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Dell adds Project Frontier for edge, expands HCI with Azure

Dell dropped news at separate events this week -- one that showcased edge management software, another that showed deepening HCI ties with Azure -- but the items are connected.

Dell's new software platform helps customers expand and solidify their edge strategies, while simplifying edge operations with aspects like automation.

At its Dell Technologies Summit, the vendor showcased Project Frontier, a beta-like platform release focused on edge locations. The edge, or the periphery of a network, presents unique challenges around connectivity, security, resiliency and management, according to Dell. The new software platform enables advanced manufacturing, retail and transportation logistics companies to manage IoT, operational tech and multi-cloud environments at the edge, and ties them in to the rest of Dell's edge portfolio to streamline the edge for customers.

Separately, at Microsoft Ignite, Dell unveiled a new offering for Azure Stack HCI, a move to broaden hyper-converged infrastructure offerings for its diverse user base.

While news of Project Frontier and Azure Stack HCI happened at different events, they are connected. Dell has promised to support single-node instances of Azure Stack HCI, which could enable companies to establish additional edge locations, while Project Frontier would give those companies a means to manage those locations.

"Frontier gives you a way to manage all the technologies at the edge," said Paul Nashawaty, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, a division of TechTarget. "So now admins can have zero-touch for onboarding, security [and] cloud connectivity."

Focusing the frontier at the edge

Edge locations, especially those farthest from a centralized data center, can be difficult to manage, according to Sid Nag, analyst at Gartner. Trained IT personnel aren't available at each edge location to manage IoT devices or deployment and upgrades of software.

Dell is using software to operate, manage and orchestrate these edge locations without needing humans to do this. All of this is done with a zero-touch deployment protocol.
Sid NagAnalyst, Gartner

"Dell is using software to operate, manage and orchestrate these edge locations without needing humans to do this," Nag said. "All of this is done with a zero-touch deployment protocol."

The edge market is rife with bespoke products that don't have standards normally seen in IT, according to Brian Partridge, research director at 451 Research. With Project Frontier, Dell is looking to add best practices and provide better security, while also moving away from hardware to become an application platform for customers.

"The real innovation that Dell can bring is the scale and security elements through the combination of its software and hardware at the edge," Partridge said.

Project Frontier can bring a common set of management features on Dell hardware that can be updated and deployed across thousands of locations from one centralized location, he said.

The platform is similar in strategy to another Dell product, Project Alpine, which enables customers to manage Dell's storage assets across clouds in a single pool. Project Frontier will provide similar capabilities for industrial edge locations so that they can be collectively managed remotely or without human intervention, according to Jeff Clarke, co-COO of Dell Technologies.

"[Project Frontier] sits between IT and the operational technology, the vertical notion of all of these edges, and really builds an abstraction of horizontal software," Clarke said.

This builds off Dell's multi-cloud by design strategy; instead of bolting on parts as needed into a multi-cloud, Dell starts from the ground up, adding necessary tools.

Project Frontier will keep Dell competitive with its server counterparts, HPE and Lenovo, according to Partridge. And while the project will compete with hyperscalers, he said the relationship will operate more like a partnership.

Diagram of the Dell Project Frontier edge operations software platform
Dell Project Frontier unifies management from core to edge.

Deepening the HCI partnership with Microsoft

At Microsoft Ignite this week, Dell also unveiled offerings for Azure Stack HCI, the latest in a series of agreements with other HCI vendors. The company's most strategic HCI system is VxRail, a combined hardware-software offering that the company pulled together with VMware. Dell also has a long-held relationship with Nutanix and its HCI offering, as well as with Red Hat, where OpenShift is at the heart of that offering.

"With this announcement, Dell is trying to promote the fact that it has an even tighter integration with Azure," Nashawaty said. "It's more a feature/function release. It may give them the ability to deliver a Windows-based stack solution with Azure Stack and Teams."

One of the more interesting aspects of the HCI news, according to Nashawaty, was the promise Dell is making to deliver single-node configurations of the new offering. Such an offering would be designed to go after both SMBs with their small-footprint data centers and large enterprises that are establishing a multitude of edge locations.

"For example, appropriate use cases for single-node versions would be for the hospitality and transportation industries and any other industry that is exploring new use cases that have to work with edge locations that are space constrained," Nashawaty said.

Over time, Nashawaty expects to see Dell add similar capabilities to all four HCI offerings.

"They have four pillars in their HCI portfolio, but each pillar has different capabilities than the others," he said. "They will have a single-node configuration for Azure Stack, but they've had a satellite and single node for VxRail the past six months. They will walk down the list and make them uniform in terms of features and functions."

Project Frontier goes hand in hand with the Azure Stack HCI agreement, as it will serve as an edge operation platform to scale edge applications and infrastructure while supporting a range of software and multi-cloud technologies.

"If you can use Frontier to tie Azure Stack HCI to a satellite node, that gives you full visibility, insights and management of your single-node HCI cluster on Azure Stack," Nashawaty said.

Expanding the edge portfolio

In addition to Project Frontier, Dell is expanding on its edge portfolio. Available next year, Dell Validated Designs for Manufacturing Edge are tested configurations with Dell's partners that are meant to ease application deployment at the edge.

In December, the vendor will release Dell PowerEdge XR4000, a shoebox-sized PowerEdge server built for harsh conditions. The server supports Intel Xeon D processors and various GPUs, and it can run a three-node VM cluster in a single box, according to Sam Grocott, senior vice president of product marketing at Dell Technologies.

Also in December, the vendor will release Dell Latitude 7230, a ruggedized tablet designed to manage edge environments in extreme environments.

Adam Armstrong is a TechTarget Editorial news writer covering file and block storage hardware and private clouds. He previously worked at

As an Editor at Large with TechTarget Editorial, Ed Scannell is responsible for writing and reporting breaking news, news analysis and features focused on technology issues and trends affecting corporate IT professionals.

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