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Dell gears up to showcase All The New Things

At Dell Technologies World 2023, unfathomable buzzwords, genuinely clever technologies, and "hairy a***" IT managers rub shoulders.

Dell Technologies World 2023

Fresh from reporting record annual revenues of $102.3 billion in March, Dell – purveyor of keyboards, laptops, servers, software-defined storage appliances, hyperconverged infrastructure and more – is gearing up for its annual Dell Technologies World 2023 event in Las Vegas. The weather outside: scorching. The pool: refreshing. The ambience: Distinctly more chilled out than AWS’s re:Invent event in The Venetian, six months earlier.

On the menu in the Mandalay Bay conference centre: a pending flurry of news about new hardware and software optimised for AI workloads (paraphrased fresh from the embargoed press release: “CTOs! This magic box will make spinning up your own generative AI cheap and secure child’s play!”); a host of additions to the finance-this-thing over X-years, pay-per-use Dell APEX portfolio, including tie-ups with major new partners; edge management; and something to do with hybrid infrastructure Zero Trust. (We’re confused too, but we’re trying.)

Dell will, no doubt, be making much hay of Clever New Things that tie together, modernise, and secure increasingly heterogeneous infrastructure. Its Infrastructure Solutions Group (ISG) – which ships servers, networking, and storage, as well as services and software that are closely tied to the sale of this hardware — reported record revenue of $38.4 billion for the full year, up 12%, with operating income surging 35% year-on-year. (It’s a business that has come a long way since Michael Dell founded it with $1,000 in 1984 at the age of 19).

Expect somewhat less noise about the workhorse of its Client Solutions Group (CSG) which ships PCs, laptops and thin clients which – although it delivered $58.2 billion in revenue over the last year – saw operating income fall 12%. (Commercial revenue for Q4 was $10.7 billion, down 17%; consumer revenue: $2.7 billion, down 40%), as well as less CSG news and/or products designed specifically for Dell’s sprawling global channel.

(Dell’s sales are roughly 50-50 split between direct and channel. The company has the largest direct go-to-market sales force in the world, 32,000 strong, and over 200,000 channel partners. Those The Stack spoke to at an opening dinner were effusive about Dell but also, like so many in the IT world, overwhelmed with the pace of technological change and the flurry of new products or partnerships: “I just stick ‘Power’ in front of everything and pretend I know what I’m doing” as one quipped — think PowerFlex, PowerEdge, PowerVault, et al. Interestingly, many EMEA attendees told The Stack that Dell APEX, the consumption-based offering whereby Dell owns, deploys, manages, and supports the infrastructure you need, had yet to take off in a meaningful way.)

Dell Technology World 2023: What’s coming?

The lack of fresh news and perhaps inventory for resellers may be a missed opportunity, lamented one partner to The Stack. There’s a host of businesses out there who laid their hands on “any old shit” at the start of the pandemic in the mad scramble to equip newly remote workforces, and many are now eyeing fresh overhauls, ahead of Windows 11 migrations, which involve specific hardware requirements. The insinuation, if we read it correctly, was that Dell was being a little unnecessarily stingy with inventory as well as the more obvious one: That what came out of the conference somehow needs to be translated into something that makes useful sense for, quote: “Not just Wall Street, but a hairy arse IT manager in Swindon.”

Another notable trend among EMEA businesses meanwhile is an ongoing refresh of conference rooms they added: In a world settling to a hybrid-remote pattern, offices need to be better equipped for collaboration with both customers and employees around the world and few currently are, with bad networks and shoddy AV equipment still rife; from switches to screens to SD-WAN, there’s a lot of ongoing business for Dell here too.

Cloud and chips

There’s no question that the significant awakening seen amongst most CIOs in recent years about the cloud (great for lots of things: not a basket you want to put all of your eggs into, if you don’t want to mortgage your chicken to the hilt, if that’s not too scrambled a metaphor) is a big focus for Dell though and will be this week.

As Mr Dell himself put it on March 29 this year: “Over 90% of the customers already have on-prem, colo and public clouds. Customers are really starting to understand that there’s a right place for any given workload.

“A new problem that customers face is ‘how do you make all these different environments look like one system?’ They’re starting to adopt FinOps to really understand which workloads belong where.

“We’ve been having some great success with our software-defined, developer-friendly PowerFlex Infrastructure and Storage solution. That’s part of what we call Project Alpine: extending our storage software, so that it works in all the public clouds, on-premise, colo and in the edge – and of course, now we have PowerFlex and AWS. That’s our premier software-defined storage asset. We’ve got write-once, run anywhere, partnerships with the hyperscalers around many different platforms” he added at BOA’s “View from the CEO” conference.

What about silicon shifts as AWS, Apple build out Arm-based chips?

Asked if Dell would buy Apple’s M-Series custom silicon if it could, Michael Dell suggested that more Arm-based hardware was on the horizon: “Competition has been a good thing and it’s been good for customers, it’s good for us. Historically, the open architecture of the PC has benefited from scale and competition and over 90% of the PC class CPUs and graphic silicon are being developed by companies that openly sell their parts: Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, Qualcomm and these companies are making significant investments to be competitive and stay competitive…” he said: “Arm, as you know, is now available on PCs and that’s going to increase in the future.

“Microsoft is continuing to make investments in application compatibility and applications like office are being launched so they run natively on Arm and Qualcomm is investing in high-performance armed CPUs from the IP they acquired through a company called NUVIA, which we know a lot about because we were early investors in it. We’re certainly working with Arm more and more and even further out things like the RISC-V open source instruction set. So I think you’ll see a lot more in that space soon.” It may be a little early for a RISC-V Dell server or laptop but expect some other  announcements at Dell Technologies World 2023 coming up very soon.

We’ll take a more focussed look at what’s landing in coming days.