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Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Jim Stikeleather, Chief Innovation Officer, Dell (Part 1)

Posted on Wednesday, Sep 21st 2011

Sramana Mitra:  Hi, Jim. Welcome to the Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing series. To better understand the scope of the IT infrastructure you are running for Dell, would you talk a bit about this before we get into cloud computing in more depth?

Jim Stikeleather:  Hi, thank you. To introduce myself, I am the chief innovation officer for Dell. What I’m focused on, as opposed to the chief information officer, are future products and services for Dell. I can talk a little bit about what’s going on inside of Dell. At Dell, whatever we are doing in terms of proposing service for our customers in the marketplace is something we for ourselves. So, I can go in either direction. Whichever way you prefer.

SM: I’d like to first understand the scope of thinking in terms of Dell’s cloud computing. We want to talk about cloud computing primarily, but since you have a broader innovation role we may also meander a bit outside of that.

JM: Okay, let me give you a sense of size of IT within Dell. We run 44 call centers worldwide. We have 100,000 employees and contractors, 17,000 physical servers, over 110,000 clients systems running as of June 2011. We yhave more than 8,200 plus virtual instances, we apply about 7.5 million security patches each year, our Web servers serves up about 3.5 million pages a quarter, we handle roughly 22 million emails daily and in-house probably 900 terabytes in storage. So, that gives you an idea of the size of Dell.

SM: How, from your point of view, and where have you thought about introducing cloud computing and using cloud computing throughout this infrastructure?

JM: There are a couple of reasons why we started doing. When you think about it, we’re using the term cloud computing and all using this term, but in fact what we are all really driving toward is utility computing, which is you can call cloud 2.0 and cloud 3.0. Whatever you call it, it’s the next step beyond the cloud. Now to get there we’re not unlike any other organization we have separate servers for separate applications, mixes of servers, mix the software environments, so the process that we went through was kind of a step by step process. The first thing we did is we went through and broke out all the individual environments that we had running, and then began abstracting them and saying okay what are the commonalities of these environments.

The starting point was tests and development. If you think about it, for most organizations test and development has least risk when you are going to be making changes. That’s a good environment to cut your teeth on when you start talking about virtualization because you need to go through the virtualization stage before you go to the cloud stage. Some of the reasons for that is you need to learn what you can and can’t virtualize, because if you can’t virtualize then it’s not going to migrate to the cloud terribly well. It’s also your management processes. This comprises your configurations management data bases, your support, and security. In short, virtualization gives you the first step in that. So, from testing and development we were able to look atwhat we learned from that, and in a virtualized environment we were then able to then say OK, where can we start consolidating our servers and create a virtual infrastructure?

That has been going on for a number of years, and I’m going to give a quick overview. I’m trying to get the precise numbers for you. We went from server utilization — let’s see, I’m trying to find a number somewhere — around an average of 10% to 15%. Now we are somewhere in the 60% utilization range. We went from 75,000 virtual servers in the first quarter of last year to 11,000 virtual servers at the end of last year [2011] and from 630 VMware servers to roughly 700. We upped our utilization significantly. Now, the key to doing that is  going through the subtraction and consolidation process. That process [also involved] looking at application, and we started to build an inventory of the applications. That became available to us at the start of 2009, and we had roughly 6,000 applications. Through the process of rationalization and consolidation, we were able to lower that to about 2,600 applications.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Jim Stikeleather, Chief Innovation Officer, Dell
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