Dell's Cloud Strategy: Supply Tech To The Channel And Let Partners Build Clouds

Dell wants to be a major player in the cloud industry, just as long as it doesn't involve building its own public cloud.

That's the essence of Dell's cloud strategy since it said in late May that it is discontinuing its own multi-tenant public cloud IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) offering in favor of working with partners to develop private, public, and hybrid clouds.

It's a strategy that Dell's channel partners, particularly those who spent time with Dell at this year's Dell Enterprise Forum, applauded as one more channel-friendly than one in which the vendor offered its own public cloud.

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Dell is leveraging its resources to help partners develop private clouds, said Joel Carlson, an account manager at Syntax, a St. Paul-based Dell partner.

"If it were focused on public clouds, I see concerns about what it means to long-term relationships with customers if we were to send them to the Dell cloud," Carlson said.

Instead, Carlson said, Dell is now making it a point to help its channel partners develop their own cloud strategies.

"I appreciate what Dell is saying, and how it is helping us build our own clouds," he said. "Dell wants to be our arms supplier."

Instead of developing its own public cloud, Dell is choosing to work with other public cloud providers to help its partners take advantage of cloud services. The initial three public cloud providers named by Dell include San Francisco-based Joyent, San Diego-based ScaleMatrix, and Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based ZeroLag.

Most public cloud providers are among Dell's biggest customers, Marias Haas, president of enterprise solutions, told CRN.

"We look at how we can work with them versus compete with them like our competitors do," Haas said. "We are now looking at how to accelerate deployments of private clouds with the help of partners, or how customers can do it by themselves."

Dell has great relationships with public cloud providers, so that if a customer needs to burst to a public cloud from their private cloud, Dell will have a solution, Haas said. "We want to make a seamless transition from private to hybrid to public clouds."

NEXT: Dell Cloud Needs Partners For Customer Choice

This requires closely working with partners, both on the cloud side and the channel side, Haas said.

"Many of our partners are also cloud providers," he said. "We want to make sure they use Dell technology. Dell also wants to make this truly plug-and-play. Partners can play in an open way, with no lock-ins."

Sam Greenblatt, chief architect and technologist for Dell's Enterprise Solutions Group, told CRN that Dell's public cloud strategy is focused on OpenStack for customers looking for an open cloud solution.

"We want to allow customer choice, and we are providing it," Greenblatt said. "We help customers get the cloud performance they require whether they use VMware, Hyper-V, or KVM virtualization. If the customer want to go to AWS or Amazon, we provide the interface."

Dell is focused on helping partners and customers connect to the public cloud of their choice, Greenblatt said.

"I hope all those public cloud companies grow like crazy because we supply most of them," he said.

John Swainson, president of Dell software, told solution providers at the Dell Enterprise Forum that, broadly speaking, Dell is already a part of all aspects of the cloud business.

This includes supplying hardware and software to the largest cloud services providers, providing VMware and Microsoft virtualization technology, and offering services to help customers run cloud environments, Swainson said.

The primary challenge is managing the physical infrastructure. Swainson said his company has technology from Dell's November, 2012 acquisition of Gale Technologies to manage its Active Systems converged infrastructure.

However, he said, Dell lacked the ability to manage the entire environment and applications, set up policies, and migrate policies and data until it started partnering with Enstratius, which Dell acquired in May.

Dell saw that Enstratius had a great technology for managing both public and private clouds, and that the company will be investing heavily in future development of its Enstratius technology, Swainson said.

"I believe you're going to live in a hybrid world. ... We're looking forward to turning this into the cornerstone of our cloud strategy," he said.

NEXT: Combining Converged Infrastructure, Cloud Management

Nariman Teymourian, Dell's executive director of converged infrastructure solutions and former Gale Technologies CEO, told CRN that Dell's new Active System Manager 7.0, developed from Gale technology as the management application used for Dell's Active Infrastructure converged infrastructure platform, can be used in heterogeneous data center infrastructures or with Dell's Active Infrastructure to build shared resource pools from existing resources that can be used for open clouds.

Dell is already starting to integrate Enstratius with Active System Manager, a move that Teymourian said would allow customers to configure applications on the fly in public and private clouds.

"When this happens, customers could optimize a workload for a private cloud," he said. "They will also be able to move the front end, back end, or the entire workload to a public cloud while using Enstratius to set the proper level of access and to port the application. In this case, they could have a Web 2.0 front end in a public cloud while keeping the database behind it private."

Dell is already actively pursuing some of its top channel partners to get them ready for Active System Manager, and already has several of them going through the certification process, Teymourian said.

Dell is also building a set of tools that will let solution providers build cloud templates for customer, he said.

"We are also building a channel program for partners," he said. "There a significant amount of time and resources invested in training channel partners, and in providing the materials, sales incentives, marketing dollars, and seed units."

Software for managing cloud deployments will primarily be a channel play for Dell," Teymourian said. "If I could push everything through the channel, I'd be happy with that, once the channel gets over the hump," he said.

On the storage side, Dell's strategy for working with public cloud providers revolves around the OpenStack open cloud platform and with Crowbar, Alan Atkinson, vice president and general manager for Dell storage, told CRN.

Crowbar is a Dell-led open source framework for automatically installing cloud software across clusters and scale out systems while providing network monitoring and discovery.

"Most customers either don't know yet which cloud platform they will adopt, or they're an OpenStack or Amazon aficionado," Atkinson said. "We enable OpenStack and Open Compute. Both play into the data center. The whole point of getting into the cloud is to get away from technology lock-in."

NEXT: Supporting Dell's Cloud Strategy With Storage

Dell storage is a big part of Dell's support for OpenStack, and already offers capabilities related to open source Swift object storage and Cinder block storage, Atkinson said

Dell is also expanding into the software-defined storage area, and has committed to working with the RESTful API for such capabilities as dynamic tiering. Plus, the company is looking at how the software on which its Compellent storage arrays are built can have an affinity to the cloud, he said.

Pete Korce, also a vice president and general manager for Dell storage, told CRN that Dell provides a lot of cloud suppliers with technology.

"We live the cloud," Korce said. "It creates a lot of demand for our infrastructure products."

Korce said Dell sees the cloud as another use case for its storage products. "If Dell has a cloud strategy, either public or private, we have to make sure we're ready for it," he said.

Regardless of how customers and partners approach the cloud, Dell wants to ensure its storage technology is ready, Atkinson said. "From my perspective, I like being an arms dealer to private clouds," he said.

On the channel side, Dell offers cloud services and solutions competency certifications, said Bob Skelley, executive director of Dell's global certified partner program and channel.

These include Cloud Builder for partners who design and develop a cloud infrastructure for their customers, Cloud Provider for partners who operate a cloud networking operating center (NOC) enabled with Dell technology to provide cloud services, and Cloud Services Enabler for partners identify and integrate cloud technologies and services from multiple sources and provides managed services for the resulting cloud, Skelley said.

Yet while Dell has IaaS capabilities partners can resell and integrate with third party offerings, Dell currently has no formal program, he said. "We're still working on that," he said.

For public clouds, Dell is working to help solution providers develop their go-to-market strategy, Skelley said.

"There is a lot of work to be done," he said. "But we will help partners with their strategy. ... If you partner with Dell, and want to engage with Dell, we can be a partner. But it's a work in progress. We're porting what we did before to the cloud."

NEXT: Evaluating Dell's Cloud Strategy From Partner Perspectives

Dell's cloud strategy is definitely a work in progress, said one solution who requested anonymity.

When Dell was still early in the process of bringing solution providers to the cloud, Dell asked that particular partner to take on the SLA requested by customers, which in essence shifted the responsibility of any issues related to Dell's cloud offering to the partner. The partner refused.

"When we're dealing direct as a cloud provider, that is not an issue," the partner said.

While Dell no longer provides its own public cloud service to customers, the company still has a strong value-add for partners, said Scott Winslow, president of Winslow Technology Group, a Boston-based solution provider and Dell partner.

As an example, Winslow cited Dell SecureWorks, the company's platform for managed, monitored, and self-service security services. "Dell has the best managed security technology in the business," he said. "And that's a biggie."

Also, Winslow said, Dell is one of the few vendors who can provide nearly all of the components needed to build private clouds.

Just as important, Dell has expertise to back up solution providers' cloud strategies. "We talk to other cloud providers," he said. "But we work with our local Dell team. The more we work with them, the better our value to Dell."

The fact that Dell exited the public cloud market to focus more on partnering with others is important both for Dell and for the channel, Syntax's Carlson said.

For instance, he said, the increasing use of public clouds to store data, which are a business' crown jewels, is not in a customer's best interest from either a cost perspective or a safety perspective. And, he said, it is not in the partner's best interest to send customers' data to a public cloud.

"The private cloud is better for customers from the reseller standpoint," he said. "I like Dell's strategy so far. As a reseller, we resell things. But if everything goes to a public cloud, I might as well go fishing. If you want me to resell your cloud, and now you don't need me anymore, what's in it for me?"

Furthermore, Carlson said, public clouds have all suffered from downtime. "If I am the reseller who recommended a public cloud, it's egg on my face," he said. "It maybe is not my responsibility, but I'm the guy who has to deal with the customer."