Dell had a coming-out party for its new solutions for business and government in San Francisco, which it had been building both organically and through acquisitions. To showcase the progress it has made, it opened with Michael Dell, now one of two remaining founders (Larry Ellison is the other) still running companies from the first big multi-company desktop and server technology wave. He initially took exception to HP's server announcement of 150 new innovations pointing out that Dell had many of these back in 2009.
One of the advantages of having a founder is he or she has a deep personal passion for the company and is more likely to be combative about misconceptions. The founder also has a deeper credibility because he or she tends to think more strategically, can weather short-term financial storms, and is more likely to stick with a promised strategy.
Dell was followed by James Stock, assistant vice president of network services at Grow Financial Federal Credit Union; and Jay Boisseau, director of the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at the University of Texas. What follows are some of my thoughts on what they presented.
To me, this was perhaps the more interesting of the two because Jay positioned Dell as a supercomputer seller - a new area for the company. He has begun to deploy, as would be consistent with a technology-driven organization, Dell's new 12th-generation servers. He is reporting 2x performance improvements over the prior products and that the upgrade is not only very seamless, but that commonality between the old and new products has made maintaining these new systems easy. Finally, he presented that power usage has not increased significantly with the new servers, allowing them to function within the existing ecosystem and to keep energy costs low. This is very important for any organization with limited funding.
Network Financial Credit Union
It was interesting that Dell opened with these two customers because while TACC was performance-driven and willing to take huge technology risks, a banking institution like a credit union is the exact opposite. It is risk-averse and tends to favor older and well-tested technologies because downtime and security concerns are massively greater. The fact that James was able to equally rave about Dell's systems and services showcased the incredibly broad range that Dell is able to address now. This range, from very conservative banking to very aggressive labs, challenges traditionally large companies like IBM and HP.
This was followed by Forrest Norrod from Dell's Server Platform Group, who hosted a panel consisting of Citrix, Microsoft, SAP and VMware executives. He actually wheeled to the stage on a scooter claiming his leg had been injured, and I kid you not, by kicking HP's butt. These partners, as you would expect, extolled Dell's relationships with them in order to convey Dell's breadth of partnerships.
A more typical vendor presentation would consist of a slide showcasing partner brands and a talk from the hosting vendor on just how great they are partnering. I've never found that approach very credible and often the presenter is unaware of problems with one or is unaware that many of the partnerships lack depth.
On stage was Bob Schultz, group vice president and GM for the Desktop and Applications Group from Citrix; Ross Brown, vice president of partner strategy, Worldwide Partner Group for Microsoft; Amit Sinha, vice president for HANA marketing for SAP; and Mathew Lodge, senior director (who needs to get promoted) of cloud services for VMware.
These partners attested to Dell's capability, specifically its demonstrated capabilities in large-scale data centers, both private and public cloud deployments, and the working collaboration between the companies that make this all work. Each company spoke at some length on what they were working on together and to the success of the endeavors. This included jointly building reference platforms and data appliances, deeply instrumenting them, and thus creating solutions that were heavily optimized for the products and platforms they were collectively providing.
This wrapped Dell's message of now having the scale to deal with the broad variety of engagements with deep credibility, which results from this third-party testimony.
Wrapping Up: Leading with Testimonials
Typically, vendor events lead with technology and, if they have testimonials, end with them. This showcases a priority that places technology ahead of customers. By leading with customer testimonials, vendors create the impression that they start with the customer requirements and build both their products and their companies from them. More important CEOs - outside of very media-focused CEOs like Steve Jobs was - generally don't engage at this level from any of the larger firms, leaving events like these to subordinates. This gives the impression that they don't care and, I think, keeps them far removed from what their executives are saying, what their customer advocates, and, more importantly, the reporters and analysts that cover the firm.
This creates isolation that I believe is core to a number of problems surrounding many of the larger technology companies today. Michael Dell's team put together a fascinating show largely because it didn't focus excessively on product but on its customer advocates and key partners. This made the event more interesting than most and the Dell team did an impressive job changing the perceptions that surround the company for those of us who were watching from the PC-focused Dell of the '90s to the full service vendor of today. Nicely done. Nicely done, indeed.