Dell Conjures Startup Energy, Outlines Future Direction

By Nicole Hemsoth

December 12, 2013

“If you can get a group of really talented people together and unite them around a challenge and have them work together to the best of their abilities, then a company will achieve great things,” said Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk this morning during the Dell World 2013 kickoff while sitting next to a passionately nodding Michael Dell.

Musk served as the perfect anchor keynote, where the emphasis was clearly on trying to conjure the culture and excitement of a startup in the midst of a grand scale challenge. In Dell’s case, that major hurdle is moving the needle from what shareholders expected to what is possible in market that requires dramatic differentiation on price, performance and actual innovation.

Bright lights and the energy of Austin aside, there was the sense in the room today of genuine excitement from company leaders–a sense that was confirmed during a few meetings with key leaders in the workstation and government/federal business. Michael Dell roused the troops with impassioned introduction to the “new” company, which he said is starting to feel like the world’s largest startup. This was, after all, the first event where they can show what a privately-held Dell looks like. Whether or not that’s dangerous for a company that’s invested many millions of dollars in building its software portfolio remains to be seen, but they did deliver some noteworthy announcements today that stretch across the divides (specifically between HPC and the rest of the IT world) and lend credence to some of their ambitious statements about reinventing.

One of the priorities for Dell going forward will be to continue integrating their numerous acquisitions from the last couple of years while still looking outward for companies that bring unique promise to the ecosystem. For instance, Dell spelled out how the investment arm at the company has pushed through $300 million for a new Strategic Innovation Venture Fund, which will give Dell an in to early and growth-stage companies in a wide array of areas, including cloud, big data, storage and datacenter-driven technologies. This is separate from last year’s announcement of their $60 million Fluid Data Storage Fund.

And while it seems like no event is complete without a thorough round of “big data to death” these days, the cloud computing phrase was bandied about just as often as the word “disruptive.” Dell pushed its cloud story as the end to end solution that many of their customers are seeking, both in its discussions with end users and in its string of announcements around clouds.

The goal is to make cloud computing more robust for enterprise adoption, one Dell is hoping to reach through more strategic technology partnerships. Among the many announcements today was news of a new partnership with Red Hat to help push OpenStack private clouds into enterprise settings. This makes Dell the first company to OEM Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack, which they’ll deliver on via a dedicated division in their cloud services camp.

Further extending on their vision of more diverse enterprise workloads moving into the cloud in both the public and private senses, Dell also announced that they’ll be widening their Cloud Partner network to include Microsoft’s Azure cloud. This means building on their existing portfolio of Application Services for Windows in addition to offering more choice for those who want to decide between cloud scenarios (private, on-demand, etc.).  At the core of this and their other cloud news is their own Dell Cloud Manager, which is designed to let users manage applications between private, public and hybrid setups at all stages.

The Cloud Partner network was also extended to capture Google, which was the subject of yet another announcement today around the duo’s mission to make cloud computing easier for enterprise users. Dell plans to make the Google Cloud Platform and its compute, application services and storage offerings available through their partner program.

While HPC, workstations and research computing in general are but a sliver of the “disruptive” vision Michael Dell spelled out today, the company is hoping that freedom to innovate will push it into a new era where it can capture the imagination like a startup while performing like a solid partner for its many customers in healthcare, media and entertainment, government and beyond.

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