Dear readers, this is Max Mortillaro reporting back from Chicago. I have been invited as an industry influencer to the Dell Technologies 2018 Analyst Summit in Chicago, an experiment from the Dell Tech Influencer Relations team. Thanks to them for this and hope my contributions / feedback will be of value to them. But moving along to my audience, here’s a bit of info from this event – or rather, from the publicly available part of the event.
This event was primarily focused on laying out the Dell Technologies long term vision & strategy. Data was the central topic of the event, with a focus around emerging technologies such as AI and IoT.
Dell Technologies 2030 Vision
Michael Dell and his executive team focused on the challenges that await us in the next decade. These are not only the exponential data growth (which is an acknowledged and inevitable topic at any conference) but also the rise of Artificial Intelligence.
From Information Highways to the Information Grid: The Age of Data
In the future world (and we are at the dawn of it), we will see an edge to core to cloud flow of data, going from edge devices (IoT, mobile endpoints, smart transportation etc.) to core systems onwards to organizations’ data centers and further away towards the cloud. The same flows may also happen in the reverse direction, with data from the cloud making its way to edge endpoints.
Half of the humanity is currently equipped with a mobile device. At the current rate of adoption, and with the growth of device types and endpoints, we will face a digital big bang that cannot be sustained by infrastructures in place. Emerging standards such as 5G will be at the very center of this Age of Data. 5G infrastructures (and their successors) will be the backbone supporting the incredible throughput we will see from edge devices.
Artificial Intelligence and Innovation: The Next Industrial Revolution
AI is particularly interesting because it is a transformational technology, and even perhaps the next industrial revolution. AI will bring a lot of innovation, but also a lot of changes to our daily lives.
One of the interesting takes was the change in perception and how humans process data. As humans, we are used to analyze events and examine all possible outcomes and ramifications. In this brave new world, DellTech’s take is that AI’s will analyze all of the possible outcomes for us and come up with the response we were looking at, or with recommended suggestions on how to tackle a problem. This might even influence on the long term (and if our civilization survives) the way our brains are wired.
Another challenge that will have to be addressed is how the human societies, industries and legislators will tackle the regulation of AI. Because of its transformational nature – nothing will be like it used to be, we’re told – a good deal of effort will have to be put into ensuring that the AI-human relation is one of partnership.
Finally, Michael Dell claimed that Dell Technologies is the only company large enough to tackle the challenges that lie ahead of us. I will come to this later. I appreciated the closing remark from Michael Dell that these technological innovations may bring us into a new Renaissance era.
This event was very packed with information. There are several directions to look at to get an opinion, and Dell Technologies is such a vast organization that one cannot possibly cover it all. I will structure some of my thoughts below.
Thoughts on Dell Technologies Vision
The Dell Technologies vision is clearly aligned with the major opportunities and challenges of our era:
- an unstoppable data growth trend with an ever-speeding velocity, further boosted by the proliferation of edge endpoints
- a self-fulfilling prophecy / never-ending cycle of offer driving more demand: “more compute is needed > new compute generation provides more compute power > new generation of apps developed > more compute is needed”
- the emergence of new computing paradigms that break or deviate from the traditional Von Neumann architecture and the de-facto x86 standard, potentially leading to order of magnitude leaps in terms of compute speed and processing throughput
- the existence of Machine Learning as a “version 1.0” of what the general public calls / mistakes for “Artificial Intelligence”
- the eventual rise of dedicated Artificial Intelligence initially limited to specific use cases. And perhaps, in the future, a real sentient AI (or network/grid of AIs) that will truly become the partner of humanity (or its bane, because let’s be honest, we like a good sci-fi book from time to time)
Parenthesis: The Dell – Intel Partnership And What The Apple 12X Bionic Chip May Mean
One of the things that I will look closely at in the future is Dell’s enduring partnership with Intel. I’m putting this here for lack of better place in the article. x86 may be the current architectural standard / mainstream compute architecture but nobody can predict if Intel’s dominance will continue to thrive.
Apple made a sensation when releasing their new A12 / A12X Bionic chips, an in-house ARM architecture that incorporates a hardware-based neural engine component. Not only that, but the chip (in its A12X version, fitting the iPad Pro) single-handedly owns almost any existing PC.
The question is crucial for Dell Technologies, at least for Dell’s PC business. I wouldn’t be surprised that the next iterations of MacBooks may contain a ported MacOS version – or even a desktop version of iOS, who knows. That may be pure speculation, but the impact is real. It’s too early to predict where we will be in 5 or 10 years, but at some point Dell might have to reassess their partnership with Intel. Provided, of course, that Intel are unable to catch up in a timely fashion with Apple and/or any other ARM (or any other emerging CPU architecture of the future).
Today’s modern x86 instruction set was born in the 1980’s with the Intel 80486. It’s been 30 years of dominance for Intel on the compute world, but we’ve already seen in this decade how long terms incumbents can be displaced.
Putting the Vision Into Practice – Dell Technologies Today
Dell Technologies is a very large IT company. In my opinion, this affects its ability to fully execute on the vision, at least in the current state of affairs.
A Constellation of Subsidiaries
Through the past years, Dell Technologies has amassed a rather large portfolio of subsidiaries. Dell Technologies umbrella covers Dell (PC business, Networking), Dell EMC (CI & HCI, Storage, Data Protection), Pivotal (PaaS, Development), RSA (Identity Access Management, Risk Management, Authentication etc.), SecureWorks (Cybersecurity), VMware (Network Virtualization, Security, Hybrid Cloud) and VirtuStream (Purpose-built Cloud).
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that a coordinated & flawless execution of a ten-year strategy is a colossal endeavor to achieve in the current state. This is not just due to the fact that there are several companies, but also due to the structure of these, or rather their current level of integration with Dell Technologies.
To be fair, John Roese, Global CTO at Dell EMC, said during his intervention that there is one cloud strategy and that is Dell Technologies cloud strategy. Each business unit executes a part of the vision. Furthermore, John also said that there are weekly coordination meetings to ensure the strategy across Dell Technologies remains aligned. While that is reassuring to hear, there is nevertheless a myriad of offerings to select for customers, and frankly it gets very confusing.
Confusing, Bloated Product Portfolios
This point has two axes. First of all, there are some product overlaps and even some internal competition within the Dell Technologies nebula. Secondly, each of the subsidiaries have been busy with their own acquisitions.
In the storage area (Dell EMC) for example, the bloated offering has long intrigued industry pundits and the official messaging has been nothing but confusing. As a matter of fact, post Dell-EMC merger, customers found themselves with at least two competing offerings for each product category. This is unsustainable, and we believe Dell EMC (and Dell Technologies overall) will have to rationalize their product offerings as a first step towards their 2030 journey.
The same applies for cloud offerings. Wouldn’t it be for what I wrote above (and what John Roese said), one would believe that Dell Technologies is going in all directions and testing the waters. It’s not that the offerings do not make sense (almost each use case is consistent and compelling), but different business units each proposing their own offering may make it hard for customers to choose. And perhaps this confusion might also exist in a portion of DellTech’s sales force or some of their partners.
A Lack of One-Stop-Shop
This broad range of offerings is penalized by the lack of a one-stop-shop. I’m convinced that this would make customers life so much easier. Currently, if I want to deploy Kubernetes, I have to go to Pivotal. But wait, VMware also offers a Kubernetes implementation! And what about my hybrid cloud? I could use VMware Cloud Foundation and select a VMware verified cloud partner or go with VMware Cloud on AWS. Or I could go with Virtustream. Or even with IBM!
From DellTech’s perspective, this is called giving the customer choice. For a customer, it can be good and bad. Good because indeed they to get some choice, but also bad because they need to figure out why select option A and not option B.
And getting back to the one-stop-shop point there is, to my knowledge, no such thing in Dell Technologies. I covered recently the awesome work done by the folks at NetApp with their Cloud Data Services program. This is something that Dell Technologies cruelly lacks and should put a ton of energy into.
Would I be to quote Hyperion, one of my favorite sci-fi novels, DellTech lacks that “Void That Binds”, or that kind of invisible fabric / matter that binds all of the service offerings together. Perhaps this was my greatest disappointment: the event was about Data but we didn’t hear much about how Dell will handle this data in the future world, and how it will be eventually differently done than the ways we already know – from a product / service offering perspective.
Now again, we have to be fair to DellTech. We’re not talking of one company with several products, but multiple companies with a horde of products. Nevertheless, this is an important point where Dell Technologies will need to execute. Not every customer wants to go into endless discussions with sales. Sometimes, signing up to a cloud service and swiping a card does wonders.
It will be interesting to see how Dell Technologies will fare across this long journey. To be fair to DellTech, the plan that was laid before our eyes relates to a yet to be started decade long expedition into uncharted waters. Our belief at TECHunplugged is that Dell Technologies is well aware that it needs to do a lot of preparation work to be able to execute on this ambitious vision.
The breadth & scope of subsidiaries, solutions and products make this a very challenging matter. One of the questions is whether every star in the nebula will be allowed to walk at its own pace, or if all of the subsidiaries will be requested to dance to the same tune.
Another question is to which extent the organization structure as we know it today will remain the same. Indeed, the series of mergers-acquisitions have made Dell Technologies a melting pot where diverse corporate cultures and approaches to business co-exist. While there may be similarities between certain subsidiaries, the question is to which extent Dell Technologies will look at integrating/merging some of those, if it even makes sense at all.
A Long Journey Ahead – This Is The Beginning Of It
But enough with questions. Several points were raised above, and it’s certain that Dell Technologies are well aware of what they need to do to rationalize their organizational structure, their product lines and their service offerings.
Another point is that Dell Technologies have historically been extremely active as early investors into startups. Provided that the proper investments were made in the most promising startups and novel / disruptive technologies, this could fuel DellTech’s propulsion into this new technological renaissance and give them headroom against their competition. We’ve seen exciting things on which we hope to report soon.
Personal Thoughts On The Event Format
On a personal level, and diverging from the strategical aspects to talk about the analyst event only, I loved this event. Not only did it allow me to understand better where Dell Technologies currently are, but also enjoyed getting a sneak peek at where DellTech is planning to be in the future. One of the other things I loved was the genuine interest in getting our feedback. Some of the sessions we had were two-way discussions, and I was also able to share some of the thoughts above (perhaps not in the same form), which I hope would eventually be useful to Dell Technologies. But I disgress. What was intended to be a short recap post turned again into a novel of its own.
To close this wrap-up section, I’d say that there are some very nice gems in Michael Dell’s treasure trove. Let’s hope the jewelers at Dell Technologies will be able to craft them adequately to turn this ambitious vision into an exciting reality.