One strain of management theory holds that the success of an acquisition depends on the speed and efficiency with which the new business is integrated into the old. This prospect was put to the test at the combined Dell and EMC end user conference held in Austin, Texas, last week as the new merged company worked to assure customers that it’s business as usual, and to highlight points of integration in people, process and technology that have been achieved so far. As Michael Dell noted in his keynote address to the 8,000 attendees at the first ever DELL EMC World, Dell is now “a family of companies” and this “unique structure allows the company to be nimble like a startup, but also able to quickly scale” new solutions that can address large demand.
Combining people, process and technology
So what has the new company managed to report to technology consumers in its short, six week history as a combined, legal entity? On the people front, the event featured many new faces – product specialists and managers from the EMC side of the business with deep expertise in the minutiae of advanced storage software and hardware. At the same time, reports on impending layoffs, primarily in US supply chain, marketing and general and administrative divisions in the 2,000 – 3,000 have fuelled speculation that HR issues will require further resolution.
In terms of process, executives emphasised new sales mechanisms designed to enable joint go-to-market activities, and the resource development put in place to enable that. As Kevin Peesker, president of DELL EMC in Canada, explained, over the past year, all Dell sales personnel have undergone EMC product training, in addition to 1:1 education sessions with their leader – a process that was apparently mirrored within EMC. And in terms of market coverage, the merged company has segmented opportunity into enterprise and commercial, with cross pollination of products across these categories. According to Rola Dagher, GM of the Dell EMC Infrastructure Solutions Group in Canada, 4,000 of the largest organizations across North America comprise “enterprise”; however, the goal is not simply to target high end EMC systems at these, but rather to draw on company-wide expertise across product lines to deliver customer-specific solutions. And to support this integrated approach, Dell EMC announced at the event, a new channel partner program that combines elements of the legacy programs of each organization, but is based on a centralized model with one partner portal and one deal registration – and rewards focused on new business and services and sale of the full solution portfolio.
At the technology level, DELL EMC World also featured a series of product updates: a combined endpoint security and management portfolio that includes Dell Data Protection, cloud-based data protection for small devices from Mozy, RSA SecurID Access management and threat detection/response solutions, and endpoint management from VMware AirWatch; and the 3.0 Virtual Edition of Data Domain, a software-defined backup appliance that can run on the Dell PowerEdge (13G) server or in hyper-converged environments – as well as a series of enhancements to the EMC product line, such as a new all flash version of the Isilon scale-out NAS for unstructured data that the company claims provides 80 percent storage utilization, and the new 3.0 version of ECS (Elastic Cloud Storage) that meets the needs of “cloud-native environments” while delivering a 60 percent lower TCO than public cloud storage.
But other announcements trained more laser focus on technology integration. For example, by extending software capabilities with EMC heritage to the mid-market Dell SC (formerly Compellent) storage arrays, the company has delivered new storage management and data protection functionality to customers’ existing assets, while enabling interoperability that will allow them to mix and match enterprise storage products, managing these through a common user experience. But the jewel in the integration crown – described by Michael Dell in his keynote kickoff as the Dell EMC “new brand for infrastructure” is the VxRail converged systems portfolio.
In essence, the new solution approach consists of the integration of Dell PowerEdge servers into VxRail Appliances and VxRack System 1000 hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) through a co-engineering relationship with VMware, which provides the hypervisor layer as well as management software. According to Dell EMC, the new offerings address new uses cases (Big Data and analytics, graphics heavy workloads, remote branch office computing and virtual workspace), but the integration of compute and storage capabilities also means support and service from a single vendor, and leverage of Dell’s extensive supply chain to speed delivery and enable new price points that allow more customers to enjoy the benefits of HCI. The company’s intent to democratize hyper-converged infrastructure is apparent in the specs for the entry level VxRail appliance. According to David Goulden, president of the Dell EMC Infrastructure Solutions Group, the smallest appliance, which is based on Intel’s Broadwell Platforms and runs vSphere and VMware VSAN, delivers 49 percent more CPU (than previous converged iterations), can handle 200 VMs, and features all-flash nodes equipped with 2x more storage and a new 3-node entry point (that can scale to 64), is available for a mere $50,000 – and delivers a 30 percent operational savings through unified management of servers and storage.
VxRail’s “big brother,” Goulden added, is the VxRack System, which is also based on the PowerEdge server platform and includes pre-integrated top-of-rack Spine-Leaf networking and SDN options. This rack-scale hyper-converged system can scale to thousands of nodes, tens of thousands of VMs, and offers new levels of flexibility, enabling the customer to incrementally adding high-density, storage-heavy or compute-heavy node configurations.
For the Dell EMC “family,” this approach to engineered solutions is not untried. Dell’s OEM relationship with web-scale technology provider Nutanix, which dates back to June 2014, was aimed at creating a new series of converged infrastructure appliances targeted at VDI and other private cloud applications. Similarly, with acquisition of the EMC federation of companies, Dell inherits a solid converged infrastructure platform, Vblock Systems combining EMC storage, VMware hypervisor and management software and Cisco networking and UCS server components, delivered through VCE. The potential overlap in functionality that arises begs the question: what to do about ownership of competing solutions? Dell’s short answer is to allow customer choice by continuing to support each of the systems – an approach that may also serve to maximize revenue at a time when servicing acquisition debt is critical. The long answer is different – and illustrates the longer term that will be required to address integration issues at a strategic level. According to Chad Sakac, president of converged platform solutions for Dell EMC, “a lot of revenue that comes in, comes in from VCE, so it’s important [that the company] not punch the customer in the face” with replacement of UCS servers in Vblocks. At the same time, however, Sakac noted the company’s intent to focus on the PowerEdge platform in its hyper-converged solutions, a product category that Sakac claimed is “growing superfast in comparison to converged” infrastructure, as a means to ultimately increase the presence of Dell servers.
Up the Stack
In the meantime, the new company is looking to leverage new software capabilities obtained in the acquisition, building on Dell strength in hardware by moving up and completing the stack solution. A good example of this is the new Analytic Insights Module (AIM) announced at the event, which delivers the software, hardware and services needed to support cloud native application development. A turnkey analytics and application developer “experience” that runs on the Dell EMC Native Hybrid Cloud and includes Pivotal Cloud Foundry PaaS, AIM is designed to address a number of the challenges organizations face as they look to analytics to drive new business insights. Berna Devrim, senior director, global solutions marketing at Dell EMC, described the customer’s primary challenge in terms of the need “to get to outcomes faster,” a goal that in many cases leads away from “building” infrastructure to the “buying” of engineered systems, such as the EMC/Cisco/VMware heritage Vblocks, racks and appliances – and now VxRAIL – which are delivered with full support for upgrade and other services. “What we have done with the value proposition around tight integration in engineered systems, and single call support in lifecycle operation, is move up the stack – past converged and hyper-converged systems – to cloud management (vRealize) for virtualization and the networking and storage components and added a ‘secret sauce’,” she added. As Ashul Chadda, director of product management for Dell EMC Hybrid Cloud Platforms, explained, this ‘sauce’ has been baked with self-service, blueprints and templates, and one-click automation that allows the IT admins to provision on par with various public cloud services.
Going Cloud Native for Analytics Development
In addition to this Hybrid Cloud infrastructure, the company has also developed another stack – the Native Hybrid Cloud platform designed for rapid application development cycles, which enables developers and LOB managers to use a self-service portal to quickly provision applications like AIM according to policy on security, access, SLA’s, backups, etc. set by IT. According to Devrim, the typical data analyst typically spends 80 percent of his/her time trying to gather the right data: “as a result, many of these Big Data and analytics projects fail or take forever, which business doesn’t like.” Designed to address this issue, AIM sits on the container-based, elastic, micro-services foundational layer (Cloud Foundry and Native Hybrid Cloud) taking advantage of support from Isilon or Elastic Cloud Storage. “What the market was looking for was someone to cover the full analytics lifecycle,” explained Ted Bardasz, senior director of product management, Big Data Solutions at Dell EMC, “from finding and evaluating data, getting self-service and defining insights, all the way to the cloud native application development in a fully engineered turnkey deployment. We have taken the infrastructure layer with engineered components and put software on top that covers the full analytics lifecycle, including governance, security, and data management, and layered on an interface that is directed at the data science professional.”
The goal was to create a “data fabric” that would allow users to integrate various tools, such as data cleansing solutions, that they can be embed into workloads. “We looked to create an open system that was workload-based because in marketing analytics, for example, people are pulling data from consistent stores. The blending, cleansing and wrangling [of data] are part of recipes for specific workloads that prepare data so that people can connect with a high degree of interactivity,” he explained. In the data lake models, based on Isilon technology, Bardasz noted EMC’s research focus on “data awareness” (use of metadata) aimed at helping customers find unstructured data – and avoid the “data swamp” – and on the ability to sample data across enterprise content stores/databases/cloud to build and test analytics models in advance of ingesting the entire data store onto the lake. In other words, data is brought into the lake on-demand, as needed, as in cloud scenarios. Bardasz described this functionality as part of the team’s “lean product approach” – trained on customer pain points throughout the data lifecycle – which has resonated well with markets such as and financial services and healthcare, and that will be especially important in the data republic era when enterprises looking to monetize their data.”
Clearly the panoply of announcements featured at Dell EMC World are based on ‘family’ conversations that pre-date the six-week inception of the new company. And no doubt these conversations will continue as the company moves beyond the combination of portfolios and tactical integrations on display at the event. How long this will take remains an open question.