Looking to regain its lost momentum, Dell announced on Thursday Project Hybrid, a revamped strategy for selling its products to enterprises.
It is no secret that both Hewlett-Packard and IBM have gained ground and in some markets overtaken Dell in sales to the enterprise sector. That situation coupled with the fact that Dell receives 85 percent of its revenue from business users rather than consumers, according to Kevin Kettler, Dell CTO, appears to be the driving force behind Dell's new approach to its enterprise customers.
Although there were scant product details, from a strategic level, Dell appears to be heading in two directions simultaneously. It will offer professional services that compete with HP and IBM while at the same time trying to reinvigorate the direct sales model by simplifying the purchasing process.
As enterprise needs grow more complex and require more face time with a manufacturer, the direct sales model, which gives buyers the ability to shop, click, and buy products but is short on pre-purchasing technical support, is perhaps falling into disfavor. Dell hopes to simplify the purchasing process by selling what it calls complete "solutions" rather than selling boxes. As an example, Kettler spoke of pre-configured hardware optimized for virtualization.
Project Hybrid will combine new software, services, and system architecture to address specific enterprise needs, such as infrastructure capacity problems.
The two issues for the enterprise, according to Jay Parker, director, PowerEdge Servers at Dell, is how to squeeze more computing power out of a data center without investing in new facilities and how to reduce complexity.
"Companies can't afford to build a new data center. They need to get more density from the same data center," said Parker.
At the same time, IT resources are either static or shrinking, Parker said, while CIOs want to be sure that IT can add business value to an enterprise.
To that end, Dell will simplify deployments of hardware in the data center.
"HP and IBM offer either vaporware or expensive solutions that take an army of consultants to implement," said Parket.
Although Parker and his fellow presenter Kettler were long on big picture goals there were few details.
"We will optimize server products for particular environments," was about as detailed as Kettler got.
Among the specifics that were discussed was the promise to optimize hardware for virtualization, but how that would be accomplished was put off to a future discussion.
Energy efficiency was also discussed but at a high level only with the promise that Dell products would be 10 percent to 15 percent more efficient than its competitors. Kettler added that a software component would be embedded in systems to improve energy efficiency.
However, despite the high level discussion, there was also a show and tell portion of the news conference with a number of new products.
Dell unveiled a super thin prototype flat panel display, about three-eighths of an inch thick. The display also featured built in speakers and will over time be capable of displaying a resolution four times that of high-definition televisions.
The display is made possible by a Dell-developed interface, Display Port, now accepted as an industry standard, according to Kettler, that houses much of the electronics rather than having it in the display itself.
Dell also demonstrated a new 30GB solid state hard drive that in the demonstration was almost twice as fast as a standard hard drive when booting up and when accessing a new application.
"It is almost like instant on," said Kettler, and it was.
However, the price differential between a 30GB solid state drive and a typical 80GB hard drive with rotating disks in the same form factor is about US$700, said Kettler.
A liquid-cooled server using a Dell-developed system dubbed H2C Cooling is now available in Dell XPS systems. Using a series of cooling pipes, it is a design also used in refrigerators. The system passes cool liquid over the processor, cooling the chip. The now hot liquid is then passed through a heat exchanger attached to a radiator which dissipates the heat and sends the cooled liquid back to pass over the processor.
The technology will allow a system to run at a higher performance level than its spec. For example, Kettler said a processor speced at 2.8GHz could run at 3.4GHz or even faster. Included software monitors the heat and the chip and sets the clock speed, which can typically run faster than the manufacturers stated spec.
The new products also served in part to highlight a comparatively recent change in Dell's strategic direction
Dell has long been considered a manufacturer that used industry standards to its advantage by commoditizing products and beating the competition mainly on price. The product introductions displayed the new face of Dell that recognizes it needs to do the research and development, long a hallmark of IBM and HP, required to accommodate a changing market.