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Dell sees strong channel role in enterprise hardware strategy

The company launches its PowerEdge Server 12G along with new EqualLogic storage arrays, while partners Microsoft and SAP discuss the art of selling cloud computing and big data products

SAN FRANCISCO – Even as it launched one of its most significant line of servers, networking tools and storage arrays for enterprise customers, Dell this week acknowledged how much it will be relying on channel and vendor partners to nurture long-term relationships with corporate customers.

The one-time direct PC manufacturer announced its PowerEdge Server 12G, featuring embedded management and Express Flash, along with two EqualLogic storage arrays for mid-size organizations and what it described as a “Virtual Network Architecture” to virtualize machines in data centres. A pre-built system called vStart for Dell Private Cloud and a data warehousing appliance called QuickStart rounded out the slew of products for business clients Dell launched this week.

“It used to be about boxes and individual products,” Michael Dell told an audience of media an analysts at a launch event here on Monday. “Now it’s about challenges in their business and how to address them better and faster . . . they want choices in where their tech lives. It can be on premise, in a private cloud, a public cloud or a hybrid cloud. It’s a hybrid world – and Dell is transforming to stay ahead of this.”

One key way of doing that is to make sure customers have easy access to the products and services it offers, said Praveen Asthana Dell’s vice-president of enterprise solutions and strategy. In many cases, that means VARs, and he noted how the company has gotten top ratings from channel industry journals in the U.S.

Related story: Dell’s new PowerEdge servers offer savings to small firms

“We’re investing a lot in the channel. We know that for many of our customers, that is their preferred way of getting products,” said Asthana. “We’re making a tremendous amount of progress there.”

Selling enterprise IT infrastructure to customers moving into the cloud may require some different thinking, however, based on a panel of Dell’s vendor partners that included Citrix, VMware, SAP and Microsoft. Ross Brown, vice-president of Microsoft’s worldwide partner strategy, said customers tend to focus around one of three areas when they move to the cloud.  This includes a look at how they can increase the flexibility of the IT department, how they can take costs out and how to get better performance out of what they already have.

“People are looking at figuring out the difference between what’s core (to their organization) and what’s critical, and how to get better economics out of that,” he said. “It’s business decision-making rather than technical decision-making around the cloud.”

Similarly, while big data may be the biggest buzz term of 2012 so far, it needs to be thought out differently based on the customer situation, said Amit Sinha, vice-president of HANA marketing at SAP.

“This morning Dell was talking about end to end performance. When you look at end to end, it’s not just about managing big data but how you ingest that kind of data,” he said. “If you’re a cable broadcaster, want to provision an ad and see what 16M people are watching. “It’s about how to capture it and then add insight to storage.”

Traditionally companies would have long periods of time to compile information before they sifted through it. However today a smart meter company might be collecting massive amounts of information every 15 minutes. “We haven’t seen that before,” he said. “They need to make real-time decisions on customer segmentation and providing electricity effectively.”

Jean Bozman, research vice-president of IDC’s enterprise computing group, said Dell’s message around resellers and marshaling its vendor partners together would likely hit the right note with corporate customers.

“They’ve always made good hardware,” she said. “But now they’re talking a lot about the channel. It’s a more consulting kind of approach.”

Dell also said it would be able to offer 10 times greater application performance for compute workloads by offering native 10 gigabit Ethernet support across its server, storage and networking portfolio.