Dell EMC PowerOne: Is The Future Of Autonomous Infrastructure Here?

By Patrick Moorhead - December 2, 2019

Dell Technologies has been busy in the press since it launched PowerOne. What is PowerOne? What does it mean for enterprise IT? And is it really autonomous infrastructure? The next few paragraphs will address these questions. For a deeper dive on PowerOne, visit the Moor Insights & Strategy site.

PowerOne – pragmatic innovation drives the autonomy journey

Autonomous compute—the notion of self-deploying, self-provisioning, and self-healing infrastructure—is something that's been talked about for decades, literally. Industry standards, technologies and solutions providers have come and gone in that time, with the vision of autonomous compute mostly unfulfilled.

There are a few things a solutions provider must have and do to be successful in really advancing the autonomy vision:

  1. The company must have a product, technology and IP portfolio that enables it to develop end-to-end solutions.
  2. The company must have a long-term vision of where the market is heading, accompanied by an understanding of what the journey to that end state looks like in practical terms for the IT organizations that support businesses of all types and sizes.
  3. Third, the company must have an execution engine that can continue to execute against the near-term needs with that long-term strategy as its “north star.”

Dell EMC is one of the few companies capable of developing and iterating solutions that drive the autonomous compute vision, and PowerOne is a big first step. It’s an all Dell EMC solution. PowerOne takes the best of breed components in compute (PowerEdge MX), storage (PowerMax) and networking (PowerSwitch), ties them together via PowerOne Fabric, and manages them through an automation engine aptly named the PowerOne Controller. For all of the goodness of its hardware components, this automation engine is what makes PowerOne such a compelling solution.

A breakdown of Dell's new PowerOne offering.

When managing infrastructure, most IT professionals would agree that the most significant resource drain is around the rollout, management and expansion of servers, storage and networking. Wisely, these are three areas that Dell EMC tried to address with the initial implementation of the PowerOne Controller. The PowerOne Controller has three elements designed for infrastructure automation:

  1. Launch Assist is the automation tool that simplifies the deployment and provisioning of compute, storage and networking infrastructure, by reducing the required steps by 98% (based on Dell EMC internal testing). In total, Launch Assist reduces the configuration and deployment and provisioning of servers, storage, fabric, and networking to 11 steps. While many IT organizations have developed tools to help with the deployment and provisioning of such resources, PowerOne does this from a single pane of glass (PowerOne Navigator) with calls to a universal API named, not surprisingly, PowerOne API. Adding to the goodness of Launch Assist is the fact that the PowerOne solution comes racked, stacked and labeled. Any IT pro that has deployed infrastructure knows the pains (literal and figurative) associated with racking and stacking. Dell EMC takes this all away by assembling and labeling in the factory. When PowerOne arrives in the datacenter, it really is just a matter of plugging in and firing up the PowerOne Navigator GUI.
  2. Lifecycle Assist is the monitoring and management of resources—inventory, change management, performance monitoring and advanced telemetry that enables IT organizations to proactively manage their server, storage and networking in a "hands-off" fashion.
  3. Expansion Assist enables IT pros to easily add infrastructure resources in a targeted way to meet the needs of the application and organization. Upgrading compute, storage and networking capacity is as simple as dropping in the appropriate module. No need to wait for the appropriate IT specialist to configure.  

Does PowerOne hit the mark?

Before answering this question, it’s important to note the shifting role of IT away from back office teams that need to keep things running. The business requires IT to be a partner in delivering differentiation. Time-to-value is the new measure of success. Because of this, IT organizations are looking for ways to minimize the tasks that drain resources and hinder the ability to partner with the business.

If PowerOne works as advertised, it will deliver real-world value to IT organizations as it makes IT operations more efficient through automation. PowerOne should free those valuable IT resources to focus on more high value tasks that have an immediate and measurable impact on the business.

Is PowerOne autonomous infrastructure?  

In short, the answer is yes. To answer this question, consider the autonomy continuum, and bear in mind that there's no hardened standard around ranking autonomous infrastructure. Because of this, let's draw parallels to the most hardened scale: autonomous vehicles.

The ranking scale for autonomous vehicles.

As the graphic above demonstrates, autonomous vehicles are ranked from 0-5 (represented on the top row). The bottom row represents a mapping of autonomous infrastructure. I see PowerOne as fitting into the automation stage of autonomy through the functionality built into the PowerOne Controller.

I fully expect Dell EMC to continue to drive the development of PowerOne, folding in the automation of managing the operating environments and workloads. Doing so will drive the solution further along the autonomy journey.

What are Dell EMC’s challenges with PowerOne?

While PowerOne is a powerful solution, Dell EMC has to do a few things well to find traction and longer-term success: 

  1. Don’t cannibalize the existing business. Dell EMC has a similar solution to PowerOne in its VxBlock solution (in partnership with Cisco). Dell EMC has to be careful not to cannibalize that existing customer base for the sake of ramping PowerOne business. In some ways, this problem solves itself as customers that have standardized on Cisco networking are going to be hard to move. 
  2. Help the industry realize it needs PowerOne. Virtually every enterprise IT organization is a strong candidate for a solution like PowerOne due to the massive resource drain known as IT operations. However, not every enterprise IT organization understands this. Additionally, PowerOne can be disruptive to enterprise IT, both organizationally and operationally. While this is ultimately a very good disruption, it is disruption, nonetheless. Dell EMC needs to build go-to-market (GTM) programs that help educate the market on the positive real-world impact of PowerOne on both IT operations and (ultimately) the business. 
  3. Lean on the Dell EMC channels. The selling motion of a solution such as PowerOne is both specialized and complex. It requires a team that is very technical and knowledgeable of a customer’s environment. Dell EMC should have a good understanding of the solutions providers that play in this space due to its experience with VxBlock. Leveraging these resellers who know how to educate and drive solutions like PowerOne should accelerate the sales cycles.
  4. Manage growth and manage expectations. Autonomous infrastructure is not going to replace legacy environments overnight. Undoubtedly Dell EMC has created sales "heat maps" that show where PowerOne will find traction first. Unquestionably the company will attack these opportunities early and let the broader market opportunity present itself over time.

In closing

Dell EMC's strength is its ability to weave pragmatism into its innovation and PowerOne is an excellent example of this. The product was designed in a way to make IT easier through automation, which should have several direct and indirect benefits across the enterprise. Don’t let the simplicity of deploying, managing and using PowerOne fool you. This simplicity is a perfect example of Dell EMC’s technical innovation at its finest.

Look for updates that track the progress of Dell EMC's GTM efforts with PowerOne and further analysis of how the company is doing navigating the challenges associated with introducing disruptive technologies to the market.

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.