Dell has agreed to buy Perot Systems for around $3.9bn (£2.4bn) in cash, and intends to make the company its global services delivery division.

The surprise move mirror’s HP’s acquisition of global services and outsourcing giant EDS in May 2008.

Like HP, Dell has struggled to build a services organisation of its own that could compete with industry leaders such as IBM Global Services, Accenture and others.

With the recession driving down hardware sales and profit margins, many hardware companies have increasingly looked to the higher margins offered by services as a way to prosper in the downturn.

Over the last four quarters, Dell and Perot together had revenue of $16bn (£9.86bn) from enterprise hardware and IT services, with $8bn (£4.93bn) coming from enhanced services and support, Dell said. Perot's contribution to that is relatively small: In 2008, the company reported total revenue of $2.78bn (£1.7bn).

At $30 (£18.50) per Perot Systems share, Dell's offer represented a significant premium over Friday's closing price of $17.91 (£11.04). In after-hours trading, the stock traded at $29.70 (£18.31) early on Monday morning.

The boards of Dell and Perot agreed the terms of the transaction on Sunday, they said. Dell expects to complete the deal in its November-to-January fiscal quarter.

Upon completion of the acquisition, Dell plans to make Perot Systems its services unit, and will put current Perot CEO Peter Altabef in charge of it. It also expects Ross Perot Jr, chairman of the Perot Systems board, to be invited to join the Dell board of directors.

The services unit will fit alongside Dell's existing divisions for selling to large enterprises, to government customers and to small and medium-size businesses. Dell created the three divisions in a major reorganisation of its business sales teams last December, shifting from a geographic structure to one aligned with customer types.