Business Management

Dell, EMC and the rush to New Computing

Sometimes your first instinct is right, but at others, the old saw that you can’t trust a book by its cover is proven correct. When the first reports that Dell and EMC would combine were published I wrote that this seemed an old-school combination that brought together Dell’s grip on PCs and volume servers and EMC’s enterprise storage. With all those markets subject to change, this seemed, if not quite Scott McNealy’s famous comparison of the HP-Compaq merger as the “slow-motion collision of two garbage trucks”, then perhaps the marriage of two fading stars.

Since then I’ve reconsidered (OK, made a U-turn) as more facts have presented themselves. My view today is that this is a very bold attempt to capture the new zeitgeist. Dell, with its supply-chain management excellence and direct sales model helped invent the SMB/SME IT world and made PCs affordable to a broader constituency while EMC was the kingpin when rich and unstructured media boomed. But the new opportunity lies in the private and public cloud and the tools to manage those environments. This is in some ways an unglamorous world but the ability to manage capacity, switch workloads, pinch and zoom scalability, provision, orchestrate, secure and create policy will be the picks and shovels of what you might want to call the New Computing order.

Or, you might argue, just as Microsoft made more from the PC era than anybody by providing the core DOS and Windows operating systems, then these tools constitute the new cloud operating system. EMC’s Pivotal, RSA Security, VMware and Virtustream are key here, as is Dell’s Boomi and SonicWall. PCs, servers and storage are, if not an irrelevance, then peripheral parts.

In the New Computing, as EMC CEO Joe Tucci notes, buyers seek “technology hubs” rather than purchasing piecemeal components that they assemble together themselves or via systems integrators. They want a new systems management capability that sits on new platforms and adaptive infrastructure to let IT leaders fine-tune resources and, usually, reduce the number of IT assets and vendors they deal with.

The sweep is epic and the riches being chased here are accordingly vast so it’s no surprise to see the biggest forces in IT, from veterans like IBM, SAP, HP and Microsoft to relative newcomers like AWS and OpenStack, chasing them. But this will also be a market that makes names (or at least big valuations) for smaller companies in crannies and niches.

Capacity planning, for example, is one area that probably merits more attention and firms like Sumerian from the UK and Cirba of Canada could step into the spotlight. Capacity planning tools can help companies by providing scheduling so server or bandwidth capacity can be allocated where it’s needed. The result is a more efficient IT and systems that don’t yo-yo between running at low levels of utilisation and being overloaded.

Sumerian technical evangelist Stuart Higgins makes a strong case for capacity planning to return to vogue.

“There was great amount of interest at the turn of the century,” he says, “and now there’s this perception you don’t need it because it’s all going scale-out and cloud. We totally and utterly disagree. We still have workloads dependent on the hardware beneath then. It’s not all Intel. You still have Power and Sparc and GPUs. It’s got to have a lot of automation. IT no longer supports the business… it’s becoming a constraint.”

At Cirba, co-founder and CTO Andrew Hillier aptly likens capacity planning to hotel booking or the retro computer game Tetris.

But specialists like Sumerian and Cirba are likely to be dwarfed by the giants who want to throw a cover over all the trends affecting IT operations today. Among CIOs there will be fears of a lock-in to vendors that resembles what occurred with IBM decades ago at the birth of business computing, but the shake-out that comes from the New Computing is likely to leave a very different IT landscape for buyers and for sellers.


Also read:

Dell-EMC: What happens next?

Software at heart of Dell’s attempted renaissance

Accenture scales a luminous summit with Cloud Sherpas deal

Dell-EMC: The simple guide to a complex deal

Cirba has capacity to control IT sprawl


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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