Moving beyond hyperscale: Dell DCS looks to embrace smaller customers

Dell’s Data Center Solutions group was created to optimize Dell’s working relationship with its large hyperscale customers, but today, partly as a result of Dell going private, DCS is working with a broader range of customers to design customized solutions that meet their needs.

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Jyeh Gan, director, product management and strategy, Data Center Solutions, Dell

ROUND ROCK — Dell’s Data Center Solutions (DCS) group, which was started in 2007 to address the needs of Internet hyperscale vendors, has had an enormous amount of success in that role. Last week, as part of Dell’s Enterprise Innovation Day designed to show off some of Dell’s Austin and Round Rock based labs and data centres to media, Dell engineers discussed the DSC’s objectives and recent moves. The most interesting thing here was an expansion of the group’s original mandate, to do custom work with a much broader assortment of companies than the internet giants that the DSC was originally designed to work with.

The change is not due to any weakening of Dell’s hyperscale business, which remains extremely strong, albeit in a market which is prone to strong fluctuations because shipments are less consistent and more prone to regional fluctuation than conventional servers, which leads to substantial swings. While IDC’s 2014 fourth quarter numbers showed density-optimized servers decline in both shipments and revenue, their 2015 Q1 numbers saw these servers post a 26.1 per cent year-over-year growth rate, and a revenue increase of 51.6 per cent. Dell’s density-optimized revenue was the largest of any of the top five server vendors in the IDC data.

While other labs on the media tour were accustomed to customer and media visits – the Engineered Solutions Lab has so many that they have permanent presentation displays for the purpose – the Data Center Solutions Labs could not recall ever having media there. One of the data centres opened up to media was the Evergreen Joint Innovation Center, – a joint effort by Dell and eBay, one of their major hyperscale customers – albeit with a strict ‘no cameras’ requirement.

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Shane Kavanagh, senior principal engineer, Data Center Solutions Architecture, Dell

“This joint DCS centre with eBay lets us try out new technologies without having to send them to another data centre,” said Shane Kavanagh, senior principal engineer, Data Center Solutions Architecture, Dell. “It lets us try out new hardware like disk drives and CPUs, before they are production ready.” It also lets eBay test the Dell technologies on their code to see if they can optimize it better.

The Evergreen Center was created in 2013, reflecting the importance of eBay to Dell as a customer, and the two companies’ joint desire to optimize every possible aspect of the collaboration between the two companies.

“This is a big investment by Dell, and it is because eBay is a major customer,” said Jyeh Gan, director, product management and strategy, Data Center Solutions, Dell. “It allows us to offload work from their engineering teams, and allows us to innovate on the hardware pieces. We are effectively an extension of their data centre.”

Gan also pointed out that Dell gains a lot from the relationship as well.

“These hyperscale guys are on the bleeding edge, while we started out tweaking boxes,” he said.

Gan also indicated that this type of developmental work is something that has benefited significantly from Dell going private.

“Before we went private, this kind of work was very hard,” he said. “Now as a private company, we can think long term, and not worry about the short-term cost hit.”

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A modified Dell R430. Two new SSDs are in the enclosure at bottom left, with the DVD-ROM removed.

One consequence of this has been the ability to broaden out the work that DCS does, working with other Dell customers beyond their original hyperscale clientele to design custom solutions. In another lab area, Gan demonstrated what he termed ‘secret products’ designed individually for different customers. One project for example, modified a Dell PowerEdge R430 server by replacing a DVD-ROM with two additional SSDs to meet the customer request.

“This is a common type of request, because typically, the customer will want specific SSDs added,” Gan said.

Compared to the hyperscales, some of the vendors DCS is now working with on these custom projects are — relatively — quite small. This includes technical computing, telcos and hosters, as well as large enterprises.

“We are trying to extend our business beyond hyperscale customers,” he said. “This is something that we used to do just for large customers. Now we apply it much more broadly to strategic ones – anyone we think will be a marquee customer for Dell.”

Gan said that these days, he looks for a reason to say yes when a customer contacts him about a custom request.

“We try not to say no, and are doing a much better job of saying yes to a lot more smaller customers,” he noted.