assignments. Here they are. My favorite, IRQ1, is not on there so we cannot use a regular keyboard with this. Serial communication, on without console redirection. That's fine, it means you connect directly to this thing and you can manage it. Embedded server management. Front panel LCD options. If we turn this thing around, which we'll do in a second, you'll see it'll flash a nice little string of messages and codes across the little on-board computer front. This is nice for the data center technician. Definitely a frill. Interesting to look at.

Power management. This is where you turn the fans on and off. Right now the Dell is actually fairly quiet. They're pretty good at this at this point, they've got silence down almost to a science, but these fans are all automatic, they'll just turn on as the CPU and power go up and down. System security; set up a password. Recommended. Keyboard and numlock; all this sort of stuff is all basic stuff. Just to give you an idea of what to look at. Let's look at some of the other options we have. Bios boot manager. You can change the boot order here directly. You can just simply select what you want at boot and it'll go. System setup and system services; let's check out system services. That I believe was F10 in the original Bio screen. Rebooting to enter system services.

Unified Server Configurator. Everything at Dell is unified these days, you'll notice if you get any of their marketing material. This is really cool, what this is, well it has its ups and downs, part of it's really cool. What this is, is basically a tiny operating system which has been embedded on the server and runs a little Linux operating system and a web server. And this is actually going to show you a really on-board on-board management system that is essentially web-based or at least technology based. The Unified Server Configurator technology is exactly what you would have seen on the OS level a few years ago. You would have installed Windows or whatever, installed the Dell tools, or even booted these tools from a Dell CD as you first installed the server. This is a fairly standard way to do it; you plug in the servers, put in the Dell CD and up would pop this thing. They have now got enough space to embed many megabytes of data and applications right on it. And look at that. A mouse. Who needs a mouse on a server? That's crazy.

Life-cycle log. Life-cycle log history link allows you to view the history of firmware updates and events. This brings us to something important that's worth noting. When Steve and I first booted up this machine to take a look at it before doing this video, it actually had been set to auto-install an update that had been downloaded and configured so that the next time the system booted it installed an update for software that we actually didn't know very much about and were not aware that it was going to install an update. Do you actually want your server, when you plug it in your data center, to go out on the internet and look for updates? Probably not.

In fact, definitely not. You want to know about these things ahead of time. In this case, this on-board server without any operating system does have a little utility which will go out and look for updates online. And if the server is connected to the internet it can go out and look on the internet. Very much worth knowing about before you plug it in and turn it on. Hardware configuration. This is where you can do some fairly advanced configuration and setup of the system here. Various wizards. We can wait for our web server to boot. System Date/Time.

IDRAC configuration; let's look at that one. Turn your IDRAC LAN on and off. Advanced LAN configuration. VLAN, you can set your VLAN IDs and all that kind of stuff. The unified server configurator is where you're going to see most of the changes to the settings and fine-grain server control. You're also going to see more or less the same interface when you use this to manage it remotely with Dell's unified server management tools that you might be already stuck into your data center or are considering using. It's very interesting that what you see on the server, no OS no connection is exactly what you're going to see sitting somewhere else, and that has its ups and downs.

It's definitely good to see those kinds of capabilities, it definitely worth knowing exactly what those capabilities are. One of the nice bits of window dressing for this Dell is this little front indicator computer here that is really kind of cool. It's a little panel of information with a couple of rocker switches that control it. Right now you can see it's showing the service tag. This is really nice for the data center technician, they can just walk right by and see exactly what's on there with a couple of button pushes. They can see all sorts of information about it.

Want to see the IDRAC IP? Want to see the MAC address? Name, number, what have you. So for instance we'll choose the MAC address, IDRAC. Here's the IDRAC MAC address, we'll just scroll through, and you can see that as you're going by. It's just a really nice little frill. A lot of information available right there at your fingertips. I believe you can also control the output of this message with the Dell remote systems management tools so you can mess with your technician as he walks by and have it flash little messages at him, one assumes. So that's it. Thanks for taking a look at the Dell.

Colin Steel: That does it for this 1U server overview. I'm Colin Steel.

Steven Bigalow: I'm Steven Bigalow.

Carl Brooks: And I'm Carl Brooks.

Colin Steel: Thanks for watching.

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