Dell Targets HP, Cisco With New Blade Arrays, Converged Infrastructure

Dell upped its ability to compete head-to-head against Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems in the data center with the unveiling Monday of its converged infrastructure offering, which combines Dell servers, networking and a new blade version of its EqualLogic storage products, all of which can be managed as a whole within a single enclosure.

The new converged offerings were introduced on the opening day of Dell's second annual Dell Storage Forum, held this week in Boston.

Converged infrastructure refers to tying server, storage and IP networking into an integrated solution in order to give customers a single vendor source for building data centers and moving towards cloud computing.

[Related: Data Center Decision: Converged Infrastructure Vs. Best-Of-Breed ]

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Round Rock, Texas-based Dell is a relative newcomer to the converged infrastructure business, following such competitors as Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP and its Matrix offering, and San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco, which matches its UCS server and networking architecture with storage from either Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetApp or Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC.

Dell's new converged infrastructure offering, the Dell Converged Blade Data Center solution, combines the company's new EqualLogic Blade Arrays, its latest Dell PowerEdge blade servers and Dell's Force10 MXL 40-Gbit-per-second blade switches, all within the same enclosure.

The fact that all the parts are contained in the same Dell blade chassis and managed by the same software is a big part of what makes the Dell Converged Blade Data Center solution both unique and very competitive, said Brad Anderson, senior vice president of Dell's Enterprise Product Group.

The solution includes the industry's first 40-Gbit switch in a blade form factor, the first quarter-height enterprise server blades designed for maximum performance density and the first enterprise-class storage solutions designed for blade enclosures, and it comes with software to manage it all within the enclosure, Anderson said.

"Cisco's offering is centered on the fabric and network, but its compute products are relatively new," he said. "And in the storage market, Cisco is absent. So, most of its management is focused on simplifying the network."

HP, on the other hand, has been in the converged infrastructure market for a long time, Anderson said. "As a result, HP has added to its blade environment over the years," he said. "Maybe too much. The fact is, HP has been in this forever but has no enterprise storage blade and no 40-Gbit networking uplink. They're not taking a converged point of view."

NEXT: Positioning Dell Converged Infrastructure In The Midrange

Dell has done a fantastic job of building a converged infrastructure platform, said Paul Clifford, president of Davenport Group, a St. Paul, Minn.-based solution provider and Dell partner.

"The twelfth generation of Dell servers is awesome," Clifford said. "Dell's Force10 is an incredible networking solution. And Dell EqualLogic is the second-best storage on the planet, after Dell Compellent. If it meshes together like Dell says it will, it's a powerful solution."

Clifford said he can't wait to start selling the Dell Converged Blade Data Center solution.

"This solution goes at the heart of Cisco's UCS business," he said. "UCS looks great on paper. But the pricing? High. And the idea of buying everything from one vendor? That's why we ran from IBM in the 1980s because one company controlled it all. With Dell, you get the data center in a box, but it's open. If you buy from Dell, you can still buy other products, from anyone you want. If you want UCS, it becomes a Cisco-only infrastructure."

The new Dell Converged Blade Data Center solution is perfect for the midrange customers with which Davenport typically works, Clifford said. "This can go into a divisional operation or in remote offices and becomes their data center," he said.

The heart of the new Dell Converged Blade Data Center solution is the company's new EqualLogic PS-M4110 blade arrays, which are based on the same technology powering the company's existing EqualLogic storage. The PS-M4110 blade arrays include two controllers and up to 14 2.5-inch SAS hard drives or up to five SSDs and nine SAS hard drives.

The PS-M4110 fits into Dell's 10U PowerEdge M1000e blade chassis. Customers can choose a single blade array, two blade arrays grouped together in a load-balanced group, or two groups of two arrays for up to 56 TBs of storage in a 10U chassis.

The arrays are scalable to up to 2 petabytes of storage when external EqualLogic storage is attached, said Travis Vigil, executive director for Dell EqualLogic.

"This is the only storage in the industry that's a fully redundant, enterprise-class storage array inside a blade chassis," Vigil said.

Each EqualLogic PS-M4110 blade array supports up to 450 virtual desktops, while two of the arrays together support up to 6,000 Microsoft Exchange users, Vigil said. The arrays are scheduled to ship in the third quarter.

NEXT: New Networking, Storage Technologies For Converged Infrastructure

To build the Dell Converged Blade Data Center solution, solution providers can also plug in up to 24 quarter-height Dell eleventh-generation or twelfth-generation blade servers, as well as the company's new Dell Force10 MXL 40-GbE switch, into the chassis.

Dario Zamarian, vice president and general manager of Dell networking, said the addition of the new 40-GbE switch makes possible the first blade-centric approach to the idea of a data center in a rack.

The switch itself is not new, as Dell has offered it in a standard configuration. However, it is the first time for 40-GbE switches to be available in a blade format, Zamarian said.

It allows 10-Gbit Ethernet connectivity within the blade enclosure for the servers and storage without the latency that comes with standard rack-mount switches, which are mounted outside the enclosure, while providing 40-GbE connectivity to outside the rack, he said.

Praveen Asthana, vice president of Dell enterprise solutions, said that when customers build a converged infrastructure with the new Dell solution, they get an end-to-end data center in a box with the highest density for compute infrastructures, the highest ease-of-use for 40-GbE networking, the highest density of enterprise-class networked storage and integrated management via VMware's vSphere or the Microsoft System Manager.