Dell software and services ambitions hinge on new cloud partnerships

Diana Hwang, News Writer and Ed Scannell, Executive Editor

AUSTIN, Texas -- Dell doesn't want to be considered a hardware company anymore. It has its sights set on cloud and hopes a new lineup of major partners will make it a one-stop shop for all types of cloud software and services.

Dell's latest strategic partnerships with cloud and cloud-based application providers, disclosed at Dell World 2013 here this week, include deals with Microsoft, Dropbox, Google, Red Hat Inc. and CenturyLink.

Though Dell has a long road ahead in becoming known as a software and services company, it can make the transition if it plays its cards right, according to analysts and IT pros.

"Generally speaking, hardware companies have had a very difficult time integrating software elements, but with Dell's purchase of Wyse over one year ago, they clearly recognized that the need to have their own unique software IP is critical, so I think they're getting software into their DNA," said Bob O'Donnell, founder and chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research based in Foster City, Calif. "As a result, I think they have a chance with their software and services businesses, but they really need to execute well."

Over the past three years, the company hasn't exactly executed itself well as a cloud provider, however. It has offered a variety of infrastructure products and had big plans in 2011 to open new data centers to supply Azure and VMware Inc.-based cloud services. In December 2012, Dell committed to OpenStack but then discontinued its OpenStack and VMware vCloud-based public cloud in favor of products from other partners.

Now, Dell must rely on a combination of its own software intellectual property (IP) and partnerships to move its business forward.

Competitor Hewlett-Packard also aims to be a cloud services broker, with a Cloud Design Professional Service, launched this week.

Dell's service provider plans hinge on partnerships

CEO Michael Dell told attendees here his goal is to do for the cloud services business what it did for PCs. That made IT pros hopeful, but some will withhold judgment until the company can establish something of a track record.

“It is a noble ambition, but this is a new sort of venture for them to get into," said Jayson Carson, IT administrator with a large Dallas-based bank. "It will be interesting to see.”

Others are optimistic that Dell can make the switch.

“Dell has a chance to make this transition given the number of users both small and large it has had for so long," said John Jacobs, a systems engineer with an Austin based web developer. "They certainly have a lot of experience going way back in dealing with users directly. I hope they succeed, a lot of smaller companies need an easier path to get into cloud computing.”

Perhaps the core partnership Dell has is with Microsoft; the company pledged to deliver Windows Azure to Dell users through its Cloud Partner Program. Dell officials claimed the agreement -- an extension of its previously announced deal to offer Application Development Services on Azure – offers another choice to users interested in building public cloud infrastructures.

Company executives said one advantage to the deal is that Dell can serve as a focal point for integrating software and coordinating support for users deploying public clouds. For instance, IT shops can manage either single or multiple public private or hybrid clouds through a single console using Dell’s Cloud Manager.

In addition, Dell's Cloud Manager product now supports Windows Azure Compute, along with the already supported Windows Azure Storage, which the company believes brings greater governance and a more open approach better enabling Azure users to benefit from increased security and integration with a wider selection of configuration management and operational tools.

The company is largely putting its faith in what it believes is the superior scalability Windows Server 2012 R2, along with Microsoft’s System Center 2012 R2 suite of tools which will allow users to build and manage applications across multiple public clouds.

While Dell expands upon its partnership with Microsoft, the company also disclosed a partnership with Google and next year will offer the Google platform to businesses and developers through the Cloud Partner Program.

The partnership enables developers to create applications that offer both managed and unmanaged services, running on Google’s infrastructure. Developers will be able to access Google's Compute Engine, App Engine, storage and APIs to deploy applications in the public cloud.

Covering all of its cloud bases, Dell will also jointly create enterprise-class private cloud built on Open Stack to help corporate users deploy scalable cloud computing models.

Dell now OEMs the Red at Enterprise Linux-based OpenStack platform as well.

Both companies pledge to deliver code to the OpenStack community and collaborate on Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform 4, now in beta. They will also work on two other upcoming projects including OpenStack Networking, that enables software-defined networking and Networking as a Service, as well as on OpenStack Telemetry, which provides OpenStack resource instrumentation.

Capping off the now closer relationship between the two companies, the company said it will become a member of the Red Hat OpenStack Infrastructure Partner Network as an Alliance Partner.  The mission of the partner network is to ensure connections between business and a variety of technical resources to those third party companies that work with Red hat’s OpenStack products.

The jointly developed products are expected to be available some time in 2014.

In a third strategic alliance Dell is partnering with CenturyLink for its CenturyLink Cloud, with will make available to Dell users a range of public cloud services including Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). And as with the Microsoft deal, Dell will function as the single-source supplier through its partner program offering integration and direct technical support.

The company also extended support for DropBox's enterprise level cloud-based file sharing application.

The company will offer DropBox for Business and the Dell Data Protection Cloud Edition, enabling enterprise IT a way to manage and control the way corporate data is stored in the cloud. This may alleviate the problem of employees storing corporate data in their personal cloud storage application.

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