It's a software defined world after all

John Swainson, Dell Inc.
John Swainson, president, Dell software

Three trends are converging to put software front and centre in Dell efforts to future proof its business. While the erosion of PC sales by tablet consumption (Gartner estimates 20% negative growth for Dell in 2011/12) continues to demand Dell’s refocus of investment priorities, the company’s transformation to total solution provider has been predicated on an aggressive acquisition strategy. Over the past three years, Dell has acquired 16 different companies – which each have required varying degrees of integration. And a final factor is the growing ‘software definition’ of various components in the data centre that is now reaching beyond servers into networking, storage and facilities systems. Increasingly, software is viewed as the key to agility in end user organizations, and as a result, a rung up the value chain within the vendor community.

In February of 2012, Dell signalled its intent to pay due heed to software with the creation of a new software group, headed up by new hire, John Swainson, a long term IBM employee and former CEO of CA Technologies. Describing software at a strategic level as “the glue that ties together hardware capability and systems” at Dell’s annual user conference in December of that year, Swainson noted his intent to unite Dell’s scattered software capabilities under the technology banner of Quest Software, a security software firm acquired in July with sufficient market heft and infrastructure to serve as the basis for Dell’s software platform going forward.

In a recent conversation, Swainson provided with an update on the software group’s progress in meeting these goals and Dell’s roadmap in six key areas. According to Swainson, the goal of development initiatives last year was to “compliment existing partnerships,” creating integrated solutions formed from Dell “hardware, some amount of embedded software and quite a lot of third party-software.” Since then, Dell has made a number of additional acquisitions, including AppAssure, Quest and SonicWALL and Enstratius (a cloud management software specialist acquired in May 2013) that Swainson explained have allowed the company to build out solution sets – as opposed to applications – that work at the infrastructure level. “We’re not interested in going into the application business per say, but interested in providing customers with complete infrastructure solutions.” The six solution areas are as follows:

Security: The most advanced focus area is security, where Dell has built an end-to-end solution that stretches from encryption on endpoint devices through SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer virtual private network) for secure VPN web access, firewalls, indentity access management to monitoring and consulting. In security, the company continues to partner for a few capabilities, such as antivirus and spyware on the endpoint devices (relationships with Microsoft, Intel and Symantec). According to Swainson, representing approximately $1 billion in revenues, this is a good size solution of scale.” Going forward, Dell’s intent is to build out these capabilities to extend them to additional use cases, such as cloud-to-cloud identity management: “today we do on-premise to cloud, but there are certainly customers who want us to help them manage identity and permission passing in a pure cloud environment.” Additionally, the software group will work on integration of various security pieces, moving beyond monitoring of firewall events to connect firewalls and identity management solutions to uncover “context at the firewall level, which is really important in the detection of abherent behaviour.”

BYOD: A “close cousin” to security, Dell is also working on BYOD, which Swainson described as a “multitude of problems that depend on security and regulatory issues associated with different use cases in a particular company or industry, such as healthcare.” As a result of this variability, Dell has released a family of four BYOD solutions, which at their core all aim at the same goal – securing of endpoint devices in order to provide uncompromised access to corporate data.

Cloud management: Dell software is working specifically on “multi-cloud management,” the ability to sit on top of self-managing, converged cloud infrastructures to provide management across public and private clouds from different vendors. According to Swainson, Dell’s acquisition of Enstratius has delivered some of this capability, but the software group is also able to leverage some of the performance management capabilities in Foglight (acquired with Quest) which offers insight into resource needs, and when it may be necessary to burst to public cloud.

Data protection: This area began life as backup and disaster recovery, but has transformed to also encompass data management. In cloud scenarios, for example, control over data location can be critical when a customer uses on-premise, cloud and multi-cloud resources. Currently, Dell has a number of products in the data protection field, and is working to consolidate these into a more holistic solution, and to integrate them into Dell’s cloud solutions.

Endpoint management: This may involve management of endpoint devices – PCs and their configuration – as well as VDI and other sessions on enterprise devices, such as Android, Windows, Mac or ILS for M2M communications. Products in this category range from change management and configuration management to endpoint management tools that push updates to OS and applications.

Information management: Dell has chosen to focus on tools that enable data to be managed, which includes definition of data as well as management and movement of data in both relational and non-relational contexts. In addition to traditional tools such as TOAD for management of relational databases, Dell is also building management capability for customers needing to manage unstructured data in non-SQL or Hadoop environments.

Dell’s software roadmap is a comprehensive one, which stretches from the data centre core to the endpoint device. In training a software lens on these technologies, Swainson argued that Dell has targeted areas that are not currently well served in the marketplace. For example, the company has not focused on relational databases as these are well provided by proprietary and open source systems: “there is neither the need nor the appetite for another vendor to enter that space. Similarly, we have chosen not to invest in some of the traditional systems management categories, such as IT service management or Remedy. It’s an important solution but it’s well served.”

In developing its priorities, Swainson’s group has focused instead on software that is tightly tied to the rest of Dell’s business, and “where there was significant market disruption going on that would give us an opportunity as a new entrant to come and establish ourselves.” In go-to-market, however, the software group is not confining itself to the Dell solution bundle. An “attached” software sale is “natural” in many situations – the sale of PC management or endpoint device management software to accompany a large laptop order, for example – and makes perfect sense, but Swainson also has 2,500 sales staff who work independently of the Dell hardware group, and sell Dell software as standalone solutions, including a couple hundred who are devoted to building awareness amongst the channel partner community. Swainson expects to see “significant amounts of synergy and sales velocity when we can attach software to something that the customer is already going to buy from Dell, but as a software company, we also support heterogeneous environments” – a comprehensive approach that should stand Dell software in good stead as it looks to capture opportunity, rather than ante table stakes in the increasingly crowded cloud management, BYOD and security arenas.





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