Dell Enters Unified Data Center Fray Against Cisco, HP, IBM

Dell is partnering with Brocade and Scalent to develop its Efficient Enterprise initiative, a unified data center solution that will compete with similar strategies rolled out by such rivals as Cisco, HP and IBM. Dell officials say they will use their own data center systems, Brocade networking technologies and Scalent automation and management software to create a highly dynamic, agile and open data center environment that is enabled by virtualization. The first offerings from the initiative are scheduled to come in the fourth quarter.

Dell is partnering with networking specialist Brocade Communications Systems and automation software vendor Scalent Systems to develop a unified data center solution to compete with those from such rivals as Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard.

Dell officials on Sept. 2 are set to announce the partnerships that will include the OEM branding Brocade networking technologies and a joint development relationship with Brocade in creating data center management and virtualization offerings.

The announcement will come at the VMworld 2009 show in San Francisco.

The partnership with Scalent will revolve around that company's V/OE (Virtual Operating Environment), which enables automated and dynamic management of data center resources.

The first fruits from Dell's "Efficient Enterprise" initiative will come in the fourth quarter, Dell and Brocade officials said in interviews.

Dell's efforts are part of a push to offer enterprises solutions around converged data centers that encompass server, storage, networking devices and management software, enabled by virtualization. The demand comes from businesses looking for greater efficiency, flexibility and agility-and lower capital and operational costs-in their data center environments.

Cisco, HP and IBM already have started down this path. Cisco is expanding beyond its networking roots with its UCS (Unified Computing System), an all-in-one offering that not only involves Cisco technology but also partnerships with such vendors as EMC, VMware and Intel.

HP is offering its BladeSystem Matrix, another all-in-one system. In addition, HP is aggressively growing its ProCurve networking business, bringing it into more direct competition with Cisco in that space.

IBM in July announced expanded partnerships with such networking vendors as Cisco, Brocade and Juniper Networks as part of a larger Data Center Networking initiative, which also is designed to reintegrate computing, storage and networking devices in the data center.

Dell officials said their offering is more open than those of their competitors.

"Several competitors have talked about their data center offerings," said Praveen Asthana, vice president of enterprise storage and networking at Dell. "But they're talking about proprietary solutions."

Brocade's Data Center Fabric Manager will be the backbone that gives businesses a unified and complete management capability of everything from storage ports on networked storage system to HBAs (host bus adaptors) attached to physical servers and virtual machines.

Dell also will brand the Brocade 8000 FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet) Switch and DCX Backbone, which will allow for data center consolidation and the convergence of the network, as well as Brocade Ethernet switching products based on Brocade's NetIron MLX Series routers and BigIron RX Series switches for 1 Gigabit Ethernet and 10GbE capabilities.

Dell-branded application switching offerings will be based on Brocade's ServerIron ADX Series switches for Layer 4 through 7 switching. In addition, Brocade's Fibre Channel HBAs will be used to enable businesses to deploy a storage networking architecture covering everything from storage to servers.

The Dell and Brocade partnership expands on an existing 10-year relationship. Dell already sells a host of Brocade products, including Fibre Channel blade switches for its M1000e and Dell PowerEdge series blades, and Brocade Fibre Channel switches as part of its SAN (storage-area network) switch offerings.

The Scalent technology will give businesses an easier and more dynamic way to managing their data center resources, according to Dell officials. The Scalent V/OE lets IT administrators manipulate all the elements in the data center, provisioning and reprovisioning them at will.

Asthana said he doesn't see Dell being behind Cisco, HP or IBM in the competition for unified data center solutions.

"I don't think any competitor has much of a head start because not many competitors have actually come out with anything," he said. "They've talked a lot, but they haven't done anything. The key thing on our side is that customers seem to be on our side. They like the open vision."