Dell FX2 Part 1: Introduction and Use Cases

What is the FX2?

Dell launched their PowerEdge FX2 architecture in late 2014 and recently we’ve been lucky enough to get our hands on one here at Computerworld. The FX2 is a 2U rack-based enclosure that converges servers, storage and networking and is all centrally managed using the CMC (Chassis Management Controller). One thing that is odd to me is Dell refer to the compute nodes as blocks rather than blades so I’ll try to keep to the official terminology in this post!

Dell designed the FX2 architecture to address four key requirements of today’s infrastructure and lets organisations fit resource needs more closely and get the most from their (sometimes limited) budgets. 

By combining compute, storage networking and software together in a modular configuration you are free to build out your infrastructure in small increments to best suit the business requirements. One example being you start off small with two compute blocks for your vSphere (or Hyper-V) cluster. You soon outgrow this so you add a third to the existing chassis. No racking or stacking, no additional cabling or checking you have capacity in your switches for this. Just pop it in and combined with the software management layer you could be up and running in no time.

Whilst the FX2 can provide many different hardware configurations they are all based around the same chassis. In fact there are only two choices available with the chassis, one with PCIe slots or one without. I’ll provide a link to the hardware specification sheet at the bottom of this post. The one we have on loan is the FX2s chassis with 8 x PCIe slots and dual 10Gb IOA modules which I’ll cover in more detail in another post.

Figure 1: The rear of our demo FX2 Chassis with dual 10Gb IOA modules

Use Cases

The FX2 can fulfil many different use cases from providing dense compute blocks with an external storage array to a hyper-converged infrastructure, or somewhere in between. One great option for the FX2 is to use it in a VSAN cluster. The FX2 is already available as a VSAN ready node and a quick check on the VMware Compatibility Guide for an all flash configuration gives the following options.

For those who are not familiar with how VMware now categorise hardware for VSAN I’ll include a link to the quick reference guide at the bottom of this post. The FX2 can also be found in the Atlantis HyperScale solutions which Barry has recently discussed. If you missed that it can be found here

Figure 2: 4 FC server blocks each with 8 x 1.8" SSDs

Another example use case of the FX2 is in an infrastructure refresh. Let’s say your production compute cluster is due for hardware refresh. You have secured space in a rack at a local datacenter but they are charging you per 1U of rack space consumed. You currently have six Dell R710 hosts consuming 12U rack space. Each server is configured with dual 6 core CPUs and 128GB RAM providing a total of 640GB RAM and 60 physical cores allowing for N+1. To keep things simple we could do a like for like replacement using the FX2 architecture. One option would be to use six FC430 compute blocks configured with up to 256GB RAM and dual 14 core CPUs with 10Gb networking. However instead of consuming 12U rack space you are now consuming 2U. You could now provide up to 1.2TB RAM and 140 physical cores to the cluster. Not only that the physical cabling has reduced considerably from 48 x 1Gb connections to potentially only 16 x 10Gb ports. Don’t forget there is space to add a further two FC430 compute blocks at a later date for expansion. To scale even further a second chassis can be added with the ability to manage both as a single entity under the CMC. This will scale up to a maximum of 20 chassis under a single management interface.

Figure 3: 8 FC430s x (2) 1.8” + 8 DIMMs

This post has just touched on what the FX2 can offer and over the coming weeks I’ll be publishing further posts on the FX2 with a closer look at each of the components below in more detail - so make sure you keep an eye on our blog page.

Part 1Introduction and Use case
Part 2Compute
Part 3Storage
Part 4Networking
Part 5Software