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Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Assessing Dell's Data-Center Simplification Play

Viewed through the prism of Dell's recently broadened software management system for virtualized x86 servers, our columnist has kudos for the one-time PC-centric vendor's approach to data center convergence.

Dell pioneered the dynamic supply chain where the customer's order triggered the assembly of PC parts. Now it's trying to do something similar on a larger scale: give IT managers a handful of choices that result in an integrated set of servers, storage, and high-speed networking.

I think Dell is trying to extend its core competency. It understands the many components of PC computing. Now, instead of selling servers one at a time, it's trying to produce a configuration engine for the x86 part of the data center. If you can find the working parts you want from its selections, Dell claims they'll work together, including virtualized servers.

I've heard many people say Dell doesn't innovate. It's merely a supply chain specialist. I understand the charge, but I think IT staffs are rapidly expanding the x86 portion of the data center. They're looking for ways to simplify management and get it to function more like the public cloud, where an hour of computing time costs 8.5 cents. But they can't get there with a mish-mash of servers, software, and other moving parts that are hard to integrate.

Dell is trying to play honest broker in this setting and give customers an integrated system, or a system that will integrate with many of the components they've already got. This is more easily said than done, and it may still be that customers quickly run into integration problems beyond the initial ones that Dell tries to address.

Nevertheless, in a Sept. 29 announcement, Dell broadened its software management system for virtualized x86 servers. Virtual Integrated System (VIS), launched at the start of the year, offers something that a straight virtualization vendor has trouble doing: physical and virtual server management with neutral, cross-vendor hypervisor support. VIS supports VMware's ESX Server and Microsoft's Hyper-V, with open source Xen to be added next, said Eric Endebrock, enterprise marketing manager at Dell, during a Sept. 27 visit to San Francisco.

This is what upper level, Round Rock, Texas, executives, such as Praveen Asthana, VP of enterprise solutions and strategy, call Dell's "open, modular, and pragmatic" approach to data center convergence. The customer doesn't have to choose one brand and get locked in; ESX, Xen, and Hyper-V can exist alongside each other. With VIS, virtualized and unvirtualized servers can be managed from one central console.

Dell then tries to match the storage and networking speeds offered by the leading converged infrastructures, Cisco Systems' Unified Computing System and HP's Blade System Matrix. Both of these offer 10 Gb per second Ethernet for either network or Fibre Channel storage traffic. Dell sees the value of high-speed networks in a heavily virtualized data center; VIS supports both 10-Gb Ethernet and Fibre Channel over Ethernet.

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