Dell is often characterized as a mere server maker, and it’s easy to see why when comparing it with fellow server makers like HP and IBM, both of which complement their hardware with software and services. However, as I discuss at GigaOM Pro (subscription required), Dell has been reshaping itself lately into a provider of more than just gear, especially with its progressive, but focused, cloud computing vision.
At a foundational level, Dell has been prepping its transition via its very successful Data Center Solutions business, a strategy that has made its way into Dell’s primary server business in the form of the PowerEdge C Series for small to midsize cloud deployments.
But that’s still just selling servers, which is why Dell went a level up the stack with cloud management and scale-out storage software. Thanks to a series of acquisitions and truly strategic partnerships, Dell has a cloud-platform trifecta of sorts: PowerEdge C servers preconfigured with Joyent SmartDataCenter is IaaS for web applications, Dell’s Virtual Integrated Server suite (sub req’d) is IaaS for enterprise applications and the forthcoming Microsoft Windows Azure Appliance is an all-around PaaS offering.
Buying Boomi adds a SaaS element to Dell’s cloud story, which will enable customers to host their own applications in their own clouds. Dell doesn’t have SaaS to sell, but supporting it makes Dell look like a more promising option for customers that want to use it.
And Dell’s cloud ambitions might not stop within its customers’ four walls. Forget the rumor that Dell wants to buy Rackspace; Dell already offers managed virtual resources as a result of its Perot Systems acquisition in 2009, and now it’s building a new data center in Quincy, Oregon, home of the webscale data center. Such a move would be a major undertaking, but not surprising. If Dell wants to keep “selling servers” once the cloud shift kicks into overdrive, offering a public cloud would be prudent. With SmartDataCenter, Windows Azure (sub req’d) and, possibly, OpenStack, Dell already has the partnerships for broad cloud operating system support.
Dell is still quite a way behind IBM and HP when it comes to offering a full complement of systems management software and hosted services, but the products it does have are unique in that they were built specifically with cloud computing in mind. All signs point to Dell furthering its cloud portfolio, too — definitely with more acquisitions (e.g., a monitoring product) and possibly with cloud services. It might not be cut out to compete in legacy enterprise IT, but Dell is setting itself up to win in the cloud.
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