Third-party drives not permitted on Gen 11 servers

Jeff Boyce jboyce at
Wed Feb 10 12:23:31 CST 2010


I've been stewing on this topic for a while; and waiting/hoping that someone 
from Dell would chime in with their perspective.  Now that Howard has 
stepped in to present the company position, it is time for me to give some 
feedback so that the Dell representatives following the thread see the 
diversity of their customers who do not like this HDD compatibility policy.

I manage all the computer systems for a small consulting firm.  As our firm 
grew during the early years we realized that we needed a server to make is 
most efficient for the staff to work together as a team, be able to backup 
all of our data, and for reliability.  We purchased our first Dell server 
(PE2600) in early 2004 and installed RHEL3.  I had never run Linux before 
and have learned everything from the ground up, hands-on, with a lot of help 
from this and the RedHat discussion lists.  I bought Dell because their 
server systems had a reputation for being reliable, and there was some 
support structure with Linux.  I have always bought Dell desktops and have 
rarely had a problem with them.  As our work grew, we added more drives to 
that PE2600 to expand our storage; most recently last year.  At the time I 
purchased the additional drives (Dec. 2008), Dell no longer offered the same 
drive sizes and speeds that I had in this server and I had to go to a 
different distributer to get them.  I went to Dell first to get the drives, 
and was willing to pay what I knew to be a slight/moderate premium for the 
drives, but was turned away.  Apparently our server was already too old for 
Dell to provide the drive support.

This same server is still running rock solid and is providing more services 
to our staff (remote VPN access) and clients (FTP) than its original purpose 
as a file server.  I expect that this server will still continue to run and 
be functional to our company for more years to come; however, I recognize 
that it is near time to relegate it to backup and secondary duties, and 
upgrade my hardware and OS.  I have been planning on purchasing a new Dell 
Server (looking at the T610/T710) and have been trying to estimate our needs 
in terms of storage space and services for the next 5+ years.  I expect that 
our next server purchase will be used for probably a minimum of 5-7 years 
before it is replaced.  That is also why I am waiting to make my hardware 
purchase after RHEL6 is released.  If my next Dell server includes a H700 
controller I am very concerned that if I need additional, or replacement, 
drives 4+ years down the line, will Dell still be supplying them or will 
they have been dropped from the parts inventory because the server is too 
old.  If Dell is going to lock us in to their drives, then can they 
guarantee us that those drives will be available 4, 5, or even 7 years 
later.  I don't want to have to over-buy storage now, when it isn't needed, 
just because it may not be available from Dell later.  And if it isn't 
available from Dell when I need it later, I don't want to be telling my 
partners that we need to replace our server because we can't get a couple of 
spare drives for our perfectly good working server.

I read the white paper referenced in Howard's post.  It presents a very good 
case for why Dell might charge a slight/moderate premium for purchasing 
drives from them versus another distributer, and I am glad to know that this 
level of testing and documentation is done.  However, as I believe someone 
has already pointed out, if these drives are so superior to a non-Dell 
commodity drive, then Dell should be providing warranties lengths that are 
commensurate with this superior quality.  A 1-year warranty on a Dell drive 
versus a 3-5 year warranty on a similar model commodity drive doesn't seem 
to match the implied quality differences.

I want to make note that I see many good benefits to running a Dell server 
for my situation.  I like the OMSA product; it has made it very easy for me 
to monitor my server and perform drive upgrades and change hot-spares.  I 
like where Dell is going with the firmware updates repository.  It is these 
types of things that make it efficient and easy for me (a novice and 
part-time system administrator) to manage the system, and has made me 
consider staying with a Dell product for my next server purchase.  However, 
because our servers live a long life I am having to reconsider the server 
options that are available to me in the coming months.  I implore Dell to 
reconsider this hardware policy of requiring the use of Dell-only drives.  I 
think it is reasonable for a company to restrict support on non-Dell drives, 
but please give us users the option of being able to use an equivalent model 
commodity drive.  If I have to explain to my partners in 4 or 5 years that 
we have to replace our server in order to expand our storage because the 
Dell is no longer supplying replacement drives and a commodity drive won't 
work, I can already guess that my partners will tell me not to even consider 
buying a Dell server as the replacement.

Jeff Boyce
Forest Ecologist

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