Just what is Dell's Cloud strategy?

Just what is Dell's Cloud strategy?

Last week a curious announcement came from Dell: A tweet from one of the company's corporate Twitter accounts pointed to a PDF announcing a new public cloud storage service from the company.

Well, sort of. Dell announced an agreement to sell public Cloud storage from Nirvanix, an infrastructure as a service company that's slowly building a notable resume, including its ongoing partnership with IBM to provide a cloud storage option for Big Blue.

For years there have been rumors about Dell's Cloud strategy. Will it launch its own Cloud to go up against Amazon Web Services, as HP has done? The flurry of acquisitions Dell has made during the past few years, combined with its enthusiastic support of OpenStack, had some in the industry waiting for a big news announcement from Dell of a public Cloud offering. Instead, it announced through Twitter a new option for Dell customers to access Nirvanix's cloud. "The announcement in some ways raises more questions than it answers," says Terri McClure, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

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Dell has a lot of irons in the fire, says Andrew Reichman, a Forrester storage analyst. It sells traditional hardware storage options for use in the data center, such as its PowerVault direct attached and network attached appliances. Then there is the company's cloud, in which customers can rent servers from Dell in a multi-tenant (public cloud) or dedicated server variety (private cloud). Through other reseller programs Dell offers public cloud storage software from Caringo, or it will manage applications in the cloud. Dell's approach, says 451 Research Group analyst Carl Brooks, is to "throw everything up against the wall and see what sticks."

In that sense, Dell syndicating Nirvanix's public Cloud storage is merely filling out the company's product portfolio, he says. Dell wants to be able to serve any type of Cloud customer, from the services providers that may leverage Caringo to create their own Cloud, to large enterprises looking to try out OpenStack by using Crowbar, a framework Dell created to more easily launch OpenStack-powered clouds . "They've tried everything," Brooks says. "But (they) aren't Amazon, and they don't want to forever be third runner-up to IBM and HP, so they found something they can do well, which is sell you lots of different stuff in a very easy fashion."

So does the Nirvanix deal mean that Dell has given up on plans to create its own Amazon-style Cloud? Dell representatives did not reply to a request for comment on the Nirvanix news, but Brooks doubts the company could justify the large investments required to build up the massive data center infrastructure it would take to compete head-to-head with Amazon and other IaaS players.

But Reichman, of Forrester, wonders if there could be a market for Dell to compete on the IaaS layer in the Cloud.

"The Cloud has to live in a data center somewhere," he says. "If Dell is just going to be an arms dealer reselling services from others, they're missing an opportunity while Amazon will just continue to grow by leaps and bounds." Plus, he adds the current mish-mash platform Dell has put together does not seem ideal for customers. Renting servers from Dell and having your object storage hosted by Nirvanix is not as cohesive as going to Amazon Web Services and having your Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) linked automatically with Elastic Block Storage (EBS) and Simple Storage Service (S3), which are all hosted in the same data center, he says.

Some have expected bigger moves from Dell based on its string of acquisitions during the past few years. Two years ago Dell bought Boomi, a software company that helps ease cloud migrations, while this year alone the company bought Wyse, SonicWall and Quest, the latter of which for $2.4 billion. Meanwhile, some of the company's other moves in the cloud have been postponed or abandoned.

Last year, for example, the company said it would offer an online analytics service, but that has been delayed until early next year, a company spokesperson told the IDG News Service this summer. The company announced plans for a platform as a service (PaaS), but the spokesperson said there is no longer an expected delivery date for that offering now.

Nirvanix, meanwhile, is quietly growing in the public cloud storage market. The company operates 10 data centers around the world and has Comcast, Fox and NBC/Universal as customers. IBM resells Nirvanix public cloud offerings, too, after the companies inked a five-year agreement with IBM Global Services last year. Nirvanix Vice President of Marketing Steve Zivanic says white labeling Nirvanix cloud storage is a natural fit for IBM and Dell, even though they both are working on OpenStack, which has its own storage option that Rackspace has leveraged to build its cloud service from. But Zivanic says OpenStack is not proven at petabyte-scale deployments. "It's not ready for prime-time," he says, compared to Nirvanix's install base.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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