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Dell floats cloud built on ... VMware

Azure, 'open cloud' on the way

VMworld After hemming and hawing for months, server maker and services player Dell will soon launch its first infrastructure cloud. Appropriately, enough, it's called the Dell Cloud.

At the VMworld virtualization and cloud extravaganza in Las Vegas today, Dell said that it was fluffing up the Dell Cloud using VMware's brand-spanking-new ESXi 5.0 hypervisor, the vSphere 5.0 management tools for it, the vCloud Director cloud fabric, and the vCloud Connector extensions that allow a private cloud and a slice of a public cloud to be managed from the same console and to teleport jobs back and forth from the public and private clouds.

The Dell Cloud comes out of the Dell Services unit, which is the amalgam of Dell's server and PC support business and consulting services practice with the Perot Systems system and application outsourcing business it acquiredin September 2009 for $3.9bn.

"This is the first in a series of cloud announcements we will be making," Mark Bilger, VP and CTO at Dell Services, tells El Reg, so don't be thinking that Dell has anointed VMware's cloudy stack as the only option or even the best option for clients. "There will be an Azure cloud from Dell and an open source cloud from Dell, both available in 2012."

This confirms what Dell was mumbling this past spring about its cloud plans – just before it clammed up.

Like other opportunistic services companies, Dell will sell whatever companies want. And because brains don't have supply chains and kickback discounts like the hardware racket does, Dell can easily start pushing a new stack any time it wants to in its Dell Cloud. (Just like is it doing now as it transitions away from Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud and its Eucalyptus framework and towards OpenStack configurations for private clouds built on customer premises.) Dell is starting with VMware's cloud software because this is what its corporate customers are using internally and it is the easiest sell right now.

The Dell Cloud is fairly modest to start and is only in beta testing right now. It is based on PowerEdge M610 blade servers, each with two six-core Xeon L5640 with 86GB of main memory and four 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports to link out to the world. Dell is using its own PowerConnect switches for this, and Fibre Channel switches from Brocade Communications to link the server nodes to its own EqualLogic storage arrays. The initial Dell Cloud setup has 192 servers with a total of 2,304 physical cores, 18.4TB of main memory, and 1.1PB of storage.

Bilger says that this iron, which is located in a data center in Plano, Texas, can support 3,500 virtual machines on behalf of customers and that Dell can quickly scale it up as customer demand picks up once the beta testing is done. Dell plans to expand its eponymous cloud into its new data center in Quincy, Washington, as it goes into production and demand rises in North America, where it will debut as a commercial service. Bilger says that Dell will cookie cutter this VMware-based Dell cloud and roll it out in data centers in Europe and the Asia/Pacific region in 2012.

Everybody has been looking for those public Azure clouds since the end of last year, which were supposed to come out from Fujitsu, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard and to be followed by private cloud versions that companies could plunk into their own data centers sometime thereafter. Microsoft and the three server makers and data center operators announced their initial Azure cloud plans back in July 2010.

The Dell Cloud will eventually sport an "open source cloud", but Bilger does not yet want to divulge what cloud framework or fabric it will use to build that open source variant. Its own variant of OpenStack is a possible option, or one that it supports in conjunction with Rackspace Hosting (as it does with private clouds that are also currently in beta and which was launched last month. Rackspace co-founded the OpenStack project with NASA last July.

Dell could go off the board and use CloudStack from Citrix Systems, or wait to see the "Project Olympus" variant of OpenStack that Citrix is weaving together for delivery later this year. Dell will very likely go with some flavor of OpenStack, but is being coy.

"We haven't eliminated any possibility yet, but we have narrowed the field," says Bilger.

The Dell Cloud will go into beta in September with general availability in the mid-to-late fourth quarter. Pricing for the Dell-branded public cloud has not been set yet. But the general shape of features and pricing has been laid out.

First and foremost, Dell is rolling in its newly acquired SecureWorks security service on top of the VMware cloud stack as part of the fees for the service. This is one of the things, says Bilger, that will allow Dell to command a premium over the market-setting EC2 cloud from online retailer Amazon.

That said, Bilger says that the Dell Cloud will "be competitive" with Amazon's EC2 while at the same time reiterating that Dell is not trying to compete with EC2 so much as provide infrastructure cloud appliances and matching public cloud services that midrange and enterprise customers are telling it to build.

The Dell Cloud will come with three price bands. The first and most expensive is the multi-tenant, pay-as-you-go part of the cloud, which has not commitment on the part of users and which has the lowest service-level agreement. Dell will also peddle reserved slices on its eponymous public cloud, which have a one-year commitment and which will come with email, 5x12 business hour, and 24x7 full-on support options. If you are truly paranoid, Dell will be happy to build you your own fully private but virtual cloud within the cloud if you make a full-year commitment and pay a premium.

"Our pricing will be driven by the market, not our costs," explains Bilger. "We want to have a higher value proposition and therefore a higher price." ®

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