Dell Strikes Back at Data Center Rivals HP, Cisco

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print

Watch out, HP and Cisco, because Dell is coming out with its own answer to vertical hardware and software stacks for the data center—but with a twist. Dell says its products are designed to make use of existing customer infrastructure and work in heterogeneous environments. That means you can buy best-of-breed—an approach that may be better suited to channel partners—rather than being locked into the stack of a single vendor.

Dell is taking the build-to-order philosophy that vaulted the company to success in the 1990s and applying it to the data center with a plan for modular components of computing, storage, networking and infrastructure management that can be easily assembled, deployed and managed.

The announcement Dec. 10 is Dell's answer to Cisco Systems' and Hewlett-Packard's vertical single-vendor stacks of data center products rolled out in 2009, but with a twist. While Cisco and HP are pushing solutions with components that come from their respective companies, Dell says its Advanced Infrastructure Management solution is designed to make the most out of heterogeneous environments, including taking advantage of customers' existing infrastructure investments.

"Our approach is open and heterogeneous," Travis Vigil, senior manager for Dell storage, tells Channel Insider. "These other approaches [from Cisco and HP] require [that] you buy all equipment from same vendor for it to work properly. "

Dell says the products described in the announcement—including 10 Gigabit Ethernet networking fabric and new storage offerings—are all available through Dell's PartnerDirect channel.

Vigil says Dell's AIM, based on technology from Scalent, can make the most of mixed virtualization environments that include VMware, Xen and Microsoft's Hyper-V.

"Our competitors are trying to take short cuts by providing proprietary stacks that create lock-in and really only benefit the vendor," Praveen Asthana, vice president of Dell enterprise storage and networking, said in a statement. "Dell has a completely different vision: We provide a dynamically configurable offering that is really easy to set up or use because it comes preassembled or ready for assembly based on proven reference architectures; yet it remains fully open and works with a customer's existing infrastructure. This way we maintain customer choice and remain pragmatic."

That may just make Dell's solution more channel-friendly than the solutions of HP and Cisco. One reason is because HP and Cisco's offerings have been criticized by some in the channel for minimizing the value-added services that channel partners can offer to end customers via integration and configuration of systems.

"It is more channel-friendly and does take into account that it is a heterogeneous world," Vigil says. "Our tools are open, best of breed and standards-based. They don't promote vendor lock-in."

And while Dell has never been known for being beloved by the channel, some solution providers—particularly those who sell IT-as-a-service offerings—are greeting the Dell announcement as a potential opportunity.

"Using Dell blade servers, EqualLogic storage and PowerConnect switches, we are able to build and manage a very scalable infrastructure-as-a-service platform," says Doug Ford, president of The I.T. Pros, a VAR and MSP (managed service provider) in San Diego. "[Advanced Infrastructure Management] and 10GbE [10G Ethernet] will only make our operation more efficient and cost effective."

Vigil says MSPs that use the AIM product would enjoy the same benefits that internal IT departments would.

"Dell Advanced Infrastructure Management allows the MSP the flexibility to quickly and efficiently reconfigure their environment based on their customer's requirements, such as physical, virtual, Hyper-V, Xen, VMware, etc., and also adapt to changing workloads," he says. "Other solutions would only work well assuming the MSP's customers happen to have the configuration for which the homogenous solution is optimized—for example the static configuration of vendor A's servers with vendor B's Hypervisor with vendor C's storage."

Dell's announcement includes the following products and services:

  • Advanced Infrastructure Manager—The Dell Advanced Infrastructure Manager enables customers to dynamically allocate workloads in minutes by altering server, networking and storage devices without the need to re-cable, reconfigure or reload software. [Available immediately in the United States,] The new solution integrates seamlessly within existing, heterogeneous environments and supports both physical and virtual workloads. This allows IT administrators to deploy physical server images as quickly as they deploy virtual servers, to reduce the number of failover servers, and to respond to application demands by shifting work to new systems as needed.
  • Dell Business Ready Configurations— Dell Business Ready Configurations are solutions that bring together the most recent server, storage and networking technologies in an easy-to-understand, easy-to-integrate and easy-to-buy manner. Each configuration comes with performance characterization, best practice and networking guides. ... [Dell's first BRC, available within the next three months, is] powered by two PowerEdge M610 blade servers running the Infrastructure Manager, an EqualLogic PS6000 iSCSI storage area network (SAN) solution, two PowerConnect 6220M blade switches and a 24-port Brocade Foundry 424 or Dell PowerConnect 6224 networking switch. The Business Ready Configurations come in both a standard edition and a redundant edition.
  • Dell Lifecycle Controller version 1.3—Dell Lifecycle Controller is an embedded management solution available on 11th generation PowerEdge servers and is designed to facilitate deployment and maintenance. [It's available immediately for downloading.]

Dell's announcement also says, "New 10GbE Efficient Unified Fabric solutions include:

  • Dell EqualLogic Arrays with 10GbE, Dell EqualLogic PS6500X and Storage Consulting Services ...
  • Dell PowerConnect 8024F [10G Ethernet IU] Networking Switches ...
  • QLogic Converged Network Adaptor (CNA) and Mezzanine Card for Dell PowerEdge Servers and Blade Servers ... based on technology from QLogic. The dual port CNA allows users to connect their servers to Fibre Channel SANs through a 10Gb Enhanced Ethernet fabric because of the FCoE functionality. ...
  • Dell PowerConnect-B Series Switches ... Through its recently expanded relationship with Brocade, Dell will be delivering leadership and support for next-generation data center networking solutions ... including Dell's first FCoE switch, security, iSCSI and Converged Enhanced DCB Ethernet."
Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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