At OSCON Dell announced the inclusion of Project Sputnik into its generally available product line. For those not in the loop, Project Sputnik is a developer focused Ubuntu based laptop, the unit is based on the beautiful Dell XPS13 and comes with Ubuntu preloaded. While many see this as merely a laptop with a slightly quirky non-Windows operating system (which in itself is pretty interesting considering Dell’s long Windows lineage), I spent time during OSCON talking with the Project Sputnik lead for Dell, Barton George, and I’m pretty sure this product is a beachhead for the Dell we can expect in the future.

I’ve previously written about Dell’s strong entry into the packaged and integrated software market – and recently Dell indicated that software would be a $5B business for the company. We really are seeing an excellent example of a traditional hardware company reinventing itself as a services company. At the same time, and in order to accelerate this change, we’re seeing reinvent itself as an open source company. Alex Williams opined on this shift in a recent post and it’s hard to fault his logic.

Dell has been adding products and services to build out this open source based, developer centric rebirth – alongside the Sputnik announcement above, Dell has, in the past few weeks announced;

  • A partnership with Datameer a big data analytics offering that sits alongside Dell’s Hadoop solutions
  • A partnership with Pentaho for its solution which couples data integration with business analytics
  • That the Dell | Cloudera Solution is now available with additional options and in additional regions
  • An extension of Dell’s OpenStack offering including additional technical and geographic options

At the moment this feels a little disconnected, but it’s not hard to see a few additions which could start to glue this stuff together and move Dell to having a complete end-to-end solution for application development, deployment and management. For example, Dell has a pretty close relationship with enStratus already – it’s not a stretch to imagine Dell filling in the “heterogeneous cloud systems management” of it’s product line by acquiring the company to create an even more holistic infrastructure solution that ties together Dell’s hardware, its OpenStack offering and gives customers the ability to manage those, alongside their other cloud services.

Developer solutions – It is interesting that Dell is enabling users of Sputnik to pull down their individual profiles from GitHub. As developer tools like GitHub start to extend beyond being about code repositories, and move further into the PaaS space of application deployment, I can imagine Dell offering a stronger PaaS-like product mix. At the moment there is a distinction between code repository solutions and PaaS solutions but vendors like CollabNet are blurring these lines. Indeed Dell already has their Crowbar open source product – designed to deploy OpenStack. It also has add ons that can support other, higher-level tools such as CloudFoundry and Zenoss – I’d not be surprised to see an acquisition or extension in this general area to really continue the story to developers.

Dell really is doing some pretty amazing work to reinvent itself – while it’s true to the general public that Dell is all about hardware, and that this perception will likely continue – under the hood a very new sort of company is emerging.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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