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11/15/2011
02:09 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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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.

A third piece of software, Dell VIS Director, provides a virtual machine administrator's view of the environment. It includes what-if projections and trend analysis, utilization reporting, chargeback to users, and capacity planning, the latter a frequently overlooked function that's become more vital in shifting, virtualized environments.

VIS Creator works with Dell's own vStart assemblies--integrated racks of Dell PowerEdge servers and Dell EqualLogic storage equipped with two Dell PowerEdge switches. It also works in the more mixed data center, both with Dell and other vendor's hardware.

Asked about Dell's multi-hypervisor approach, Michael Dell said simply: "Dell's view is that any customer environment is a heterogeneous environment."

I would say that three years ago, both Dell and his company would have been extremely cautious about stepping on Microsoft's toes. Likewise, as cloud computing has gained prominence, Dell has sized up its customer base as having a strong interest in running virtualized workloads, and 80% of that interest, according to Michael Dell, is coming from existing VMware customers. So a younger version of today's Dell, say two or three years ago, might have shied away from offering a substitute for VMware management systems.

In the past, Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, EMC, and other dominant players would have inhibited or intimidated Dell from entering what they viewed as their segment of the marketplace. For a long time, it seemed to me, Dell shied away from building add-on products for a strong hardware base. That's changed. Dell is willing to assume the role of honest broker on behalf of customers among warring parties--especially when those vendors have shown no appetite for negotiating such tensions themselves.

About as close as Michael Dell would come to expressing this more mature outlook was to say: "Dell is now competing in the entire $3 trillion sector of IT." That of course means in servers, PCs, storage, switches, and in select cases software. What he didn't say was that Dell is now willing to play Switzerland among contending parties and offer vendor-neutral products when it's in its own interest to do so. Choosing the management of multiple hypervisors was a good place to start.

Dell isn't the only one to say it can help you manage multiple hypervisor environments. There are third-party software providers that do: DynamicOps, Quest Software, Veeam, and others. But Dell is not a small software company trying to get its foot in the door. It's already inside, with a major presence. It still has to show that it can exploit that position and compete with both virtualization vendors and established system management vendors.

Dell may yet show that it can't cut it as a software company. That transition requires a hardware culture to learn how to make future versions of an intangible product credible. That was always a blind spot for Sun Microsystems. But Dell's found the nerve to address customers' multi-hypervisor environments. Let's see if it's willing to identify additional unmet needs and play the honest broker in filling them.

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