Dell Canada recently invited InsightaaS and other IT journalists to a presentation designed to establish Dell thought leadership on IT infrastructure challenges facing the enterprise. The session also aimed at showcasing Dell’s response – a growing portfolio of products that cross the range of data centre requirements, which have grown out of a spirited history of technology acquisition.
Dell’s interest in outlining its positioning statement is timely. Businesses are now grappling with increased IT demand fueled by the growth of social, glocal and mobile applications, and driven by the digitization imperative, are now offering refreshed opportunity to technology vendors who can provide the innovation needed to support customer competitiveness. At the same time, Dell itself is in the midst of transformation, looking to leverage the enterprise-oriented assets and market expertise gained through its planned acquisition of EMC. Dell and EMC will act as two companies until the deal receives regulatory approvals and is finalized, according to Dell VP of Global Enterprise Solutions & Alliances and presentation host, Armughan Ahmad. However, Dell Canada’s intent is to capture the momentum that is building in this space, and to devote renewed marketing effort to tapping the Canadian enterprise segment, a goal that was the primary focus of the lunchtime presentation.
Thinking ‘Forward’. A key message at the session – that global markets are exerting increasing pressure on Canadian businesses – was introduced by Rola Dagher, GM enterprise solutions, Dell Canada. According to Dagher, technology is the only enabler that can help Canadian businesses build and maintain competitiveness. In order for this to happen, however, organizations must align technology implementation with business requirements as they face “The Wave of Digital Disruption.” In other words, enterprises need to think forward, to plan and prepare for the digital economy. While the ‘Uberfication’ of business models may be a familiar trope at sessions like these, the critical importance of technology to the evolution of new ways of doing business is a point well taken. A key point that remains unclear, though, is where and when this will occur in the Canadian marketplace.
Hybrid IT the ‘Innovation’ platform. For Ahmad, if IT is the source of innovation, the key question businesses now face is how to reduce OPEX. A conventional view of IT expense that was common in corporate IT budgets – and that continues to inform market sizing in many analyst firms – focuses on CAPEX, or the cost of acquiring IT equipment. But as Ahmad noted, this approach neglects costs for IT maintenance and support, as well as costs associated with facilities management. A TCO approach, which has been promoted by analyst firms such as the Gartner Group and other industry observers over the past decade, provides a more accurate and more holistic assessment of IT budgetary requirements.
Currently, Ahmad argued, a holistic view of enterprise IT is represented by a hybrid model, where support is provided for traditional IT as well as for new service delivery models such as cloud computing. Dell has defined a range of solutions, including software-defined networking, cloud-ready platforms, and Big Data enabled platforms as “new IT,” and is working to build an architecture that integrates this with traditional modes of IT.
Executing on ‘Choice’. At the enterprise level, Dell functions largely as provider of the building blocks needed to create IT infrastructure – servers, storage and networking. However, as a means of delivering customer choice, the company also supports hybrid IT solutions, such as the combination of rack and blade servers with direct attached storage, or even the onramp to public cloud applications and infrastructure provided via partner resources, which is curated through the Dell Cloud Marketplace.
But the company has embraced another avenue to the delivery of customer choice – acceptance of open source to enable the use of modern programming languages. As Conor Duffy, global strategist in the Dell Enterprise Solutions & Alliances group, explained, use of languages like Gofer, Python, Java, C+, C++ or Scala is critical to DevOps, and to the innovation it enables. In Duffy's view, the “degree to which you are open” can serve as an important differentiator: unlike “competitors who only accept open when it’s necessary,” open is in Dell’s “core DNA,” and something the company is trying to embed across its portfolio. As example, he called out use of Puppet for the creation of Active System Manager, Dell’s solution for unified management and automated delivery of IT services.
But focus on open also extends to the company’s hardware portfolio, as Dell looks to software-defined networking and software-defined storage as an additional means to deliver customer choice, and as it looks to ‘open’ core computing capabilities. Duffy pointed to the PowerEdge FX2, a single platform that supports “universal workload agility”: it is the “first enterprise grade US micro server that will take 16 modules,” he explained, and has other ports for high compute 24 socket systems in a 2U footprint that also accommodates direct attached storage. A single platform with a complete range of support for different architectures that is “unique in the market”, Duffy described the FX2 as a platform standard, which the customer can scale using Dell or other vendor server management tools. While the operation of Dell gear is optimized using the Dell OS and tools, Duffy stressed that the use of other, customer preferred systems is possible, and in some instances Dell has hardened this approach through strategic technology partnerships – as in the case of Dell’s XC Web-Scale Converged Appliance, which is powered by Nutanix storage software.
The bottom line: According to the team, Dell’s “forward thinking,” “innovation,” and “choice” strategies are having the intended outcome. Dagher noted that Dell is now number three in Canada in networking, a relatively new area for the company that is experiencing good traction in the education marketplace, and that its Open Networking ‘brite box’ is receiving good reviews due to software that differentiates it from other, commodity white boxes. Ahmad also cited the recently launched Cloud Hybrid Cloud System that Dell co-engineered with Microsoft as an example of Dell innovation and thought leadership.
But how much open is too open? Increasingly, the challenge for enterprises – in both the optimization of existing infrastructure and in the creation of IT-enabled innovation test beds – will lie in software-based management of hybrid environments. An October, 2015 InsightaaS/Techaisle survey of 402 Canadian businesses has found that by 2017, Canadian businesses of all sizes will need to manage infrastructure that includes two different types of traditional platforms plus 1-2 different types of cloud platforms. At the enterprise level, this complexity is expected to become even more extreme: enterprises will be managing a total of 4.7 distinct platform types, plus (in many cases) multiple discrete instances of each. This increase in platforms is one of three “vectors of complexity” that InsightaaS has identified as a key Canadian IT management challenge. While an open strategy may drive box sales, the ultimate benefit, and highest value service will be software-enabled innovation management – territory that Dell also needs to negotiate and push via integration of its Software Group and the new EMC crown jewels.