Dell is holding its first Dell World event at a time when hardware based on the x86 instruction set has never been more in vogue. Servers based on Intel and AMD microprocessors are taking over an increasing share of the data center, and cloud services rely on it almost exclusively. But the largest supplier of x86 servers, HP, is in disarray. Having switched from CEO Mark Hurd to Leo Apotheker to Meg Whitman, HP is trying to find the hardware strategy ground underneath its feet.
Dell, meanwhile, is staging its first big, industry event (along the lines of VMworld or Oracle OpenWorld) in downtown Austin, Texas, close to its headquarters in Round Rock. In additional to CEO Michael Dell, speakers at the event include Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel; Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft; Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware; and Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com.
Why would Dell choose this time to stage such an event? One of its chief competitors will seldom offer it a better opportunity for it to put its best foot forward--at a time when HP is struggling. Dell has made a major effort to get some of HP's best customers, with whom it too often has a casual relationship, to Dell World.
[ What did Ray Lane tell CIOs about HP's strategy at our recent InformationWeek500 conference? See HP Chairman Defends Strategy Shifts. ]
"Dell World is the premier event for IT professionals who plan, deploy and manage enterprise technology," says the show's billing. That would describe 35-year IT veteran Jeff Simons, infrastructure services director at Washington School Information Processing Coooperative, a group of 270 school districts that share a core IT team.
WSIPC uses a little Dell, more of HP, and even more of IBM AIX hardware. But it's looking to phase out the IBM hardware, which Simons referred to with the name used at the time of purchase, the "p Series," now IBM Power Systems. He's now considering a set of x86 servers and Red Hat Linux.
The cooperative has been slowly consolidating regional data centers into a central Everett, Wash., data center, with a back up site in Spokane. Six of the seven regional centers are now centralized, with the seventh to be added soon.
The 60-plus applications in the WSIPC central sites are heavily virtualized; about 60% of the data center runs under Citrix XenServer. Simons expects that trend to continue. That means not only servers with more CPU and memory, but also more I/O. He wants to hear Dell's story on that front.
"Dell's intangibles are worth investigating--their service, their organization. We'll give them a thorough look. We'll go with an open mind," he said.
Dell now offers storage and switches to implement at the same time as the servers, which helps make it a more complex question to address: who is the best vendor for a heavily virtualized shop?
Tim Mattox, VP of worldwide enterprise product management, said in an interview that the event gives Dell a chance to pull together the many strands of technology products now in its portfolio.
Dell World attendees started the gathering with a cool drink on warm Wednesday evening in downtown Austin, listening to a band on an open deck of Austin City Limits, the legendary music venue. The venue may not help answer many technical questions, but it does help customers get to know Dell a little better.