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Dell services push to include ASPs, consultants

The company will announce on Thursday a program that will make it easier for its customers to find consulting help.

Dell Computer will announce on Thursday a program that will make it easier for its customers to find consulting help.

Under the Dell Data Center Direct Certification program, the Round Rock, Texas-based PC manufacturer will create a referral list of consultants and ASPs (application service providers) for Dell customers that need to outsource back-end computing functions, such as managing e-commerce sites.

Although it rose to prominence through low-cost manufacturing and direct sales, Dell has in the past 18 months increased its focus on selling services. Part of the shift comes as a result of the company's changing product mix. It sells more servers and storage systems now than in the past, and many businesses are choosing to turn over the management of this sort of back-end hardware to third parties.

While competitors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard have often relied on internal service organizations to provide many of these functions, Dell has historically teamed with third parties such as Unisys. Recently, however, Dell has expanded its internal service organizations.

Dell began with Internet service provider certification programs, later expanding to ASPs. Now it is going to bat for large corporate customers in the hunt for service providers who offer data center-based outsourcing services. The company officially inked a new billion-dollar agreement with Unisys on Wednesday.

Dell, as part of the new program, will partner with four or five large service providers, qualifying them on the technological nuances of using Dell hardware in various computing environments.

"We're going in there and we're helping them build reliable e-infrastructure," said Mike Nabhan, a brand manager in Dell's Enterprise Service Provider Program.

The company plans to limit the program, however, to deliver better services to its larger information technology customers.

"We're going to recognize and promote these partners," Nabhan said. But, he added, "We're going to pick and choose just a few. Probably just a handful."

Dell will test network architecture, bandwidth capabilities, security and disaster recovery, among other aspects of a data center. The evaluation program also includes training and validation, in which simulated failures will be used as a test of the data center.

Hardware and validation maintenance steps round out the program. Those service providers that partner with Dell will also be able to market their status under a Dell Data Certified logo.

Dell is following in the footsteps of some other hardware sellers, such as Sun Microsystems, which touts its SunTone program as the Good Housekeeping seal for the Net, said John Madden, analyst with Summit Strategies in Boston.

"It makes sense, particularly since Dell is trying to diversify itself" from being just a PC maker, Madden said.

"There are a couple of ways you can look at it. From a data center perspective...ultimately that may help Dell bring in potential customers," Madden said. "On the other hand, I think there needs to be some teeth to these programs.

"There needs to be some real kind of testing on availability, among other things, for customers to believe that these programs have any value--though it sounds like Dell is recognizing that."

Under the program, Dell will also put a new support team into service. The team will include systems consultants with expertise in data centers. As part of a new Enterprise Expertise Center, the team will offer a single point of contact and customer system availability guaranties, the company said.