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Dell shows world its web services face

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After a year chock-full of software acquisitions, Dell is ready to go public on its plans for flogging web-hosted services.

At a San Francisco press gig on Tuesday, Dell president of global services Steve Schuckenbrock said the company will move into web-hosted IT monitoring and tech support.

Not unexpected in the slightest, and Nostradamus we ain't.

Historically, Dell hasn't strayed too far from its hardware roots, but the impact of the emerging software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry is hard to ignore. Amazon, IBM, Saleforce.com, EMC, Google, Netsuite and all the rest have had a grand-ole' time selling rented applications and infrastructure through the internet.

In early 2007, Dell bought SilverBack Technologies, a startup that sold an application used to remotely monitor devices with an IP address on a network. Then there was Everdream, (not the name of a Finnish symphonic power metal band, but) a web-hosted antivirus and anti-malware service provider. Toss in additional buys like email servicer MessageOne — oh yes — and Dell is pretty much saying it is going to stitch them together and you've just SaaS'ed yourself.

Here's how Schuckenbrock paints it:

First a business or individual buys a Dell service plan. The customer selects among a list of web-hosted services such as antivirus, backup and patch management.

From a global network operations center, Dell monitors the customer's hardware, applications and network- based on the services selected using a combination of automation software and technicians. Schuckenbrock thinks most problems will be fixed without having to notify the customer.

Should that be necessary, the issue is sent to a local Dell call center. An agent phones the network admin can either walk-through the problem or have a Dell agent dispatched to the site. The distress call can alternatively be sent to the customer's reseller or their own service console if they want.

Dell has already built its first network operations center in Guadalajara, Mexico; last month it placed six customers into a pilot program.

As this expands, Schuckenbrock foresees Dell's existing five enterprise command centers (service call centers for big customers) and additional future network operation centers will become one and the same.

"We could turn a reactive group into a proactive group that can monitor events of customers rather than waiting for a phone to ring," he said.

Dell will continue to add web service applications via third-party deals, a peppering of in-house jobs, and of course acquisitions. Online backup and recovery, email archiving, license management, data migration...You name it, Dell is interested in buying the company that does it.

Dell will also sell the services in bundles at a reduced rate. For instance, the company could provide applications specifically for Vista migration, or best suited for the size of a business. According to Schuckenbrock, the platform would work with non-Dell hardware, although he doubts the service will act as a catalyst for people to switch over.

Hmm. Perhaps we're connecting the wrong dots here, but could these plans for an automated service plan be a reason for Dell closing so many of its end-user call centers recently?

Dell isn't ready just yet to publish a definitive timetable for a wider service platform roll-out, but the company aims to deploy the service in Europe and Asia by the end of the year, and to be ready to scale to mission-critical data centers by 2009. ®

Bootnote

Dell sent us a note claiming there is no direct correlation between the closing of call centers and Dell's automated service plans.

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