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How about this fight card? Dell vs. Google vs. Microsoft vs. Apple

Dell is thinking about ways to bring cloud-based consumer storage to the mainstream. By the way, so are Microsoft, Google and Apple.

Despite the early kinks attending MobileMe, what's not to like about the concept? I'll include Live Mesh in the category, though Microsoft still remains in beta with the product. Synchronizing e-mail, calendars, and contacts--it's a fine idea. Unfortunately, nobody has figured it out to anyone's full satisfaction yet.

Maybe that will soon change as more companies with the means and the motivation offer cloud-based storage to consumers. One recurring rumor has Google planning an upcoming consumer service with "infinite storage" called GDrive. Take rumors for what they are worth, but given Google's (growing) cloud-centric history, it's not unreasonable to expect an announcement along those lines.

Meanwhile, another name with the bonafides is thinking about trying its hand.

Dell.

I recently caught up with Praveen Asthana, who directs storage operations at Dell. While cloud-based storage so far has had an uneven reception in the market, he says the initial consumer reluctance to store valuable digital files "out there" is receding.

"What convinces me about this is that people now are comfortable putting their photos onto the cloud," he told me. "When you read about someone's house catching on fire, what's the first thing they try and save? It's the photos and the memories."

Of course, Dell knows that it is not guaranteed to succeed where others have failed. If it were that easy, Xdrive would have turned into a money machine for AOL. Instead, the company is looking to dump the service only three years after acquiring it.

At this point, Dell is not offering more details other than to acknowledge that the idea is under consideration. Also, it is not clear whether the company would go it alone or in collaboration with another company. But Asthana still believes the change in consumer behavior is for real and that it suggests a shift that will involve the entire user food chain. "I think it will start with consumers," he says, "and then go right up to small and medium business, and then corporations."

Perhaps. After its acquisition of EqualLogic last year, Dell now sells a broad iSCSI disk array product portfolio. The thinking is that Dell would be able to successfully extend its expertise as a supplier of storage hardware into storage services. It's obviously more complicated than that, but Asthana's boss is no stranger to applying managerial lessons learned in one area to another.

Michael Dell has proved himself to be one of the savviest operators in techdom. He built a multibillion dollar business by figuring out how to sell commodity PCs, servers, and service quicker than most. Each time it stumbled, the company learned from its mistakes and moved on. Consumer-based cloud storage no doubt would be a stretch, but didn't they say the same thing at other points in Dell's history?

If the scenario comes true, it would make for one heck of a scorecard with Dell conceivably facing off against the likes of Google and Microsoft (as well Apple).But with more people participating in digital photography and digital music--and all the attendant storage demands that follow--there's ample room for companies that can get it right. Besides, Michael Dell knows how to pick his fights.