Dell's new servers come preloaded with hundreds of virtual machines

Dell offers servers with VMware VMs or Citrix XenDesktops; plus Dell to pump $1 billion into cloud and 10 new data centers worldwide.

Dell on Thursday served up a new choice for buying its servers: plug-and-play configurations that include up to 200 VMware virtual machines along with the networking and storage needed to run them.

Dell is also offering a ready-made virtual desktop infrastructure in the same fashion, letting users buy servers pre-configured with hundreds to thousands virtual desktops in two flavors: VMware or Citrix XenDesktop.

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But wait, there's more. The company tossed in an announcement about a new e-mail backup and archiving service and expanded partnership with Microsoft, then promised to build 10 new data centers worldwide in the next 24 months - three in the U.S. -- to support what it hopes will be a massive move to its cloud. In addition to hosting virtual storage, desktops and e-mail backups, Dell says these data centers will serve up VMware, OpenStack and Azure clouds. All told, the company says it is spending $1 billion  on the cloud.

Dell executives explained that despite what virtualization has done for hardware efficiency, it isn't easy to manage. "Customers are more interested in buying VMs than in buying the physical hardware they have to assemble," said Stephen Schuckenbrock, president of Dell Services, during a telephone press conference this week. He adds that research reports predict that soon "virtually half the workloads will be running on virtual machines ... but it's not that easy to do, to optimize those virtual machines."

Enter the new vStart line of servers. These are built with the Xeon-based Dell PowerEdge, VMware hypervisors, Dell EqualLogic storage and Dell PowerConnect switches (which Dell OEMs from Juniper) and includes essential virtualization management extensions. The infrastructure is pre-assembled by Dell, and delivered to the enterprise's site as a single unit, racked and cabled. Customers can own these units, though Dell is also willing to set them up as managed servers, promised Schuckenbrock.

The vStart 100 is a unit preconfigured with 100 VMs and priced at $99,000 while the vStart 200 is configured with 200 VMs and is priced at $169,000. The vStart family will eventually include configurations that offer more and less VMs, said Schuckenbrock, but these two standard configurations are available now.

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Not wanting to completely tick off the mighty Microsoft, Dell also announced a vague three-year agreement with Redmond that will let virtualized systems be managed by Microsoft System Center. This agreement will one-day also allow Dell to offer Hyper-V as a VM choice. When the Hyper-V option materializes, it will be a less expensive choice, hinted Praveen Asthana, vice president, Enterprise Solutions & Strategy. "Microsoft System Center and Hyper-V will give customers more choice and radically change the economics of virtualization," he said. However configurations available today star VMware.

Plus, Dell is encouraging enterprises to take the plunge with VDI by similarly offering plug-and-play servers bundled with hundreds or thousands of Citrix XenDesktop or VMware virtual desktops. Customers can choose the number of desktops according to their needs. Dell technically announced its Desktop Virtualization Solutions (DDVS) offering in March but on Thursday reiterated that the VDI bundle can be had anyway the customer wants it: as an owned piece of gear, as a managed service, a cloud service, or some kind of custom package in between, with Dell doing all the integration work to ensure customers' apps work with it. It, too, is based on Dell PowerEdge servers, EqualLogic storage and PowerConnect networking.

Dell's new Email and File Archive service is orchestrated along the same lines. It can be purchased as a product based on Dell's pre-configured reference architectures, an on-premises managed service, through the cloud or some combination of these options.

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