Dell Technologies lifts off: Here's what to watch as Dell, EMC, a bevy of enterprise businesses combine

Dell Technologies will be comprised of Dell, EMC, VMware, SecureWorks, Pivotal, Virtustream, VCE, and RSA. It's a datacenter juggernaut that'll need to be nimble as workloads move to the public cloud.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Dell is about to take the wraps off its new name, Dell Technologies, with Dell EMC as the company's enterprise brand, Dell for PCs and VMware, the linchpin in Michael Dell's master plan for reinvention.


On Sept. 7, Dell will close its EMC purchase. Dell Technologies includes the businesses of Dell, EMC, a PC unit, VMware, SecureWorks, Pivotal, Virtustream, and RSA. Toss in converged infrastructure from the likes of EMC's VCE for good measure.

Simply put, the Dell Technologies menu is massive. How this enterprise giant navigates account management, innovation, and product overlaps for technology buyers remains to be seen. What's notable here is how rival Hewlett-Packard split up into Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc. Lenovo has bulked up its enterprise ambitions. And IBM is retooling to shed commodity datacenter gear and focus on Watson, analytics, and growth markets.

Indeed, Michael Dell appears to be zigging toward scale when other datacenter players are trying to slim down and be nimble. The elephant in the enterprise room is Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure as a trio that's taking more workloads.

The CEO of Dell has promised to be more nimble and innovative -- even as the combined company swells. We'll see how this one turns out. In the meantime, here are the key questions.

Hybrid juggernaut -- but then what?

There is no doubt that the combination of Dell and EMC will dominate the datacenter. It's likely that every enterprise will be buying from some tentacle of the company. And if you add VMware in the mix, it's clear that most enterprises will be working with a few less vendors.

Is that a good thing? Dell Technologies will argue that, yes, scale is wonderful since there's one less throat to choke. The IT buyer, however, may want diversification. Yes, Dell Technologies will have more of your technology budget, but many companies will aim to diversify out of principal.

The big question is how companies will diversify. Will more of their datacenters go to a traditional rival, such as Lenovo or HPE, or the public cloud players?

In the end, Dell and EMC are all about delivering the hybrid cloud. VMware, Virtustream, and other outposts of Dell Technologies offer a few public cloud options, but let's get real. Dell Technologies will have back-end gear and software to manage the public cloud along with private data centers. The primary play for Dell Technologies is the hybrid cloud, which is a viable and growing market.

Here's the catch: the hybrid cloud is likely an interim step to moving more workloads to the public cloud. The only real debate is over the timeline. JMP Securities analyst Patrick Walravens had an interesting data point in one of his VMware research notes. This slide is unscientific, but it does show you interest may be moving from traditional IT to the public cloud.

Image: JMP Securities

VMware's future

VMware's most recent earnings conference call and results indicate the company is moving in the right direction. VMware has an entrenched customer base, and its software is critical to the enterprise. VMworld also highlighted how VMware has been able to adopt a role in public cloud management as well as new architectures such as OpenStack and Docker.

How VMware operates as a tracking stock of Dell Technologies remains to be seen.

See: VMware's next play: Managing all clouds for enterprises

For starters, tracking stocks don't carry voting power. In addition, the VMware tracking stock will trade at a discount. That Wall Street reality may hamper VMware's ability to recruit talent, which may be more interested in startup rivals.

And then there's the VMware ecosystem. Dell Technologies competes with the server vendors that have partnered with VMware. EMC was largely a hands-off owner and didn't have the conflict of interest. As long as customers are heavily invested in VMware, all of the server vendors will engage in coopetition. Should VMware stumble partnerships could unravel quickly.

William Blair analyst Jason Ader said in a research note:

While we applaud management's efforts to evolve the VMware story from plain vanilla server virtualization to the larger software-defined data center, we struggle with modeling the business given the number of moving parts and the expected decline in the core vSphere license business. VMware's early success in emerging areas like networking (NSX) and hyperconverged (vSAN) looks promising, but hybrid cloud management remains an unproven opportunity in very early days.

Michael Dell said at VMworld that VMware will remain open and thrive with its cross-cloud architecture.

Does Dell Technologies need a public cloud play?

Dell has Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), and EMC's federation has various public cloud options, but the combined efforts don't roll up into anything coherent.

It's worth noting that Okta held its user conference Oktane16 as VMware's VMworld was happening. That coincidence is worth mentioning since Google Cloud Platform chief Diane Greene was speaking at Oktane16. Greene also happened to be the founder of VMware.

Greene's take on computing provided a nice contrast to VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, who argued that the world was moving more slowly to the cloud. Gelsinger noted that the 50-50 crossover point to the cloud from traditional IT won't happen until 2021.

JMP Securities analyst Walravens highlighted the contrast:

Greene told Okta CEO Todd McKinnon that ""for the longest time, it was start-ups and test and dev," but now, "almost overnight... everyone is suddenly moving to the cloud."

How will Dell play that 50-50 crossover point to cloud in just six years from now? See: Public cloud computing vendors: A look at strengths, weaknesses, big picture

Rationalizing products

Dell Technologies will have what equates to a Chinese buffet menu. You can get damn near everything, but you'll struggle with making a choice amid all the options.

This bloated menu issue isn't unique in enterprise technology. Just take a gander at Oracle's cloud services. Built by acquisition, Oracle's cloud has a series of platforms and brands.

Dell won't be much different. Dell servers obviously will stay, but Dell Technologies will have its namesake storage technology as well as EMC's. Datacenter management platforms will also be doubled and possibly tripled if you want to count VMware. There are competing converged systems too.

At some point, customers may want to demand less not more. The problem with rationalization is that there will always be some customer who isn't happy.

Fortunately for customers, this inevitable product rationalization will take years to unfold. Dell Technologies is likely to be more concerned with the cross-selling initially.

Account management

Enterprise customers may watch things like product roadmaps and budget diversification, but day-to-day buying technology is a people business.

Will account managers leave?

EMC executives will run the enterprise business for Dell Technologies, but many accounts will overlap. Whenever there is a sales and account management scrum, there's a chance of disruption.

For Dell, any sales disruptions will play out as a private company, so that's good. Customers need to pay attention, as inevitable restructuring occurs.

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