Dell going for the big time

Dell is going to build a unified storage system that has everything you could want ever want in a mid-tier or enterprise-tier storage system.  Or so said the presenters at Tech Field Day 7.  Only time will tell.

I was part of several bloggers visiting Dell's headquarters in Round Rock, TX (a short drive from Austin) last month just prior to VMWorld.  (That's my excuse for this blog entry being so late, BTW.)  Dell apparently paid for a double-sponsorship from Stephen Foskett of Gestalt IT so that they could talk to us for four hours (instead of the usual two).  They had a lot to talk about.

They made sure we knew about all of the major acquisitions that Dell has made over the past few years:

  • Equallogic – A scalable iSCSI grid storage array
  • Exanet – A scalable NAS system
  • Perot Systems – Professional Services
  • Ocarina – Deduplication and Compression
  • Compellant – Midrange storage arrays
  • RNA Networks – Cloud memory
  • Scalent Technologies – Datacenter management software

I believe it was Carter George who explained all this, and explained how Dell was going to integrate these technologies faster and better than any other storage company has ever done.  The way he described it, it was as if Dell would come out with a totally unified scalable storage system that supported iSCSI, NAS, dedupe and compression that could meet the needs of the mid-market and enterprise market, while being easy to manage in a datacenter — and be cloud ready.  And they were going to do all of this reeeeal soon.  He didn't give dates, but the way it was talking, it sounded like 2012.

Dell, you see, "is starting from scratch."  Those other vendors weren't.  The problem is that I'm not sure how having several products from several different companies, all of which already have existing customers is "starting from scratch." 

The way this usually goes is each company becomes a faction in a big project, each wanting to put their technology into the finished product.  Each of them thinks that their technology is what's going to make things better.  I have one product in mind from the past, where it was pieced together from acquired technologies from a bunch of different companies.  The result was three levels of abstraction (one from each company) before the data ever got to disk.  The result was also a piece of crap.

Maybe Dell will be different.  I wish them the best of luck.  Good luck at tearing down the fiefdoms without damaging egos.  Good luck getting people to speak their mind when it's really important — when the emperor appears to be getting undressed.  My personal experience with trying to do that with Dell did not go very well (to put it mildly), so I hope things have changed.

I also have concerns about how Dell salespeople will evolve to sell products that require upfront sales engineering to get the order right.  My personal experience with their sales teams so far suggests that they've got as much work to do here as they do with all their products I mentioned earlier.

I have been exposed to Equallogic, Compellant, and Ocarina before, and have heard nothing but good about them from the field.  So I think Dell has chosen some really solid building blocks to build a real storage company with.  I just don't think it's going to be as easy as the presenters at Tech Field Day were trying to say it will be.  I'll be more than happy to be wrong, though.


----- Signature and Disclaimer -----

Written by W. Curtis Preston (@wcpreston). For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I've specialized in backup & recovery since 1993. I've written the O'Reilly books on backup and have worked with a number of native and commercial tools. I am now Chief Technical Architect at Druva, the leading provider of cloud-based data protection and data management tools for endpoints, infrastructure, and cloud applications. These posts reflect my own opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of my employer.

3 thoughts on “Dell going for the big time

  1. B. Riley says:

    I gotta say, your reaction to the Dell presentation mirrors mine. It sounds like they have an amazing set of building blocks to forge a huge enterprise cloud / storage / server / networking H-bomb that could blow a sizable hole in the industry.

    I couldn’t help but be excited, and worried for them at the same time. If they can pull it off, it will be epic. But I have a feeling that the vision they laid out will require cohesive, superhuman efforts from everyone involved. This is Dell’s “race to the moon”.

  2. gaulfinger says:

    The potential (both good and bad) abound for Dell. Perhaps of equal interest is the impact to EMC.

    There was a time when Dell was a significant outlet for EMC gear. Now a channel partner has become a competitor. It’s been happening in slow motion, so it’s no surprise. But in the long run, can Dell go where IBM and HP have fallen short? Can an integrated compute/storage company claim EMC’s market dominance? I have my doubts.

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