Historically, the positioning of Dell versus its two major competitors for high-value enterprise business, particularly where it involved complex services and the ability to deliver deeply integrated infrastructure and management stacks, has been as sort of an also ran. Competitors looked at Dell as a price spoiler and a channel for standard storage and networking offerings from its partners, not as a potential threat to the high-ground of being able to deliver complex integrated infrastructure solutions.
This comforting image of Dell as being a glorified box pusher appears to be coming to an end. When my colleague Andrew Reichman recently wrote about Dell’s attempted acquisition of 3Par, it made me take another look at Dell’s recent pattern of investments and the series of announcements they have made around delivering integrated infrastructure with a message and solution offering that looks like it is aimed squarely at HP and IBM's Virtual Fabric.
In a dramatic move this morning, Dell announced the intention to purchase the innovative vendor of enterprise storage 3PAR for $1.15 billion in cash. If there were any doubts remaining about Dell’s commitment to be a force in the storage market alongside of EMC, IBM, HDS et al., this deal should put them to rest. Dell acquired the iSCSI storage array vendor EqualLogic in November of 2007, clustered NAS vendor Exanet in February of this year, and most recently they bought data deduplication vendor Ocarina this past July, as well as putting together a partnership with object storage vendor Caringo. Clearly these are a significant list of deals, but the strategy was incomplete without an enterprise class primary storage system of their own. 3PAR, whose products generally compete with high-end systems in terms of performance and availability, will give Dell the ammunition they need to go head-to-head with the big guys.
Dell has cultivated a relatively successful partnership with EMC for mid-range and enterprise storage for some years, but in spite of Dell’s claim to be invested in that relationship going forward, this deal clearly puts pressure on it. Initially, there is a gap between the SMB focused EqualLogic products and the high-end offerings from 3PAR, which will be filled by the Clariion products from EMC, but in the long run, Dell is likely to be motivated to move out of EMC’s shadow and build its storage brand on proprietary products based on these acquisitions.
This deal ends a good deal of speculation about who might buy 3PAR, with HP the main alternative suitor. HP now faces a build or buy decision as it continues to try to redefine itself in storage amidst a patchwork of the aging EVA platform, partner technology from Hitachi on the high-end, and acquisitions in iSCSI and clustered file storage, but no clearly defined long term vision or anchor technology.