Dell's cloudy future: more vision and less for the tin-huggers please

The world has moved from being driven by tin, let's hear more about the other initiatives

There’s an old story about the snake who offers to give a mouse a ride across the lake. “But you’re a snake,” says the mouse. “You’ll just bite me and I’ll die”. “No”, says the snake, “I’ve changed: you’ll be safe with me.” So, the mouse agrees and halfway across the lake, the snake bites him and the mouse dies. Before expiring, he gasps “Why?” The snake looks amazed, “because I’m a snake,” he replies.

I was reminded of this story while I was at Dell Techcamp, a day-long extravaganza exploring all that’s new that Dell has to offer. The theme of the event was Reinventing the Data Centre, a chance for Dell to show that it’s moving well away from the notion that it’s a laptop/PC vendor and that has a broad range of offerings - but the company just couldn't quite forget its history.

The intitial presentations were promising, focusing on the company’s move to cloud, the formation of the software division last year and the various software acquisitions that the company has made to support this.

It's an approach that makes sense as it's clearly the way that the IT industry is going. But when we got into detailed presentations, it was a different story. For all Dell’s grand vision, all the emphasis was on improvements to hardware and how Dell was keeping ahead of the game in servers.

Perhaps the most glaring comment of all was one made about how should a company take its first steps into the cloud. For most people, the answer would be get out a credit card, buy some time on Amazon or Rackspace and play with some workloads; for Dell the answer is to buy the starter model of its new server range and establish a private cloud.

No-one is going to deny that Dell's server business is important. At the heart of all cloud services, there's going to be a hardware heart. And Dell is a big part of the cloud infrastructure. It  was pointed out to the TechCamp attendees that Dell hardware contributed to cloud infrastructure at AWS, Twitter and Microsoft - an impressive pedigree.

But what was frustrating were the tantalising glimpses that we got of Dell's other world: a far more interesting one. 

For example, Dell's Stephen Davies mentioned Dell's public cloud offering. This was launched last year but only as a private beta, Dell has switched from basing it on VMware's vCloud but like HP and Rackspace, opted for a cloud based on OpenStack.

He also mentioned Dell's community cloud offering for healthcare in the US. I can see a bright future for community clouds and am sure they're going to be more prevalent. Davies hinted there would be moves in this arena on this side of the pond but could offer nothing concrete. Dell has also recently launched a cloud service for the retail market.

All these initiatives are a sign that the company is serious about its new direction and has got some great ideas to back them up but there was too little detail.

If the rumours are true, Dell is going to get on with a lot of inventing over the next few months. According to various press reports, the company is set to go to private very shortly - or even this coming week, allowing it to reposition itself as a complete service provider. Let's hope Dell starts shouting about that soon.

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