Dell Challenges Cisco, HP With Converged Infrastructure Lineup

Dell's newly expanded hardware and software range gives small offices and large data centers storage, networking, and computing in a single chassis, under one management console.

Michael Endler

June 5, 2013

4 Min Read
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Dell on Tuesday unveiled an expanded range of converged infrastructure products, opening the technology, which Dell had previously pitched to large enterprises, to new classes of customers. Designed to simplify daily IT tasks and enable companies to more rapidly provision and deploy virtual machines, the offerings not only combine storage, networking, and computing into a single chassis but also bring all components under the control of a single management console.

The announcements could help Dell -- which has soldiered this year through both the PC market's decline and CEO Michael Dell's ongoing bid to take the company private -- to assert the software and service capabilities it has built over the last several years. The converged infrastructure space is ripe for growth, and a leading role could convince many of Dell's critics that the company has truly, as its founder and CEO declared last December, outgrown its PC roots. Dell faces competition from HP, Cisco and others, but with its newly diversified line-up, the company hopes to stand out from the crowd.

The new hardware and software products, all of which were revealed during this week's Dell Enterprise Forum in San Jose, Calif., include the PowerEdge VRTX, which targets small enterprises, remote offices and other environments where space, power and IT resources are at a premium. Dell claims the VRTX uses up to 86% fewer cables than non-converged products, and that a new system can be installed and set to deploy virtual machines within a matter of hours. The product can handle four servers running as many as 100 virtual machines each, as well as up to 50 TB of shared storage.

[ Find out how Dell fits into the cloud. Read Dell Buys Enstratius, Extends Cloud Reach. ]

Dell has not revealed specific pricing, but a basic system should be less than $10,000. PowerEdge VRTX bundles will go on sale June 26 and will include Chassis Management Controller, which allows IT to manage the complete system from a single pane of glass.

The company also introduced new members of its Active System family, which caters mostly to the data center needs of larger enterprises. Previously, the product line had included only the Active System 800, which Dell introduced last fall. The new entrants -- numbered 50, 200 and 1000 -- target a variety of storage, networking and application requirements, and include new validated workloads and reference architectures designed to speed up common tasks, such as virtual desktop or private cloud workloads.

Like the VRTX configurations, Active System hardware also ships stacked-and-racked, meaning IT managers can essentially plug in the machine and begin loading software. Thanks to these attributes, Dell claims the new products cut the time and steps necessary to provision new workloads by up to 99%, and that implementation of new virtual infrastructure can be up to six times faster than existing products.

The expanded Active System line also includes Active System Manager 7.1, which, like the VRTX's Chassis Management Controller, allows storage, networking and computing to be managed from a single screen. The new version includes technology from Dell's acquisition of Gale Technologies, a cloud orchestration company purchased last fall, and includes support for Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware vSphere platforms. Although Dell obviously would like to sell customers a complete, top-to-bottom product, Active System manager 7.1 also can be installed in heterogeneous environments.

In addition to the general Active System packages, which will go on sale in August, Dell also announced Active Infrastructure for HPC Life Sciences, a version optimized to meet the escalating computing needs of medical researchers. The product can, based on Dell's testing, process up to 38 genomes per day. Such a pace would have been unheard of only a few years ago but is now opening new avenues for battling cancer, designing personalized medicines and related tasks.

In a phone interview, Andy Rhodes, executive director of Dell Converged Infrastructure Solution, said the new products amount to "solving customer problems, rather than shipping a bunch of hardware." Calling the company "a very different Dell than we used to be," he said substantial investments have been made to retrain the sales staff for the new direction.

When asked how Dell differentiates itself from its competitors, Rhodes said Dell stands out because it owns all of the technology in its products. Marius Haas, Dell's president of Enterprise Solutions, offered similar sentiments at an event earlier this year in San Francisco, where he also argued that Dell has an edge because it, unlike competitors such as HP, does not have legacy data center revenue streams to protect.

"You need IP in all parts of the solution stack," Rhodes said, adding that Active System combines many of Dell's acquisitions -- Gale, EqualLogic, Compellent and Force10, among others -- into a cohesive whole. "We have that, HP has that, but Cisco and EMC have to rely on each other. They're great companies, but they can't understand [converged infrastructures] the way a company that owns the IP does."

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