'New Dell' makes big server push

Dell is attempting to gain some ground in the server market, which is dominated by Hewlett-Packard and IBM. And it's doing it in a big way - with 14 new products.
Written by Erica Ogg, Contributor

Dell is attempting to gain some ground in the server market, which is dominated by Hewlett-Packard and IBM. In order to grab a larger piece of the data center pie, the company has shoveled everything together into one announcement. And it's a big one.

There are 14 new products altogether: new Dell M-series blade servers, 11th-generation PowerEdge servers, Precision workstations, EqualLogic PS6000 storage arrays, and a host of revamped services.

The fact that they have joined competitors in taking on the needs of enterprise IT departments holistically--instead of piecemeal--marks good progress, according to Frank Gillett, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

"They're getting much more competent at engineering things together; they're not thinking about storage and servers by themselves anymore," he said.

It's all part of the "new Dell," according to Brad Anderson, Dell's senior vice president in charge of enterprise products. Five years ago, Dell was primarily concerned with cost-efficient supply chains. Now, he says, that same company sees "cost isn't just hardware and services, but the personnel around it."

To that end, Dell is stressing the services part of its new suite of products that are designed to save time and money. There's the decision to extend its ImageDirect offering to servers. A server can come with the image preconfigured, nullifying the need for a company's in-house IT people to install each image manually.

It's a service that Dell has previously offered for desktop and notebook PCs, but it's "an interesting twist" to offer it on servers, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. It's something that will likely resonate with very large businesses.

"If you're buying a few dozen servers, it's not a big deal. If you're buying hundreds or thousands, that's where something like this can really make sense," said King.

Playing catchup
But the real question is whether any of this will help Dell move ahead of competition. There's a lot of ground to make up. According to IDC's most recent tally of the x86 server landscape, HP has just over 58 percent of the blade market, compared to IBM's 22 percent and Dell's 9.8 percent. Dell is slightly closer in its race in rack-mounted servers, with 27.1 percent of the market, just behind the leader, HP, who has 39.6 percent.

And just last week, networking giant Cisco Systems launched its own server push.

Anderson says there's still time to catch up. While Dell is starting to gain some ground in Europe and Asia, he said, there's much more to do. "It's a multiyear endeavor to catch up to HP in servers in Europe. It won't happen overnight."

In the meantime, Gillett of Forrester says that Dell is at least keeping pace with its competitors. "They're keeping up, but it's not clear that they're pulling ahead," he said. To be fair, however, for this new generation of servers, Dell is the first to lay its cards on the table. Not until IBM, HP, and Sun show their hands, likely after Intel unveils the Nehalem-based Xeon processors for servers, can a full assessment be made.

The timing of the product introduction does appear to be less than ideal. IT spending is expected to grow just 2.6 percent this year, according to IDC. But Dell is counting on customers that don't have a choice but to increase their data center capacity or replace broken and outdated equipment. As Anderson noted, employees need to be able to send e-mail, and a company's compliance obligations can't be neglected just because the stock market is down.

But is there ever a right or wrong time to introduce updated servers? asks Gillett of Forrester.

"One of our own clients said every year is a recession in IT. They said, 'This (economy) is nothing different for us. We always have to do a lot more with less.'"

The storage arrays and workstations are available starting Wednesday, while the servers won't be until next week.

This article was originally posted on CNET News.

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