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Dell morphs into Amazonian 'public cloud' biz?

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Dell will offer a public "infrastructure cloud" along the lines of Amazon's EC2 as well as a public "platform cloud" à la Microsoft Windows Azure, according to a tweet from inside Michael Dell's IT empire.

It would seem that the venerable PC and server outfit is morphing into an internet service provider.

In July, Dell told the world it had teamed with Microsoft to fashion server appliances that would let businesses build their own Azure-compatible clouds, and it said these Azure appliances would initially show up in Dell data centers. But with a post to Twitter last week, Logan McLeod – a "cloud technology strategist" with Dell's Services division – appeared to take the company's cloud plans several steps further.

Yes, Logan McLeod is a real person. And, yes, that's his real name. "Dell as a public cloud end-to-end service provider?" he tweeted. "Yes. IaaS & PaaS. Coming soon. Dell DC near you."

IaaS would be "infrastructure-as-a-service", a reference to something like Amazon's EC2, which gives you online access to raw processing power. PaaS is "platform-as-a-service", such as Azure, which serves up development tools and other services that let you build and host applications online without juggling virtual machine instances and other raw infrastructure resources.

"Dell DC" is, yes, a Dell data center. Following the acquisition of Perot Systems, Dell Services operates 36 data centers around the world. Today, these serve up old-school software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications for more than 10,000 customers. SaaS is not be confused with IaaS or PaaS or any other aaS. At the moment, Dell is merely hosting applications in these data centers. It's not serving up on-demand access to readily scalable computing resources.

With its announcement last July, Dell left no doubt that it would one day run Azure appliances in these data centers, operating private Azure-compatible clouds that are only available to a particular customer. But it's unclear whether the company also planned to offer its own public Azure service – i.e. a service that anyone can access over the web whenever they like.

"The Windows Azure platform appliance will allow Dell to deliver private and public cloud services for Dell and its enterprise, public, small, and medium-sized business customers," the company's press release read. As worded, does this mean Dell will deliver its own public cloud services? Or merely deliver public cloud services on behalf of its customers?

It's a subtle distinction. But it's the difference between a services company and an internet service provider.

What's more, McLeod's tweet indicates that Dell will offer a public infrastructure cloud, and Azure appliances don't drive infrastructure clouds. Presumably, the company will offer a service based on OpenStack, the build-your-own-infrastructure-cloud platform open sourced by Rackspace and NASA. Dell has been an OpenStack partner since the project debuted last summer. Last week, the Texas company joined Rackspace and other OpenStack partners in Washington, DC to discuss the open source project with White House chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra, according to tweets from Dell, Rackspace, and others. Rackspace confirmed the meeting with The Reg, but did not confirm Dell's involvement.

Neither McLeod nor Dell PR responded to requests to discuss McLeod's cloud tweet. And Barton George, another Dell "cloud evangelist" and friend of The Reg, responded with a "no comment." But the tweet seems clear. The move into public clouds is reminiscent of Sun's Grid project, which was intended as a public cloud until Oracle acquired the server and software maker. Dell has expanded from a server maker to a services company, and now, it's making the leap from services company to service provider.

In recent months, Dell's Services unit has heavily touted its ability to build clouds on behalf of its customers. In late November, the company announced the general availability of what it calls Dell Cloud Solutions, prepackaged and pre-tested hardware and software bundles that help businesses "build efficient and affordable IT infrastructures that are easy to deploy, manage, and run." Some of these bundles are meant to drive Amazon EC2-like public clouds, and others are designed for private clouds.

As more and more businesses look to services like Amazon and Azure, Dell is looking to maintain its role in the data center.

At a press event dedicated to these cloud bundles, we asked Dell if the rise of services like Amazon EC2 would ultimately hurt the company's bottom line. The short answer was "no," and company man Andy Rhodes told us that he didn't believe in "The Big Switch", the notion that all workload will eventually move to public cloud services. But apparently, Dell believes enough to offer its own public clouds. ®

Update

Dell has responded to out inquires with a short statement: "Dell has already disclosed our plans to support Microsoft Azure (http://content.dell.com/us/en/corp/d/press-releases/2010-07-12-dell-microsoft-cloud-azure-appliance.aspx) to develop and deliver public and private cloud services to customers. We look forward to sharing more information at the appropriate time." That makes it clear that the company will offer a public Azure cloud – if it wasn't clear already. But again, McLeod's tweet indicates a public infrastructure cloud as well.

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