Dell’s Turn For Infrastructure Announcements — Common Theme Emerging For 2012?

Last week it was Dell’s turn to tout its new wares, as it pulled back the curtain on its 12th-eneration servers and associated infrastructure. I’m still digging through all the details, but at first glance it looks like Dell has been listening to a lot of the same customer input as HP, and as a result their messages (and very likely the value delivered) are in many ways similar. Among the highlights of Dell’s messaging are:

  • Faster provisioning with next-gen agentless intelligent controllers — Dell’s version is iDRAC7, and in conjunction with its LifeCyle Controller firmware, Dell makes many of the same claims as HP, including faster time to provision and maintain new servers, automatic firmware updates, and many fewer administrative steps, resulting in opex savings.
  • Intelligent storage tiering and aggressive use of flash memory, under the aegis of Dell’s “Fluid Storage” architecture, introduced last year.
  • A high-profile positioning for its Virtual Network architecture, building on its acquisition of Force10 Networks last year. With HP and now Dell aiming for more of the network budget in the data center, it’s not hard to understand why Cisco was so aggressive in pursuing its piece of the server opportunity — any pretense of civil coexistence in the world of enterprise networks is gone, and the only mutual interest holding the vendors together is their customers’ demand that they continue to play well together.
  • Building on its introduction of vStart last year, Dell also introduced new preconfigured solutions for BI and VDI. The VDI solution consists of Desktop Virtualization Solution Simplified and Desktop Virtualization Solution Enterprise, with prepackaged hypervisor, management, and hardware for a range of VDI desktop counts beginning at as few as 50 seats. DellQuickstart Data Warehouse Appliance is a midmarket and departmental BUI integrated solution using technology from its acquisition of Boomi.
  • As with HP’s announcement, the servers are the least differentiated part of the announcement. Dell has introduced a portfolio of next-generation iterations of their mainstream servers, including a new double-density blade to allow their M1000 blade enclosure to host 32 blades, up from the previous maximum of 16. They are more manageable, more energy-efficient, and feature the standard menu of new features that will be associated with the coming Intel E5 announcement whenever it is, including more memory, USB 3.0, higher performance, and improved performance per watt. Just for the record, any speculation about the E5, one of the worst-kept secrets in the industry, is mine — like HP, Dell did not say a word about the CPU in its announcement.

IBM and Cisco have yet to weigh in, but my expectation is that on the server side we will see similar specification in terms of memory (like any proprietary memory expansion schemes), CU performance, and power. Assuming that Cisco and IBM have been listening to the same customer messages, I would expect both of them to have some messaging and product around opex reduction. But I expect the details of what they deliver to be very different from each other, particularly in networking and storage, both areas where they have each invested considerable amounts of money and technology.

Although I’m stepping out on a limb and assuming that IBM and Cisco will come out with similarly significant improvements to their infrastructure products, it’s looking to be an interesting announcement season — one that should generate a considerable and well-justified wave of upgrades among their respective customer bases. My first impression is that the combination of opex reduction and improved energy efficiency will make the ROI on upgrades very attractive. At the same time, it does not look like either vendor has opened enough of a technical differentiation to trigger any large-scale market share shifts. All in all, it is a good time to be buying servers — immense competition and great new products.

I’d be interested in hearing from HP and Dell customers on whether anything in these two announcements would make you reconsider your choice of infrastructure vendor.