Dell Teases Enterprise 'Project Hybrid' Strategy

By David Needle (Send Email)
Posted May 18, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO -- Dell is pulling back the covers a bit on technology rollouts planned for later this year.

Dell offers a peak at its new blade system and promises less-expensive data center solutions to roll out later this year.

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The event was atypical for Dell, which rarely previews technology it's not ready to ship immediately or within weeks of announcement.

Dell officials discussed new products and services planned for the second half of this year that it said are part of its "Project Hybrid," an initiative that promises less complex systems that offer better price/performance than competitive offerings.

The one specific hardware announcement was a new blade system Dell showed off on stage. But Dell provided few details about the system which can accommodate up to 16 blades. Blade servers are thin, self-contained computing machines that can be pulled in and out of a chassis as needed in the data center.

Jay Parker, director of Dell's PowerEdge servers, wouldn't detail which processor Dell plans to use, but noted the company's support of both Intel and AMD chips in its various product lines.

"This is an all new blade infrastructure we believe will leapfrog what exists today," Parker told internetnews.com. He added that the blade system will have a consistent design with no changes to the chassis planned for the foreseeable future.

Parker said Dell's testing indicates its prototype blade system is 20 percent more energy efficient than what HP offers or has disclosed in its near term product plans.

Other aspects of the wide-ranging Project Hybrid include reducing deployment time, power consumption and management costs. Dell said it would help IT departments cope with server sprawl by offering virtualization solutions that take only minutes to a few hours to implement versus the days and weeks of some competitive solutions.

Parker did not give details of how Dell plans to implement virtualization more efficiently. When asked if it would use a customized version of market leader VMware's software, Parker said he wasn't prepared to detail the technology and noted there are other virtualization technologies besides VMware. He also said Dell would offer "unique embedded software components … for energy efficiency that will ease complexity."

Analyst Charles King noted that chip vendors AMD and Intel now build in certain virtualization features in some of their processors. "Today virtualization is more typically applied retroactively to consolidate applications and servers," King told internetnews.com. "I'm intrigued by the notion Dell might have more of a pre-packaged solution."

Dell execs also took some potshots at competitors HP and IBM for expensive service contracts they claim requires more consultants and support than most companies want or should have to pay.

"In some cases we'll be able to cut the deployment of virtual machines to minutes," said Parker. "That's a big deal. We don't usually get recognized for our services capability or talk about it, but in Project Hybrid that is what we will do." He said Dell's professional services would offer data center energy assessments and other service and product capabilities "that do not exist today" and will simplify implementation.

While market leaders HP and IBM have been touting the widespread adoption of blades, Dell officials aren't quite as enthusiastic. "There's a perception that Dell's not committed to blades. That's not true," said Parker.

"We believe blades are important, not a mandate like some of our competitors. The issue for customers is more than form factor. They are facing complexity that sometimes blades can help, but for certain blades alone won't solve all problems."

The technology preview is perhaps further evidence of a change in strategy at Dell since its founder, Michael Dell, re-established control of the company a few months ago. Dell launched its Ideastorm customer feedback site, which has already led to changes in Dell's product mix such as systems pre-installed with Linux.

Kevin Kettler, Dell's chief technology officer, said Dell has a private version of Ideastorm for CIOs and other high-level tech execs that also is providing Dell with valuable feedback.

Dell execs spent a fair bit of time at the event listing technology innovations the company has made, pressing the point that it's more than just a premier direct seller of industry standard hardware. One of several examples Kettler mentioned is Dell's support of the DisplayPort cable standard developed by the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA). Dell, HP and Lenovo are among the VESA members on record as supporting DisplayPort. DisplayPort promises to simplify cabling and reduce the number of electronic components leading to thinner flat panel displays.

Another example is the H2C cooling system Dell delivered earlier this year for some of its high-end XPS gaming systems that allow processors to be overclocked (i.e., run faster than normal) without overheating.

Kettler said Dell is working on technology that won't be part of the product mix until the 2012/2013 time frame. A Dell spokesman said Dell's been doing such planning for at least the past five years. "What's new is we're publicly discussing it," he told internetnews.com.

This article was originally published on internetnews.com.

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