Mobile
Commentary
11/15/2011
02:09 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Dell Plays Switzerland Between Microsoft, VMware

Dell will be an honest broker on behalf of customers using hypervisor technologies from warring parties--who have shown no appetite for appeasing tensions themselves.

It's time to start thinking differently about Dell.

Dell is well known as a hardware maker. I think you need to think of Dell as a software maker. You need to see Dell as the black-and-white shirted referee between two heavyweight fighters--VMware and Microsoft--which are both essential to Dell's future. And you need to see Dell as the honest broker, on behalf of server buyers, of contending x86 technologies.

Those are the changes I take away from day-long visit to Dell's Round Rock, Texas, campus last week, which included an interview with CEO Michael Dell himself. Dell didn't directly address this new role, but here's why I see it.

[ See our related, in-depth analysis of Dell's change in course during the past two years. Read Dell Earnings Don't Tell Big Transformation Story. ]

Dell is now a software company because it's been acquiring hardware companies that depend on software: Kace appliances run systems management software; Compellent storage arrays have software that manages storage virtualization and tiering; Ocarina Networks has generated algorithms for data de-duplication and compression; and Force 10 Network's switches stay flexible through switching software. Even EqualLogic storage arrays have ample tiering and load balancing code built into their array management firmware.

Dell is promising to do more such software-centric acquisitions. Why? Because you can't be an integrator of x86 parts without becoming a software company, and Dell has chosen to step into that role.

Consider Dell as the neutral referee in a slugger's ring. VMware and Microsoft have made token acknowledgements of each other's hypervisors in their own product sets. Each will stoop to convert a workload intended for the other into the format preferred by its own hypervisor, since customers insist. But they don't literally enable you, the customer, to move from one to the other at will, even though such a thing is eminently desirable and possible with today's virtualization technology.

Dell has filled this gap with a neutral piece of software that brokers between those two. It's called Virtual Integrated System (or VIS) Self-Service Creator. Its purpose is to allow business users to go to a portal and select from a menu the type of server they want and the workload to run on it. Dell's own IT managers have built the templates on the menu and manage them.

After a workflow approval process, with business management signing off on the new server, a second piece of Dell software, AIM or Advanced Infrastructure Manager, deploys to the user's chosen environment. The last thing a user does is select the hypervisor for the workload. The destination host may be running VMware ESX Server, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix Systems XenServer, or Red Hat KVM. The host may also be Amazon Web Services' EC2 or other public cloud. Automated policies and procedures govern the final deployment steps. This capability is derived from Dell's Scalent acquisition in July 2010.

VIS Creator and AIM take over a role that both Microsoft and VMware would prefer that their own management systems perform. But neither of them really wants to play the role of neutral broker to the wishes of the workload originator. Dell has stepped up to that task.

Previous
1 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
InformationWeek Elite 100
InformationWeek Elite 100
Our data shows these innovators using digital technology in two key areas: providing better products and cutting costs. Almost half of them expect to introduce a new IT-led product this year, and 46% are using technology to make business processes more efficient.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest September 18, 2014
Enterprise social network success starts and ends with integration. Here's how to finally make collaboration click.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
The weekly wrap-up of the top stories from InformationWeek.com this week.
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.