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A year ago, Dell partnered with Scalent to get some virtualization management tools to compete with its peers in the server racket, and this summer the company had to acquire Scalent to keep it from falling into enemy hands.

Today sees Dell roll out a beefed up stack of tools based on the Scalent wares called the Virtual Integrated System, and the company is banging on the "open" drum to get attention in an increasingly siloed and stacked IT vendor climate.

Dell's name for the Scalent tools, which can be used to manage physical as well as virtual servers and their related storage and networks, is Advanced Infrastructure Manager. The release coming out today is AIM 3.3, and it includes support for 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches and hooks into the Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) protocol that is being increasingly used on converged server-storage networks.

The update also includes a plug-in for VMware's vCenter console for managing ESX Server and ESXi hypervisors, so admins working from that console can stay in there and still make AIM 3.3 do a lot of its tricks. Dell has added a new graphical user interface to AIM with the 3.3 release, which is written in Adobe's Flex - the same programming language that VMware uses to create its vCenter console.

Dell has also expanded the number of different storage devices and switches supported with AIM 3.3. The product originally was supported on Dell's PowerEdge M610 blade servers, its EqualLogic PS6000 disk arrays, and its PowerConnect 6224 Gigabit Ethernet switches, but as of this release, Dell is crowing that it will support a mix of server, switches, and storage from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Brocade, and others.

In fact, Matt Baker, director of enterprise strategy at Dell, says that AIM 3.3 will support any x64-based server, and can be used to provision bare metal as well as virtual servers. Scalent always supported a wider array of products than Dell did with its OEM version, so there was not a huge amount of certification work that had to be done here. VMware's ESX Server and ESXi 4.1, Microsoft's Hyper-V, and the Xen hypervisor embedded in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 are currently supported with AIM 3.3, and it won't be long before standalone KVM from Red Hat and standalone XenServer from Citrix Systems are on the list.

The important thing, says Baker, is that Dell is keeping AIM open - meaning that it works across all popular x64 platforms - and not using it as a lever to try to push just PowerEdge servers and related Dell switches and storage. "With think this open approach offers a lot more value and allows us to influence a larger portion of the customer's IT environment," says Baker.

Scalent can convert physical server instances to virtual ones, convert virtual servers to bare-metal instances, and convert instances running on one physical server (say an IBM or HP box) to another (say a PowerEdge); it cannot yet convert from one virtual machine format to another as workloads are moved between hypervisors, but this is an obvious next step. You need all four - P2P, P2V, V2P, and V2V - to cover all the possible things a system manager might do with a server.

AIM it is an out-of-band management tool, which means it uses the APIs in server firmware, hypervisors, and operating systems to gather data about machines instead of deploying resource-hogging agents onto boxes.

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