Tech mogul Michael Dell and his top lieutenants were out in force in Las Vegas on Monday to show that the $67 billion combination of Dell Computer and storage giant EMC, completed eight months ago, was worth every penny.
In his kickoff at the Dell EMC World conference, Mr. Dell reiterated his argument that the combined Dell Technologies “can innovate like a startup but with the scale of a huge company.”
The conference had the usual blizzard of product announcements including fast all-flash storage hardware for businesses and a preview of “14th-generation” Dell PowerEdge servers due later this year. There were also plans to offer customers pay-as-you-go pricing for PC and other hardware.
Analyst Patrick Moorhead, founder and CEO of Moor Insights & Strategy, found the last announcement most interesting. “Programs that let you buy equipment as you would pay for it in the cloud, takes one cloud advantage off the table,” Moorhead said via email.
The reason is that cloud computing, a model exemplified by Amazon Web Services, lets customers pay for only the hardware and software they use for the time they use it. If they shut it off, the bill stops. That means many big businesses that once paid hundreds of thousands of dollars every three years or so for new servers and storage, as well as more money for big enterprise software licenses, no longer have to make those big up-front purchases if they don’t want to.
The popularity of that model has upended traditional tech companies like, well like Dell and EMC, as well as IBM (IBM), HP (HPQ), and Cisco. Even Microsoft (MSFT), which was not a big hardware player, was hit hard by the advent of Amazon Web Services (AMZN) and, in response, rushed to embrace cloud computing.
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If Dell can offer flexible and affordable hardware pricing without the big up-front commitment, that could help stop its bleeding. But can the new Dell Technologies fulfill Mr. Dell’s promise of startup-style innovation, despite Dell’s gargantuan size?
Moorhead is bullish. He noted a stronger tie-in between the various Dell products than ever. But customers who want to use Dell servers with some other company’s storage can do so.
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Matt Eastwood, analyst and senior vice president with research firm IDC, said Dell Technologies’ status as a private company is a big advantage. In the merger, EMC morphed from a publicly traded company to part of a privately held giant.
Now, the combined company “can run the portfolio of companies/brands differently based on the maturity of the market,” Eastwood said. “They are more nimble than their peer competitors. HPE (HPE) is directly responding by cutting divisions. But it is also sacrificing intellectual property.”
Others have their doubts whether this the new Dell Technologies can do better than its predecessor companies. Andy Palmer, who has founded several tech companies, and has also been a customer of Dell and EMC, is uncertain.
“If anyone can sort this out, it’s Michael Dell. But EMC was tough to work with and has gotten so far away from the needs of the average business it’s challenging for them to move the needle,” Palmer said.
Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst of Constellation Research, who did not attend the conference, said he is not sure that Dell is even a tech company anymore. Instead, he views it as a company owned by a private equity investor that will act in the best interests of that private equity firm. “As with most PE firms, innovation is put aside for profitability over passion,” he said.