Behind the scenes: Dell’s Cloud Centre of Excellence

Virtual Clouds takes an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of Dell’s biggest investment in cloud yet: a dedicated R&D facility in Dublin.

Dublin. Famous for literary giants such as Oscar Wilde, lively stag weekends and – surely its biggest contribution to world culture – the birthplace of Guinness.

But, as anyone who follows the tech industry knows, it’s also the place where Dell set up shop way back in 1993, lured by tax breaks, native English speakers and that easy flight path from America to Europe.

As of February 2012, Dublin will also be home to Dell’s first Cloud Centre of Excellence. The promise of an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour lured us over, with the added enticement of it being a mere 45-minute drive from the airport (which it is, providing you don’t take the wrong turn as we did and spend a panicky 20 minutes driving around Dublin’s back streets in your hire car).

Inside the centre, the walls still lack branding, the dev team are sitting at temporary desks and there’s the faintest whiff of paint. Walking into the meeting room, we are reminded of the moment you realise you’ve arrived at a party an hour before the rest of the guests: the venue is so new, the centre’s manager, Stephen McKenna, was yet to unload the green crates holding his vital files and folders.

“You’re really getting a very early doors view,” confirmed McKenna, seeing us eye his personal wares. “If we’d brought you up to the second floor then you’d see that they’re still putting walls up.”

Yet even now it looks impressive. The room we sit in is a generous size, with seating for 15 or 20 people around the table that dominates it. On one side is an array of windows gazing out upon Cherrywood Technology Park, whilst on the other is a series of whiteboards. Here, developers, IT managers and Dell hardware experts can brainstorm solutions to the complex problems that every business brings.

Tucked away in a separate room sits a collection of rack servers, their lights flashing as VMs are spun up and down at the whim of the developers. It’s the sort of place techies dream of.

Why build a Cloud Centre of Excellence anyway?

But this centre wasn’t built to satisfy the desires of hardware-starved developers. For Dell, it’s a serious investment into its cloud future and it hopes by working closely with customers old and new, it can solve their business problems – and produce a host of cloud-based packages combining hardware, services and support for the right price.

“The official opening may be in February,” said McKenna, “but we’re bringing some customers in already. It’s ranging from related technology companies right the way through education, government and retail.”

McKenna, a naturally enthusiastic man, becomes even more excited at the thought of retail.

“Some of the things we’re talking about in the retail space are really attractive. Cloud-based data. You think about retail, store information, stock inventory, all that type of thing, it’s all important, the quicker you can get that centralised…” He leaves the thought hanging.

Peter Owens, the Lead Cloud Architect at Dell and a key part of the Cloud Centre of Excellence’s management team, agreed.

“I’m sure industry bundles will emerge,” he said, explaining they have already seen a pattern in the needs of the higher education bodies visiting the centre.

“I’m sure it will be the same in other industries, they’ll have their own similar requirements, so I think it’s likely there will be bundles for those specific groups will emerge.”

Owens added: “That’s part of the whole R&D process, to identify what those bundles are. We’re in a great position in this centre to be engaged with customers, listen to their requirements, listen to their stories and sit back and say there’s a trend emerging here – six customers have all come in and said the same thing. We need to have a solution that fits that problem.”

For McKenna, one phrase crops up again and again: delivering value.

“One of the things we seek to do out of this is achieve scale in what we develop,” he said. “So the idea isn’t that we spend a load of money developing something for only one customer, unless that customer is quite happy to pay for it; the real benefit is to take that and leverage it across one million customers or two million customers. We then push that back into the solutions line that we have.”

“Imagine adding this to SecureWorks. We’re able to take SecureWorks’ security application sets and apply them across a specific type of industry sector that resolves a data retention issue, or encryption, then that’s absolutely something we’d package up and bring further forward.”

“And if you think about it, it has simplicity of selling,” added McKenna. “It makes it really simple for us to go out and say, ‘here’s our vertical stack on this, and here’s how it solves the pain point and addresses your concerns’.”

Sign up for our free newsletter