Kevin Peesker launched this year’s Dell’s Power To Do More IT Summit with the iconic video Did You Know? Documenting rapid fire the pace of change in the connected world of today, the video focuses on tech enablement, and, as the president of Dell Canada noted, on the merging of technology and business in global transformation. This theme – the tech empowerment of business productivity – resonated throughout Peesker’s welcome address as he outlined current challenges as well as latent potential in the Canadian business environment. Citing noted economist Don Drummond, Peesker explained that productivity rates for the average Canadian are half that of the average American, that there is 30 percent less software utilization in Canada than south of the border, and that there has been no productivity growth in Canada for the last seven years. In other words, “we have some work to do.” But Peesker sees not only challenge but also signs of change in Canadian business culture: it’s “a time to seek out new markets and new opportunities – with the help of IT,” he argued, which 60 percent of Canadian CFOs who in a March survey claimed “now as a time to invest in IT” appear to be gearing up for.
Dell’s role in this process as Peesker visions it is to be the agent of change, and to this end the team assembled an impressive cast to address the other video theme – ‘did you know?’ as it relates to Dell transformation and new capabilities that can power business productivity. In broad strokes, the company’s goal is to apply principles of standardization, an open approach and modular systems to create “The Optimized Enterprise,” an organization characterized by rapid time to value, ease of tech use, the flexibility to adapt – and reduced operating cost. In this work, Dell also relies on partners, two of whom were on hand in an opening panel to discuss the change imperative within their own organizations and in that of clients. John Kennedy, VP of OEM for Microsoft Canada, described Microsoft’s broad transformation to a mobile, cloud first productivity model, as well as specific examples of open approaches – a transparent process for developing Windows 10 that the company has more recently engaged in – and standards-based methods including machine learning to add features such as the Cortana voice assistant to its OS. For his part, Intel Canada country manager Graham Palmer stressed the importance of customer migration from Windows Server 2003 to Server 2012 R2. According to Palmer, migration is about more than support issues (Microsoft support for Server 2003 will cease come July), rather, it is a question of productivity: while old servers contribute little to enterprise productivity, they typically consume 65 percent of the energy used by IT equipment in the data centre.
A key focus of the Summit naturally enough was the PC, which Peesker proclaimed definitively “not dead!” Instead, the P(ersonal) C(omputer) appears to be multiplying in form and format at Dell. As Kirk Schell, VP of product marketing for Dell Client Solutions and keynote speaker at the event explained, literally hundreds of people are employed at Dell in client product development, and this work is shaped by canvass of customers on the “devices people really want.” Schell pointed to Dell’s expanding portfolio of client devices, which now includes the OptiPlex (oldest, desktop brand), Wyse (VDI clients), the Latitude, Vostro and new Rugged notebook families, Precision fixed and mobile workstations for professionals, and the Venue Pro tablet line, including the recently launched Venue 10 7000 – the world’s thinnest tablet that comes equipped with a real depth perception camera.
This client innovation is one piece of what Schell called Dell’s “evergreen strategy,” or continuous strategic renewal, which extends to company efforts to build end-to-end solutions. In the client context, this entails creation of a security portfolio that addresses virtually all top customer IP concerns: data protection that works on any device and encryption that follows a file anywhere including the cloud, malware prevention on any device, authentication that works with other security services (i.e. Dell firewalls) and is FIPS certified to provide secure credential processing, and centralized management for fast update and quality assurance. Schell also pointed to new ProSupport Plus services that deliver support at multiple levels from the data centre to the end point that are unique in that they provide proactive and predictive support. Imagine your car telling you the muffler is about to collapse before it dies on the roadside and you have time to hit the garage, and you will have a sense of the benefits of this type of service.
In one of the more frank Summit moments, Armughan Ahmad, VP of Dell Global Enterprise Solutions, offered insight into the magnitude of transformation at the now private entity: Dell is a $60 billion dollar company, he claimed, and of that $30 billion is derived from PCs/clients, 15 billion is generated by the Enterprise Solutions group, while Services and the fast growing, two-year old Software division make up the balance. According to Ahmad, the goal of Dell’s evolving enterprise business is to “democratize IT” in order to distribute it more widely in support of the “digital transformation that is now underway,” demonstrated by disruptive companies like Uber and Lyft that own no physical infrastructure, or digital first initiatives such as that launched by CBS to respond to Netflix.
So what are the key components of this democratization strategy? At a first level, Dell has developed converged infrastructure that delivers preconfigured, blueprinted compute, storage and networking resources designed to simplify deployment, and automate configuration and management to put next generation data centre into the hands of operators who many not have large staff resources. Ahmad pointed to Dell’s PowerEdge FX2 as an example of next generation convergence, differentiating this from “first generation systems of systems” represented by solutions such as VCE, FlexPod, etc. where the customer essentially buys discrete server, storage or networking products that are not packaged with the APIs needed to create a unified platform – unless vendor software is also purchased.
Dell’s approach, on the other hand, is an open one, where “hooks into the Dell platform” have been created to enable integration of the Dell OS with partner technologies. Ahmad explained: “we’re saying the end goal of truly integrated, converged platforms is that you can have both. You can have the systems of systems, with Dell management software [Active System Manager] that can also manage other hardware platforms, but let VMware, OpenStack, Red Hat and Microsoft have hooks – so, for example, you could provide a virtual SAN using the vSAN from VMware in our Dell server, storage and networking to virtualize the storage platform, or use VMware’s NSX to virtualize the networking aspects. Our competitors aren’t willing to do that because they are in a high margin business, and they can’t afford to virtualize their storage and networking platform and still maintain the 60 percent margins.”
Key infrastructure partners for Dell include Nutanix, with NOS software for hyper-converged, web-scale appliances (the Dell XC series), VMware with EVO:RAIL that automates and orchestrates deployment and provisioning of vms using the vCentre platform, and Microsoft and Red Hat for additional management capabilities. With Cumulus Networks, Ahmad explained, Dell is working to deliver the lower cost component of the “Optimized Enterprise”. Essentially, Dell has stripped its network switches of feature-laden operating systems, replacing this complexity with the Linux-based Cumulus system, which has far fewer (extraneous) features. According to Ahmad, the result is a drastic reduction in OPEX as only one administrator is required to manage extensive server, storage and networking resources in Linux environments, and he/she does not need to have extensive certifications in order to do so.
Reduced OPEX is a key value proposition for Dell infrastructure in Ahmad’s view. Citing industry surveys, he claimed that approximately 25 percent of typical data centre budgets is devoted to CAPEX, while 75 percent is accounted for by OPEX. “Software defined” (converged) infrastructure, which Dell is targeting through strategic technology alliances, is one means the company is using to reduce operating expenses. And in a twist on the usual cloud messaging, Ahmad also argued the relative cost advantages of private cloud vs. public cloud: this point he illustrated with material from a study by Principled Technologies labs, which compared performance and TCO for an unspecified, leading public cloud service provider running a database workload against an Intel processor/Dell solution loaded with Microsoft cloud software running the same. According to Principled Technologies, the Intel processor-based Dell PowerEdge M620 server with Microsoft Private Cloud produced a five year TCO up to 62.6 percent lower than the public cloud offering, with a 15 month ROI. According to Ahmad, Dell is finding that “85 percent of customers who have gone to public cloud for a structured workload are coming back to a private cloud on-premise or off-premise environment.” To support customers intent on private implementations, he explained, Dell strategy is to take the “economics of public cloud with software-based data centre design” developed by the large web tech providers and deliver this to enterprise and SME customers with services and with Dell experience in hyperscale environments. For public cloud bursting, the company has also created a Dell server platform that integrates with Microsoft System Centre, Hyper-V and Azure.
Beyond this keynote messaging, the Power To Do More IT Summit offered learning opportunities at attendees through a series of breakout sessions on topics ranging from the mobile workspace, to security, to storage economics and cloud. The event also spoke to issues with women’s economic participation, another area that Peesker noted “we need to do better on,” in a “Close-up Look at Potential of Women Entrepreneurs in Canada” session led by Dr. Ruta Aidis, senior fellow at George Mason University. Aidis’ Global Women’s Entrepreneur Index research, which looks at what companies are doing well to support women’s entrepreneurship in 31 countries was extended to Canada this year, allowing Aidis and DWEN colleagues to comment on the Canadian climate for women entrepreneurs. And the results were:
Strengths: Canada is in the high performing category, with many initiatives to support working families, an educated and well-connected female population, favourable policies for startups and women’s access to basic rights.
Best practices: activists such as Vicki Saunders (founder of the “Sheeeo group” of women who have been successful and are reaching back to help other women entrepreneurs) are an inspiration to women who will need to adopt leadership positions on this in order to draw it forward.
Challenges: access to capital is a global, gendered issue that resonates in Canada as well. In Canada, female businesses stay quite small: less than 3 percent of female owned businesses break $1 million in revenue, while only 16 percent of SMEs are owned by women. In the US, only 5% of VC financing goes to a female run businesses and shares are similar for Canada. Interestingly, when there is a woman on the board, there is a much higher likelihood that a female business is funded; however, only 3 percent of CEOs are currently women, females hold only 16 percent of board seats, and 40 percent of businesses actually have no women on their boards. Other potential contributors to exclusion offered by Aidis included a “confidence gap” where women question their ability to startup or scale a business, and declining enrolment in STEM courses of study, for as everyone knows, “technology is the key to growth in many modern businesses…”