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Dell sees SaaS providing support, systems management

Now that the acquisition of SaaS player MessageOne has closed, Dell plans to roll out services to protect data and manage systems remotely. Some view Dell's SaaS rollout as an attempt to create a tiered customer support model.

Dell Inc.'s $155 million acquisition of email archiving Storage as a Service (SaaS) vendor MessageOne Inc. officially closed last week, freeing Dell executives to flesh out the company's plans to use SaaS for remote data protection and systems management.

MessageOne is a key piece of that SaaS platform, along with products that Dell picked up from its previous acquisitions of Everdream, SilverBack Technologies and ASAP Software.

Intellectual property from Everdream and SilverBack help Dell manage the platform from its data centers. Everdream brings the ability to administer services to multiple users, while SilverBack adds monitoring and patch management for server and networking systems. Intellectual property from ASAP Software will handle software licensing management and rollouts, while MessageOne will take care of message archiving for compliance. Everdream intellectual property is also used for an off-site data backup and recovery service.

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ASAP Software and MessageOne are two of several modules that will plug into the SilverBack/Everdream framework, according to Raj Kushwaha, Dell vice president of services. Other modules will include disaster recovery, antimalware, antivirus, asset tracking, image management and uptime services. Dell will sell monthly subscriptions to the modules, and customers can turn each module on or off at any time.

Kushwaha said that Dell will add more options, perhaps by acquisition. "We're planning to partner with third parties and will continue to look on a case-by-case basis at our decisions to buy, build or partner," he said.

Dell considers the new SaaS platform a means of providing large-scale customer service and support. In addition to the software modules, customers will have pricing choices for troubleshooting according to the level of intervention they want from Dell.

Kushwaha said the first tier of pricing will be for services that require no human intervention at the other end of the wire. Such services will use a rules-based engine written by Dell to proactively diagnose and fix common issues. For example, if a system's performance slows, the engine can see whether it's a CPU or disk capacity issue and then take steps, such as clearing temporary files, to try to resolve the issue. Kushwaha said this process would cover about 60% of those common issues.

The next tier up would tackle another 20% of common performance problems and would use tech support staff at the other end of the wire. A third tier would be for customers who want to have Dell or one of its VARs to completely manage their environment. Kushwaha declined to give ballpark pricing for those different levels of service, saying it will vary too much by customer size and number of SaaS modules supported.

Tiered customer support model
Greg Schulz, StorageIO Group founder and analyst, sees Dell's SaaS rollout as an attempt to create a tiered customer support model. When Dell acquired storage systems vendor EqualLogic this year, EqualLogic customers said they were happy with their existing service model and didn't want Dell to change it.

But according to Schulz, the EqualLogic model won't work across all Dell products. "The EqualLogic service model doesn't scale down to smaller sales," he said. "With some of their storage products, like the MD3000, you'd end up spending more on that kind of service than the acquisition price of the box."

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