Jack of all that is Microsoft, Master of None

June 29, 2006

The Great IBM vs. Dell Server Debate

Filed under: Dell, IBM, Servers — cregan @ 12:07 am

The great server debate is one that always seems to bring out the best in IT Professionals… everyone has their brand they love, and they love to try to convince their clients to buy that brand.  To preface my posting here, let me just state that B&R is not a partner of any hardware vendor… you can use whitebox servers – as long as we can do our job and get the applications installed & up and running, we are happy.  But there are the occasions where clients do ask for my opinion on what server hardware they should purchase – and time after time, I recommend IBM.  I usually receive an eyebrow raise and then the question “Well, why not Dell – they are cheaper” – and I then tell them…

When I first started at my ex-employer about 6 years ago, they had 3 Dell servers and all Dell notebooks & desktops.  Everything was running fine – until the warranties expired… then suddenly, as if a time bomb that was hibernating came to life, some piece of hardware would mysteriously go.  It was if it was planned all along… as if the hardware did its job, the warranty expired, and then shortly thereafter something would break.  Now this post isn’t about notebooks & desktops (Dell laptops speak for themselves), so I’m going to leave them out of the picture… but on the server side… while components do go, to have all three of your servers go in a matter of just a few months after the warranty expires is pretty weird.  So anyhow, we needed to make a large hardware purchase (12 servers + SAN) and after comparing Dell, HP & IBM, IBM would match Dell’s price on the server side and beat them on the SAN… and offer a lot more – so we made the jump to IBM.  Since I left last year, we only had one significant failure of an IBM server – and that was about 48 hours after we purchased it.  Something blew up on the motherboard – complete with a loud ‘pop’ noise & smoke – but the server continued to function!  We brought in IBM support and they then replaced the motherboard (lightpath told us something wasn’t right even though everything was working fine).  Other than that motherboard, the only thing to go on the IBMs was hot-swappable SCSI hard drives.  And since everything was in a RAID, this was no big deal to fix.  And even after the warranties expired, the equipment continued to function – what a novel idea!  Who knows how long it will continue to function for, but anything past a few months after the warranty expires beats out my Dell experience.

Now, I know some of you are saying “Big deal, this doesn’t convince me to go over to IBM”.  And I say – okay, that’s fine.  But maybe some of theses included IBM advantages will make you think twice – especially when IBM will match Dell’s server pricing to the dollar.  If you’re getting more and your server management is made easier, I think it makes the choice a lot either.  So anyhow, I use the xSeries line of servers, and you get these benefits included:

  • Solid support – their support center is located in the USA, and they have some excellent support personnel!  If you tell them what you did, they won’t ask you to make sure the unit is plugged in!  They understand you aren’t a moron – you are an IT Professional and deserve to be treated like one!   The support team is also receptive to callers telling them what is wrong and just sending out the replacement part – with very few questions asked.  In addition, since I’m located in Jersey, IBM has warehouses located around the tri-state area – if a part failed, we always received it within our 4 hours service window – even at 3AM.
  • IBM servers are equipped with Predictive Failure Analysis (PFA).  PFA notifies you that a server component requires maintenance – up to 48 hours in advance, helping to potentially eliminate unscheduled down time.  This is awesome stuff – you see a hard drive is on the verge of failing, so you can call it in, let support know you have a PFA on a hard drive – and you replace it before you experience any unplanned downtime.
  • IBM servers are equipped with Light Path technology.  When the server determines that a failure is going to occur (via PFA) or that a failure has occurred, a light will appear on the front of the server.  Without powering down the server or removing the cover, you can identify which component is experiencing the issue.  On some of the servers, there is a table of sorts – it has a light next to different items “CPU”, “Power”, “Memory”, etc…. and whichever component has failed will have the light next to it.
  • The quality of IBM servers over other brands is superior.  From my experiences, IBM servers experience fewer critical component failures versus other manufacturers.
  • IBM offers IBM Director free with all of its servers.  IBM Director is a management product that allows administrators to know exactly what is occurring with a server at any moment in time.  For example, IBM Director can notify administrators of a PFA and assist with the ordering of the appropriate replacement component from support.   In addition, Director allows for simplified hardware updates (firmware & BIOS) through its console.  What I really found impressive was that if Director was reporting a failure and I told this to the support staff, there were no questions asked – they would immediately ship out the replacement part.

So all in all, there are the main reasons for why I now – when asked – recommend IBM over Dell.  I am impressed by the advanced features they include at no cost, and coming from a shop that started with zero IBM servers (and when I left had 70+), I can tell you that all of these items add up to reduced hardware maintenance time & expenses.  So the next time you are looking at vendors – I strongly recommend IBM (and now you know why!).



  1. Thank you for this information. I am looking to switch from Del to IBM and was having trouble finding good reasons why. Do you know of any other comparative resources?

    Thank you for your time.
    David Cardena

    Comment by David cardena — August 16, 2006 @ 2:59 pm

  2. Hi David,

    It was very tough finding any quality comparative resources. I really relied on my own experiences and also did a lot of reading – manuals, white papers, whatever was out there. I would recommend you take a look at the IBM Redbooks – http://www.redbooks.ibm.com/ – there are Redbooks authored by many of the folks who engineered the servers, and you can really gain a lot of information & insight into the IBM line through these. In addition, there are many great Redbooks that will assist you with setting up the servers for specific roles / IBM best practices. If you have any other questions, let me know – always willing to help!

    Thanks for reading,

    Comment by cregan — August 16, 2006 @ 3:38 pm

  3. Dell popularity is based on price. But healthy corporation will stick to IBM, mostly banks, governments and multinationals.

    Comment by ben — November 8, 2007 @ 11:16 pm

  4. Excellent…..
    Comparing to dell & hp, IBM is great.

    Comment by nadia — September 26, 2010 @ 2:37 am

  5. thanks for clearance i have may doubt to pick ibm or dell now i prefer ibm

    Comment by SENTHIL — April 11, 2011 @ 1:02 am

  6. i m planning to buy server should we go for IBM 3650 M3 Or in DELL and which model no.
    Sanjay Sharma New Delhi

    Comment by Sanjay Sharma — August 1, 2011 @ 3:54 am

    • Hi Sanjay,

      I am big Dell fan and if you really want get the value for the money, compare the actual product.donot go on the face value of any body posting their views ( some times these are paid views)

      Comment by Techy — October 20, 2011 @ 7:00 am

  7. cool stuff ,

    Comment by ananthakrishna — October 12, 2011 @ 10:03 pm

  8. I am not agree with you.I am also using the Dell servers and I am very much happy with the quality of Dell products and services.In case of failure Dell gives me response and resolution in much faster time than IBM. When I am not having any issue and I have excellent experience with Dell, why should I pay extra only for the Brand Name.

    Comment by Techy — October 20, 2011 @ 6:35 am

  9. As per the post , all Dell Machines should not be working as soon the warranty expires which is not true and even IBM had the issues in servers.

    Comment by Techy — October 20, 2011 @ 7:04 am

  10. Hey

    In days past, there was certainly an advantage to buying IBM over dell. There long years in the business meant that their systems were more polished, and their support was great.

    HOWEVER times have changed, and due to the much lower prices offered by dell, IBM have had to start trying to reduce the price of their systems in order to stay competitive. As a result the quality has dropped, and now (in my opinion) they just aren’t worth the extra $$$ (They no longer try to match Dell prices either).

    As far as machines dying outside of warranty; If you are running a business, and you rely on computer systems to run on a day to day basis, then ALL systems should be covered by warranty regardless of the brand. Once the warranty expires, it’s time to upgrade. In the case of servers, you are talking about hardware that is running 24/7 for 3-5 years. a server hard drive spins a minimum of 7200RPM. After three years, it’s not a matter of it will die, but WHEN.

    In short, I agree with Techy. Why pay extra just for a name?

    Comment by Alan — February 2, 2012 @ 2:41 am

  11. What about their system management – IMM vs OMSA? Which one is easier to configure – via web, for example? Can they tell us when something’s wrong with the memory, hd, processor, etc.? Even though I do script sometimes, I want to know how easy it is to configure them only to send email to me.

    My employeer’ve been using IBM for years without trouble, at least for this last 7 years I joinned them. We’re going to replace the old IBM server (file server) with xSystem 3630 M3 and then Dell comes with R510. Which one is better? Thank you.

    Comment by Mark — April 23, 2012 @ 3:36 am

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