AUSTIN, TEXAS: When the HP makeover is complete in November, Dell, the not-so-little company that Michael built (which he now calls the biggest startup ever since he took it private), will be the only company remaining that provides a complete(ish) portfolio of products and services for the entire IT market. Customers’ alternatives will be two HP entities, or either IBM or Cisco and their FILL-IN-THE-BLANK partners. The only sole-source, soup-to-nuts, one-throat-to-choke vendor left standing will be Dell.
Not bad for a company whose early success was built on doing a better job of selling PCs and x86 servers than its bigger and less agile competitors. However, one of the biggest knocks against the original Dell was that its idea of R&D was what size the logo should be on the box, and where to put it. Not any more, according to company executives at its Dell Enterprise Innovation Day(s) last week.
Now that logo size and placement have been laid aside, Dell’s new focus on R&D and home-grown intellectual property is being manifested in a number of ways. For instance last September it announced the opening of the Dell Internet of Things (IoT) Lab, jointly funded by Intel and Dell OEM Solutions, in Santa Clara, Calif. The company said their OEM customers will be able to build, modify and architect new IoT solutions on active bench space within the new lab, i.e. demonstrating large workloads, connectivity, and data modeling and extraction on Dell solutions, that can significantly speed up their time to market with new IoT solutions and devices.
The two companies, along with Samsung and Broadcom, also launched the ‘Internet Of Things’ Consortium, an organization created to set standards for connecting billions of household gadgets and appliances. OIC, which will emphasize security and authentication, follows the launch of the AllSeen Alliance, which was announced at the end of 2013, by Haier, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Sharp, Technicolor, Silicon Image and TP-LINK, and now has 51 members.
“We started this group to understand what was needed for world-class, big-iron, enterprise designs,” said Ken Musgrave: Executive Director, Industrial Design, Dell. The design group covers a multitude of disciplines, from engineering to psychology, and is involved with all Dell products, typically starting 36 months before a product is built and shipped.
Musgrave said it was clear to customers that Dell’s initial servers were a follow-on of its PC heritage, and that wasn’t good enough. This focus on design excellence is called “enterprise credibility”, to be best of breed, and is being vindicated not only by customer wins, but by the fact that other OEMs are now copying Dell designs.
His group’s design mantra, said Tom Deelman: Director of User Experience, Enterprise Experience Design Group, Dell Engineered Solutions Lab: “We’re successful if we deliver less design.” To ensure they are on top of the market, they constantly test against the competitors, and involve customers from initial input on their needs and desires through bringing them inside to facilitate the process.
In addition to designing its own products, Dell also works with a number of customers to jointly develop unique offerings, including jointly-funded development labs with customers like eBay, engineered solutions and reference architectures. Labs like the Evergreen Joint Innovation Center (eBay) typically work on testing workloads on new equipment up to 18 months in advance of shipment, said Shane Kavanagh, Senior Principal ngineer, Data Center Solutions Architecture, Dell.
This new focus on design and development, home-grown intellectual property, started 8 yeas ago, said Jyeh Gan, Director, Product Management and Strategy, Data Center Solutions, Dell. DCS was initially focused on the biggest Internet users, the global hyperscale organizations.
Since the DCS debut in 2006 Dell hyperscale customer wins have included: 4 out of the top 5 largest search engines; 3 out of 4 top social media sites; 4 out 5 largest clouds; and, 12 out of the 15 most visited Web sites.
“There are only about 10-15 customers of sizes in the world that DCS would work with,” he said. “These are the customers buying tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of servers from us.”
DCS is a huge business, but it is incorporating as much of what it learns as is appropriate, into offerings for everybody else. Not everything being done with the big guys would be useful to the masses, said Gan, but there are many cases where other customers can benefit, aka “cheap and deep”.
He said the hyperscale segment of the overall $40 billion annual server market accounts for $5B, with the technical computing (high performance computing/HPC) component, ie oil and gas, life sciences, research, making up another $6.5B, and $28.5B for the rest of the server-buying public. With DCS now well-established in the new operating model represented by the elite hyperscale customers, Dell is now ready to apply those lessons to its other customers and prospects, said Gan.
One way to leverage that expertise is with what Dell calls Engineered Solutions, which are primarily focused on HPC, databases, collaboration and cloud, said Ibrahim Fashho: director, Global Solutions Engineering, Engineered Solutions and Cloud, Dell. He said both ES and reference architectures are growing, at the expense of general-purpose servers, because customers are looking for specific solutions, and also seeking solutions that are less complex.
These solutions, typically involving specific platforms like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft (Azure private cloud appliance), are often custom-tailored for customers as part of the Tailored Datacenter Integration (TDI). Fashho said other vendor solutions are under development and/or negotiations, but are not yet ready for release.
In addition to designing for all its products, hyperscale customers, and engineered systems and reference architectures, Dell is also doing original design work on cooling systems, including hybrid air and liquid cooling, and liquid immersion designs that put functioning servers and storage in various chemicals. While the liquid experiments were fascinating, the company is involved in a lot of real-world datacenter design.
Customers come to Dell looking for help in their datacenters, said Ed Bailey, Senior Principal Engineer, Data Center Solutions Architecture, Before talking about products and services, a typical engagement begins with learning as much as possible about the customer, their current environment, needs and objectives. Only then can they begin talking about solutions, which he said is based about half on what Dell has learned from its hyperscale customers.
Gan said a lot of customers have come to them and said we’re not as big as the hyperscale customers, but can you help us? Dell’s approach is to look at customer needs’ from a complete end-to-end perspective, and to ensure the supply chain is in place.
“Supply chain is a huge part of what we do,” said Bailey. Getting the supply chain in place ahead of time is critical, he added.
DISCLAIMER: Dell looked after airfare and hotel.