Dell Tests Public Cloud Waters With Beta Marketplace Offering

Signaling a shift in Dell's stance against entering the dog-eat-dog public cloud arena, Dell said Wednesday it is placing some bets on the public cloud. Dell channel partners said it's about time.

At the Dell World partner conference in Austin, Texas, Dell announced the availability of its Dell Beta Cloud Marketplace, an offering it said will help partners and customers move workloads to Amazon, Google and other cloud partners. The move, Dell said, is a baby step and one that will rely on partners to help develop and deploy.

"We believe 90 percent of IT cloud services is done in a rogue way by end users or on an ad-hoc basis by engineers," said James Thomason, CTO, Dell Cloud Marketplace. "IT doesn't have visibility or control of the cloud it should."

[Related: Michael Dell Tackles The Channel Question]

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Phase one of the Beta Dell Cloud Marketplace, Thomason said, will allow customers and partners to shop and purchase a variety of cloud services through the same way they would shop for Dell laptops, servers and PCs. Those services will then be managed, metered and monitored through a single interface based on Dell's Estratius software and service.

Phase two, Dell said, will include allowing partners to resell cloud services and possibly private-label cloud through the marketplace. "Right now, the marketplace creates an opportunity for channel partners to help customers with integration and consulting services," Thomason said. "Over the next year, with the input of partners, we plan on rapidly expanding our public cloud offerings."

Cloud service partners include Amazon, Google and Joyent. Dell's data migration partner is Delphix and its cloud networking partner is Pertino, with Docker signed on as its portability and container partner. Dell said partners can choose to migrate existing Azure and CloudMatrix to Dell's marketplace.

The move to embrace the public cloud is an about-face for Dell, which has long sworn off getting into the public cloud business. Asked in September if Dell had plans to build a public cloud, CEO Michael Dell said there were no plans on spending the billions it would take to compete with Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Amazon and Google.

"I think the public cloud is a crowded space, with lots of guys playing there," Dell said in an interview with CRN editors in April. "In terms of building a public cloud to compete with partners, we are not doing that at all."

Instead, Dell said he is more interested in being an "arms dealer," selling servers to cloud providers as opposed to building a competing Dell cloud.

Next: Dell Partners See A Changing Market

But Dell is faced with a changing market, partners said. As more of them spend less on hardware and more on porting infrastructure to the cloud, Dell needs to position itself to take advantage of that market shift, said Michael Goldstein, president and CEO of LAN Infotech, a Dell and Microsoft partner based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"My cloud business is taking off, and it's not for lack of respect for Dell I'm not doing business with them. It's because Dell doesn't offer what I need," Goldstein said. As Infotech's cloud business has grown, Goldstein said he has been shifting more business to Microsoft's Azure cloud services.

Experts said cloud services, be it an HP with its own public cloud offering or cloud marketplace, are table stakes for an OEM offering end-to-end IT solutions. "Being able to assure a customer compliance and platform integration is key," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. "The trick is being that trusted adviser -- someone that can integrate, containerize and secure a company's move to the public cloud."

Enderle said building your own public cloud versus creating a marketplace both have their pros and cons. "One isn't inherently better than the other; they just require different competitive mind sets. A cloud marketplace, he said, while relinquishing some control over the cloud service, promotes more competitive pricing as cloud platform providers compete on price for marketplace shoppers.

For Dell, it said a marketplace approach is in line with its larger corporate philosophy of giving customers and partners choices.

On Day 1, the Beta Dell Cloud Marketplace will offer access to Docker Hub, with 45,000 applications that customers can choose from. But Dell said it will act as a curator for Docker applications and verify Docker applications are compatible with Dell's ecosystem.

"With 45,000 applications in an open-source world, you don't know what you are getting, but developers know they can come to Dell for Docker containers for the right application that works with their existing Dell infrastructure," Thomason said.

"We are talking with a lot of partners and finding out what they want," Thomason said. "Partners are going to be vital to help shape how this service grows in the future," Thomason said.