Dell's new converged infrastructure and thin client products expand the company's enterprise portfolio -- but can they distract from buyout drama and tanking PC revenues?

Michael Endler, Associate Editor,

May 22, 2013

3 Min Read

Two very large clouds have been hanging over Dell for most of the year: the flailing PC market, and CEO Michael Dell's ongoing attempt to take the company private. Despite these distractions, Dell itself has spent 2013 doing exactly what it did at the end of 2012: launching new enterprise products and declaring that its transition from PC maker to end-to-end solution provider has concluded.

That trend continued Wednesday at the Citrix Synergy conference in Anaheim, where Dell announced a range of cloud computing products for Citrix-based environments, including options that support Citrix XenDesktop 7, also unveiled on Wednesday. Dell hopes the moves will diversify its revenue streams, which are currently reliant on its low-margin PC business.

The announcements include a version of Dell's Active System 800 converged infrastructure line optimized for Citrix XenDesktop. The product is a pre-integrated system that fits server, storage and networking into a modest footprint. It includes Active System Manager, which facilitates single pane management of both physical and virtual assets.

Dell is also offering two reference architectures that add additional features to the Active System 800 configuration. One supports NVIDIA's GRID and targets users whose virtualized graphics needs are particularly demanding, and the other includes a local storage option that Dell says will drive down costs by eliminating the need for SAN.

[ Will Dell's enterprise business pick up momentum? Read Dell Posts Weak Earnings: Services Growth Slow Going. ]

Since debuting Active System last fall, Dell has touted the product for its simple management and automation capabilities. It has also pointed out that the system, because it is composed entirely of Dell IP, reduces customer service calls to a single point of contact.

The product line has achieved a competitive feature set quickly, but only time will tell how it evolves against competing products from Cisco and others. On that front, Dell representatives often note that Dell, unlike its competitors, has no legacy networking businesses to protect from cannibalization, a status that allegedly allows the company to pursue whatever advances will best serve its customers.

In addition to the new Active System offerings, Dell also unveiled several new thin and zero clients, product lines in which the company has many investments, thanks to its 2012 acquisition of Wyse. The Xenith Pro 2 is a dual-core zero client -- an industry first, according to Dell -- based on the Wyse Zero framework, and purpose-built for Citrix XenDesktop. The D90Q7 and Z90Q7 thin clients, meanwhile, boast quad-core processors.

According to Jeff McNaught, executive director of Dell's Cloud Client Computing group, the new thin clients, whose chips are produced by AMD, offer the performance of a PC while retaining the light weight and security for which thin clients are known. "[The top model is] as fast as traditional PCs," he said in an interview. "It's the world's fastest thin client."

Thin clients were also the subject of a Dell announcement last week, when the company debuted thin clients for the Windows Embedded 8 platform, enabling users to utilize the new OS's headline features, such as multi-touch functions, during virtualized sessions. Project Ophelia, the company's thumb drive-sized PC, is another virtualization-themed Dell product that has recently generated buzz. These products constitute a niche market, but also one that Dell can potentially build on as companies embrace mobility and the cloud.

The Citrix-optimized Active System 800 product is available now with support for Citrix XenDesktop 5.6. Support for Citrix XenDesktop 7 is promised in the next few months. The Xenith Pro 2 will be released at the end of July, and the pair of thin clients will hit the market at the end of June.

Our 2013 IT Spending Priorities Survey shows IT pros are playing catch-up after a period of underfunding. Also in the new, all-digital Vicious Circle issue of InformationWeek: Twitter's security boost might be too little, too late. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

Michael Endler

Associate Editor,

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 and, pending the completion of a long-gestating thesis, will hold an MA in Cinema Studies from San Francisco State.

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