The data centers are a way to give Dell customers the ability to build private clouds hosted by a vendor with which they're already familiar.
Microsoft, meanwhile, announced yesterday a version of its System Center management apps designed to manage virtual servers running on cloud platforms.
The version, which adds Virtual Machine Manager 2012 to its name, is designed to let administrators provision VMs on either their own servers or external services running Microsoft's Azure cloud service.
It will also allow end-users to launch their own VMs on either platform, within parameters set by admins.
Private clouds are typically considered to be either cloud-based resource-sharing software laid on top of an existing internal data-center infrastructure, or a similar setup hosted by an outside company that is used by only one customer.
Dell's storage-strategy boss told The Register Dell will actually launch a series of public clouds as well, similar to if not competing with Amazon's EC2 and Microsoft's Azure.
Public clouds are those built inside a server-hosting or data-center outsourcing company that sells cloud services at lower cost and greater flexibility than private clouds, by running virtual servers from several companies on the same physical servers.
EC2 and Azure both have both private and shared-resource "public" cloud options, but their services are much different otherwise.
Dell's versions will be Platform as a Service, as is Azure, built on an Azure appliance it is building in conjunction with Microsoft.
Dell will also offer Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) clouds based on the open-source OpenStack platform from Rackspace and NASA.
Dell, which bought outsourcer and data-center-services provider Perot Systems in 2009, has 36 data centers some of which offer SAAS applications but not, so far, flat-out cloud-platform services.
If you're thinking neither Dell nor Microsoft's announcements are particularly exciting, you're right. One vendor offering IAAS and PAAS is unusual, but hosting or outsourcing vendors allow the same thing on rented machines. Supporting them is more DIY than Dell will probably offer, but it's possible.
Extending Systems Center to provision VMs on Azure -- and let users do the same -- is also another step forward, but not a terribly big one. If it could do the same for other platforms as well it would be a lot more compelling.