Dell's Advanced Infrastructure Manager (AIM) is designed to automate a wide variety of common administration tasks, from server provisioning to failure management. Thus, it stands to reason that Dell also aims to reduce the overhead of service procurement, but that is not a job for AIM alone.
Dell's vision for VIS (Virtual Integrated System) is fairly simple: handle all provisioning, monitoring, trending, forecasting, cost allocation, and day-to-day management of a data center infrastructure. While AIM handles the day-to-day management, service provisioning belongs to VIS Self-Service Creator, and monitoring and planning belong to VIS Director, a product that is still in the works.
The VIS Self-Service Creator is a self-service portal that permits authenticated users to select from a menu of available server options and have new servers automatically provisioned for them.
These servers may be VMware virtual machines, Hyper-V virtual machines, physical servers, or even external cloud resources like a server instance from Amazon's EC2 cloud service. Creator flips the switch, and if the server to be provisioned falls within AIM's domain, AIM carries out the marching orders.
Each menu item can have an associated cost, and there can be granular levels of services presented to users based on group membership. Thus, a developer may be presented with a selection of servers ranging from a single CPU with 512MB of RAM, for example, to a quad-CPU with 4GB of RAM, with the prices ranging from $1 to $4 per day. Depending on what the requirements are, an appropriate server can be selected and then billed to the right cost center.
Should that server become adrift, there are also tools to destroy idle servers based on configurable criteria. If there have been no log-ins in the past 60 days, for example, then poof.
I wasn't able to see the back end of VIS, but I was able to see a demo of VIS Self-Service Creator in action. In the demo, the creation of a self-service virtual server eclipsed both a defined threshold of VMs on a particular VMware ESX host and a threshold of free space on a VMFS volume. In order to handle the additional load, a standby ESX server was powered up and inserted into the vSphere cluster, and a new LUN was created on the Dell EqualLogic array, prepared, and connected to all the ESX hosts, automatically.
From a technical standpoint, VIS Self-Service Creator appears well thought out and presented, but from an anthropological point of view, it seems like something that could get out of hand in the right (or wrong) culture. I can foresee developers provisioning vast numbers of servers for themselves and then refusing to part with any of them. That, however, is a political problem that extends well beyond this service.