My thoughts on the Dell Annual Analyst Conference 2013

Even though I’m fairly new to all this, I find it interesting when large technology companies hold analyst events. Interesting because the events present a great opportunity for us to learn what the major message and strategy are going to be for the next 6-12 months. Sometimes these presentations are all very slick and polished and hard to get much out of them other than a few good sound bites. It is always important to listen for patterns and in the end, it is more about what the companies we follow do than what they say. Questions that come to mind are things like: Are they all on message? Is there passion and consistency in their strategies? Is it coming from the top down? What’s the hallway chatter around the coffee table? Etc.

This was my first time to Dell's analyst event so I can’t compare it to previous years. What I can say is the event was well run event with excellent access to executives. Heck, I even got to chat face-to-face with Michael Dell himself on the first morning. The presentations were not-kill-you-with-slide-ware, timed well, and had adequate time allotted for questions. All the execs spent time talking to us at the breakfasts, hallway, dinners, etc—the access and candor were outstanding.

Starting with Michael Dell’s keynote where he highlighted Dell’s (the company) overarching message of Transform, Connect, Inform, and Protect. Transform by providing real end-to-end solutions to the market—this includes everything from datacenter servers to fully integrated converged infrastructure stacks to cloud solutions. Dell is the #1 server vendor in North America and not far behind in the world. Connect by continuing to help companies become better connected via end-point devices such as tablets and laptops as well as the management of those devices. Wyse alone already represents $1B business and is pulling additional back-end business. Inform to Dell means to focus on big data, analytics, and HPC. Finding more ways to manage and analyze data is one thing, standing up a healthcare cloud with over 6B clinical images is yet another. Protect is Dell’s continued drive to provide security across its solutions. Dell keeps adding to their security assets which include SonicWall firewalls, Secureworks managed security services, and Quest identity and access management. Secureworks alone has over 3,000 customers—so security is serious business at Dell.

Probably one of the most telling in terms of the real change going on at Dell was one of Michael Dell’s statements during his keynote—which I just had to tweet: software is way more important, which to me means that from the top down this PC/Hardware company is truly trying to transform itself.

The next executive I got to spend some time with was John Swainson, President Dell Software. This guy is a very senior software executive and who deep software creds including many years at IBM and CA. He said that Michael Dell approached him while he was basically retired and asked him to build the software business. With over 1600 software engineers and some 13000 sales makers John is leading the charge with Dell’s software strategies including its continued investments in cloud computing such as the recent Enstratius acquisition.

In addition to John I got to spend some time with Sam Greenblatt, Chief Technologist/Architect. Sam is also a very senior industry executive with deep software credentials including GM for HP’s critical systems management and CTO for various divisions at HP. Sam made it clear he was a hands on guy who rolls up his sleeves and works on the execution of the strategy. He said one of his key tasks is to make sure each of the product groups are working together towards the same strategy. He said this is key so that solutions come out of their efforts that work together and meet customer needs. Sam also made it clear that his time horizons were not 3-5 years out but more like 6-18 months. I find this perspective refreshing to hear from someone in this role – making delivering solutions that impact the top line verses setting lofty strategy goals.

The last executive I got to spend time with was Steve Felice, President and chief commercial officer responsible for the sales and marketing teams. Steve has been at Dell more than 15 years working in a number of senior roles including running APJ operations and SVP of the consumer and SMB business. I mentioned to Steve that I was amazed at how "on message" all the execs seemed in their presentations and in 1-on-1s. Steve said that wasn’t hard to believe because they spend a lot of time together reviewing the business—what amounts to at least two full days pre month. Whenever they need to talk about things, they make the time. Steve talked about how software is not just an overlay but is treated as a primary sale which is a path most hardware companies have a hard time adapting to when they have iron in their DNA. Steve also talked about how channel partners get equal opportunities on all deals—if they register the deal, they get to take the deal to close no matter what the account is. Again, I find this refreshing when channel conflict always seems to go to the vendor vs. looking for good recurring revenue from a strong partner network.

I got to talk to a bunch of other folks—either over meals, in the hallways, and in more formal settings. What I took away was:

· Dell is definitely not a PC company anymore, though PC’s create opportunities for over 50% of their server/solutions sales. So PC’s and other endpoint devices are key part of the strategy going forward based on customer demand which are most often part of a bigger solution—endpoint to the datacenter to the cloud. They also have a lot going on with converged infrastructure (CI). They ship many systems that include all the layers of the stack that they own (servers, storage – Compellent or EqualLogic, and networks – Force10) as well as being able to factory build them with other technology partner components.

· Software is an extremely important part of their strategy in their transformation to continue to provide solutions to their customers. This includes a tremendous investment in R&D as well as through acquisitions.

· Private Cloud, Security, and Converged Infrastructure are key elements of their strategy and it gets really interesting when you begin to think of the potential that they have when these three technologies come together.

· Public Cloud – Dell’s recent announcement on getting out of the public cloud IaaS business was a good move so that Dell can continue to sell their technology to CSP’s as well as to their customers without competing with their cloud partners. Their commitment to OpenStack permeated through many of the discussions, which includes submitting to the community as well as working to build OpenStack based solutions.

· Transformations take time, commitments from the top down, as well as a major investment. From what I saw, Dell is headed in the right direction and they seem to be embracing the reality that there is no silver bullet to getting them where they want to be.

My last comment is a special thank you to the Dell AR team: Frank Smith and his team did an incredible job of managing our schedules and providing such amazing access to the execs. I was very impressed with the folks Michael Dell has chosen to surround himself with and I truly look forward to seeing this great technology continue to be successful in the coming years.

Topics: Storage Cybersecurity IT Infrastructure Networking Converged Infrastructure Cloud Services & Orchestration