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Dell offers prefabricated chunks-o-cloud

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Do you build your own PC from a box of parts when you order that PC from Dell? Of course not. So why should you have to build your own cluster when you want to do server virtualization on Dell PowerEdge servers?

The payoffs for server virtualization are that it makes the management of servers easier and drives up the utilization on physical servers to something akin to what your average mainframe does when it is taking a break, humming along a mere 80 to 90 per cent CPU utilization. But setting up a virtualized stack of servers, switches, and storage and configuring the hypervisor on this gear is a pain, and in many cases it is way over the heads of SMB shops.

So after listening to the complaints of virtualization customers who don't want yet another reference architecture and a stack of cardboard boxes to open and machines to assemble, Dell is offering them finished clusters called vStart that are ready to turn on like a PC and load up with guest server operating systems and their applications atop popular hypervisors.

Dell vStart virtual server setup

Dell's vStart 200v cloud stack

The vStart configurations announced today sit side-by-side in the market with the Vblock prefabbed clouds from Cisco Systems, EMC, and VMware through their Acadia partnership, the CloudBurst appliances from IBM, and the BladeSystem Matrix from Hewlett-Packard. While the largest enterprises in the world have a habit of buying a mix of servers, storage, networking, and software components (which they undoubtedly call best of breed), small and mid-range customers don't have the time or technical personnel to configure their machinery. In this case, they just want to buy some machines to run hypervisors and then virtual servers, and they don't want to take weeks or months figuring out what to buy and setting it up.

"Customers are telling us that this has to be easier," says Colin Fletcher, senior enterprise solutions manager at Dell. "We want to make this as close to the unboxing of a wonderful consumer device as we can. This shows up, prebuilt and completely cabled and labeled, with a Dell services expert to fire it up and give you the keys."

There are two vStart setups start, which are configurations designed to support 100 or 200 guest slices running atop VMware's ESXi 4.1 hypervisor. This is the freebie version of the hypervisor from VMware; the machines are also configured with a trial version of the vSphere Enterprise stack, which includes VMotion virtual machine live migration, high availability failover, load balancing, server power management, and other key features that make server virtualization useful. Steve Schuckenbrock, president of Dell services, said in a conference call announcing the vStart offering that Dell would eventually put together vStart configurations to support fewer and larger numbers of VMs than the initial machines; he did not elaborate on what the configurations would be.

The vStart 100v configuration includes a PowerEdge R610 as a vCenter management console, plus three PowerEdge R710 servers to host the ESXi 4.1 hypervisors. The rack comes with an EqualLogic PS6000XV disk array and four PowerConnect 6248 48-port Gigabit Ethernet switches. The 42U rack has a KVM switch and the power distribution units and uninterruptible power supplies needed to support the iron in the rack. Including the time for the Dell techie to come in and start it up, the vStart 100v costs $99,900, or just under a grand per virtual machine.

The vStart 200v comes in the same rack with the KVM switch, the PDUs and UPSes, the four PowerConnect 6248 switches, and the PowerEdge R610 server used as a vCenter management console. The rack (as shown above in the picture) also has six PowerEdge R710 servers for hosting the VMs and two EqualLogic PS6000XV arrays. This one costs $169,000 (including that Dell techie again), or $845 per VM.

The vStart setups will initially be sold only by Dell's direct sales force, but Praveen Asthana, vice president of the Enterprise Systems Group at Dell, said in the call that the cloudy infrastructure stacks would be available through Dell's reseller channel in about 60 days. The vStarts are available now in North America, and will be available in selected EMEA countries by July; availability globally will be phased in over the course of this year. Schuckenbrock added that Dell would be very happy to let customers buy the vStarts and host them in Dell's own data centers.

Speaking of data centers, Schuckenbrock formally confirmed that Dell will be building 10 new data centers worldwide to support cloudy infrastructure with a dabbling of traditional outsourcing. As El Reg previously reported, one of those data centers will be going into Australia. These data centers will be built in the next 24 months, with the ones outside of the United States averaging around 10,000 square feet of space to start but with room to expand as business drives them.

Schuckenbrock would not confirm precisely where these data centers would be located, but said three would be in North America, with a few in Asia and a few others in EMEA, with an obvious emphasis on fast-growing areas where Dell doesn't already have data centers.

Schuckenbrock also didn't want to talk about the number or type of servers going into these data centers, and what virtual infrastructure software would be running atop the iron – be it Microsoft's Azure cloud, VMware's vSphere and vCloud combo, or the open source OpenStack alternative.

"We're not specifying how much of which will be in any of these data centers," Schuckenbrock said. "But it is pretty clear that we will host the clouds that our customers demand."

Schuckenbrock also tried to downplay talk that Dell was getting into the raw infrastructure cloud business. "We're really interested in helping customers build private clouds," he said, perhaps with some bursting capability into Dell's data centers where it is required. "We're really not trying to go after companies that do infrastructure hosting." ®

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