Dell Eyes Cloud Computing
To become a major cloud computing hardware supplier, Dell must master best practices for producing the right machine for a given cloud.
Dell is positioning itself to supply systems for cloud builders, including enterprises that want to construct private clouds. To do so, it's had to rejigger its model for building hardware systems.
So far, Dell may be the name best recognized for designing a handful of consumer and business systems, then relying on a tightly controlled supply chain between the customer's online order placement and Dell's delivery of the product.
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One the things that Dell has mastered is online order capture and customer product configuration, skills that have served it well in the business and consumer mass market. In dealing with large cloud suppliers, or "whales," as such customers are known internally at Dell, there may be only one order and one configuration -- but the delivery could be of thousands of matching systems.
One such "whale" that Dell supplies is Facebook. Facebook uses thousands of servers to maintain millions of consumers' Facebook pages, which are constantly moving around pictures and text. Dell is also the main supplier to the Microsoft Azure cloud, according to Barton George, Dell's chief cloud strategist, who dropped into the Cloud Computing Conference & Expo in Santa Clara Tuesday.
George agreed, in an interview with InformationWeek that if Dell becomes a major supplier to cloud computing, it will be a new chapter for the online retailer. Among other things, the company must draw lessons from what large cloud suppliers prefer in a server, then offer a few choices of similar servers to smaller cloud providers, known internally as "dolphins."
There are only a few whales -- builders of massive Internet data centers -- such as E-Bay, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft. But there could be many dolphins.
There's no requirement that clouds be built of x86 instruction set computers, with processors from AMD or Intel, and some clouds are being built on IBM Power or Sun Microsystems UltraSparc processors. But the economics of cloud computing dictate that clouds be built with low-cost, reliable parts, and that they be easily managed and easily virtualized. The broadest set of tools and skills to do meet the latter two are found today in the realm of x86 servers.
Dell is finding, George said, that the speed of assembly and price of hardware are not the only factors to which a would-be cloud supplier must pay attention.
Dell has typically sold a range of models that it designs from what it deems the most cost effective parts available at a given time. Business buyers are often looking for high reliability so they order servers with redundant disks, power supplies, fans or network interface cards, ensuring that a business-critical application will keep running even if one of the components fails.