For a massive IT company, Dell sure doesn’t get the kind of respect given their competitors. Time and again, I’ll hear the sneers about Dell being little more than a “box shifter” who doesn’t “get” real enterprise IT needs. After a series of acquisitions in storage and networking, Dell is trying to stake a claim as a serious competitor to HP, IBM, Oracle, and the like. But why should anyone take Dell seriously, especially in enterprise storage?
I Promise Not To Quote That Old Annoying Dell PC Slogan
I’ve been buying Dell computers for decades, but not really because I loved them. Sure, my XPS laptop was awesome, but it burned out its motherboard and I never really touched the RMA replacement, having bought a MacBook Pro in the meantime. Enterprise buyers seem to have the same ambivalence about Dell. They buy it, but I’m not sure they really “buy” the company as an IT partner.
I’m sure you’ve heard the same comments as me: “Dell just assembles off-the-shelf components and sells them in volume” or “Dell’s a follower, not an innovator.” There seems to be a great deal of respect for Dell’s ability to produce competitive products and sell them at reasonable cost. Truly, most of their competitors would love to have this kind of reputation. But most of their competitors also have a reputation for partnership, innovation, and solution selling.
Dell Is Making An Effort
It seems clear that Dell would like to change this attitude, and they are investing serious resources to make it happen. While acquisitions like Compellent and Force10 raised eyebrows in storage and networking, it is the activity I see behind the scenes that paints the clearest picture. Dell isn’t just buying into new markets, they’re investing to change the company.
When Dell acquired EqualLogic in 2008, many assumed it was a tactical investment to increase margins over the (resold) EMC storage equipment the company was then pushing. Pundits were similarly dismissive of the acquisition of Perot Systems in 2009, calling it a “me too” effort after HP acquired rival EDS. Regardless of the motivations, however, Dell was becoming more of a serious challenger to HP and IBM every day.
After failing to acquire 3PAR in 2010, then picking up Compllent shortly after, accusations that Dell was “mini me” to HP were rampant. But HP stumbled mightily in 2011, and many in IT quickly lost confidence in that company’s management. All the while, Dell moved forward, increasing in-house IP and expanding enterprise offerings.
What Is The Result?
Today, one sees a very different landscape than just last year. Dell’s acquisitions focused on some of the ripest spots in storage and networking, and no one would disagree that the company has the ability strongly to push these products. Compellent and Force10 went from interesting startups to serious contenders overnight.
More importantly, Dell has retained much of the innovation these companies offered, from employees to support programs. Last week, I attended the Dell Storage Forum in London, an event initiated by Compellent prior to the acquisition. At the event, I talked to many Dell employees who came to the company through acquisition but had now been given power to challenge the status quo in their respective areas.
If Dell really intended only to push product, why retain marketing personnel? Why invest in the Dell Storage Forum? Why continue Compellent’s beloved Co-Pilot support program?
Then there are the products. Dell leveraged its investment in Ocarina Networks to create a deduplicating backup appliance, the new DR4000. They salvaged file system startup ExaNet and are beginning to bring scale out technology to market. The latest revision of the Compellent software finally brings it to parity in terms of VMware support. And Dell is really working to sell their DX Object Store.
This is the sort of activity one would expect from a contender, not a “box pusher”.
In the words of Malcolm Reynolds, my days of not taking Dell seriously are certainly coming to a middle. Dell is investing in product IP, innovative marketing and PR events, customer support, and personnel. This does not mean that Dell is instantly a player in the enterprise storage and networking markets, or that all this work will pay off. But I don’t laugh when I hear Dell boast that they intend to be a “top three” enterprise storage company in a few years. It could happen.
Disclaimer: Dell sponsored two Tech Field Day events in 2011, paid me as a speaker at two DX events, and paid for my trip to Dell Storage Forum in London. But no one can buy a post on this site, and I did similar business with IBM, HP, Cisco, and many other companies. This is my opinion.