Dell on Monday opened its first Dell Storage Forum with a focus on spreading the message that the company wants its solution providers to focus less on selling specific storage products and more on solutions for customers.
The Dell Storage Forum, held this week in Orlando, Fla., is Dell's first channel-focused storage event, and is based on the format of the old C:Drive conference Dell inherited with its acquisition early this year of Compellent.
The C:Drive storage conference was unique in that the first couple days were devoted to channel partners, followed by a couple days focused on customers, with solution providers and customers attending together in the middle. Like C:Drive, the first couple of days of the Dell Storage Forum are focused on channel partners, with the focus shifting to end user attendees who arrive later in the week.
The Dell Storage Forum also incorporates an end user-focused event that Dell inherited its 2008 acquisition of EqualLogic.
Greg Davis, vice president and general manager for global commercial channels at Dell, told the approximately 250 channel partners attending the event that Dell's channel business has made a lot of progress over the last couple years.
For instance, Davis said, 16,000 deals were registered by channel partners in the first quarter of 2011, up about 46 percent over the same period last year. Davis also said that Dell has a total of between 1,200 and 1,300 partners at the preferred and premier levels, and that they grew their Dell business by about 100 percent between 2009 and 2010.
Dell's total channel business for 2010 grew 40 percent over 2009, Davis said. "We're happy we have a (channel) business growing much faster than the overall IT industry," he said.
Dell offered about 76,000 training courses to channel partners in 2010, and hopes to increase that figure to up to 150,000 or 200,000 in 2011, Davis said. Those training courses have resulted in Dell's top 10 partners seeing their Dell business grow a total of 126 percent over 2010, he said.
"We hope you'll see this as an opportunity to invest in your business. We want you to go back to your business and convince more people to take the training," he said.
Brian Bell, executive director of worldwide sales for Dell Compellent and a former top Compellent executive, said that Dell had an 11.4 percent storage market share in 2010, citing IDC figures.
"We want to take our unfair share of the market," Bell said.
Dell's storage strength began in late 2007, when the company unveiled a $1.4 billion bid for EqualLogic, a pioneer in the development of iSCSI storage. That bid, coming only weeks after Dell made its first concerted effort to build a channel program, gave Dell a solution provider base which was at first concerned about working with Dell but which later formed a core part of the vendor's channel.
In its other significant channel-oriented acquisition, Dell in February closed its $876 million acquisition of Compellent, a leading developer of tiered storage virtualization technology.
Now that Dell has closed its Compellent acquisition, it is time for partners to forget about specializing in one storage technology or another, Bell said.
"For many of you, you've come in with a Compellent lens, or an EqualLogic lens," he said. "We want you to expand your view."
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Solution providers can sell the entire Dell storage portfolio, different parts of which address different customer segments, Bell said. For instance, Compellent targets midrange to enterprise customers with a Fibre Channel-focused offering, while EqualLogic targets midrange customers or special projects with its EqualLogic iSCSI offering. Dell's legacy PowerVault offering targets SMBs, Bell said.
Partners also need to learn how to reach out to CxO-level executives at their customers. He described CxOs as the one person in a company that can either make a deal go through or block a deal. "We've won the technology," he said. "Now we need to win the CxO."
Monday's opening session at Dell Storage Forum lacked the excitement of the old C:Drive partner conference. For instance, at C:Drive in 2010, Compellent demolished an EMC Symmetrix array in a parking lot.
One solution provider, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Dell missed a great opportunity to build that kind of excitement this week by focusing on the message of bringing the different storage technologies to its channel.
"It seemed like everybody had to give everybody stage time," the solution provider said. "It was tame. Not lame. Just tame. What Dell is doing is exciting. It just didn't come through."
Bell later told CRN that the Dell Storage Forum has a lot more deep content than in the past, and so the event may not seem as outwardly exciting as C:Drive. "We're still learning to work together effectively," he said.
Dell is also avoiding bashing the competition like Compellent did in the past, Bell said.
"At Compellent, we learned that, if you look at a lot of vendors, they spend a lot of time on beat sheets," he said. "And beat sheets are always wrong. Once they come, in a couple months they're already wrong. But the live on in some salesman's PC."
Compellent a couple years ago stopped holding sessions on how to beat competitors, Bell said. "This is not a question of beating EMC, or of beating NetApp," he said. "We prefer our sales reps and partners focus on what customers need."
Scott Winslow, president of Winslow Technology Group, a Boston-based solution provider expecting its Compellent revenue grow to about $4 million this year compared to $2.5 million last year, said that Dell has done a good job of showing its channel partners the benefits of working with that vendor's storage.
"I think there's a phenomenal opportunity for a channel partner like us as Dell grows its channel program," Winslow said. "I can see the motivation there even if they haven't worked out all the details."
When Dell closed its Compellent acquisition, Winslow Technology was immediately grandfathered in as a Dell preferred partner, and is now working towards getting to the premier level, which Dell introduced just last month.
Winslow Technology is doing so by getting certified for Dell's server business. "We never did servers before Dell acquired Compellent," Winslow said.
Winslow Technology has already embraced Dell's EqualLogic storage offering despite competing with it for years as a Compellent partner, Winslow said.
"In the past we competed with EqualLogic," he said. "Those bums drove around with EqualLogic boxes in the back of their cars. We had a Compellent box in the back of our car. But now we're trained in EqualLogic technology, and we have active EqualLogic campaigns going on. We're storage experts. We learned EqualLogic technology quickly because we competed against them for so long."