Dell Updates Cloud Philosophy: Open, Affordable, Capable

Dell updated its cloud strategy at a luncheon in New York Thursday. While light on technical details, executives provided some insight into the company's cloud philosophy, which includes an open standards approach utilizing technology from other IT companies as well.

"The cloud fundamentally changes the cost of IT infrastructure. It makes it available for anybody, anyplace, at any time and that's the expectation of the Gen Y world," said Steve Schuckenbrock, Dell's president of Large Enterprise. "But that's putting new pressures on how IT organizations deal with [change]. You're seeing some [IT vendors] race to their proprietary approaches to control change. Some of my competitors have vertically integrated stacks and say, 'You have to buy my server, and my storage, and my network.' One even says, 'You have to buy my cables.'

The proprietary pendulum rarely swings in one direction for too long, Schuckenbrock said.

"It always loops back to open, and Dell continues to embrace open," he said. "Interoperability between layers is preserved. It's in the best interest of the customer and it ensures innovation in all areas."

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From a bigger perspective, Dell believes the IT industry is entering a new virtual era, which separates itself from previous mainframe, distributed computing, client/server and Internet eras, Schuckenbrock said.

"It stems from the reality of the perfect storm between technology capability and economic need. Look at globalization, the competitive nature of business around the world, the economic reality of the current situation, I think I've never seen more stress on traditional IT budgets than today," he said.

Interoperability is one of three main principles behind Dell's cloud philosophy, Shuckenbrock said. The others are capability and affordability, he said.

"If you're going to be open, you have to be competitive. You'll see us add new capabilities. We've bought eight or nine companies in the last year and a half. Some of those companies are so small you may have never heard of [them], but they bring unbelievable capability to the virtual story, like Scalent, which allows you to manage utilization to workloads," Schuckenbrock said.

Around affordability, it's important to keep in mind not just the price of products, but the total cost of ownership for customers, he said. About half of a company's data center costs today are for labor.

"You have to build solutions that attack all those components. I'll give you Scalent as an example. Because it allows you to provision and maintain, as a developer you don't need to go to a server silo, and a separate silo associated for networks and another for storage. I can simply provision all those things from one pane of glass. What used to take 15 or 16 weeks now takes 15 to 16 minutes," Schuckenbrock said. "It collapses the cost structures of data centers."

NEXT: Evolution And Revolution

Paul Prince, Dell's CTO for enterprise products, said the company is also taking a dual approach to help customers prepare their data centers for cloud technology.

On one hand, Dell needs to help companies that already have significant legacy investments in IT infrastructure reduce costs and operate more efficiently in an evolutionary manner without ripping out everything. But newer customers can take a revolutionary path, starting fresh with the latest cloud and virtual technologies, Prince said.

"What we see for traditional legacy customers is centered around the journey [toward cloud]," Prince said. He believes that it's not possible for even those customers to get too aggressive on virtualization.

"The limits are more about people, about breaking down the people/ process barriers to change," he said. "We recognize they have apps invested that they need to carry forward but they may have to make some people changes [on the journey toward cloud]."

At the luncheon, Dell featured a customer that fits in its "revolutionary" model, OnLive, which offers hosted video games to users around the world through high-performance, high-availability servers in data centers. The company uses proprietary video compression data and hosts the games on the high-end servers to offer gaming with no perceptible latency, said OnLive CEO Steve Pearlman.

It's a model that OnLive intends to expand to offer video and even enterprise applications through a cloud model, Pearlman said. An OnLive user can access games and applications through a PC, Mac, iPhone, Android device, or even through a box hooked up to a TV (to be released later this fall).

OnLive chose video games for its first hosted applications because of the intense graphics and compute capabilities needed to run the applications, Pearlman said.

"If something running 1,000 miles away can provide you with game updates, compress video so fast it feels like it's running locally, then it can make any enterprise app work, and any audio, video work," he said. "Now that we got that working, the other things will fall out of that."

The company's data centers are hosted in co-location centers in California, Texas and Virginia in the U.S., each running on Dell servers that were custom-built to meet OnLive's needs.

OnLive currently offers 28 games on demand, Pearlman said, including recent releases such as "Mafia II" and "Lego Harry Potter." Users can buy a subscription to play the game for a limited time or buy a license to play it perpetually. An advantage over Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and even PC games is that through OnLive, games start within seconds because they are preloaded at the data center and only need time to load a specific user's game data, he said.

"It's computing experience like you've never seen before and we can deliver anything through here. The same servers which are used for games on nights and weekends can run an enterprise application on [any device], which usually requires a $5,000 or $6,000 computer," Pearlman said. "If you're an architect and you have a really complex 3-D model that needs a heavy computer, you can walk in with a tablet computer and [use that]. That's the power of cloud computing."

NEXT: Apps Come First

Dell was one of the few hardware companies that believed in OnLive's model of making the client device irrelevant when the company was getting off the ground, Pearlman said.

"I see everything moving to smaller and smaller devices. Even tablets have more computing than you need," he said.

Prince said Dell created a group to study and help develop cloud-based solutions four or five years ago when the concept was just taking hold.

"Let's set a vision out there with appropriate profiles, tools that talk to each other," Prince said. "We're taking customers along that journey. As these things become more automated, they get more simplified." Dell is looking for more cloud-based companies like OnLive to help usher in the virtual era, Prince said.

"They control their application. In many cases, the application is developed in the cloud. Some of these applications require a specific architecture. The architecture of the data center was built around the application, not the other way around," Prince said. "[OnLive has] the flexibility and the business need to take a totally ground-up approach. We see this journey continuing. Everybody is going to the cloud. The cloud is the end state of virtualization. You shouldn't have to worry about infrastructure. It should take care of itself."