John Swainson, president of Dell Software, argues the case for rethinking datacentres

Having previously worked for Silver Lake, CA and IBM, Swainson now heads the company’s software business

Technology has the potential to change humanity, at least according to John Swainson, president of Dell Software.

During the 2015 Dell Innovation Summit in Copenhagen, Swainson discussed the opportunities IT can offer business and humanity, saying in his keynote presentation that “technology is the catalyst fuelling the evolution of our planet and unlocking the potential of billions of people”.

In the 1970s, IT was used to automate business processes. Swainson said the advent of the PC made IT available to everyone, and IT can hook the fabric of business together, giving “the ability to rethink business models”. 

Referring to the booking service Uber, which is often cited as an example of a new business model, Swainson said: “Uber is, in fact, online scheduling of just-in-time logistics.”

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Swainson called for businesses to revamp their datacentres to support these new business models.

He joined Dell in 2012 to create a software division, having previously worked at management software supplier CA Technologies as the CEO, and at IBM, where he headed up WebSphere. 

“I had the opportunity to build a software business [at Dell] to look for areas representing unmet needs on the part of customers,” he says.

These areas needed to fit in with the rest of Dell’s business and would potentially support disruptive change. This has led the company to focus on systems management, information management and security. 

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“CA and IBM were constrained in some ways by their prior business successes, but at Dell we didn't have that,” Swainson says.

Speaking on systems management, he says: “The integration between hardware and software is becoming more important in the enterprise. We are moving to a server-defined world where the boundaries between what the hardware does and what the software does disappears. This has profound implications on the software you build and how you manage and secure it.”

According to Swainson, Dell is well placed to support customers’ technology strategies as the world moves from physical hardware, such as storage area networks, to software-defined devices.

Windows server migration

As with many server makers, Dell is seeing a lot of interest among its customers who need to move from Microsoft Windows Server 2003 before support ends on 14 July. It is a major migration because Windows 2003, Exchange and Active Directory have to be moved in parallel, Swainson says.

Some organisations will use the migration to rethink their datacentre strategy, but Swainson has seen a number of organisations simply migrate to Windows Server 2008, as it is still a supported operating system and does not require the major application reworking associated with shifting the whole Windows Server infrastructure onto Windows Server 2012.

“Moving to Windows 2012 requires changing applications, and this a far more expensive upgrade from Windows Server 2003,” says Swainson.

Private cloud is ready for the mass market

Dell is a major provider of hyperscale infrastructure used by small and large cloud service providers, but it is also providing hardware and software infrastructure for private clouds. 

Dell works with Microsoft, VMware and Red Hat (for Openstack) and provides appliances to support private cloud deployments. Cloud computing is starting to gain a greater level of acceptance in the enterprise, says Swainson. 

“The cloud has involved a lot of pilots and experimentation, but this is changing very quickly to become a viable part of the server marketplace,” he adds.

According to Swainson, traditional monolithic applications cannot simply be re-hosted on the cloud to achieve the benefits of scalability and agility promised by cloud computing

“You can’t just take an application running on a big Unix server or a mainframe and put it into the cloud and expect to get the advantages of cloud economics. The transformation of datacentres is fundamentally about re-architecting the applications so they work differently,” he says. 

He believes the economics of the cloud are only achieved if the infrastructure can be scaled up and down as required by the business, meaning applications have to be engineered for cloud computing.

For Swainson, such a change cannot be achieved overnight because it requires a fundamental rethink of how to approach a datacentre design.

So far, Dell has primarily focused on providing hardware to the public cloud providers and building blocks to the private clouds in major enterprises.

“Mass adoption of private clouds is just around the corner, and we see a much bigger role for Dell as the provider of integrated appliances,” says Swainson. 

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