The New Data Center Stack

One of the many benefits of working at Dell Technologies is simultaneously having access to the brightest minds in compute, storage and networking. Even better, we get to put these big brains together to think about IT in terms of end-to-end infrastructure, not discrete silos. The breadth of our portfolio provides us with the opportunity to think about how to solve our customers’ problems rather than how to protect our own technology silos.

Photo by Josiah Coates on Unsplash

Why is this important?  Because, as Michael Dell rightly points out, you can’t lead digital transformation by thinking in silos. Certainly we still need distinct focus on server, storage and networking, but we also need to think and operate more broadly. The industry wants to see the toolchains and solutions as consistent, general-purpose and reusable. The industry wants digital transformation, and you can’t lead the digital transformation by thinking in silos.

If I look across Dell Technologies right now, I see transformation happening. The Server group  working on hyperconverged systems (largely a Storage product), the Networking group leading our Virtual Edge Platform (arguably an x86 server for the network domain), the Server and Networking teams partnering to deliver PowerEdge MX, our software-defined network manageability driven by the team that unlocked IT manageability, VMware, and Pivotal leading how the workloads themselves are transformed.

Every one of these groups is thinking and discussing 5G – a new network paradigm woven into the fabric of everything that Dell Technologies has invested into. That’s why it’s important for Dell Technologies to be focused on the best solutions and delivering more agility to our customers, not on protecting silos.

Looking specifically at the networking space, even as SDN and Open Networking drive towards composable building blocks, it’s increasingly obvious that the companies being disrupted, the ones who have long embraced a model that locks customer into a proprietary networking infrastructure (I’m looking at you, Cisco), are attempting to rebuild the vertical, proprietary stack. It may look different, sit at a higher layer, above the network stack itself, but it’s vertical and proprietary nonetheless. The new stack around software-defined is built on controllers, automation, analytics, security, programmability, and eventually, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). This stack can’t be proprietary or we risk rebuilding the closed, locked in, and inflexible stacks of the past, except with more business-critical impact.

What have we accomplished so far?

  1. Taken complex network functions off of proprietary ASIC and moved them to x86
  2. Forced generalized network workloads to move from proprietary ASIC to merchant silicon
  3. Taken control plane from that merchant silicon platform and moved it to x86
  4. Driven a multitude of open source communities around undifferentiated control and data plane capabilities, and developed standard mechanisms to interface between the two

In other words, the world approached the network through the lens of IT and saw that the network, like IT, doesn’t need to be built on proprietary building blocks.

What are we doing now?

  1. Moving the data/user plane of those complex network functions off of the x86 in the server back onto FPGA SmartNIC to improve efficiency
  2. Abstracting the merchant silicon to be as easy to consume as x86
  3. Enabling the control plane and data/user plane to be further apart (logically and geographically)
  4. Using IT toolchains to automate the historically CLI-driven capabilities
  5. Rearchitecting both IT apps and network functions to be truly independent of the underlying compute paradigm

In other words, the world is seeing that the network can be managed, automated and programmed like IT infrastructure.

What are we going to do next?

  1. Move workloads freely to their ideal computing architecture – from x86 to FPGA-based SmartNIC to merchant silicon
  2. Slice the end to end network (physical, virtual) into services
  3. Eliminate the two-backplane paradigm (backplane intra-server, network fabric inter-server)
  4. Use closed-loop ML-based Automation to drive the decision logic of the above
  5. Model all Infrastructure as a set of capabilities that any application can take advantage of

In other words, the world will see that infrastructure is a composable set of functions and capabilities made available to any workload—there is no network or IT or switch or router or server. No silos, just infrastructure

Digital transformation is a journey that transcends silos, and we’re on the way. We want to take you on that journey with us.