I recently attended the Dell Technologies Summit, a media and analyst event highlighting plans and strategies for what the company calls The Next Data Decade. In primary focus there was its new PowerONE platform and the attendant Technologies on Demand (ToD) services. Both were impressive and together they substantially raise Dell’s game in enterprise computing, multi-cloud and consumption-based IT services. Let’s take a closer look.
On demand redux
Stick around the tech industry long enough and nearly any announcement brings to mind things you heard and saw months, years or decades before. In this case, I was struck by how Dell’s new offerings resonate with technologies that first arose in the late 1990s as the dot.com boom was nearing its peak around Y2K and the memorable dot.com bust that followed.
At that point, “on demand” was an IBM initiative designed to deliver an always on, always available, always dependable computing platform. Eventually, IBM believed businesses would buy computing as a service that was analogous to public utility services, like electricity and water, as circumstances required, hence on demand. The effort included extending the autonomous functions available on IBM’s flagship mainframes across its three other server platforms, as well as making full use of its enterprise software platforms and applications to deliver always on/always available/always reliable compute.
IBM wasn’t alone in pursuing this sort of project. HP announced an analogous effort called Utility Computing, along with software-centric Adaptive Management solutions. Sun Microsystems focused its energies on the Sun ONE application servers and N1 server management platform. Microsoft got into the act with its original .Net initiative, and even enterprise middleware players, like BEA and Tibco, got into the on demand act.
Why were vendors putting so much effort into on demand? Beyond the visions of utility-style computing eating the world, vendors were working to help customers adapt to fast evolving online business technologies. Ecommerce was the tip of that particular iceberg, but in fairly short order organizations were using the Internet to support everything from communications to advertising to sales/invoicing to financing. The eventual emergence of smart phones and mobile platforms a few years later redoubled the urgency of those efforts.
Of course, the evolution of on demand didn’t work out in quite the way that vendors and their partners and customers hoped or assumed. Years of unexpected global political events and economic crises occupied higher places in the public mind than utility-style computing. Then in 2006, the modest launch of Amazon Web Services (AWS) took decades-old cloud computing concepts, largely rewrote the book on how on demand computing worked and reset expectations around what it could achieve.
But many of those early assumptions hit an unexpected wall. While early boosters and evangelists portrayed public cloud as a service platform that would eventually supplant traditional IT, businesses had something else in mind. Yes, virtually all organizations either use or plan to use public cloud services but they want to do so on their own terms. Plus, they plan to maintain on premises IT to ensure the support for and security of business-critical workloads and data. Oh, and they want those private IT systems to work as simply as cloud services do, and to interact seamlessly with any/all public clouds.
The response of IT vendors: Let’s talk about hybrid multi-cloud.
Dell’s PowerOne and Technology on Demand
What exactly is Dell’s PowerOne? Basically, it’s a new converged infrastructure system based on deeply integrated Dell hardware and software components, including PowerEdge compute, PowerMax storage, PowerSwitch networking and VMware virtualization. It would be both easy and incorrect to assume that PowerOne is simply an all-Dell replacement for the VCE vBlock solutions that EMC, Cisco and VMware brought to market a decade ago (and which are still available from Dell under the VxBlock brand).
However, that ignores the considerable work that the company has put into a new advanced automation engine that, with the help of a Kubernetes microservices architecture and Ansible workflows, automates essential component configuration and provisioning. As Dell notes, this “allows administrators to state a desired business outcome – and the system calculates the best way to do the rest.”
Dell PowerOne also offers a single system-level application programming interface (API) that allows admins to create pools of IT resources to support specific business outcomes and processes. Most importantly, the API can be integrated with existing IT management tools to support programmable versus manual IT operations. Dell calls this “Infrastructure as Code” and claims that it will “virtually eliminate” the need to log in to individual component management systems.
How does PowerOne relate to Dell’s Technologies on Demand initiative and offerings? Consider first that ToD is an IT services consumption/payment model available in three models: 1) pay as you go, 2) flexible capacity on demand with per-month metering, and 3) data center utility. As such, ToD can encompass Dell equipment deployed customer endpoints, in data centers and remote/edge facilities, and as cloud infrastructure. That final category incorporates converged and hyperconverged systems, including Dell’s PowerOne and VxRail solutions.
In short, PowerOne holds a critical position in Dell’s hybrid cloud and on demand as-a-service portfolios and in its go to market strategies. That’s certainly important from a commercial standpoint as it illuminates the company’s viewpoint on how business IT is changing. But it’s also important as regards Dell’s unwavering focus on enhancing customers’ end-to-end IT experience and being a trusted advisor to enterprises and other organizations.
The early proponents of on demand IT and boosters of public cloud foresaw a time when computing would become a simple service that consumers and businesses could turn on and off as simply as a light switch. Those were interesting viewpoints, but like most things, the future tends to be more complicated than seers can conceive.
To its credit, rather than relying on visionary forecasts to develop its products, Dell is delivering the IT solutions that customers want and need. Those include offerings that support highly automated and simplified management features, and as-a-service consumption and pricing models, like the new PowerOne systems and Technologies on Demand solutions. These reflect a central point to understanding Dell—the company’s clear understanding that the future isn’t something that you wait for but something you build toward day after day.