A year ago, Dell partnered with Scalent to get some virtualization management tools to compete with its peers in the server racket, and this summer the company had to acquire Scalent to keep it from falling into enemy hands.
Today sees Dell roll out a beefed up stack of tools based on the Scalent wares called the Virtual Integrated System, and the company is banging on the "open" drum to get attention in an increasingly siloed and stacked IT vendor climate.
Dell's name for the Scalent tools, which can be used to manage physical as well as virtual servers and their related storage and networks, is Advanced Infrastructure Manager. The release coming out today is AIM 3.3, and it includes support for 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches and hooks into the Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) protocol that is being increasingly used on converged server-storage networks.
The update also includes a plug-in for VMware's vCenter console for managing ESX Server and ESXi hypervisors, so admins working from that console can stay in there and still make AIM 3.3 do a lot of its tricks. Dell has added a new graphical user interface to AIM with the 3.3 release, which is written in Adobe's Flex - the same programming language that VMware uses to create its vCenter console.
Dell has also expanded the number of different storage devices and switches supported with AIM 3.3. The product originally was supported on Dell's PowerEdge M610 blade servers, its EqualLogic PS6000 disk arrays, and its PowerConnect 6224 Gigabit Ethernet switches, but as of this release, Dell is crowing that it will support a mix of server, switches, and storage from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Brocade, and others.
In fact, Matt Baker, director of enterprise strategy at Dell, says that AIM 3.3 will support any x64-based server, and can be used to provision bare metal as well as virtual servers. Scalent always supported a wider array of products than Dell did with its OEM version, so there was not a huge amount of certification work that had to be done here. VMware's ESX Server and ESXi 4.1, Microsoft's Hyper-V, and the Xen hypervisor embedded in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 are currently supported with AIM 3.3, and it won't be long before standalone KVM from Red Hat and standalone XenServer from Citrix Systems are on the list.
The important thing, says Baker, is that Dell is keeping AIM open - meaning that it works across all popular x64 platforms - and not using it as a lever to try to push just PowerEdge servers and related Dell switches and storage. "With think this open approach offers a lot more value and allows us to influence a larger portion of the customer's IT environment," says Baker.
Scalent can convert physical server instances to virtual ones, convert virtual servers to bare-metal instances, and convert instances running on one physical server (say an IBM or HP box) to another (say a PowerEdge); it cannot yet convert from one virtual machine format to another as workloads are moved between hypervisors, but this is an obvious next step. You need all four - P2P, P2V, V2P, and V2V - to cover all the possible things a system manager might do with a server.
AIM it is an out-of-band management tool, which means it uses the APIs in server firmware, hypervisors, and operating systems to gather data about machines instead of deploying resource-hogging agents onto boxes.
Thanks to Amazon's popular EC2 cloud, every IT end user wants to have a self-service portal to get their own servers, and Dell has partnered with DynamicOps, which makes virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and lab management (jukeboxing and lifecycle management for VMs) software, to cook one up for AIM 3.3 (Gee, I wonder who Dell will acquire next?) "Self service is a core component of the private cloud," says Baker. "I am a former IT admin, and if I never had to talk to an end user, I would have been pretty happy," he admits with a laugh. "Conversely, I don't want end users running my IT, either."
Dell's new VIS Self-Service Creator allows system administrators to create virtual machines and publish them to a catalog that end users can ask permission to use. The portal hooks into whatever governance mechanisms and workflows that are required at an IT shop to provision a machine, a task that is handed over to AIM 3.3 once all the virtual paperwork is approved.
The portal interfaces with the resource controlling parts of AIM 3.3, making sure end user VMs splash in the server, network, and storage pools they are assigned to and don't wander off into deeper waters where they are not permitted. The workload deployment engine is in the portal in this case, not in the provisioning manager (AIM). The tool is used to request, provision, manage, and retire the VM or physical server instance, and has role-based access controls so you can give different users or admins varying degrees of control. (For instance, maybe end users can only request VMs, but they can't provision or kill them.)
Dell is also previewing another module of the server management stack called VIS Director, which sits on top of AIM 3.3 and acts as an IT operations hub, showing system admins the dependencies between physical or virtual servers, showing them cost metrics for workloads, and doing static and predictive capacity and performance trend analysis. VIS Director will be available in the next quarter or so, and contrasts with VMware's vCloud Director in that it will span multiple hypervisors.
Baker says that in benchmark tests performed by Dell, the VIS stack allows companies to deploy server workloads 90 per cent faster, cut down on deployment steps by between 70 and 75 per cent, and cut IT management costs in about half. Given these numbers, Dell is hoping to radically ramp up the Scalent installed base now that it has the self-service portal and will soon have the director in the field. Scalent had an installed base of several hundred customers, each managing hundreds of servers, when Dell snapped it up during the summer.
Del is charging on a per-socket basis for the systems under management for AIM and the VIS Self-Service Creator portal. AIM 3.3 costs $1,810 per socket, while the portal costs $1,495 per socket. ®