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Dell Acquires Force10, Solidifies Data Center Story

Rumors and prognostications about which networking company Dell was going to acquire have been silenced today with the announcement of Dell's intent to acquire Force10. It's no secret that Dell has been shopping for a networking vendor, and some analysts' top pick for Dell's acquisition strategy was Brocade, which would have given Dell a strong entry into both Ethernet and Fibre Channel networking, but it appears those predictions were off the mark. What Dell gets from Force10 is an equipment vendor that specializes in high-performance computing and has a clearly defined strategy to support cloud computing, orchestration and automation. While Force 10 doesn't have the product breadth of other candidates, it fits well into Dell's data center strategy.

"Rumors of Dell buying Brocade were not realistic. Brocade is unbuyable because much of their fibre channel business, near 75%, is OEM'ed through vendors like EMC, HP and IBM. Any vendor that bought Brocade would alienate Brocade's other OEM partners, driving them into Cisco's arms, which would deplete revenues, " says Howard Marks, chief scientist of and a Network Computing contributor.

Dell representatives confirmed that Dell plans to retain a good relationship with Brocade, but that relationship may change in some dimensions. They cite some product overlap, likely in the PowerConnect B-series products, which are OEM'd from Brocade. Dell wants to retain the PowerConnect branding for campus LAN networking and focus the newly acquired Force10 products on the data center. Of course, Dell also wants to retain Brocade as a partner for Fibre Channel storage networking.

According to recent Dell'Oro market share numbers, Force10 market share by revenue is miniscule, less than 1%, compared with the rest of the market. The important part of the deal is that Dell gets Force10's technology. This includes both high-capacity, low-latency switching and Force10's Open Automation features, such as on-switch Perl and Python scripting, as well as Force10's virtualization framework, which provides the underlying framework for cloud services, including service separation and management, traffic analysis and high availability.

Greg Ferro, network architect and Network Computing contributor, says, "Force10 is a top-notch network switching company--years of experience and proven products. Add that to Dell, which had servers and storage customers but no network. It's a perfect match. Dell uses its name, Force10 brings the goods. Say hello to three vertically integrated data center companies: Cisco, HP and Dell."

Force10 brings Dell instant credibility in data center networking without having to worry about maintaining partnerships with third parties like Juniper or run the risk of a key networking partner getting acquired. What will be interesting is how Dell integrates Force10's product line into Dell's cloud initiatives. Dell representatives highlighted three key areas: Dell's virtual network services infrastructure, which supports virtualization in the network to automate virtual machine moves, adds, changes and management; automation from the edge, in which applications drive changes as needed; and flattening the network, with increasing port speeds and greater port density.

Dell needed its own networking gear with which it could control the direction. Force10 has the intellectual property hardware and software, along with a proven track record in high-demand environments, as well as a foot in the door at many organizations Dell might not get entry to. Dell has the sales channel for servers and storage that brings the whole picture together. If Dell executes well, this acquisition will be big for them.

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