• 12/13/2013
    11:16 AM
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Dell Fills Out Cloud Plans

Announcing a spate of cloud partnerships, Dell begins to firm up its new identity.
10 Jobs Destined For Robots
10 Jobs Destined For Robots
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If taking his company private hasn't made Dell CEO Michael Dell more relaxed and confident, he put on a convincing facade during his opening keynote Thursday at Dell World.

"Shazam!" Dell exclaimed after Dell Servers VP and GM Forrest Norrod demonstrated the company's Fluid Cache for SAN storage product achieving over 5 million IOPS, which Dell claimed is a world record.

"When you go cloud, go with Dell. KABOOM!" Dell said in another of his more exuberant moments, many of which also included references to the R&D freedom the company can enjoy now that it's no longer subject to Wall Street's quarterly scrutiny. Dell can operate like "the world's largest start-up," the CEO declared, repeating a line that company executives have used since the buyout was finalized.

Figure 1:
Dell CEO Michael Dell speaks at Dell World 2013
Dell CEO Michael Dell speaks at Dell World 2013

But showmanship is par for the course during major tech keynotes. Many among the thousands of Dell customers in attendance seemed engaged by the CEO's feisty tone, but many were no doubt asking the same question: What does all this mean for me and my business?

Dell executives have addressed this concern in recent weeks, but largely in broad terms. On Thursday, the company revealed specifics, announcing a variety of cloud partnerships and innovation initiatives that CEO Dell said would return the company to its heritage: bringing customers the products they need at disruptive prices.

The announcements were highlighted by an OEM alliance with Red Hat in which the two companies will jointly engineer systems that run Red Hat's version of the open-source OpenStack cloud platform. The company also announced partnerships with a variety of public cloud vendors, including Google, Microsoft Azure, and CenturyLink. It's an impressive roster, even if it omits the 800-pound gorilla in the room, Amazon Web Services.

The gist is that Dell, unlike competitors such as HP and IBM, doesn't see the benefit in building out its own public cloud. Instead, the company has opted to partner with others, which allows it to focus on simplifying cloud management and orchestration instead of building out the underlying infrastructure.

[Is Dell's Venue Pro the right Windows tablet for you? Read Microsoft Surface vs. Dell Venue: Tablet Rivals.]

The partnerships announced Thursday also include a deal with Dropbox. Dell will offer Dropbox for Business through its sales force and pair it with Dell Data Protection Cloud. Dell's technology encrypts data as it moves in and out of public clouds. Dropbox says more than 4 million businesses are using its product. Ross Piper, the company's VP of Enterprise Strategy, told InformationWeek it hadn't yet been determined when the Dell-backed offering will roll out.

Other Dell announcements included the Dell Research Division and the Dell Venture Fund, two projects intended to spur innovation. The Dell Research Division will focus on organic growth with a long-range focus and will collaborate with leading research universities to harness emerging technologies, Michael Dell said. The $300 million venture fund will identify and support early-stage startups from around the world.

Dell executives also emphasized that though the company's future is in software and services, it remains committed to the PC market. Dell is one of several companies that have taken a beating, both financially and in the press, as the PC slump has worn on. But Michael Dell emphasized the promise of new products, such as its Venue tablet line, and claimed the company is seeing growth in notebooks.


Your thoughts on the new Dell?

So, Dell customers, what do you think of the cloud vision? Has Dell partnered with the right people? The Dropbox offering may go over well? Does Dell have a shot a mobile relevance anymore? Weigh in please.

Re: Your thoughts on the new Dell?

@Laurianne Let's hope Dell customers don't fall into the 50% surveyed at a recent  presentation at the Gartner Data Center Conferenc, the audience  was asked: "At what level do the risks associated with outsourcing some/all of your data center solutions to one or more of the 'aaS' models (meaning infrastructure-as-a-service, software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and others) prevent you from making the decision to move forward? (Select one)"Nearly 50% saw cloud-based solutions as having "a great deal of risk." Details are in a ComputerWorld article.

Re: Your thoughts on the new Dell?

Thanks for the observations, Ariella. I think it's true that a majority of companies are cautious about clouds, and that they view public clouds in particular as a significant risk. That said, I still think Dell is embracing cloud in a reasonable way. Dell's position is that it can help you manage and orchestrate clouds no matter how you have those clouds set up-- private, public, hybrid, whatever. That's why reason they're partnering with others for infrastructure, rather than trying to compete directly with Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, HP and others with deeper infrastructure investments. And if you want to set up a private cloud, Dell has some nifty hardware they can sell you too. And if you don't want a cloud at all right now, they have lots of on-prem stuff. I think there's risk in assuming any single cloud model will work, but Dell's smart enough to make its offering about many cloud models, and to make its overall portfolio amenable to both on-prem and cloud-based approaches. The company still has a lot to prove, but they're putting investments in good places. 

Regarding overall caution around clouds-- it exists, but I think the tide is turning. I concede that a major data loss in AWS or Azure could sour people pretty quickly. But unless there's some kind of disruptive event, I think people will  come to terms with their concerns. Some kinds of particularly sensitive data might never go in the cloud-- but even the most circumspect companies will embrace the concept for at least certain systems and resources. The economies of scale are too persuasive, and as long as companies go into a cloud initiative with a plan, I think they can find an agreeable balance between risk and benefit.

Not bad Dell...

Good for Dell.  For one, realizing that building your own clouds is really not the best option in many cases, unless your company really wants to focusing their resources on that.  They see the real value is in linking services, especially real business world ones like corporate versions of dropbox.  Throw in security controls (especially since Dell has a great security entity in SecureWorks), platform variety including options like OpenStack, and you have a strong contender.