Next week's Dell Enterprise Forum event will be known as much for what will not be seen as it will be for the product and channel information made available to solution providers and their customers.
While Dell's channel partners will be looking forward to news, road maps and training on the latest Dell products, solutions and channel initiatives, they will likely receive no answer to the biggest question on the minds of everyone working with Dell: What happens if the company goes private?
This year's event brings Dell's solution providers and customers together at a time when Dell is struggling to go private in a $24-billion-plus leveraged buyout.
That privatization bid is being led by Dell CEO Michael Dell, who last year famously declared his company an "end-to-end solutions" company.
However, shifting its focus from the PC industry to enterprise solutions has proven difficult for Dell which, as a public company, must pass the scrutiny of investors who question its strategy.
One big break from the past at this year's Dell Enterprise Forum is the fact that Michael Dell is not expected to appear.
Michael Dell keynoted last year's Dell Storage Forum where he stood on stage and proclaimed of his company, "We love the channel."
The Dell spokesperson said that Michael Dell's calendar fills up months in advance, and that he is scheduled to be out of the country during the Dell Enterprise Forum.
Paul Clifford, president of Davenport Group, a St. Paul-based solution provider and Dell partner, said he will miss hearing Michael Dell on stage but is not surprised he will not be at the event.
"I don't think his not being there reflects on the importance of Dell Enterprise Forum," Clifford said. "And it shows he has talented people there running the event."
At any rate, Clifford said, he'd rather Michael Dell stay focused on seeing Dell's privatization bid through to the end.
"I'd rather he focus on the buyout," Clifford said. "I truly believe it's important for Dell to go private with Michael on top and making the changes the company needs to make without Wall Street scrutiny. It is easier to make the needed changes without worrying every quarter what Wall Street thinks about Dell's PC market."
NEXT: A Gathering Of 'Very Smart Folks'Another Dell executive who normally might be expected to be all over Dell Enterprise Forum is Greg Davis, Dell's vice president and general manager of global channels. Davis, who typically is a featured keynote presenter at Dell channel events, had a scheduling conflict and so will not be at the event until the second or third day when he will join Dell's partner advisory council meeting, the Dell spokesperson told CRN.
Unlike the Dell Storage Forum, which featured a "Channel Day" when Davis would speak just to partners prior to the official kick-off of the full event, this year's Dell Enterprise Forum integrates partners and direct customers. As a result, the Dell spokesperson said, Davis will not have the same opportunity he had in the past to speak to a partner-only audience.
Clifford said he hopes to see Dell address how it will integrate the new software Dell got last year with its acquisition of Quest Software.
"Dell made a significant investment in Quest," he said. "It's an outstanding suite of 137 different software products. I want to understand not so much how the software is sold as individual products, but how it's integrated with other Dell offerings. The investment in software is enormous and exceedingly important for my existing customers and for new customers I can approach."
Clifford said he is also interested in seeing the product showcase at the event.
"The product showcase is always a lot of fun," he said. "You can say, 'Oh, I heard about this,' or 'What does this do?' It's about hearing about something I know, and learning about what I didn't know before."
Patrick Mulvee, vice president of sales and marketing at Sidepath, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider, said he will be looking to understand Dell's storage road maps in detail.
"I want to hear about Dell's innovations," Mulvee said. "There's a lot of interesting technology coming. I want to see what's coming next to make Dell more competitive."
Mulvee will also be looking to hear more about upcoming Dell plans for channel partners.
"Dell has a lot of channel partners at different levels," he said. "I want to see what it plans to do with partners who are completely enabled like Sidepath is."
Clifford said an event like the Dell Enterprise Forum is not so much about learning about new products, getting a data dump or taking some training classes, although that will be part of next week's event.
"It's a gathering of very smart folks to discuss Dell in the enterprise," he said. "And it's about learning. We will hear from Dell's senior executives about where the company is going, what it wants from us, and where we should be investing."
Dell Enterprise Forum, formerly known as the Dell Storage Forum, had its origins in the Compellent C-Drive program before Dell in 2011 acquired Compellent.
As of a week ago, about 700 individuals not including Dell personnel were registered to attend the conference in San Jose, Calif. Of those individuals, just over 40 percent were from channel partners, a Dell spokesperson told CRN.
As of Friday, the expected number of customer, partner and sponsor attendees was updated to 1,200. The Dell spokesperson said the ratio of channel attendees is likely to be the same.
PUBLISH MAY 31, 2013