It is that season when big IT vendors parade their wares and their future plans in front of analysts, press and/or their customers. Just in the arena of storage it was EMC World last month, Microsoft after that (oh yeah, we’re hearing more and more about storage from this quarter…) and IBM, HP, Apple (it certainly causes a lot of storage!), and NetApp all have events of varying scales and intents this week. In the midst of this volume of ‘vendordom’ Dell managed to squeeze in not just one, but two events. At the tail end of May it held its analyst gathering just outside Austin, while the first week of June brought the Dell Enterprise Forum in Silicon Valley.
So, what did we learn? Well even the title of the latter event tells you plenty; Dell hasn’t always had much involvement in such events in the past but ‘real industry players’ conduct these sorts of things – and we know Dell wants to be a ‘real industry player’. Now of course you might say it’s odd that an organization that produces north of $50 billion in annual revenue wants to be a ‘real industry player’….clearly it is already one in many respects. But it’s an area where it has never really ‘cracked the code’ that clearly has its focus now: and that is to not only be a vendor that is just a supplier of things (albeit very useful things!) to enterprise organizations, but to be an enterprise vendor. As we all know that’s both a subtle distinction but it’s also a huge subtlety! After all, the ‘club’ doesn’t publish joining requirements – it kinda just happens. Much of the takeaway from the Austin get-together focused on how Dell is continuing its commitment to join the ‘enterprise club’ by moving its emphasis from ‘bits’ to ‘business.' It doesn’t just want to become an IBM or an HP, it wants to overcome them by applying to ‘enterprise capabilities’ exactly the same sort of M.O. that has worked for it elsewhere in the IT spectrum – in other words to achieve that rare mix of operational sophistication and efficiency together with excellent price performance. It sounds easy enough but actually delivering such a thing (and not just proclaiming it - as nearly every vendor does) is indeed tough. The combination even has a Dell name – “The Optimized Enterprise." Oh, and back to the name of the recent Dell event….it has morphed from various other component events (notably the Dell Storage Forum) so that now it is the Dell Enterprise Forum.
Of course optimization is a journey, not a destination, and so there must be product advances. Most of these were actually announced at the user event. On the storage front (if you read my blog you’ll know that storage is after all the center of the IT universe…and even increasingly acknowledged as such!) there was an impressive range of new offerings. To be specific there’s a new 6.4 version of the Compellent Storage Center that allows more tiers to be managed; and indeed new physical tiers were announced too (from the very fast tiered all-flash array – although sporting both SLC and MLC media to balance performance and cost – to an ultra-dense disk enclosure that allows for up to 2PB in 48U). The Fluid File System was improved – among other aspects - with variable block dedupe and integrated into an improved scale-out NAs solution. The EqualLogic platform got a made-over management and support interface. If that seems like just a list of products, it’s not. What can gradually be seen emerging from the storage team at Dell is a scalable, integrated, efficient, and effective converging approach to running storage (and full IT, too, of course). Publicly, its management team were, as one might expect, full of bravado….however, privately they were, well, actually just as full of bravado too! It was hard not to feel that they ‘get it’…..which means they see a way to ‘Dell-ize’ enterprise storage: as a vendor it has always wanted to make things simple…but luckily that’s exactly what many enterprise storage managers want today….any remaining romantic infatuation with the granular and manual management of GB and IOPS is waning fast.
What else? Assuming that – as expected - Dell returns to being a private company sometime later this summer, it will be interesting to see how much it continues to share so openly. But the open-ness at these recent events – around business models and margins, relative success and failures – did not feel like a last hurrah to impress shareholders; it felt like a commitment to a different way to do business. And that way needn’t mean ‘cheap and deep’ (to whit, Dell’s decision to leave the public cloud arena – “your mess for less” as it was stated – and focus instead on pragmatic and practicable private cloud enablements). Nor does it always mean being about hardware in all cases – one can make a good argument that Dell’s core competency is to make things (whether hardware, software, purchasing, or owning) simple…and a gradually converging IT world is right up its street.