Dell Seeks Data Center Spotlight

Arthur Cole

Does Dell Computer really have the chops to go up against Cisco, HP and IBM for bragging rights to the unified data center?

That question came into focus this week with the company's expanded partnership strategy aimed at shoring up both the networking and systems management arms of its data center portfolio. The company has begun integrating QLogic 8100 10 converged network adapters (CNAs) into a range of PowerEdge servers, as well as 10 GbE switches from Brocade and QLogic into select EqualLogic storage systems - both moves aimed at fostering the kind of network convergence that reports indicate will be a major goal for data centers over the next decade.

At the same time, the company is bolstering its management stack, built largely on technology designed by Scalent Systems, to include both an infrastructure management module and a systems lifecycle module. The aim here is to provide deeper visibility into network infrastructure and unify overall data center management under a single platform.

Taking on such big shoes as Cisco and HP is no easy feat, but Dell has been making a pretty good living for the past two decades selling low-cost compatible systems to enterprises looking to expand their primary systems installations. The company hopes to continue that strategy, except this time it wants to be the primary systems provider, with the proviso that it can still provide open systems that protect against single vendor lock-in.

That strategy may prove effective against Cisco and HP, but it could be a hard sell for IBM customers. That company has pursued a number of third-party suppliers, particularly on the networking side, that provide a great deal of design flexibility when it comes to integrating network architectures. The company is also well on the way toward unifying SAN and NAS infrastructures through an alliance with Scale Computing. That company's Intelligent Clustered Storage (ICS) system is based on IBM's Global Parallel File System, which brings such high-performance techniques like the parallel file system to mid-tier and small enterprises. As CTO Edge's Mike Vizard points out, the package provides up to 4 TB per node for both block-level iSCSI SANs and file-based NAS systems.

For Dell, the name of the game has traditionally been high-value hardware at cut-rate prices. That strategy should continue to serve it well as it seeks to become a front-line data center provider. But since the goal now is to become the main platform provider, it will also have to convince CIOs across the board that it can be a reliable technology partner, rather than a mere supplier.

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