On the surface, it looks like just another technology bundling agreement. But underneath, the recent expansion of the Dell/Oracle partnership has a lot to say about the future of enterprise infrastructure and how it will accommodate the burgeoning cloud.
Earlier this week, Dell and Oracle announced a new phase in their long-standing collaboration that provides integrated hardware/software platforms for quick and easy deployment. Under the deal, Dell will devise an entirely new x86 infrastructure portfolio that will be factory-integrated with leading Oracle systems like Oracle Linux, Oracle VM and Oracle Enterprise Manager. In this way, the companies hope to lower price points, and thereby increase sales, and provide single points of contact for service, support and other after-sale functions. The line will be marketed as the Joint Infrastructure Solution and is expected to hit the channel later this year.
From a strictly business perspective, the deal makes sense for both companies. Dell gains a strong software partner that allows it to compete more effectively against top platform rivals like HP and IBM, while Oracle gains a fresh means to reinvent itself for the data center.
But in a grander sense, this arrangement and other hardware/software platforms under development, such as Fujitsu’s recently announced Integrated System Cloud Ready Blocks, are casting serious doubt as to whether the cloud as currently envisioned will serve the needs of the enterprise. At the moment, most cloud activity resides on commodity infrastructure, with Amazon, Google and other top providers noted for their strategy of loading intelligent, dynamic software architectures on top of largely nameless, faceless hardware systems.
What Dell, Fujitsu and others are saying is that while this may function well for consumers and even rogue business executives looking for some extra support for heavy workloads, true enterprise-ready cloud architectures will require something a little more nuanced. As Dell’s Bernard Golden points out, enterprise workloads, particularly critical ones, often require finely tuned infrastructure in order to provide significant value to stakeholders, and this usually involves tweaking such aspects as memory allocation, thread counts, hardware settings and storage distribution. This is extraordinarily difficult in a commodity cloud because it requires extensive coordination between and among hardware and software systems, and none but the largest of enterprises has the expertise to delve that deeply into the data environment.
What is likely to happen, indeed what may already be happening, is the emergence of the enterprise cloud – highly scalable, fully dynamic architectures built on converged, integrated computing platforms. True, it won’t be as flexible nor extensible as today’s cloud, but it will provide the enterprise with three crucial things, according to NetApp: efficiency, ease of management and fewer points of access. In short, the new cloud will do everything the old cloud does, but without the “anything goes” ethos that usually accompanies open, commodity infrastructure.
In the end, the cloud is like a workshop where users can cobble together various components to form a working data environment – somewhat akin to the tinkerers of old who stumbled upon the internal combustion engine and then devised the first automobile.
Ultimately, however, people grow weary of building their own cars and just want to drive. And the easiest way to do that is to buy a road-ready machine straight off the assembly line.