One smart shopper

Dell had just acquired AppAssure earlier this week, adding the new company into its stable of Compellent, EqualLogic, Perot Systems, Scalent, Force10, RNA Networks, Ocarina Networks, and ExaNet (did I miss anyone one?). This is not including the various partnerships Dell has with the likes of CommVault, VMware, Caringo, Citrix, Kaminario etc.

From 10,000 feet, Dell is building a force to be reckoned with. With its PC business waning, Dell is making all the moves to secure the datacenter space from various angles. And I like what I see. Each move is seen as a critical cog, moving Dell forward.

But the question is “Can Dell deliver?” It had just missed out Wall Street’s revenue expectation last week, but the outlook of Dell’s business, especially in storage, is looking bright. I caught this piece in Dell’s earnings call transcript, which said:

"Server and networking revenue increased 6%. Total storage 
declined 13% while Dell-owned IP storage growth accelerated 33% 
to $463 million, led by continued growth in all of our Dell IP 
categories including Compellent, which saw over 60% sequential 
revenue growth."

Those are healthy numbers, but what’s most important is how Dell executes in the next 12-18 months. Dell has done very well with both Compellent and EqualLogic and is slowly bringing out its Exanet and Ocarina Networks technology in new products such as the EqualLogic FS7500 and the DR4000 respectively. Naturally, the scale-out engine from Exanet and the deduplication/compression engine from Ocarina will find these technologies integrated into Dell Compellent line in the months to come. And I am eager to see how the “memory virtualization” technology of RNA Networks fits into Dell’s Fluid Data Architecture.

The technologies from Scalent and AppAssure will push Dell into the forefront of the virtualization space. I have no experience with both products, but by the looks of things, these are solid products which Dell can easily and seamlessly plug in to their portfolio of solutions.

The challenge for Dell is their people in the field. Dell has been pretty much a PC company, and still is. The mindset of a consumer based PC company versus a datacenter-centric, enterprise is very different.

Dell Malaysia has been hiring good people.These are enterprise-minded people. They have been moulded by the fires of the datacenters, and they were hired to give Dell Malaysia the enterprise edge. But the challenge for Dell Malaysia remains, and that is changing the internal PC-minded culture.

Practices such as dropping price (disguised as discounts) at first sign of competition, or giving away high-end storage solutions at almost-free price, to me, are not good strategies. Selling enterprise products with just speeds and feeds and articulating a product’s features and benefits, and lacking the regards for the customer’s requirements and pain points are missing the target all together. This kind of mindset, aiming for a quick sell, is not Dell would want. Yes, we agree that quarterly numbers are important, but pounding the field sales for daily updates and forecasts, will only push for unpleasant endings.

Grapevines aside, I am still impressed with how Dell is getting the right pieces to build its datacenter juggernaut.

Is Dell Fluid Enough?

Dell made a huge splash 2 weeks ago in London in their inaugural Dell Storage Forum. They dubbed their storage and management lineup as “Fluid Data Architecture” offering the ability for customers to quickly adapt and automate their business when it comes to storage networking and more importantly, data management.

In the London show, they showcased several key innovations and product development. Here’s a list of their jewels:

  • DR4000 – an inline, content optimized backup deduplication appliance (based on the acquired technology of Ocarina Networks)
  • Compellent Storage Center 6.0 – a major software release
  • Compellent key technology integration with VMware
  • Optimized object storage for Microsoft Sharepoint with the DX6000 Object Storage Platform – DX6000 is an OEM from Caringo
  • Broader support for Dell Force10, PowerConnect and their partner’s Brocade

The technology from Ocarina Networks is fantastic technology and I have always admired Ocarina. I have written about Ocarina in the past in my previous blog. But I was a bit perplexed why Dell chose to enter the secondary dedupe market with a backup dedupe appliance in the DR4000. They are already a latecomer into the secondary deduplication game and I thought HP was already late with their StoreOnce.

They could have used Ocarina’s technology to trailblaze the primary deduplication market. In my previous blog, I mentioned that primary deduplication hasn’t really taken off in a big way, and Dell with the technology from Ocarina could set the standard and establish themselves as the leader of the primary deduplication market space. I was disappointed that they didn’t, not just yet.

The Compellent Storage Center 6.0 release was a major release and it was, for better or for worse, coincided with the departure of Phil Soran, the founder and CEO of Compellent. Phil felt that he can let his baby go and Dell is certainly making the best of what they can do with Compellent as their flagship data storage product.

The major release included 64-bit support for greater performance and scalability and also include several key VMware technologies that other vendors already have. The technologies included:

  • VMware vStorage API for Array Integration (VAAI)
  • Storage Replication Adapter plug-in for VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM)
  • VSphere 5 client plug-in
  • Integration of Enterprise Manager and VSphere

Other storage related releases (I am not going to talk about Force10 or their PowerConnect solutions here) included Dell offering 16Gbps FibreChannel switches from Brocade and also their DX6000 Object Storage Platform optimized for Microsoft Sharepoint.

I think it is fantastic that Dell is adapting and evolving into a business-oriented, enterprise solution provider and their acquisitions in the past 3 years – EqualLogic, Exanet, Ocarina Networks, Force10 and Compellent – proves that Dell aims to take market share in the storage networking and data management market. They have key initiatives with CommVault, Symantec, VMware and Microsoft as well. And Michael Dell is becoming quite a celebrity lately, giving Dell the boost it needs to battle in this market.

But the question is, “Is their Fluid Data Architecture” fluid enough?” If I were a customer, would I bite?

As a customer, I look for completeness in the total solution, and I cannot fault Dell for having most of the pieces in the solution stack. They have networking in their PowerConnect, Force10 and Brocade. They have SAN in both Compellent and EqualLogic but their unified storage story is still a bit lacking. That’s because we have not seen Dell’s NAS storage yet. Exanet was a scale-out NAS and we have seen little rah-rah about this product.

From a data management perspective, their data protection story gels well with the Commvault and Symantec partnership, but I feel that Dell sales and SEs (at least in Malaysia) spends too much time touting the Compellent Automated Storage Tiering. I have spoken to folks who have listened to Dell guys’ pitches and it’s too one-dimensional. It’s always about storage tiering and little else about other Compellent technology.

At this point of time, the story that Dell sells here in Malaysia is still disjointed, but they are getting better. And eventually, the fluidity (pun intended ;-)) of their Fluid Data Architecture will soon improve.

How will Dell fare in 2012? They had taken a beating in the past 2 IDC’s quarter storage market tracker, losing some percentage points in market share but I think Dell will continue to tinker to get it right.

2012 will be their watershed year.

Dell acquiring Force10

What do you think of Dell acquiring Force10? My first reaction was surprise, very surprised.

I was in the middle of a conversation with a friend when the RSS feed popped up in front of me – “Dell acquiring Force10″! I cut that conversation short to read the rest of the details … wow, that’s a good buy!

With all the rumors flying around that Brocade was the most obvious choice, Force10 was out of the blue for me. As the euphoria settled down, I thought Dell had made a very smart move. Brocade, unfortunately, is still pretty much a Fibre Channel company, with 75% of its business relying heavily on Fibre Channel and FCoE. Even though Brocade has Foundry now, Brocade has not strongly asserted itself as an front runner and innovator of 10Gigabit Ethernet.

Meanwhile, Force10 has been a up-and-coming force (pun intended) to be reckon with, strengthening its position as a 10GbE player in the market. And with 10GbE now, and 40GbE or 100GbE coming in the next 2-3 years, Force10 will be riding the wave of the future. Dell can only benefit from that momentum.

Dell has been very, very aggressive to push itself into the enterprise storage space. From its acquisition of EqualLogic in 2007, to Exanet, Ocarina and Compellent last year, there is no doubt that Dell wants this space badly.

The first challenge for Dell is to put its story together and convince the customers that they are no longer Dell, the PC/laptop direct seller, but a formidable company capable of providing enterprise solutions, services and support.

The second challenge, and even bigger one, is itself; its culture of changing mindset. The game has changed; the rule has change. The enterprise is a totally different ballgame. Is Dell ready? Is Dell ready to change itself?

Maybe the Force(10) be with Dell!