Can Dell Deliver The Full Monty?

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Dell is wasting time with claims about server performance. The real story is the management tools it says can free users from the grasp of big consultancies

This week’s Dell’s 11g server launch was a smartly-timed spoiler for everyone else’s Nehalem server announcements, which we expect to come thick and fast, after Intel formally launches the chip on Monday.

Intel’s Richard Curran, at the Dell event, promised that Nehalem-based servers would perform nine times as fast as the first four-core processors, and pay for themselves in eight months. As the first Nehalem-based server vendor, Dell could then line up its servers against the best currently available from other vendors and – obviously enough – blow them away.

This was absolutely meaningless, of course. Dell’s new servers apparently offer 40 percent better cost-of-ownership and 48 percent better performance per Watt than today’s HP servers. But then, we can expect similar benefits from HP’s Nehalem servers when they arrive. Dell’s software vice president Richard Becker could only boast that Dell will probably still be top, when he is able to provide worthwhile comparisons.

Management is the real story

It was all even more pointless, when the basic performance of the server (apart from the power-efficiency) is becoming less and less important, in comparison with the overall cost. And here Dell has a very interesting story.
The company says it is taking the simplification it has applied to desktops and servers, and pushing that into the data centre. This includes pre-configured servers, and – a claimed first – Dell Lifecycle Controller, an embedded manager on the new servers.

This is an out-of-band agent, built into the server, with all the drivers you’ll ever need, updated over the Internet. IT staff no longer need to load CDs or downloads updates before the server is ready. And – from later this year – the agent will be able to restore a broken server to its last good statem and even – if you extend its 1 Gig of memory – do the same for apps on the server.

Dell Management Console (DMC) is another part of the package. It’s a joint product with Symantec’s Altiris subsidiary, and manages othe vendors’ hardware. More importantly it hooks up to online services, which Dell says can route around a lot of the complexity and consultant-hours involved in systems management.

Instead of calling in the guys from CA or Tivoli, says Dell, you can get a lot of what they offer online directly, and then use people more effectively to get the details right.

So is Dell trying to do to IT consultants what it did to PC retail shops? I asked Raj Kushwaha, vice president of global services; he smiled and said yes.
That’s an amazingly ambitious scheme. For every dollar spent on hardware, there are three spent on services. A big cut in that would seriously reduce the cost of data centres.

Now, I’m sure the established players in the market can argue that Dell can’t succeed – or else say they are already doing something just as good or better. Most likely, they’ll say both.

But the recession says there’s a lot more people prepared to listen to the idea than would otherwise have been the case. And I’m starting to word-associate around this subject.

The Full Dell Monty?

Dell’s London product launch took place at the Oval cricket ground. Immediately opposite is the house where “Monty”, Viscount Montgomery of Alamein was born. Monty apparently insisted on a full bacon-and-egg English breakfast, giving rise to the famous phrase, the Full Monty.

But do you remember the old food company adverts, where the Man From Del Monte comes to the village? The farmers have been waiting for a guy in a suit to come in a helicpter, and tell them their crop is good enough , and ready for harvest. Nothing happens, till the man from Dell Monte, “he say yes,”

That ad-fantasy is probably about the most inefficient, top-heavy way to manage a food company you could imagine. It’s also somewhat reminiscent of the consultant-driven IT management schemes that Dell wants to drive out today.

If Dell’s right, it’s time for IT managers to face up to the suits, and say no.

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