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Michael Dell: On SDNs and networking for the masses

Jim Duffy | April 29, 2014
The man who popularised consumer computing sees an opportunity in 'making technology more affordable, more acceptable to hundreds of millions of customers'.

Dell is synonymous with home and business PCs, and data center servers. Yet Dell also has an ambitious software-defined networking activity underway called the Open Networking Initiative, where it partners with SDN software companies like Cumulus Networks and Big Switch Networks to bundle operating systems and applications on Dell switches. The Big Switch deal was announced last week, and Dell Founder and CEO Michael Dell found time to provide Network World Managing Editor Jim Duffy with some perspective on that partnership, and on Dell's overall networking and Open Networking Initiative.

Can you provide an overview of your Open Networking Initiative in light of the Big Switch deal?
We obviously have been participating in this market for some time; with the acquisition of Force10 we upped our participation. Force10 gave us a very significant capability with the larger data centers, the 9500 (switch) and the density space, that's an area where we've built momentum. A large number of the big service providers are combining open networking, open servers, open storage with software-defined. And certainly with our strength in servers, increasingly we're combining these architecturally. We've had a lot of success with blade architectures, putting networking in converged platforms, building next-generation hyper-converged systems with 40G backplanes. And of course the move toward virtual and software-defined is accelerating the whole hyper-converged space. We see more and more  network functions gravitating toward the compute engine. So obviously having a core networking capability ... every time we acquire a firm we significantly increase the R&D. That's what we did with our networking team.

Has your networking portfolio led to follow on sales of servers, and vice versa?
It's actually both, we have had network lead other Dell technologies. Let's not forget about network security as well, we acquired SonicWALL. That's a significant asset. Customers believe networking and network security go together. It's really working both ways.

Is networking an important component of Dell's future?
Absolutely. When you look at the data center you've got the compute, the networking, the storage. We absolutely believe you have to have all three core technologies in depth to win. We come from a historical position of strength in compute and servers. We acquired significant assets in storage and networking. If you look at the challenges and opportunities that customers have, I don't think the answer is in silos. I think the answer is in extrapolating the problem up to a higher level: automating workloads. What you hear from these customers is that with that trapped capacity in silos, they overprovision, it takes too long, it's complicated. So all the work we're doing is to converge and bring this to a workload with a focus on users, quality of service, applications, and the rest of this is done automatically. We think that's absolutely the right direction, and the only way to do it is if you have all of the core technologies yourself.


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