Dell, Intel And Huawei Make Converged Infrastructures Moves

The move towards data center converged infrastructures moved forward quickly this week with two acquisitions and the entry of a powerful startup, all of which offer new potential combined networking, storage, and server technologies.

All three events -- Dell's planned acquisition of Force10 Networks, Intel's planned acquisition of Fulcrum Microsystems, and Huawei Symantec's entry into the U.S. enterprise networking market -- strongly signal the potential dominance of converged infrastructures over best-of-breed solutions in the data center.

Dell on Wednesday said it planned to acquire Force10, a developer of high-performance data center networking gear. That acquisition, once it closes, would give Dell its own networking intellectual property which could be closely integrated with its strong server technology and its storage product lines, including its recent Compellent acquisition.

Intel Tuesday unveiled an agreement to acquire Fulcrum Microsystems, a fabless networking chip company which specializes in designing high-bandwidth Ethernet switch chips for data centers. Intel said that the Fulcrum technology will be part of a converged server, storage, and networking strategy.

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Meanwhile, Huawei Symantec, a joint venture of China-based telecom giant Huawei and U.S. based storage and security software vendor Symantec, this week introduced a full line of enterprise networking equipment to go with its server and storage offerings, and left open the possibility of integrating those technologies.

Converged infrastructure refers to a move by top IT vendors to integrate server, storage, networking, and other technologies into a single managed resource.

Converged infrastructure is a way for vendors to lock customers in and competitors out of the data center, especially as those data centers increasingly get connected to the cloud, the technology for which will be provided by the very same vendors who build the infrastructure in the first place.

The two biggest proponents of converged infrastructure today are Cisco and Hewlett-Packard.

Cisco's entry to this market is the Cisco UCS, or Unified Computing System, which combines networking, blade servers, storage, core switching, routing, security, and voice over IP (VoIP) into a single architecture. The storage is provided mainly by two partners, EMC and NetApp.

HP's converged infrastructure includes its ProLiant blade servers, a variety of storage technology, and the networking technology it got with its acquisition of 3Com.

IBM is also girding for the converged infrastructure with its acquisition late last year of networking vendor Blade Network Technologies.

Oracle is another competitor in this space with its unique strategy of combining its powerful software stack with the hardware technology it got with its acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

The three events this week show that the nascent converged infrastructure trend is gathering steam.

Dell's planned Force10 acquisition compliments and extends Dell's storage and server portfolio, especially as customers look at how to embrace cloud computing, said Dario Zamarian, vice president and general manager for Dell's networking business.

"It's very consistent with our strategy to own and develop our own intellectual property," Zamarian said.

There is no doubt that Force10 and its networking technology will be a key part of a solution play, Zamarian said. While some customers will continue looking for an open approach to data center architectures, others will find a converged solution with a single management framework more suited to their needs. "So there will be integration," he said.

Huawei Symantec, which this week introduced enterprise networking technology from parent company Huawei to the U.S. market, could eventually manage it along with its server and storage technology as a converged infrastructure offering.

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Jun Xu, solutions architect for Huawei Symantec, said the Ethernet switch market is a crowded one, but one where his company can differentiate itself with a nearly complete line of enterprise infrastructure equipment as well as total solutions including networking, server, storage, and security products.

Xu said the company has a plan to integrate the management of its different products over time. "Huawei has an extensive software division of 7,000 software developers to do network management," he said.

The company is currently building a proof-of-concept lab to test the integration of its SAN and LAN switches and firewall security products, and is working to qualify its switches for a variety of solutions, Xu said.

Intel is unique in the converged infrastructure market in that it partners, not competes, with the other vendors.

Intel processors sit in about 90 percent of the servers around the world in terms of units, and has in the last few years also had much success in penetrating the storage market with its chips, wrote Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, in a recent report.

Fulcrum brings with it technology for building 10-Gbit Ethernet and 40-Gbit Ethernet products which in time could be integrated with its server and storage technologies, King wrote.

"Fulcrum should provide Intel many of the technologies required to develop and deliver a portfolio of highly integrated, optimized, end-to-end cloud solutions," he wrote. "That, in turn, will be of interest to Intel's traditional server, storage, and networking OEM partners. But it should also pique the curiosity of cloud service providers that prefer 'rolling their own' cloud systems."

Jamie Shepard, executive vice president of technology solutions at ICI, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider and Cisco partner, said that companies like Dell and Huawei Symantec have the potential to be successful in the SMB part of the converged infrastructure market, which he defined as customers with up to $60 million in revenue.

However, while large companies could benefit from converged infrastructures in the long term, that is not likely to be the case for SMBs, Shepard said.

"There's a very short window for converged infrastructure for SMBs," he said. "Most of those SMBs will move to the cloud. They don't want to buy all that equipment. They want their IT managed as a service."