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Dell makes server software simple, simple, simple for slow admins

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While rivals keep banging on about their inventions, acquisitions and flashy gear, Dell insists that it's keeping server management simple - so simple that even the simplest simpleton could simply administer a server in a simple fashion.

Dell this week used the word simple or some variation on it five times in the first eight sentences of a statement outlining its latest server management moves. Focus groups have clearly led the company's marketing team to believe that administrators find server management too complex, and Dell has the rhetoric to cure what ails you.

Leading Dell's simplification charge is a new Unified Manageability Architecture (UMA), which isn't actually a product but rather "a vision for a standards-based blueprint for simplified, modular systems management."

Now, we've already given Dell a hard enough time, but the company quite seriously issued what could be the worst systems software statement of all time, so we'll keep giving Dell the rope.

UMA delivers a layered framework that enables a path to "built-in" management for hardware and software using standard instrumentation such as CIM and SMI-S, and access protocols including WS-Man. The result is a cross-vendor approach that can yield more robust systems modeling, enabling high availability and standards-based building blocks for business process management.

Dell - somehow - plans to build this layered framework vision into its products such as the Dell Remote Access Controller and Baseboard Management Controller on its servers. Good luck with that.

Closer to making sense, Dell announced an expanded systems management deal with Altiris. Under the arrangement, Dell will sell re-branded, customized versions of Altiris' management software for its OpenManage line. The product marriage comes as part of a five-year financial deal that gives Dell the option of buying a 5 per cent stake in Altiris.

Dell plans to upgrade OpenManage with more "pay as you grow" options packages and with revamps to the security, storage management and operations tools in the software.

In addition, Dell has moved to spur interest around OpenManage by kicking off a new partner program where third parties can get a toolkit for developing software friendly to Dell's servers and then certify that code.

"Dell is committed to simplifying the management of IT resources so customers can focus on what is most important to them - growing their business," said Brad Anderson, a Dell SVP.

Yeah, we get that already, Brad.

Dell's server business has slowed dramatically this year as the company has faced fresh lower-end competition from the likes of Rackable Systems and as Dell failed to adopt the popular Opteron processor from AMD soon enough. The company, however, could be challenged over the long-term by a more serious threat.

Today's x86 servers look more and more like the Unix SMPs that dominated the last internet build out. Large players such as IBM, HP and Sun are building software and hardware components that bulk up their x86 servers, while a host of start-ups are doing the same. Dell, however, continues to stick with its "simple" strategy that worked well in a less complex x86 landscape.

It will be interesting to see if Dell's limited R&D strategy will pan out as x86 servers mature. ®

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