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Dell of Dilemma

I have just spent time at the Dell Storage Forum event 2012 (disclosure: Dell kindly paid for the hotel and subsistence) and although is no-where near the size of an EMC-World type event, everyone seemed to be having a good time and there were lots of smiling attendees.

Compellent customers seem to be almost uniquely happy with their supplier and this does not appear to have changed too much even after year of Dell’s stewardship; so it appears that Dell are at least not messing this up.

But I think Dell have a dilemma, how do you meld a set of acquired IP and product into a strategy? Especially with all due respect to Dell, in a company which does not have a massive history in product innovation.

Dell have been a great client-side supplier with strong supply-change management and delivery but they are not the company you immediately think about when talking about innovation.

Many of the announcements made at the Storage Forum are arguably just catch-up and there’s some interesting niche products; for example SharePoint object storage which show Dell working in partnership with ISVs to address particular pain-points but there’s nothing which shows Dell leading the way.

I think Dell need to move beyond this and think larger, they need to build a strong narrative for the future and deliver on it.

1) Dell need a strong file story, they desperately need a credible NAS product; the Exanet IP gave them a file-system but if you look at the Exanet product, that was about all it gave them.

2) Dell need an integrated management console for their products; their product range is still small enough that this is an achievable goal, if they leave it much longer, then they will stand no chance.

3) Dell need to stop comparing themselves to HP and the like; they need to build their own narrative and focus on next generation storage. This means looking at what some of the pure SSD players are doing and build a strategy around ‘What happens when SSD becomes free in the same way that spinning rust as a component is free?’; what can you do then that you cannot do now. Automated Storage Tiering is very clever but we will still care about it in 10 years or even 5 years? If all your primary storage is SSD, what changes?

4) Dell could also consider being Dell; what happens if you decide that you are not going to gouge your customer base and move away from the high margins which storage and Enterprise storage traditionally attracts?

5) Buy Brocade? Lots of smart people in Brocade and it would bring a number of innovators into the fold.


  1. Great wrap-up! I think all of us bloggers that were at #DellSF12 will agree with almost all of your comments and take-aways.

    There’s one thing I didn’t see and that’s your point on their new backup appliance strategy (DR4000). Do you think they made a decent alternative for DataDomain OEM? Can they compete with the idea behind the HP StoreOnce?

    About your last comment: how about the idea of going all the way for Fluid File System on top of all different possible hardware products below. This would imply the possibility to leave FC as medium and going Ethernet only.

  2. gminks says:

    Hi Martin, it was great finally meeting you in person at DSF London. I really enjoyed our conversation at #storagebeers as well. This is a great post. It was in the back of my mind when I wrote my blog post this morning. Lots to chew on here, thanks much for being so candid.

  3. Martin,
    Your comment about Brocade seems odd – was Force10 not visible at the event? I agree that Brocade has some great people and solid technology, but Dell has made their acquisition for networking and like HP and IBM, that is an Ethernet play. Brocade will continue to be an OEM supplier to many (and in my opinion it does this best by staying independent). It has been reported that there are private equity firms that are looking to acquire Brocade; this seems more likely at this point than any hardware company buying them. I’m also curious if Dell spoke much about converged solutions (the vStart solution) – I’ve spoken to a few VARs and they have not seen it showing up yet.

    1. Martin Glassborow says:

      Oh I know about Force10, it wasn’t especially visible but I think Dell could do with someone like Brocade to reinforce their innovators. Dell’s dilemma is how you transition from a ‘me too’ company with great supply chain management to something more. Step-change time…

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