"We're starting from a fresh new position—we don't own a big networking company [hello, HP and 3Com] and we want to keep our stack open. Because of that, we can surprise a lot of customers with the level of flexibility we can bring to an engagement, and we're seeing more of that every day."
Before getting Lark's specific thoughts on how this transformation at Dell is taking shape, I wanted to be sure to get his sense of just how Dell defines "open," which is a concept that has been bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated so many ways that, by comparison, it makes the term "cloud computing" seem sharply precise.
Asked if the brutally overused term "open" still has any equity—and if so, how does Dell define it—Lark conceded with a laugh that open is "definitely the most abused term in IT marketing. But what I say to customers is that the acid test on whether a vendor's really open or not is for the customer to ask that vendor what they don't have to buy from you."
In that context, he said, competitor Cisco is flying in the face of customer preference: "Cisco's approach is that you can have my UCS (Unified Computing System), but you can only have it my way: you can't choose any other hypervisor but Cisco's, or the server form factor you'd prefer, or the type of storage you want—it's all got to be from Cisco, and that's the very definition of a closed, proprietary stack," Lark said.
"And the history of our industry says that the closed approach like that fails miserably every time it's tried."
So armed with that sense of how not to proceed, how does Dell plan to weave heavy-duty cloud solutions plus enterprise-optimized tablets in with its current blend of products and services to become a strategic IT partner for CIOs for the next decade?
"CIOs are telling us they're pursuing IT evolution through virtualization, and they're talking about finding the path to the private cloud through virtualization, so that's where one of our primary focuses is," Lark said. "Their thinking reflects a shift away from repeatedly buying one server for one app, to simply acquiring wide swaths of computer power that can be scaled up or down for a wide range of applications based on need."
That has led Dell to develop a spectrum of solutions ranging from cloud server platforms to completely modularized data centers. In a blog post Thursday, Lark cited two new Dell customers whose business required some very untraditional thinking about how to deliver those types of data-center capabilities into challenging physical environments: Carnival Cruise ships and TeamLotus Formula 1 racing company.
From Lark's blog post: