Dell World 2012: A Retrospective

Dell invited me to attend their Dell World conference in Austin, Texas last week, and it was an enlightening experience.

The Austin Convention Center was awash in "Dell blue" last week
The Austin Convention Center was awash in “Dell blue” last week

Introducing Dell World

Overall, the event was well attended, with many end-users and Dell personnel crawling the convention center. It was perhaps a little better than similar IT company conferences I have attended, though certainly not up to the high standard set each year by VMworld! I did make some suggestions for the organizers, but I will not be publishing those here.

Rather than focus on what Dell did right and wrong, I’d like to give a brief introduction to Dell World for those considering attending in the future.

First, it is critical to understand that this is “Dell World”, not a general IT event. Although many other companies were represented (and appeared to have paid handsomely to sponsor), this event was “all Dell, all the time.” This is not a bad thing if Dell is a strategic partner for your company. On the contrary, Dell World appears to be the best possible setting for exploring the wide variety of products and services the company has to offer.

You'll never forget which company is sponsoring this event: The Dell name and logo was everywhere!
You’ll never forget which company is sponsoring this event: The Dell name and logo was everywhere!

Dell World Solutions Showcase

Let us start with the “tradeshow floor.” A reasonably-large exhibition floor, Dell World’s “Solutions Showcase” was packed with displays for various Dell products and services. Everything was arranged in a circle around a massive centerpiece, shown above. Each of six “pie pieces” focused on a different element of Dell’s product offerings: virtualization, security, social networking, “business outcomes”, consumerization and BYOD, and “data insights.”

The mix of products and vendors was much more haphazard, however. I found it difficult to locate the products and companies I was interested in. The arrangement was even more challenging due to the fact that there was no “street grid” of booths, but rather a sprinkling of kiosks all over the floor. Apart from the sponsor signs above, it would be difficult to know whether one was in the Samsung or Seagate area, for example!

Two Platinum Partners got special attention, however. Microsoft and Intel each had their own corner, and each offered a somewhat more traditional tradeshow experience. I imagine that both companies are major supporters of Dell World (and Dell in general), and this special treatment really stood out.

Personally, I was very interested in playing with all of Dell’s latest product offerings. The Latitude 10 (Windows 8 tablet) really impressed me, offering the best Windows 8 client experience I’ve had to date. Of course this isn’t saying much, since I’m not all that impressed by Windows 8’s touch-centric yet oddly touch-deficient user interface!

The XPS 12 convertible ultrabook/tablet was also very nifty. The screen and frame felt very solid in my hands, something I was deeply concerned about after seeing initial pictures; Dell’s wimpy hinges are what drove me from the brand five years ago! Unfortunately, the plastic back still felt very flimsy when using the XPS 12 as a tablet, a feeling I’m sure I would not appreciate if I was the buyer.

Still, if you want to use Windows 8, something like the Latitude 10 or XPS 12 is a much better choice than a conventional touch-enabled notebook or desktop. And don’t even consider using Windows 8 without a touch screen! That’s a recipe for madness!

Who loves Windows 8? Dell, that's who!
Who loves Windows 8? Dell, that’s who!

Dell World Breakout Sessions

The Dell World agenda was packed with options, and I appreciated their mobile client for iOS, which helped me make sense of the schedule.

Happily, many breakout sessions were scheduled multiple times throughout the event, enabling visitors to attend all the sessions they want. This is a real sore point for me at many other conferences: I absolutely hate missing out on so many sessions at VMworld! I found the sessions to be somewhat product focused, but there was enough good technical information in there to make them worthwhile.

I was invited to participate in a series of large panel sessions focused on innovation in IT. These “Think Tank” discussions really got lively once we got to know each other. It was great to have some back and forth with great folks like Dave Asprey, Michael CoteAlex Williams, Theron Conrey, Ed Saipetch, and so many others. Alas, although we were surrounded by video cameras, it does not appear that these discussions have made it online!

I did jump onto the stage for a discussion with John Furrier and Dave Vallente on theCube, however. Although we were interrupted by flickering lights, our discussion could not be stopped! We talked virtualization, the evolution of IT infrastructure, BYOD and mobile, and what Dell should do next.

I also had a great long discussion with Ed Saipetch, Sarah Vela, Stephen Spector, and Justin Warren. Released by Speaking in Tech as Episode 38: Hunger Games meets IT, this really sums up the message from Dell World for me!

Dell’s Big Keynotes

I would be remiss in not mentioning Dell World’s big keynotes. The company went all out here, bringing in President Bill Clinton to join Michael Dell on stage, as well as the “Freakonomics” duo, Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner, and Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any of these presentations all that compelling.

Bill Clinton is a great speaker, but his wandering talk was overly long
Bill Clinton is a great speaker, but his wandering talk was overly long

Although Bill Clinton is certainly an excellent speaker and possessing in massive star power, his talk was rambling and off-topic. I’m glad he decided to needle the audience on topics like evolution and climate change, but his references to Dell and technology in general seemed stretched and forced. Although the topic was supposed to contain three key points, I lost track midway through and can’t now remember what they were. It was amusing to see Michael Dell completely humbled by his co-star, though!

Rather than presenting clever economic findings, Steve and Stephen’s Freakonomics discussion focused on themselves. My take-away message was “we are a couple of idiots who stumbled our way into fame, so we’ll just crack jokes and ride this thing!” Although the book itself wasn’t all that impressive, I chalked that up to journalist Dubner rather than economist Levitt. But I guess neither one really has much to say.

"We're a couple of idiots!"
“We’re a couple of idiots!”

By his own admission, Mike Shinoda is an Apple user. That kind of goes with the territory for creative folks, after all. He apparently uses Dell computers on stage, however, and that’s why he was here at Dell World. I didn’t find his presentation all that compelling, either. I’m imagining there’s some sponsorship money there, so it leaves me cold.

Michael Dell’s presentation was honestly the best of the bunch, though of course he stayed fanatically on topic. His repeated, emphatic references to the greatness of Windows 8 eroded his message, however. Methinks thou dost protest too much!

Michael Dell knows what his company has to do, but can they execute?
Michael Dell knows what his company has to do, but can they execute?

Stephen’s Stance

If your company uses Dell hardware or software, you really ought to go to Dell World. I bet you’ll find plenty of compelling information in the breakout sessions, and Austin is a great place to visit. Heck, even the keynotes are entertaining if you don’t expect much more than star power. As for me, I’m glad I went. I’ll be writing more about Dell’s strategy and market prospects in the future.

Disclosure: Dell paid for my flights, hotel, and local transportation, and has sponsored Tech Field Day events and my speaking engagements in the past.