Not Showy, but Dell OEM of Microsoft System Center Essentials Makes Sense

Dell and Microsoft have much in common.

They’re both companies that rode the PC to fame and fortune. They both leveraged client-server computing to grow their businesses. They both do extremely well in the SMB space. They both struggle with branding challenges occasioned by stupendous misadventures in consumer markets. And they both are seeking to reinvent themselves for an era of widespread virtualization and increased adoption of cloud computing.

Dell’s Windows Azure partnership with Microsoft was noted in this august forum earlier in the week. That pitch was directed primarily at larger enterprises and service providers. Now I’d like to turn my attention to a  comparatively modest announcement Dell made Wednesday that speaks volumes about how well it understands its notable SMB customer base.

Sure, in announcing the availability of available a Dell OEM version of Microsoft System Center Essentials 2010, Dell wasn’t revolutionizing the SMB space. It wasn’t even revolutionizing its own approach to that market. What it was dong, however, was continuing to give its customers new options for effectively managing their Microsoft and Dell systems and environments.

By integrating Microsoft System Center Essentials with Dell’s OpenManage portfolio of Dell Management Packs, PRO-pack, and Update Catalogs, Dell will allow its customers to use a single interface to manage technology infrastructure comprising Dell PowerEdge servers, PowerVault and EqualLogic storage, and other products.

Dell will start pricing of its OEMed version of Microsoft Systems Center Essentials 2010 at approximately $5,000. Dell will make money sales of the software, but the overriding objectives are to give customers management options, to make life easier for them, to save them time and money, and — not coincidentally — to keep them in the Dell camp.

The solution is designed for SMBs with up to 50 physical or virtual server operating systems and 500 client devices, and it  provides systems management for virtualized and nonvirtualized environments.

I was briefed on this announcement by Forrest Norrod, VP and GM of Dell’s Server Platform Group, and Enrico Bracalente, senior strategist of system-management product marketing in Dell’s Enterprise Product Group. From that discussion, I understand that Dell is seeing strong and widespread  demand for virtualization from its midrange enterprise customers. The company expects that interest to intensify, and I think you will see Dell continue to build, partner, and buy to address it.

Another takeaway from that discussion is that Dell and Microsoft recognize that they can provide mutual reinforcement for one another, in enterprise markets generally, but particularly in the SMB realm. Dell and Microsoft have a long history of working together, of course, and neither depends exclusively on the other. Still, it’s a relationship that remains far from enervated.

That will surprise the casual observer, but only because the Dell and Microsoft brands have been tainted by their consumer-market follies. On the enterprise side, and especially in SMB, these companies have a lot to offer, as customers will readily attest. In that regard, it’s not surprising that Dell would become the first major vendor to OEM Microsoft System Center Essentials and put it into a bigger-picture customer context.

On its own, this announcement isn’t a particularly glamorous milestone, and it doesn’t rank high on the industry hype meter; but it does qualify as the sort of practical blocking and tackling that keeps SMB customers in the fold. There’s something to be said for that.

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