I spent the last few days in Las Vegas attending Dell TechWorld (DTW) and am happy to report I’ve returned home to Dripping Springs, Texas, no poorer due to gambling. I’m also pleased to report that Dell TechWorld was worth the trip and time away. In addition to catching up with old colleagues and friends, there was much news regarding Dell’s strategy and vision.

As with most conferences, DTW had a theme. This year, it was technological innovation is the key to human progress. Based on this theme, the company focused on addressing what it sees as five significant challenges in the enterprise:

  • The future of work — Managing the remote workforce
  • Multicloud — While this may seem like an overplayed term, the challenges are real.
  • AI — Technical, ethical and operational barriers to adoption
  • Edge — Like Multicloud, this is talked about often but still encounters lots of challenges.
  • Security — It should baked into everything—every device, every server, every environment.

While there is much to discuss across all of these areas, in this piece I will dive deeper into my three biggest takeaways and what I think of Dell’s overall approach, vision and strategy.

Some events stand out for the right reasons; Dell DTW is one of them

Before getting into my analysis, I want to give the Dell analyst relations (AR) team recognition for putting on a wonderful event. I am on the road nonstop this time of year for conference season, so I see lots of good, bad and average events. DTW 2023 was amazingly well run, and I know that the folks who helped make it so don’t ever get credit. So for my AR contact, Beth Williams: thank you for making this such a pleasant learning experience. And to AR leader Erin Zehr: you and your team are rock stars.

Security: Big leaps forward

I’ve traditionally considered Dell’s security messaging adequate, albeit not exactly impressive. While others in the market have made a lot of noise around their security capabilities, Dell has quietly gone about building a solid security portfolio and partnerships.

In March 2023, Dell opened its Zero Trust Center of Excellence (CoE) at DreamPort, the US Cyber Command’s premier cybersecurity innovation facility. The function of this CoE is to allow customers to test their environments against the U.S. Government’s zero-trust security specifications. This is a real and practical value-add for IT and information security professionals to drive the highest levels of protection across their organizations—something I would have jumped at the opportunity to use when I was in IT.

At DTW, Dell took it one step further by announcing Project Fort Zero, an end-to-end validated zero-trust solution for Dell customers to deploy. With this initiative, Dell is bringing together over 30 of the leading cybersecurity companies in the market to help establish a zero-trust environment that adheres to the U.S. government’s mandate.

Here’s what I like about what Dell is doing. It uses its market influence to enable its customers to deploy a true zero-trust environment. And it is doing so through a consortium approach, where companies have a real incentive to work together to deliver a complete solution. More to the point, Dell understands that neither it nor any other company can be the only answer for zero trust. This is a team effort, and to its credit Dell is pulling together the players.

AI: It’s everywhere

Surprising nobody, AI was a major focus area for Dell at DTW. It was part of every keynote, every group breakout and every discussion. And for good reason. During one keynote, Dell’s Co-COO, Chuck Whitten said that AI might be the most significant technological innovation since the PC, the internet and even the smartphone (gulp). And when one thinks about the impact AI is having and will have—on our lives, our economy, on everything—his statement makes sense.

More precisely, the conversations at DTW focused on generative AI (sick of hearing about ChatGPT yet?). By everybody’s estimate, generative AI is going to change the way we work and the way we live. And because of this, organizations of all sizes are looking at ways to implement such an environment.

The challenge? Training a large language model (LLM) for your specific needs. Let’s say you’re a big sporting goods chain and want something like ChatGPT to serve as a shopping assistant for your customers. When a customer searches for a “driver,” you want them to find a long golf club—not a construction tool. Likewise, if a customer wants to find a “bat” for their promising baseball player, you don’t want the search to return something about the Mexican free-tailed bats that live in Austin. Now think about how you would apply this to a law firm sifting through millions of digitized pages of case law, briefs and so on. Or a pharmaceutical company whose inputs span drug discovery, clinical testing and safety reporting. This is where the concept of training domain-specific LLMs comes into play. It’s all about context and relevance.

So, what did Dell Announce around AI at DTW? Well, a few things. But I will focus on what I found super compelling: Project Helix, which is a partnership between Dell and Nvidia to deliver a full-stack generative AI solution to its customers. Think curated generative AI for specific customer needs. Major law firm? Health care provider? Sporting goods store? Dell and Nvidia will deliver a pre-trained model and the tools needed to easily further optimize it.

Like Dell’s moves in security, I like this partnership with Nvidia. AI has been an almost science fiction-like concept to many businesses for a very long time. While we’ve talked about the eventual rise of this technology, its applicability has often been narrow in scope. And frankly, we’ve often misused the term entirely, placing the AI label on technology that is really advanced analytics.

Recently, though, generative AI has made AI tangible to far more people. And Dell’s partnership with Nvidia is going to make AI real for many businesses.

One last note on Project Helix. The NVIDIA software stack being used for it is powered by the newly launched Dell XE9680, a beast of a server that packs two Intel 4th Generation Xeon CPUs and four Nvidia H100 GPUs.

While generative AI became white-hot just over the last few months, Dell, Nvidia and Intel must have started working on the ground-up design of this solution a couple of years ago. That’s impressive foresight.

Multicloud: We may be bored of talking about it, but it’s still relevant

“Multicloud” and “hybrid multicloud” are so overused that I’d be willing to bet that somewhere, college kids have created a drinking game around these terms. Yet we talk about these concepts so much because the industry still hasn’t figured out how to consistently implement them elegantly, efficiently or economically.

At DTW, Dell discussed multicloud and its “as-a-Service” solution, APEX, and how the company envisions enabling its customers to navigate this multicloud world more quickly and affordably.

My biggest takeaway from Dell’s presentations on APEX is that everything starts with data. Data that is generated on the edge or in the cloud and must be shared with distributed applications. Legacy data that sits in a data warehouse and is critical for feeding algorithms that can help drive better customer outcomes.

And because of this need to make data from the datacenter to the cloud and from one cloud to another, storage is critical. The connective tissue that makes this work is the architecture that enables the movement of data between cloud and on-prem and from one cloud to another. To that end, Dell announced APEX Block Storage for AWS and Azure, as well as APEX File Storage for AWS. Running APEX storage in these clouds allows Dell customers to have clean integration from what Dell refers to as “cloud to ground” or “ground to cloud.” In other words, from on prem to off prem, and from off prem to on prem.

In addition, Dell announced the APEX Cloud Platform for Microsoft Azure, VMware and Red Hat. Through these partnerships, Dell is trying to make the cloud experience (and environment) as tight as possible. The Red Hat partnership especially interests me because it allows IT administrators to manage their combined infrastructure, virtualized and containerized environments from the OpenShift interface.

The last thing to note on multicloud and APEX is around manageability—one of my favorite topics. At the event, Dell announced APEX Navigator for Multicloud Storage and APEX Navigator for Kubernetes. This was the sleeper hit of the show, in my opinion. Having a single SaaS-based console to manage my entire (Dell) storage environment is a big deal. It makes managing storage far less complex—and cheaper—while optimizing the entire environment.

As I mentioned, there’s so much to discuss here, so capturing it all in a few paragraphs is hard. If you’re interested in learning more, here are a couple of videos from Dell that are worth watching:

Bonus: An observation from the show floor

While I expected to see a seemingly endless number of AI and security startups and other companies on the show floor (which I did), I was surprised at the number of cooling companies I also saw. These covered a wide range of technologies from direct-to-chip to immersion cooling and everything in between.

Companies such as GRC, Zutacore and Chilldyne were out in force to showcase their solutions. Even Intel was showing off its chips being cooled by Zutacore in its booth. This only makes sense when you think about where the market is going. The XE9680 mentioned above that’s so impressive puts out a lot of heat those H100 and Xeon processors. And the chips driving platforms like that are only going to get hotter.

It’s worth checking out what some of these companies are doing regarding cooling, especially as you plan and implement refreshes to your infrastructure.

Final thoughts

It was a long couple of days at DTW 2023—in a good way. Besides the specifics covered above, my overall takeaway is that innovation is alive and well at Dell. I often talk about the pragmatic approach Dell takes to delivering solutions to the market. But that pragmatism also drives an innovation engine that has positioned the company as a leader in meeting companies’ needs for what tomorrow brings.

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