IT shops may have an unlikely new suitor the next time they search for a cloud computing relationship. Computer hardware maker Dell will attempt a major renovation of both its image and product line to keep pace with the fast-moving cloud market, as well as increased enterprise demand.
James Statenanalyst at Forrester
Later this year, Dell will deliver not only an on-demand application platform -- namely Microsoft's Azure from its own data centers -- but also VMware-based cloud infrastructure for business users, according to the company. But it will kick off its renewed cloud initiative this week by disclosing a series of preconfigured hardware appliances for virtualization and private cloud deployments.
Details about the new Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering are scarce, but it will not be a free-for-all, credit-card operated public cloud like those run by Amazon, Rackspace, GoGrid and others. It will instead be based on a subscription model and run from Dell's own data centers.
The company has big plans to open 10 new data centers that supply the Azure and VMware-based cloud services, but whether all this effort will resonate with customers is still up in the air.
Dell wants to swim with the cloud leaders
"It's unclear if [this has] a singular direction of [its] own," said James Staten, an analyst at Forrester, a Cambridge, Mass., consulting firm. Staten added that he thinks Dell has no problem understanding cloud computing; Dell Data Center Services has been selling into cloud providers for quite some time.
He noted that Dell is trying its hand at IT services via its acquisition of Perot Systems and said its Virtual Integrated System Architecture (VIS) program program was a stab at selling private clouds, but none of these things were fully ripened. Meanwhile, larger competitors like IBM and HP, along with new competitors like Cisco, have had cloud or cloud-like offerings for years. Staten said having such a program is a mark of maturity for Dell.
"That's exactly what we used to hear from HP: 'here's my catalogue, what do you want,' and they're moving away from that because it doesn't work today," Staten said.
Enterprises are gradually coming to expect highly integrated, highly capable infrastructure that can help private cloud build-outs as well as tap into public (or semi-public) cloud infrastructures.
Staten says Dell has been swimming in the consumer end of the pool for a long time but now wants to get into deep water with the bigger fish.
"I would be surprised if they came out to compete with [Amazon Web Services]. But I would not be surprised if the Perot arm came out with something to compete with HP's latest announcements," he added. HP has already launched its own private/hybrid cloud appliances and disclosed IaaS services.
"The target market is not the person who comes in with a credit card and has a server here and a server there," said Dell marketing director Mahesh Kumar.
Kumar said Dell's intention is to formalize and standardize cloud service offerings for the enterprise and combine that with private cloud hardware stacks.
The nuts and bolts of Dell's cloud line
The new vStart appliances, to be announced Thursday, are VMware- based and will be pitched to operate with Dell's new IaaS service when that is launched.
The vStart100 and vStart200 products will be PowerEdge R710 servers with EqualLogic storage and come with plug-ins for VMware vCenter to manage that hardware. Dell labels them in regard to virtual machine (VM) capacity; for instance, the vStart v100 is rated for 100 VMs.
This new bundle follows a similar product line announced last year: the Hyper-V Cloud Fast Track reference architecture that came pre-certified and configured to run Microsoft's Hyper-V. Pricing is expected to be similar for the vStart appliances; a Hyper-V Cloud Fast Track that could run 100 VMs will cost around $100,000 dollars.
Dell has already made several forays into cloud computing; the company even owns the domain cloudcomputing.com. But the hardware leader has yet to deliver a distinctive offering because it hasn't offered much beyond its bread-and-butter business computers. So far, it's formed partnerships with Joyent, Ubuntu and Eucalyptus (called "UEC on Dell Servers"), teamed up with Microsoft for Hyper-V and tried selling integration and cloud consulting through Perot. Can Dell make a dent?
"It is a little early to tell," said Dmitri Ilkaev, systems architect for Thermo Fisher Scientific, in an email. He is evaluating parts of Dell's Virtual Data Center and Virtual Integrated System offerings as components of a cloud strategy. He said he likes the fact that it's an "open solution," meaning VIS can manage hardware from many different vendors.
"It is another component of the cloud blueprint," he said.
Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.