Last week, some colleagues and I had a chance to spend the day at Dell's headquarters in Austin, Texas. It was seven hours of meetings, getting a dump on Dell's various lines of business, and was capped off with a meeting with the man himself, Michael Dell. It was an informative day, meeting with folks who run the storage, server, networking, and channel divisions of the company. I came away with one overriding thought: Here's a company that is focused.
Unlike many vendor representatives I talk to, those from Dell don't focus on selling to the Fortune 500. Dell focuses on the mid-market. Where it has the ability and when it thinks it makes sense, the company will move up to the larger enterprises. Frankly, the mid-market has many of the same demands that larger enterprises have, plus the additional pressures of less IT budget--the percentage of IT budget compared to the business many be the same, but the resulting dollars are proportionally less, which means less money for capital expenses (product prices are independent of budget) and less money to hire dedicated staff.
Addressing those latter two needs, Dell focuses itself on making products easy to use and lower in cost. Easy to use doesn't mean simple or featureless. Easy to use manifests itself through a unified UI, single-pane-of-glass management and smart defaults in products, and that results from integrating acquired or developed technologies into cohesive products. The net result is easier-to-use products across a product line or across vendor silos. We heard about it while talking with Dell's VP of storage, Darren Thomas, and heard the same sentiments echoed throughout the day from the server, networking and channel groups. If Dell's success in the storage line is any indicator, we'll be seeing more interesting, integrated products from Dell in the future.
That integration also allows price reductionsl. Dell's strategy to use the technologies and IP acquired from Exanet across its entire storage line should result in reduced overhead and cost in developing and supporting new storage products. By itself, the savings may not be much, but the more integration you can develop and the more code re-use a vendor can employ, the less overall they spend on new products.
The day was productive. Maybe I am still reeling from the Kool-Aid--all-day visits tend to do that--or maybe Dell is onto something. While I am not about to start making comparisons among vendors, we can all point to vendors that are known as places that good technology goes to die. What I heard from Dell is just the opposite.
P.S.: As we were leaving, a wall caught my eye. If you ever contacted Dell on Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms, chances are you spoke to someone at Dell Cares. This wall is plastered with index cards that Dell employees write, such as "listen," "engage," "delight our customers," "connect with people from around the world" and "turn back the clock town hall-style." I dunno, it just spoke to me.
Disclosure: I traveled to Austin on my employer's (UBM TechWeb's) dime. Dell had lunch brought in. Estimated cost, $14.50 each (ham sandwich, chips and a Coke). No one has asked to buy my opinion, but, rest assured, it would cost more than $14.50.Mike Fratto is a principal analyst at Current Analysis, covering the Enterprise Networking and Data Center Technology markets. Prior to that, Mike was with UBM Tech for 15 years, and served as editor of Network Computing. He was also lead analyst for InformationWeek Analytics ... View Full Bio