Michael Dell at the BCS

The British Computer Society’s Elite group gathered in London yesterday for a Q&A session with Michael Dell.

For the techies among us, Mr Dell described how a couple of years ago he saw the rise of Web Service as challenging their existing enterprise server business. The response: to change technical and commercial direction.

There was an enterprise trend to virtualisation and an emerging market for massively scaleable “cloud” services: and these pull the market in opposite directions. Virtualisation is about mapping multiple servers onto single hardware. Cloud providers, and customers such as China’s Tencent QQ instant messaging service (which has 650 million subscribers), develop infrastructure using large numbers of straightforward devices. The key principles in this environment are strict adherence to a common environment, and a collapse of the complex layered architectures which have grown up in conventional data centres. At the same time, virtualisation of both compute resources and storage creates an enabling opportunity for enterprise users, through development of “private clouds”.

Moreover: SaaS and other trends encourage the enterprise customer to procure solutions, rather than systems; and, in response, Dell is no longer simply a hardware supplier.

What emerges is a picture of an entrepreneur, and a company, unlikely to get stuck in any one business model when the world is moving on. Perhaps that was the biggest take-away from his introductory remarks.

The larger part of the meeting was given over to Q&A. Some of the topics were:

  • Green IT: Dell is now itself a carbon-neutral company, but intends to make a far larger contribution through energy efficiency of its products. The latest Dell noteboook, for example, uses $7 of electricity per year; not long ago that would have been $100.
  • Solid state devices: in response to my own question, Michael Dell outlined how SSD is encroaching fast where its two advantages of lightness and fast response are valuable: high performance PCs and servers. More interesting though was his account of how Dell has influenced the storage vendors to think of themselves as knowing about fast and efficient read/write operations on any device, and to see firmware (e.g. for massively reliable servers) as their primary expertise rather than hardware
  • Dell and Microsoft: Dell see their products as being customer driven, with both Red Hat Linux and VMWare being important platform partners

Asked where he would invest a thousand dollars if (heaven forbid!) Dell collapsed and that was all he had left, the answer was Shanghai. Dell has seen growth pick up again in their business in China and in Asia more generally. This should be a good sign.

• BCS Elite
• Dell Computers (UK) and Michael Dell
• TenCent (US English page)

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