One of the things that’s difficult to determine about Dell now that it is private is how well the company is really doing. One of the indicators that it is generating solid profits is that the company now has the discretionary income to create a lab, which is a huge indicator of financial success. When a firm is in financial distress, it tends to shut down marketing, research, and any other activity not focused directly on making quarterly numbers just to survive. When a firm is doing well, it has the luxury of thinking strategically and research labs are one of the visible paths to achieve that result.
I had a nice long chat with Jai Menon, Dell’s Chief Research Officer, and according to him, things are not only going very well, Dell is working on some fascinating projects.
Near-Term vs. Long-Term Strategy
Right now, Dell is working near-term strategic not long-term strategic, so it is focused on the next three to five years rather than the next 25. While I personally like the idea of some long-range research, this is typically better done in universities, which is where firms like Intel fund efforts in this class. Parts vendors have to think far longer out because their ability to respond rapidly to change is far less than an OEM like Dell, which is designed to package and resell a lot of technology that is created by firms like Google, Microsoft, AMD and Intel.
Jai Menon is in close proximity to Intel’s Lab efforts and it is already partnering with Dell in IoT solutions; this is likely the most financially efficient way to use resources. There is no point in Dell reinventing the wheel, and as long as Dell’s labs are connected to some of the longer-term efforts from Intel, Microsoft or Google, they gain most of the advantages of a long-term strategic effort without all of the costs.
Future of the Data Center
Looking at the future of the data center, Dell is on board with what appears to be the prevailing theory of the near-term future. Storage, servers and networking will converge into flexible building blocks that can be dynamically remissioned and flexibly reallocated based on changing business needs to assure the agility of future companies and bring utilization levels we can only imagine today.
Dell was one of the early leaders in the containerized data center effort a few years ago. This was where core components were installed in containers because mobile data centers could in turn be hooked up to water lines (for cooling) and then plugged into power. The result was a solution that could be rapidly installed and even stacked if more were needed in vacant warehouses to rapidly build massive central data facilities.
Having highly flexible core building blocks would provide similar advantages even more quickly and potentially lower cost.
Future of Security
With technologies like the Intel RealSense 3D Camera and algorithms that can distinguish people by how they type, write, or draw a figure on a screen, you can get a very secure, password-free access solution that is potentially faster, more secure and less annoying than passwords. It kind of amazes me that back in the 1980s, we determined as an industry that passwords weren’t secure enough and yet we still don’t have a universally accepted replacement. Dell is working to make sure that oversight will be eliminated in the next several years.
Homomorphic encryption is a fascinating technology that allows you to create an encrypted number, send it to a third party for calculation and receive back an encrypted answer without giving the third party the key to the encryption. At no point does the third party have access to either the source or the result. This would allow you to use cloud services for calculations without needing to certify them for security because the data is certifiably secure throughout the entire process.
What is likely the most important part of the Dell lab effort isn’t what the lab is working on, as that will change over time, it is that the lab exists at all. That and the fact that the lab is structured to benefit from lab efforts with other firms like Intel. This validates the firm’s representation that things are going very well for the company and that whatever the future holds, Dell will be in it.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+