Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Monday, January 24, 2022

Dell Jumps Into Growing As-a-Service Marketplace With New APEX Data Storage Services 

DELL TECHNOLOGIES WORLD 2020 – Eight months after announcing in September 2020 that Dell Technologies would make all of its IT products and services available through as-a-service offerings in the future, the company today (May 5) unveiled the first part of that strategy by introducing the general availability of its APEX data storage as-a-service option.

Fueled by demand from customers to get services they need as they need them, while facing challenges in the as-a-service arena from direct competitors such as HPE, Dell said that APEX data storage is just the start of its fledgling new capabilities for customers.

Unveiled on the first day of the two-day Dell Technologies World 2020 virtual conference, the initial APEX data storage services will offer customers enterprise-class storage on-demand that will be billed via subscription pricing.  Dell and its partners will set up and manage the infrastructure on an as-a-service basis with options for on-premises, customer data center or colocation deployment options.

Users can choose from three performance tiers of block and file storage based on their needs under one- or three-year subscriptions. Storage capacity starts at 50TB and can be scaled to what customers need to use.

Also unveiled were APEX Cloud Services, which include as-a-service hybrid and private cloud resources, and APEX Custom Solutions, which allow organizations to create their own build-to-order, on-demand environments for flexible consumption as needed, according to Dell. The APEX cloud services aim to give customers a consistent cloud experience across public cloud, private cloud and the edge, based on whatever their changing needs might require. Included in the APEX cloud services umbrella are APEX Hybrid Cloud and APEX Private Cloud services, which are made up of integrated compute storage and networking resources with support for traditional and cloud-native applications. Users can choose hybrid or private cloud resources for workloads including AI, virtual desktop infrastructure and more.

All of these first APEX components and the APEX as-a-service capabilities that are still to come are controlled through the new APEX Console, which gives users the tools they need to discover, add and manage their Dell as-a-service technologies.

“Clearly, we're hearing about an acceleration of digital transformation that's not slowing down, with big themes around multi-cloud and edge,” Michael Dell, the chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies said in a briefing today with reporters. “Customers’ data is only growing faster, and they want to turn that data into insights and results and competitive advantage.”

Those needs motivated the company’s path to as-a-service, said Dell. “We created APEX based on customer demand to make it easy for customers. Simple to buy, simple to use, simple to manage, all delivered as a service. The idea here is giving customer cycles back and making infrastructure highly automated, software-defined and intelligent,” all backed by Dell’s industry experience, track record and product portfolio, he said.

A Significant Shift by Dell: Analysts

Notably, four IT industry analysts who spoke with EnterpriseAI about the APEX announcements agreed that the news about the services is notable and important.

Bob O'Donnell of TECHnalysis Research

“What I find most interesting about the Dell APEX news is that it signifies how the concept of as-a-service hardware is finally starting to hit the mainstream,” Bob O'Donnell, the president and chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research, told EnterpriseAI. “When a company like Dell, which has been selling a great deal of IT infrastructure hardware to many pretty traditional companies, starts to embrace the model, you know that the market is finally ready to accept it as a new normal.”

Tracy Woo, an infrastructure and cloud computing analyst with Forrester Research, said that APEX changes the market expectations of on-premises resource consumption by simplifying access to best-of-breed products.

Tracy Woo, Forrester analyst

“APEX is a big initiative for Dell and a bellwether for the hardware industry at large,” she said. “It’s success or failure will be a good indicator of whether companies in the hardware business can succeed in an increasingly cloud-native world, a software-defined world.”

And because it comes from Dell, which offers products and services across a wide swath of the technology spectrum, it has a unique position in the market by delivering the company’s entire product stack, she said. “If they can capitalize on this opportunity, it will place them squarely within market needs of solving the complex edge and hybrid cloud problem.”

Another analyst, Marc Staimer, the president and chief data scientist at Dragon Slayer Consulting, called APEX Dell’s “first forceful foray into the elastic on-demand storage-as-a-service market where they charge similarly to public cloud storage.”

The move helps Dell catch up with some of their competitors like HPE, IBM, Infinidat, StorONE and others which are already ahead in this marketplace, said Staimer.

Rob Enderle of Enderle Group

Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group, called the APEX news “a significant pivot by Dell towards a massive as-a-service model. It forms a bit of a hedge against the cloud trend since it provides similar financial benefits coupled with more control.”

Enderle said APEX is “arguably the most significant announcement from Dell this year. It is part of a significant industry trend toward services and away from traditional hardware purchases. This is a return to the past because, in a way, this mirrors how IBM used to treat mainframes when they were leased rather than sold.”

HPE Also Made Its Own As-a-Service News This Week

Interestingly, the APEX news from Dell came right on the heels of the latest as-a-service news that was unveiled by competitor HPE just a day before on May 4.  HPE announced its new as-a-service data services platform for its HPE GreenLake on-premises and edge cloud offering.

The new HPE GreenLake cloud data services aim to give new and existing customers the ability to use GreenLake as a service, according to the company. Unveiled in the nascent HPE data services platform was a new Data Services Cloud Console (DSCC), software subscription services that aim to simplify and automate use by customers, and a new HPE Alletra cloud-native data infrastructure.

Analyst Marc Staimer noted that like Dell’s new APEX services, HPE’s new DSCC services provides a single pane of glass for their storage as-a-service offerings on-premises, in the cloud or through colocation sites.

Tracy Woo of Forrester also noted the timing of HPE’s DSCC news, while also mentioning that Dell’s recently announced spinoff of its VMware division could affect Dell’s APEX offerings.

“With the VMware spinoff, VMware products will also start to eat into some of this market,” said Woo. “Its storage-as-a-service offering is a strong play that competes well against NetApp’s offerings.”

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