Review: Dell Cloud lets you have it your way

Dell's VMware-based cloud infrastructure provides all of the flexibility and complexity of the leading enterprise virtualization platform

In business, you go where your customers are. If the kids want to listen to that rock and roll music, well, you put it on the jukebox. If the enterprise caretakers want to buy something from a cloud, then you bundle up your server boxes and call them a cloud. That's what Dell is doing. If time is too short to buy your Dell machines with a purchase order and take delivery, you can call up the company and it will start them up in its data center.

Dell's new cloud has a distinctly Dell flavor that's apparent from the beginning. The company has always been very close to Microsoft, and now it's even closer after the leveraged buyout. While other clouds charge a bit more for a Microsoft license, you get one to Windows Server 2008 R2 as part of the whole bundle. The Dell Cloud portal where you control your machines insists that you log in via Internet Explorer or Firefox. Chrome isn't even on the list.

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The sales process is also very Dell. You can buy a machine by the hour, but the first options you see ask you to reserve a chunk of hardware for a month -- much as you might if you were leasing a real slab of silicon. Dell's sales team is ready to help at any time. A "small" machine comes with one virtual CPU, 2GB of RAM, and 100GB of storage for a going rate of $125 a month, averaging about 17.5 cents an hour.

A medium instance -- the size I tested -- has four virtual CPUs, 8GB of RAM, and 400GB of storage for $500 a month. If you want to buy by the hour, it's 5.5 cents per virtual CPU per hour, 7 cents per gigabyte of RAM per hour, and 30 cents per gigabyte of storage per month. Once you reserve this hardware, you can then split it up into VMware virtual machines, just as if you purchased a real piece of hardware and installed VMware.

Virtualization and freedom

The biggest difference about Dell may be in the openness to the virtual machine part of the stack. All of the other major cloud companies take your money and give you root on some virtual machine. Then they pretend that much of the virtualization isn't there. The root password makes it look as if you're logging into your very own box, when in reality you're logging into a virtual machine that's sharing one piece of hardware with a bunch of other customers.

With Dell, you open up your Dell Cloud portal and find a VMware vApp, described by one Dell support engineer as the equivalent of a rack where you can stick your own virtual machines. To fill the virtual rack, you can draw on a few standard templates to create an F5 load balancer, a Windows Server 2008 R2 machine, or a Suse Linux 11 box, but of course you're also welcome to upload any VMware or OVF virtual machine.

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