Dell Networking Strategy Takes Shape Behind Force10 Buy


As solution providers and customers descend on Austin, Texas, this week for the first-ever Dell World conference, they'll hear channel strategy updates from Dell and among other opportunities, hear from some of the industry's biggest names, from CEO Michael Dell to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Intel CEO Paul Otellini.

But to hear Dell tell it, partners will also hear a clearer story around networking, particularly how the portfolio gained with Dell's Force10 acquisition will broaden Dell's appeal as a data center infrastructure player.

"We have a very strategic approach for delivering to the channel,"
said Larry Hart, senior director of worldwide network marketing for Dell. "The Force10 acquisition is not exclusively about networking, it's about delivering a complete solution to these channel partners who desire for us to make these things come together to work more effectively. That makes their jobs easier and delivers a more significant profit margin for them."

Speaking with CRN earlier this month at Interop New York, Hart said the goal of Dell's Force10 acquisition wasn't to make sure Dell bought a networking vendor so much as Dell can continue to combine its storage, server and networking resources in ways that make sense for customers.

Earlier Wednesday, Dell said it would integrate Force10 products and compression technology it acquired through Ocarina Networks into its DX Object Storage Platform -- an example of how Dell hopes to bundle its various products into more architecturally-focused, easier-to-manage data center solutions for midmarket and enterprise customers.

According to Hart, Dell has been hard at work on integrating the pieces -- not to mention the partner channels -- of various recent acquisitions, from the data center management technology it gained with Scalent to the storage tools it picked up with Compellent, the idea being to simplify how data center resources are deployed and managed.

"Systems management is the glue that holds all of it together," Hart said. "So let's give them the dynamic provisioning capabilities of a virtualized environment. [Customers] want to do this -- the deployment, the configuration, the set-up -- in a simplified way, but have the continued ability to go in and optimize for the right environment."

Dell has had a networking portfolio for at least 10 years; it launched its first PowerConnect unmanaged and web-managed switches in 2001. But before it acquired Force10 this summer, it relied primarily on OEM relationships with Juniper, Brocade and Aruba Networks for its networking wares. Speculation has held for some time that Dell would look to acquire an enterprise networking vendor; Brocade, in particular, was the subject of much will-Dell-or-won't-Dell curiosity earlier this year.

Force10 was the right fit, Hart said, because it has the products Dell needed, and a focus on the midmarket and enterprise accounts for which Dell's converged infrastructure strategy is ideal. According to estimates by market researcher the Dell'Oro Group, the move puts Dell into the top five vendors by revenue in both 10 GbE top-of-rack switching and fixed-port 1GbE switching.

"The idea that this is a data center solution that provides automation, simplified management and highly capable provisioning is the reason this acquisition was done," Hart said. "The idea that we could bring that to a whole segment with the scale and reach of a global operation like Dell's gave us great hope for this."

With the acquisition complete, Force10 is now Dell Force10, a business unit within Dell that reports up to Dario Zamarian, vice president and general manager for Dell's networking business. Its management team is intact, Hart said, and Dell will continue to make Force10 products available through the existing reseller relationship it had with Force10 before Force10 products are rebranded as Dell Force10 starting in mid-November.

The Force10 acquisition did not end any of Dell's OEM relationships with Brocade or Juniper, Hart said. Dell will continue to rely on Brocade for Fibre Channel and Fibre Channel Over Ethernet (FCoE) storage networking products, and on Juniper for wide area network (WAN) and security products.

Dell is also looking to recruit net-new solution provider partners as a result of Force10, particularly those solution providers with deep networking backgrounds but haven't previously had much reason to partner with Dell.

Hart wouldn't bite on the question of how Dell's converged data center strategy is a better fit for the channel than Cisco's UCS or the converged infrastructure strategies of HP, IBM and over vendors. But he did say Dell would offer the channel a simplified environment that's less about operating costs for channel partners and more about partner profitability.

"That's the reality of what our channel partners are telling us they want," he said. "The channel lives and dies on the customer relationship. The more time you spend having to fix things, the less time you have to build that relationship."