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2/9/2010
09:02 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Server Den Q&A: Dell CTO Elucidates Efficient Enterprise

Paul Prince, chief technology officer of Dell's Enterprise Product Group, discusses his company's efficient enterprise strategy, and explains why virtualization and cloud computing are on the same continuum.

Today's interview is with Dell, through the authoritative prism of Paul Prince, chief technology officer of Dell's Enterprise Product Group. Our chat dives into all the elements of the "Efficient Enterprise." That's Dell's integrated play, applying processing, storage, and network connectivity solutions to the not-insignificant problem of getting the best data center bang for the buck.

Yet beneath this neat umbrella is a lot of tough technical work, which is something for which Dell doesn't always get the credit it deserves. The company's well-known historical progression begins with the (now dated) perception that it slapped its boxes together sans a lot of value-added engineering.

That mode of operation -- to the extent it ever truly existed -- has been relegated to the dustbin of Round Rock, Texas history. As my discussion with Prince reveals, Dell today has a heavy-hitting technical organization.

In the server space, Dell is well situation within the first tier of vendors. It's number three with a 13.5% market share, according to the Q3 2009 IDC figures, as it battles with IBM, HP, Sun/Oracle and server-side newcomer Cisco.

I've presented our discussion as a Q&A, because I think it's important to get a sense of Prince's passion for Dell's best-of-breed strategy. Corralling networking and storage options from vendors which variously cooperate and compete isn't always easy to navigate. And it doesn't necessarily make for the cleanest marketing message (except insofar as calling it "best of breed"). But I think it does give an intellectual nod to the realities of optimally configuring the data center (as in, no single vendor can be best at everything).

In the interview, Prince talks about Dell's positioning in the enterprise market, the storage battle between iSCSI and FCoE, and about how he sees virtualization and cloud computing on a continuum as part of the same journey. He also speaks frankly about Dell's "coopetition" relationship with Cisco. (That made me recall the old Godfather movie line about keeping your friends close. . .)

To get a fuller picture, I suggest you couple your reading of this article with a look at the explanation of Dell's positioning as presented by Fritz Nelson's in his column Full Nelson: Who Dell Is (Part 2). See also Charles Babcock's Dell's Data Center Unit Racking Up Cloud Sales.

InformationWeek: What's Dell's enterprise strategy?

Paul Prince: We're operating under the umbrella theme of the efficient enterprise, which is about helping our customers run their businesses so they can free up some of the money they've historically had to spend on maintaining the IT infrastructure. It includes servers, but also storage and, to a greater degree over time, networking equipment as well. There's also the management infrastructure to pull all the pieces together.

InformationWeek: Does all this speak to the trend of supporting the next-gen data center, where it's not just about a box, but a whole solution?

Prince: Yeah, that's absolutely right. From the customers' point of view, there's a need to get more efficient and more automated. You want not just silos of servers, storage and networking, but to treat it as a holistic concept in the data center.

Our competitors will say the same thing. Where we differ from them strongly is that, when I say we want to offer servers and storage and networking, we want to offer our customers choice. We've made announcements about [networking] relationships with Brocade and with Juniper.

Of course, we continue to sell into environments where customers choose Cisco as their networking provider. So we're not trying to lock out any particular vendor--we're trying to bring the best of breed. Sometimes that will be a Dell-branded solution, other times it won't be and we'll have to integrate our pieces of the solution in with those from other vendors.

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