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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."