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Dell juices PowerEdge-C servers with OpenStack

Crafts installer fluffs clouds fast

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OpenStack project contributor Dell says it is ready to help people build OpenStack clouds atop its PowerEdge-C servers.

Today, Rackspace Hosting, which along with NASA started the OpenStack cloud management fabric last July, rolled out deployment, support, and training services for the open source cloud platform, and Dell, a longtime OpenStack partner, wants in on the act as well.

The Dell PowerEdge-C servers are half-way between the general purpose PowerEdge machines you can buy on Dell's online store and the bespoke (and usually much cooler) machinery that its Data Center Solution (DCS) unit creates for the top 30 or so hyperscale data centers in the world. Dell quasi-commercialized the PowerEdge-C machines (the C being for cloud, of course) last March, offering customers something that was a little bit in the middle between the onesies and twosies that an SMB shop might buy in rack servers and the tens of thousands of units that a Microsoft or a Facebook buys for their respective Web applications. These machines are, as Joseph George, senior strategist for cloud solutions at the DCS unit, put it, for "the next 1,000 customers."

And so is OpenStack, according to George. Even though the Nova compute cloud (largely from NASA) and Swift compute cloud (mostly from Rackspace) are fairly new, they are offering compelling enough differentiation in terms of openness and scalability compared to alternatives from VMware, Eucalyptus Systems, and Citrix Systems to warrant Dell stepping up to the plate and offer its own expertise to help customers put together proof of concept clouds based on the combination of the OpenStack code and the PowerEdge-C iron.

"The code base has evolved enough for telcos, managed service providers, and hosters to start testing," says George.

The PowerEdge-C hardware includes various "cookie sheet" tray servers (somewhere halfway between a blade and a rack machine, using either Intel Xeon or Advanced Micro Devices Opteron processors. In early engagements with customers trying to put OpenStack on these cloudy boxes, Dell's own techies were taking too long setting up machines and customers were trying to stand up their clouds manually or do so writing custom scripts.

To speed the process up - and to give its PowerEdge-C machines an edge over other boxes that can and will be used to run OpenStack-based cloudy infrastructure - Dell's software engineers crafted a new installer that can fluff OpenStack onto bare-metal PowerEdge-C machines. On a six-node test cloud that might have taken days to configure with OpenStack, George says that Dell can have the whole thing up and running in a matter of hours. This includes BIOS configuration on the machines, network setup, and installing add-on software needed for the cloud such as Nagios for system monitoring and Ganglia for cluster monitoring.

George says that this installer, which does not yet have a name, is being field tested now in early OpenStack engagements and, after the kinks are twisted out, will be returned to the OpenStack community as open source code.

What Dell is not doing, even though it is good buddies with Rackspace on the OpenStack project, is offering to sell tech support provided by its own technicians for OpenStack. These are, like other DCS hardware deals, custom engagements and are only intended as proofs of concept at this point.

That doesn't mean that Dell won't eventually offer its own brand of OpenStack support, like Rackspace is rolling out today or, if customers want it, pair Rackspace OpenStack software support with Dell hardware support. The two companies are not going to market together selling the combination and have not hammered out a joint revenue or support agreement, but that doesn't mean they won't eventually. Dell wants to see how the initial concept OpenStack clouds go before it decides on whether to offer support or resell support from Rackspace.

"Right now, I would say it is an area of investigation for us," says Barton George, cloud computing and scale out evangelist at Dell. "As we engage in the POCs, we'll understand what the requirements are."

As El Reg previously reported, Dell finally started shipping clouds based on Canonical's Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud, a pairing of the popular Linux operating system and the Eucalyptus cloud framework, back in early February. Dell said last March when the PowerEdge-C machines were launched that it would fluff up UEC clouds on its quasi-custom servers, as well as data analytics appliances from Aster Data (now part of Teradata) and Greenplum (now part of EMC). The DCS unit also offers a turnkey Web application cloud, called the Dell Cloud Solution for Web Applications, that is based on its custom hardware and platform-as-a-service tools from partner Joyent. With the UEC cloud, Canonical supplies the software support, but with the Joyent cloud, DCS does the whole shebang.

George would not talk about Dell's eventual release of Azure-based appliance servers, which were slated for delivery last year, because these come out of a different Dell unit, and he would not discuss the possibilities of Dell offering up either infrastructure or platform cloud services to end user customers. There has been talk of this, which Dell has not confirmed. ®

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