Dell Buys Force10 For ‘Open’ Data Centres


With Force 10’s networks, Dell can offer converged data centres – but users will have an escape route, says Forrest Norrod

Dell’s plan to acquire networking vendor Force10 Networks will be a boon for all parts of the company’s efforts to build out its data centre solution offerings, according to Dell’s top server executive.

In an interview with eWEEK, Forrest Norrod, vice president and general manager of Dell’s server platforms business, said Force10 will add 10 Gigabit Ethernet capabilities to Dell’s portfolio of products, complement the networking technology Dell already has on hand with its PowerConnect lineup and give it a more robust cloud and hyper-scale computing strategies.

It also will fit in with the tenets of the company’s larger converged data centre story, particularly the emphasis on offering an open solution that eases the worries of IT managers who want the performance optimization of an integrated infrastructure but don’t want to be locked into a single vendor.

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“I think they’re very worried about that,” Norrod said in a recent interview with eWEEK.

With the growth of such technologies as virtualisation and computing models like cloud computing, the trend is toward converged solutions with tightly integrated products. Most major vendors are moving in that direction, including Dell. CEO Michael Dell said in June that the company, “instead of selling ingredients like servers and storage, we’re selling the whole data centre.”

Dell executives announced their bid for Force 10 on 20 July, a move that is aimed at helping the company shore up its weakness in networking as it looks to build out its data centre solutions. Dell already was strong in servers, and over the past few years had bulked up its storage capabilities with acquisitions of such firms as Compellent and EqualLogic and in services with Perot Systems.

Dell had its PowerConnect networking portfolio and a host of partners, such as Juniper Networks and Brocade, but analysts had said the company needed to invest further in networking. Despite rumors that Dell would buy Brocade, the vendor instead opted for Force 10.

“This is very much complementary, very much a growth story,” Dario Zamarian, vice president and general manager of Dell Networking, said during a conference call with journalists and analysts when the deal was announced.

Analysts generally applauded the deal, saying that Force 10’s 10GbE and 40GbE offerings will help bring Dell into closer competition with the likes of Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems, both of which are aggressively building out their converged infrastructure portfolios.

“Perhaps most important is how this acquisition demonstrates Dell‘s intention to deliver solutions that meet the immediate needs of its business clients while looking ahead to technologies that will address their future requirements,” Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT Research, wrote in a 27 July report. “An ongoing fact of IT life is that vendors aren’t the only ones evolving. Individuals and organizations change, too, and are best served by vendors that recognise and address this continuing progression by offering the tools and services required to yield the greatest return from their IT investments. The acquisition of Force10 offers just the latest example of how Dell is providing customers that kind of value.”

Giving users an escape hatch?

Dell’s Norrod said the open nature of his company’s integrated infrastructure strategy is going to be a key differentiator from competitors like Cisco going forward. Enterprises have always been leery of vendor lock-in, and even with the benefits of highly optimised solutions, that hasn’t changed.

“What they want are solutions,” he said. “What they don’t want are things that must be together [to work].”

Norrod said that customers are telling Dell to “give me an escape hatch. Don’t make me buy everything from you.”

In Dell’s case, that means that the all-Dell solutions do offer performance advantages that the products can’t deliver separately. But it also means that if an enterprise wants a more heterogeneous data center, the Dell products can work with those from other vendors. Norrod said that compares with a solutions like Cisco’s UCS (Unified Computing System), which includes servers and networking from Cisco and other elements from partners, such as storage from EMC and virtualisation from VMware.

“You have to buy all of it together,” he said. “You can’t break it apart. If you want to use something other than Cisco [products], then tough.”

Some businesses are still comfortable with buying products from different vendors and integrating the solution themselves, but the trend is moving away from that, Norrod said.

“We’ll see how it plays out,” he said. “The pendulum is swinging strongly toward integrated systems.”

However, IT managers will always be reluctant to buy everything from a single vendor, Norrod said, and that’s why Dell is pushing a strategy that offers a more open approach, one that gives enterprises that “escape hatch.”

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