Dell's Wyse and Sonicwall acquisitions: Good news for schools

Will HP, Apple, Lenovo, and the other major OEMs step up to match Dell's growing edu ecosystem? And, btw, thin clients are so not dead.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

For years now, Dell, HP, and Apple have been the de facto choices for schools purchasing IT hardware. I remember a project a few years back that I sent out for bids: pricing came back from Dell, HP, and a non-OEM vendor that shall remain nameless. The non-OEM vendor couldn't even match the prices from the OEMs even though it was proposing second- and third-tier hardware. Since then, Dell has made deep investments in services, cloud infrastructure, and hardware companies that make it even more competitive in the educational market and give schools a very interesting set of end-to-end solutions that may be difficult to find elsewhere.

I should make it clear that I'm no Dell fanboi. The only Dell hardware I have in my home and office is a couple of netbooks that my kids haven't managed to destroy. Otherwise, Apple, HP, and Lenovo (in that order) dominate a very tech-heavy household. And that project I mentioned above? It was the biggest single tech purchase in my district's history (and still the biggest to date) and it went to HP, partly because they were cheaper and partly because, at the time, Hewlett Packard had a better thin computing solution.

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Dell buys Wyse, plays 'cloud client' game

Thin clients have come a long way, baby

Dell has been a Wyse reseller for some time, pairing Wyse thin clients, cloud clients, Multipoint clients, and related software solutions with Dell servers, switches, etc. And while the solutions were feature-rich and reliable, they weren't as cost-effective as some competitors (HP and Userful come to mind). There is no guarantee that Dell's acquisition of the company will improve their cost-effectiveness or entry-level price points, it seems likely that Dell will be able to drive down costs and improve their overall end-to-end offerings.

Perhaps the more interesting part of this story is Dell's validation of what I've believed for some time: One-to-one may be the hardware holy grail for schools, but thin computing (whether desktop streaming, sharing, or virtualization) is far from dead. In fact, mobile thin clients may be the best way to deliver 1:1, providing central management, leveraging economies of scale virtualizing desktops, reducing theft, or simply virtualizing applications to eliminate distractions. Wyse brings with it a number of mobile technologies as well that can bring desktop experiences to inexpensive tablets.

Last month, Dell also acquired SonicWall, one of the top providers of gateway security devices for schools. I've never loved SonicWall products; there are other interfaces and feature sets that I find much more compelling from other vendors (Lightspeed Systems is by far my favorite and I'm writing a book on Untangle which has some interesting advantages, too). That being said, Dell's acquisition of the company means that schools will soon be able to go to Dell to meet needs ranging from outsourced IT support to 1:1 hardware to content filtering and firewall security. Need to make sure those mobile thin clients can access their virtualized desktops on on-premise servers even when students are at home? No problem - Dell can build that whole solution. Rather have Dell host the virtual desktops? They can do that too. Need a learning platform with standards-aligned content? Yup, they can even give you that.

The upshot, beyond being able to do one-stop shopping with Dell (which happens to be on virtually every state bid list/contract nationwide, meaning that procurement becomes dead simple), is that other OEMs are going to need to step up their game, letting school IT staff focus on coaching and tech utilization in the classroom rather than systems design and integration. If Dell can drop a turnkey solution into a school, HP, IBM/Lenovo, Apple, and possibly even Google will need to do the same.

Larry Dignan quoted an analyst concerned about Dell's Wyse acquisition:

In addition, another concern is whether Dell is involving itself into more lower-margin commodity hardware.

Guess what, Mr. Analyst? Here in education, we're big fans of low-margin commodity hardware. It's all we can afford. If Dell also has the services to back up that hardware, it's a win for education and a strong value-add, as well as a win for Dell, who gets to sell lots of that low-margin hardware and bundle higher-margin services that schools desperately need.

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