Dell is hatching a plan to take some of the custom servers designed by its Data Center Solutions division for web giants such as Yahoo and Facebook and sell them to a wider range of companies, including large enterprises, Dell executives said.
The DCS unit was formed about three years ago to help Dell get more business from large Internet firms. Its engineers often spend several weeks on site with those companies to design low cost, low power systems that meet the special requirements of their search, social networking and other web applications.
Later this year Dell will turn some of those custom servers into standardised products and sell them to companies that order lower volumes of systems, including enterprises building "private cloud" environments in their data centres, and a second tier of smaller Internet companies. They will likely be sold under a new brand, CloudEdge.
"What we've found is, there are a whole bunch of other customers who want access to those designs but who are not buying in those types of quantities," said Andy Rhodes, a director with Dell's DCS group. "So the big thing we're solving now, and we'll talk more publically about over the next couple of months, is how to provide more of that capability to many, many more customers."
DCS aims to build highly energy efficient servers that pack a lot of computing power into a small space. The systems often forego redundant power supplies and fans, for example, which saves on component costs and energy bills.
That also makes the servers less resilient to failure, a trade-off large Internet companies are willing to make for lower operational costs. Companies such as Google and Yahoo design their web applications to run on such "fail in place" architectures, so that workloads are rerouted around failed servers with little or no disruption to services.
"The main thing with these hyperscale systems is that the availability and resiliency are baked into the customers' applications rather than into the hardware," said Barton George, cloud evangelist for Dell.
That means the servers aren't suitable for most enterprise applications, and it remains to be seen how Dell will position the new servers for enterprise use.
"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," George said. "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 is likely to bundle the CloudEdge systems with software tools for a variety of usage scenarios, including building and managing public and private clouds. Rhodes suggested that tools from Microsoft and VMware will be offered, as well as provisioning and orchestration software from Dell partner Scalent Systems.
"The markets we're looking at are people building public clouds, but one tier below what we've been focusing on," George said. Large enterprises will also be a target, he said.
The group hasn't disclosed many of its server designs, in part because its large customers demand secrecy. It has published details of one server that uses Nano processors from Via technologies, and crams 12 server boards into a 2u chassis. Most systems use Intel and Advanced Micro Devices processors.