Dell is broadening its portfolio as part of its bid to join Cisco, HP, and IBM et al as a major supplier of a top-to-bottom (or end-to-end as Cisco calls it) supplier to the datacentre, with the acquisition of Force10 Networks, a datacentre switch vendor.
After Dell's acquisition of Perot Data Systems in 2009, which brought consultancy services, this move upmarket started in February 2010 with the acquisition of Kace, a small manufacturer of systems management boxes. In the same month, it opportunistically bought the IP assets of Exanet, a vendor of network-attached, clustered storage software, after the company went into receivership.
Dell's move to buy Ocarina a year ago generated much interest, as this brought deduplication technology to Dell but August 2010 brought most visible attribute of Dell's intent to become an end-to-end supplier. It attempted to buy 3PAR, an innovative storage vendor that pushed thin provisioning towards the top of the storage buyer's list of must-haves. Thin provisioning is a way of promising an application or server more storage than actually exists, with the aim of reducing upfront storage purchases.
HP won that battle by paying $33 per share, which Dell described at the time as too much, but Dell has since acquired Boomi, a cloud integration software vendor. Now, with Force10 networks, it has credentials in datacentre networking.
Force10 offers 40Gigabit top-of-rack switches, all running the same OS to homogenise management, and has boasted of its low power consumption per port compared to Cisco, its high-performance, non-blocking backplane architecture, and its high port density. Company execs who no longer work there have spoken of the existence of plans for 100 Gig in future.
The upshot is that Dell is now in a stronger position to compete with HP and especially with IBM which doesn't have its own networking product portfolio. The middle of the chess board is now looking crowded but there's some way to go before the game is over.