[Beowulf] Third-party drives not permitted on new Dell servers?

Joe Landman landman at scalableinformatics.com
Mon Feb 15 18:30:04 PST 2010

Rahul Nabar wrote:
> On Mon, Feb 15, 2010 at 7:41 PM, Joe Landman
> <landman at scalableinformatics.com> wrote:
>> Please indulge my taking a contrarian view based upon the products we
>> sell/support/ship.
>> I can't and won't sanction their tone to you ... they should have explained
>> things correctly.  Given that PERC are rebadged LSI, yeah, I know perfectly
>> well a whole mess of drives that *do not* work correctly with them.
>> So please don't take Dell to task for trying to help you avoid making what
>> they consider a bad decision on specific components.  There could be a
>> marketing aspect to it, but support is a cost, and they want to minimize
>> costs.  Look at failure rates, and toss the suppliers who have very high
>> ones.
> To me the test is: Is there a price-markup on the specific part
> recommended. If a vendor just said "Drive X is compatible and tested;

I can't speak to Dell's comments.  I can speak to ours.  If a customer 
asks us if we have tested a drive, we look it up and see if we have.  If 
they want to try it, we offer them help.   We have an interest in making 
sure that we work well with the drives in our units.  This is part of 
the reason we make various decisions on configurations.

Drive markup isn't a factor in configurations.  Stuff working correctly 
is.  Suppose Dell buys 50M drives per year.  Shaving $1 per drive will 
net them $50M more to their bottom line.  Which, in the larger scheme of 
things, doesn't do much to their bottom line.  Far less than 1% motion 
on their P&L.

> please use it" and then I peg Drive X against competing drives and see
> a significant price markup without commensurate observable statistics
> improvement then I smell a rat. I feel further that a Vendor could

Hmmm.... if it won't impact their pricing that much to begin with, even 
if they could get it to a 1% cost of good sold reduction, it gets very 
hard to make an argument that they will perform these actions for 
economic reasons that simply won't have a significant economic impact 
upon their bottom line.

OTOH, if you have manufacturer X with drive X.X with a known failure 
rate 10x that of manufacturer Y with a drive Y.Y, and your liabilities 
column on your balance sheet is drastically negatively impacted by 
support issues ... yeah, you are going to do all you can to minimize 
this liability side.  You can't impact the drive costs much, but by 
careful selection of drive units you sure can reduce your support 

> make itself more neutral in this exercise by just naming one or more
> compatible, validated drive-models rather than trying to sell those
> themselves after re-branding. That creates an obvious conflict of

They do make margin on drives.  If you object, you can always buy the 
unit bare, and perform your own validation.  Which means you buy your 
own test drives, and spend your own time and effort to do this.  Which 
means spending your own money to do this.

Support costs money, and they are seeking to keep those costs under 

> interest. It makes it difficult to deconvolute monopoly-pricing from a
> genuine desire to promote reliability.

Hmmm .... Dell only has a monopoly if you let them.  If you want to buy 
servers from other companies, by all means, buy them from other 
companies.  Many universities I am aware of have signed agreements with 
Dell, HP, Sun, etc to buy exclusively from them.  Whether or not these 
are legal in the face of universities requirements on maximizing value 
on their purchase is a completely separate discussion, one you ought to 
have with your purchasing departments if you feel that you are not 
getting the value you need from their actions.  My old research group 
used to write sole source memos for every purchase, so that we could get 
what we wanted, and not what our purchasing department wanted to buy.

> I'm not sure how much of a price markup there is on the approved Dell drives.

You should be able to calculate it by configuring units with various 
numbers of drives.

Joseph Landman, Ph.D
Founder and CEO
Scalable Informatics, Inc.
email: landman at scalableinformatics.com
web  : http://scalableinformatics.com
phone: +1 734 786 8423 x121
fax  : +1 866 888 3112
cell : +1 734 612 4615

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