Full Nelson: Who Dell Is (Part 2)

The company built on commodity PCs is carrying its principles of predictability, reliability, and usability into the data center. Will that be enough to wow enterprise customers?
The Next Big Thing
And now to the data center, where Dell says it will disrupt through standardization yet again. On storage, it claims not to care whether you believe in Ethernet or Fibre Channel; it has a solution or a partner. But it does believe that iSCSI is the "platform of the future," and that Ethernet is moving very fast (now 10G, soon 40G, then 100G), making it the right network topology for just about anything, including storage. In networking, it thinks it can be what EMC was to IBM in storage eons ago. It believes that x86 + Virtualization + iSCSI + 10 Gig = big change and big savings. If those technologies seem routine--and they are, but that's just the point--the results are anything but.

Dell says that Cisco's data center approach is a defensive mechanism--against commoditized switch ports in a virtual world, and against the success that HP is having. It admitted that it isn't marketing itself very well in this bullring. Indeed, we've heard from readers a concern that Cisco's partnerships in the data center (EMC and VMware) and its customized approach to DCB (Data Center Bridging)--called Data Center Ethernet--is excessively costly and smacks of lock-in.

Dell will have to hammer hard and fast. While its servers may be on everyone's short list, at least for routine data center tasks, its broader solutions aren't, and its competition is moving aggressively.

For now, it seems as if Dell believes it has all the right pieces. When pressed, the company says the only area it sees as in need of development (in response to a question about acquisitions) is around managing heterogeneous virtual environments. Asthana, the storage and networking VP, says the control point isn't at the hypervisor layer, where there will be multiple solutions, but above it. Balancing workloads between private and public clouds, for example, will quickly become important.

All of this--the cloud (my colleague Charlie Babcock wrote more on this here ), the data center--is where Dell will have to grow up. If its newly marshaled army of specialists can front its now-formidable service organization behind an affordable, open solution, it will cease being just a box pusher or a brand that stands only for what it once was, holding on for dear life.

For now, that might mean targeting the small enterprise, the nascent data center, the tight wallets. But sometimes making inroads into more strategic territory starts with a simple declaration. It feels like Dell is ready to get on with it.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV.

I am on the jury for the Cloud Connect Launch Pad, produced by TechWeb. This is a competition that lets companies present their innovative application (either in development and about to launch, or recently launched) to the Cloud Connect community in March. Feel free to submit an entry, following the contest rules.

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