3Par buyout puts Dell in ring against IBM, HP -- even partner EMC

Dell now looks to compete with HP and IBM as an end-to-end player

With its expected acquisition of 3Par, Dell is positioning itself to compete against top data center storage providers, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi and even Dell partner EMC.

But Brad Anderson, senior vice president of Dell's Enterprise Product Group, said the 3Par acquisition won't affect Dell's reseller agreement with EMC.

Through its agreement with EMC, which has been in effect for the past decade, Dell resells the storage vendor's entry-level and midrange Clariion storage arrays as well as its Data Domain de-duplication appliances. The partnership represents billions in revenue and, for many years, it has accounted for more than 10% of EMC's earnings.

"EMC is a very important partner of ours. Our plan is not to change anything. We've always been a company about choice. We're bringing another choice," Anderson said. He added that Dell never resold EMC's high-end Symmetrix line of arrays, so there won't be any be overlap or competition in that category of products after Dell completes its acquisition of 3Par.

Over the past few years, Dell has expanded its line of storage products mainly through reseller partnerships and acquisitions, with offerings such as entry-level to midrange Fibre Channel and iSCSI arrays, network-attached storage (NAS) and data de-duplication devices. With Monday's announcement that it plans to purchase 3Par, Dell is squarely positioning itself in the enterprise-class data center market.

3Par sells storage arrays that can be clustered together to provide petabytes of capacity that can be served up to business units like a utility. The technology is especially well suited for supporting virtualized server setups and private and public cloud computing infrastructures because it can be centrally managed and scales, like building blocks, in capacity and performance.

Steve Duplessie, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, agrees that a Dell acquisition of 3Par wouldn't necessarily affect the Dell-EMC partnership.

Duplessie said 3Par was one of the only independent vendors left whose products presented serious competition to the likes of EMC's Symmetrix, HDS's Universal Storage Platform (Virtual) and IBM's Enterprise Storage Server high-end storage arrays.

"3Par's product line competes with EMC for sure," Duplessie said. "But there's no overlap at all [with the] ... Dell-EMC relationship because of this acquisition. Will it ultimately become a problem? 3Par will compete just like [earlier Dell acquisition] EqualLogic competed with EMC, but somehow their partnership relationship continues to get bigger."

Dell wasn't the only company interested in purchasing 3Par, according to Duplessie. HP also had its eye on the Fremont, Calif.-based storage vendor.

"There's not a heck of a lot of high-end options, so it will be interesting to see what they end up doing," he said.

Mark Peters, also an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said Dell's planned buyout of 3Par has less to do with storage and more to do with Dell's wanting to be an end-to-end solutions provider like HP or IBM. "This is about Dell becoming a grownup," he said.

Dell's Anderson said storage is playing a key role in the company's strategy to provide utility-style products for customers.

During a conference call with the press and analysts on Monday, Anderson pointed to the emergence of software-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, social networking, and public and private cloud computing as examples of architectures that increase the need for storage platforms that scale in both capacity and performance for massive throughput.

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