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Summary:

Michael Dell is talking this week talking about having acquisition plans in “software, data centers, cloud computing, storage and virtualization,” which raises questions about who it might be eying up. There are five vendors, in particular, that could give high value for a relatively low price.

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Michael Dell is at The World Economic Forum this week talking about Dell having acquisition plans in “software, data centers, cloud computing, storage and virtualization,” which has speculators venturing guesses as to what’s on its shopping list. Timothy Prickett Morgan gave his thoughts in The Register, dropping companies from Brocade to Cray to Rackspace as possibilities, but I don’t think Dell will make a system-centric play this time around. There are two trends right now – cloud computing and big data – that are dependent on software and services, and I think Dell gets this, if only because the company knows it doesn’t want to go blow-to-blow with IBM, HP and Cisco on high-end systems. It has already shown as much with its recent purchases of Scalent and Boomi.

Here are the companies I think Dell should consider buying this time around. They’re not huge companies by any stretch of the imagination, but they would provide very-relevant software products for advancing Dell’s mission of adding value to the growing number of servers it’s selling:

Aster Data Systems

Thus far, Dell has about the same in-house big data prowess as does HP, which is to say none at all. But Dell does resell Aster Data Systems’ nCluster massively parallel analytic database as a part of the Dell Cloud Solution for Data Analytics. That’s why I think Aster Data would be a natural fit for Dell: It already knows the product and the business, and it lets Dell keep selling commodity boxes while letting the software do the work. Dell pushes openness in terms of hardware choice, so if it wants to get into database space, buying a company with an appliance business might not make too much sense. Aster Data won’t come cheap, with a rumored valuation easily north of $100 million, but it should cost less than the $300 million-plus EMC reportedly paid for Greenplum, and certainly less than the $1.7 billion IBM paid for Netezza.

Joyent

Joyent would let Dell kill three birds with one stone, as it encompasses software, cloud computing and data centers. Furthermore, as with Aster Data, Dell already has an OEM deal with Joyent through which it resells Joyent’s SmartDataCenter software as the Dell Cloud Solution for Web Applications. As I’ve written before, Dell has formed a fairly holistic portfolio of cloud offerings, of which Joyent is a key part, so closing the loop and bringing that software in-house makes sense. It also would be good for Joyent, which would have a larger channel and sales team through which to sell its software. Of course, Joyent’s business also extends into cloud hosting, which would get Dell into the service-provider business, as some have speculated it wants to do, without buying Rackspace (which could be a complex integration) or relying on the Windows Azure Appliance.

DynamicOps

DynamicOps presents a similar situation as both Aster Data and Joyent, because Dell also has an OEM deal with it, although DynamicOps’ deal with Dell definitely is more limited in scope. Presently, its cloud-management software provides the self-service capability for Dell’s Virtual Integrated System software package, which is Dell’s attempt to give customers the converged infrastructure experience of managing computing, storage and networking from one place without forcing them to buy expensive vertically integrated systems such as Cisco’s UCS or HP’s BladeSystem Matrix. DynamicOps also sells virtualization management software, which would give Dell customers that aren’t ready for the cloud a more down-to-earth option.

Univa

Univa could be a good choice, especially if Dell wants to provide its Data Center Solutions customers, who buy large quantities of customized hyperscale servers from Dell, with tools to manage their scale-out data centers and clusters. Univa is a newly technology-rich company thanks to its forking of the Sun Grid Engine software, and it already has an Austin, Texas office as a result of its purchase of United Devices a few years ago. There are other options in this space – Platform Computing (which Morgan suggested) and Adaptive Computing – come to mind, but I think Univa’s Austin roots and relatively low price will make it the most-appealing choice of the three HPC vendors that have expanded into the cloud-data-center-management space.

Appistry

As with the other four suggestions, Appistry is another software company that’s a perfect complement for Dell’s scale-out-focused Data Center Solutions group. Appistry’s CloudIQ Platform is all about achieving high application performance across a distributed set of commodity servers, and it already has established a fairly strong customer base across the intelligence and defense industries. The companies already have partnered, in fact, on a petabyte-scale Private Storage Cloud that combines Appistry’s CloudIQ Storage software with Dell hardware. CloudIQ Storage would give Dell a differentiating story for customers, as it focuses on not just on scaling out, but also on placing data near computing logic to ensure that storage doesn’t slow application performance as the numbers of servers grows.

Image courtesy of Flickr user tanakawho.

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