Dell Converged Data Center to Challenge Cisco UCS, HP Matrix

At their Dell Storage Forum, company executives unveiled a converged data center solution that offers server, storage and networking technology within a single blade chassis.

BOSTON€”Dell executives are leveraging recent acquisitions in the networking and storage space to deliver a converged data center solution to compete with offerings such as Cisco Systems€™ successful Unified Computing System.

Dell€™s Converged Blade Data Center combines Dell€™s 12th Generation PowerEdge servers, new EqualLogic storage blade arrays and Force10 MXL blade switching to create a modular solution that fits within a single blade enclosure and is easy to manage, deploy and scale.

The converged data center offering was one of several announcements Dell executives revealed here June 11 on the first day of their Dell Storage Forum 2012, an event designed to show off the company€™s efforts in the enterprise and to highlight its continuing transformation from a PC and server vendor to an IT solutions provider.

Dell also unveiled another converged data center solution, vStart 1000 for Dell Private Cloud, a virtualization solution that includes Force10 networking and Compellent storage products, both the result of acquisitions completed over the past year.

In addition, Dell rolled out its EqualLogic Blade Arrays, the first storage blades from the vendor, new EqualLogic software for real-time data protection and automated diagnostic data collection, and migration services to help businesses make the move to Dell€™s storage portfolio.

Dell€™s offerings are meant to address IT trends such as cloud computing and virtualization, and meet business demands for converged solutions that include compute, storage, networking and management software capabilities in a single offering for greater interoperability, easier management and deployment, and enhanced scalability and efficiency.

In his keynote address, Brad Anderson, president of Dell€™s Enterprise Solutions Group, said the company has been methodically building up its enterprise data center portfolio, from its servers to storage, networking, software, security and services.

€œIf we€™re going to be an enterprise provider, and a great storage provider, we have to go end-to-end,€ Anderson said to the more than 600 people in the audience. €œThis end-to-end [effort] is absolutely essential.€

Competitors have been offering such converged solutions for several years. Cisco entered the space three years ago, with its Unified Computing System (UCS), an offering that includes Cisco-branded servers and networking technology combined with storage from the likes of EMC and NetApp, and virtualization capabilities from VMware. Cisco has quickly grown its UCS business, with executives saying they now have more than 11,000 UCS customers and the company becoming a growing player in the x86 server space.

Hewlett-Packard that year also released an all-in-one offering, the BladeSystem Matrix, that leveraged its own server and network products, and IBM expanded its partnerships with such networking vendors as Cisco and Juniper Networks in its efforts to offer tightly integrated data center solutions. Even Dell made its first push in that direction in 2009, with expanded partnerships with the likes of Brocade and Scalent Systems.

However, Dell executives said the new Converged Blade Data Center offers businesses an integrated solution that offers all Dell technology, a key differentiator from offerings like Cisco€™s UCS, which includes third-party hardware products. The Dell solution offers Dell bladed hardware in a Dell M1000e blade chassis.

€œWe€™re effectively giving you a data center in a blade enclosure,€ Anderson said in an interview with eWEEK before his keynote address.

Anderson said the converged solution can work with enterprises and smaller businesses, though the real sweet spot of it is in the midmarket. Dell executives said that with the converged data center offering, businesses can support up to 48 percent more Microsoft SQL, Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SharePoint users, and up to 42 more users per watt of power than in blade server and storage offerings from competitors.

It also illustrates how Dell is leveraging the products acquired in its growing number of acquisitions to produce offerings for enterprise data centers, and is another proof point in its transformation to an IT solutions provider. That transformation hasn€™t been easy€”Dell took a hit from analysts and investors last month when it reported a first-quarter revenue decline of 4 percent and profit decrease of 33 percent. However, during a call with analysts and journalists, Dell executives said they were committed to the long-term strategy and called for patience.

At the time, Krista Macomber, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said that despite the financial numbers, Dell€™s strategy makes sense.

€œCompetition from rivals such as HP and IBM will remain strong, but adapting to longer and more complex sales cycles with enterprise customers and focusing on selling integrated solutions rather than singular pieces of the infrastructure will help Dell to win more deals and increase its market share,€ Macomber wrote in a research note.

Dell€™s Converged Blade Data Center includes the Force10 MXL networking switches that can scale from 1 Gigabit Ethernet to 40GbE, the PowerEdge M420, a quarter-height two-socket blade server, fabric convergence via 10GbE Data Center Bridging, and new EqualLogic PS-M4110 blade arrays, which can come in four different configurations that can offer up to 14 terabytes of storage per array. Businesses can manage the solution through VMware or Microsoft management consoles.

The 40GbE switch is a key to enabling the converged infrastructure in a bladed environment, Dario Zamarian, vice president and general manager of Dell Networking, told eWEEK.

The EqualLogic PS-M4110 blade arrays can work with 11th or 12th Generation PowerEdge blade servers, are highly virtualized and scalable, and offer automated load balancing. They can be set up in less than an hour.

The new EqualLogic software releases offer more tightly integrated storage area networks (SANs) with hosts and applications, and do not increase licensing fees. The releases include EqualLogic Array Software 6.0 for improved data protection, SAN Headquarters 2.5 monitoring and analysis tool and Host Integration Tools for Microsoft 4.5 for improved reliability and availability for SharePoint deployments.

The vStart 1000 for Dell Private Cloud includes the Compellent storage and Dell Force10 networking-based vStart solution, and Dell€™s VIS Creator cloud automation software.