Dell wants to open up walled gardens with Project Alpine

Dell executives believe users will find the forthcoming cloud storage services of Project Alpine as a way to break down the walls between Dell and the hyperscalers.

LAS VEGAS -- Dell Technologies' product development strategy for the next several years is to break down the barriers of enterprise walled gardens.

For customers, this could result in a bevy of consumption models, along with better interconnectivity among Dell's block, object and file storage operating systems and tools.

Spearheading Dell's push to break down the walls is Project Alpine, a forthcoming collection of cloud storage products for block, object and file storage available for purchase from the three major hyperscalers of AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

The world doesn't need another walled garden.
Chuck WhittenCo-chief operating officer, Dell Technologies

"We're committed to customer choice. We're not a cloud stack," said Chuck Whitten, co-chief operating officer at Dell Technologies, during a media Q&A at Dell Technologies World 2022. "The world doesn't need another walled garden."

Instead, the Dell storage software is meant to complement or supplement products and services sold by enterprise vendors or cloud hyperscalers like AWS, Azure and GCP.

The move echoes similar technology partnerships hyperscalers have made with other enterprise tech vendors, along with increasing customer demand for multi-cloud capabilities, according to Scott Sinclair, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, a division of TechTarget.

"Data centers, cloud and the edge all need to connect," he said. "They become walled gardens if they're not connecting to one another."

Future-proofing

Project Alpine, which is still in active development, enables customers to purchase the storage operating systems of PowerStore, PowerScale and PowerFlex from the three cloud hyperscalers in addition to the existing on-premises versions.

The cloud and on-premises OSes are interoperable, enabling data mobility across either cloud or on-premises arrays, as well as the ability to quickly purchase more storage from a user's hyperscaler of choice.

Project Alpine might appear to bring services to hyperscalers that provide similar capabilities, but customer demand dictated Dell's decision to pursue the initiative, according to Caitlin Gordon, vice president of product management at Dell Technologies.

"We hear loud and clear from our more sophisticated customers who want to continue managing their environments," she said. "They need to know they can have that flexibility to run in a public cloud."

Joining the pack

Project Alpine is similar to a 2021 partnership between AWS and NetApp to bring the latter's OnTap storage operating system to the cloud, Sinclair said. Traditional technology vendors and hyperscalers understand that organizations are using a hodgepodge of on-premises and cloud technology, making additional partnerships and licensing agreements inevitable to support and attract new customers.

"Every organization has a [multi-cloud] problem," Sinclair said. "At a high level, everyone is multi-cloud, but every individual organization's architecture is unique to them. ... You have to rely on partners. Even the cloud guys have figured this out."

File storage systems such as those sold by Dell and NetApp, he noted, can be particularly challenging for hyperscalers to develop, and make such partnerships an attractive catalog addition.

"If you're a cloud vendor, it doesn't make sense to reinvent the wheel," Sinclair said.

Organizations adopting popular on-premises technology in the cloud also avoid the need to retrain employees, and the potential for misconfigurations or other mistakes that come with onboarding new technology.

"We're seeing a prevalence of skills shortages [in technology]," he said. "When you have a training gap, that creates a cybersecurity gap."

Tim McCarthy is a journalist living on the North Shore of Massachusetts. He covers cloud and data storage news.