Dell hopes to grab a bigger slice of the cloud infrastructure market with a new line of PowerEdge servers that the company announced on Wednesday.
The new PowerEdge C servers are aimed at service providers running busy Web sites and public cloud computing services, as well as enterprises building "private clouds" to deliver on-demand application services internally.
Dell said it would "take the guesswork" out of building public and private clouds by selling the servers in "turnkey cloud solutions" that include packages of hardware, software and implementation services.
The servers are an outgrowth of Dell's Data Center Solutions division, which works closely with Web giants like Microsoft and Facebook to build custom servers for their online operations. The division designed some of the servers running Microsoft's Azure platform, for example.
The DCS group works only with very large customers that buy tens of thousands of servers. To reach a wider audience, Dell created a few servers similar to the designs it built for those customers and is offering them for the first time as standard, listed products in the form of the C servers launched Wednesday.
It announced three PowerEdge C servers initially: the C1100, for high-memory configurations, the C2100, for data analytics and storage, and the C6100, a "four-node cloud and cluster optimized shared infrastructure server." They are 1u and 2u rackmount servers based on four- and six-core Intel Xeon 5500/5600 processors.
The systems are not like typical servers and won't appeal to all customers. They strip out some features, like redundant power supplies, to make the servers more energy efficient, but that also makes them less reliable. They are designed to run in specialized cloud environments with software that can route around hardware failures and keep applications running.
That means selling them will require education for both Dell's sales teams and its customers. But they could help Dell to compete better with rival cloud offerings like HP's Extreme Scale-Out systems, IBM's iDataPlex servers and power-optimized cloud products from SGI and others.
"We're going to be very clear to our sales force and our customers that these are for those rarefied environments where you have this type of software infrastructure," Barton George, Dell's cloud evangelist, said in an interview last month. "If you were to run SAP or a database or a file server on one of these systems it would be a disaster. It wouldn't work."
Dell's first turnkey cloud package is a platform-as-a-service offering that addresses "the key issues around Web application development and deployment," which Dell says are unpredictable traffic, the fear of under-provisioning, and migration from development to production. The package bundles Dell's C servers with cloud software from Joyent and some implementation and support services.
Within a couple of months it will offer C servers configured with Canonical's Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud software, and with data warehousing and analytics tools from Aster Data and Greenplum. Systems with Microsoft and VMware software will follow late this summer, said Forrest Norrod, vice president and general manager of Dell's server platforms group.
Dell is offering workshops and services to help companies design and deploy a cloud infrastructure, as well as technical support. It expects the servers to be used for running newer, Web-based applications written in PHP and Ruby on Rails, rather than for legacy applications, Norrad said.
They are intended for companies that will buy "a few racks, or a few hundred servers" at a time, he said -- in other words, smaller customers than the DCS unit has dealt with in the past, but still of a reasonable size. They are also targeted at high-performance computing customers.
Images and specifications for the C servers are posted here on Dell's Web site.