Dell Has A New Platform As A Service That Actually Makes Sense

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Dell has a new platform as a service (PaaS) and it actually makes sense.

The service is called Project Fast PaaS, part of the new Dell Cloud Labs, which also includes Project Sputnik, the Linux laptop for developers and Crowbar, the open-source cloud deployment framework. Crowbar was originally created to support its “OpenStack- and Hadoop-powered offerings.”

FastPaaS and the new Dell Cloud Labs reflects a paradox that I felt all week at Dell World. While Fast PaaS represents the innovation happening at Dell, as with any big enterprise company, it is dependent on making big deals with high margins that serve the basic demands of large enterprises.

On Tuesday, I moderated a think tank discussion that unfortunately was stacked with Dell managers. One customer attended. To my fault, a few Dell managers took control of the conversation at certain points, which was unfortunate. But they did express some perspectives that reflect the real conflict at Dell these days.

Michael Coté, a former RedMonk analyst who is now Dell’s director of cloud strategy and special programs summed it up well in a blog post yesterday: IT faces a real conflict. It’s a time of rapid technology advancement. Customers want access to the latest and greatest but IT still needs to keep everything running, too. They are expected to make sure the email works and be innovative, too. It’s an impossible mission. In Coté’s words:

The mind set of keeping things stable a reliable (the five nines crowd) doesn’t fit with coming up with new stuff. Practices like Agile and the rapid delivery cycles in DevOps can help, but at some point, the two paths of ensuring stability and profiting from disruption are divergent enough that you can’t perfectly co-mingle them…and yet, that’s what we expect from the IT department.

Fast PaaS is a great example of how Dell is seeking to be innovative in developing a unique strategy but cloaking it as a “solution.” It tells a good story about what Dell is trying to do with its cloud strategy. Dell does not want to be like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and offer a blank virtual machine. It wants to offer solutions. And I think the strategy works.

Project Fast PaaS is built on Cloud Foundry, the open-source PaaS developed initially by VMware and now operating under an Apache license.

The PaaS is on-premise — it’s private. Everything comes fully packaged. A developer fills in some forms that include the programming language, the amount of memory needed and what database to attach to the app. Do that and, bingo, an app is made — “Hello Cloud!” Well. that’s at least what it said when Dell Senior Product Manager Ed Conzel created an app for me in a demo at Dell World. It all looks nice, too. It’s straightforward — once the app goes live, IT can then monitor and shut it down if need be. And it’s mobile. In the demo, I was showed how the app syncs to the Dell PaaS, which IT can then maintain. In the demo, Conzel deployed the app and Tom Davies, director of cloud engineering, controlled it over his smartphone. Pretty damn cool.

Step1

The PaaS fits into a host of solutions. Dell has this overarching vision of providing a virtual machine in its OpenStack cloud. They are not targeting developers like HP is doing with its focus on providing a blank VM, which developers then build upon. Dell targets the higher-level use cases where IT may want something more than just a blank slate. These are companies looking to “SaaS” their apps with added services such as billing and identity. Customers don’t want a bill from a number of different vendors. They want a package.

Fast PaaS is an important part of Dell’s cloud story. It fits with the company’s various acquisitions, such as Clarity, as well as homegrown projects like Project Sputnik:

  • Clarity offers a container for integrated developer environments (IDE). An old-school legacy app can be placed in Clarity and delivered in a container to Fast PaaS. Dell has a reseller relationship with Salesforce.com so the old-shoool software becomes a new world SaaS.
  • Project Sputniok is the Liniux laptop for developers that Dell created with the help of the developer community. It can be configured directly to the PaaS so developers can use it easily with the other profiles they create. Ironically, it is the inverse of the solution strategy. The VM gets all dressed up and the laptop is the blank slate.

I had a good week at Dell World — surprised by its innovation but reminded of the challenge enterprise faces. But Dell may be just in the right spot, balancing the developer movement with the reality of IT.