Michael Dell: I Love Storage, I Love The Channel

Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of the company which bears his name, said he loves storage and the channel, and thanked Dell's solution providers and end-user customers for their support as the company transforms itself into one of the industry's top storage vendors.

Dell, speaking before an packed audience of employees, partners, and customers at the Dell Storage Forum conference in Orlando, Fla., said that storage has become a primary focus of his company, and even hinted that he expects to expand Dell's storage reach beyond the company's own server customer base.

The Dell Storage Forum was the company's first event to simultaneously target both solution providers and customers, and is the combination of the C:Drive channel conference that the company got with its acquisition of Compellent, and an end-user forum it got with its acquisition of EqualLogic.

In a question-and-answer format between Dell, Phil Soran, president of Dell Compellent and the former president, chairman, and CEO of Compellent, and Darren Thomas, vice president and general manager of Dell's storage division, Soran asked Dell if his company is truly channel-friendly.

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"Yes we are," Dell answered. "We love the channel."

Dell said that has been a consistent message at his company starting with the decision to compensate its sales force the same whether a deal goes direct or through solution providers.

"I think we are the fastest-growing channel force in the world," he said. "I think a quarter of our business comes from the channel."

Dell's message to the channel has actually been pretty consistent since his company in 2008 acquired not only EqualLogic's iSCSI technology but also a channel-only sales model.

Dell pledged his commitment to developing a strong indirect sales channel for storage in a conversation with CRN at the time. "I think the fact that Dell has effectively no incentive for our direct sales force to not partner with the channel, that's a huge step," Dell said then.

During the audience question-and-answer portion of the presentation, the first question came from Sonia St. Charles, CEO of the Davenport Group, a St. Paul, Minn.-based solution provider and partner of Dell, Compellent, and EqualLogic, who asked how storage will impact Dell's future.

Dell said storage is one of the IT industry's fastest-growing businesses, and that there is a big push to integrate servers, storage, and networking technologies. One of the results of that will be opportunities for Dell's storage solution providers to sell more of the company's full product range.

"We thank you for being a great Dell storage partner," he said. "We'd also like you to be a great PowerEdge server partner."

Dell, Soran, and Thomas made almost no mention of the breakup of the long-term reseller relationship between Dell and EMC caused in large part by the EqualLogic and Compellent acquisitions.

However, it was clear that Dell is now competing with EMC.

One customer asked during the question and answer period whether Compellent has a program for migrating storage from EMC SAN arrays, which the customer was looking to replace.

Dell responded that Compellent has been good about migrating storage. "We'll be glad to speak with you at the next break and get that going for you," he said.

Soran said he visited one customer, Timex, and found the customer also talking to a Dell sales rep.

"The customer put his arm around his Dell rep, pointed to him, and said, 'This is the reason I bought EMC. Not the product. And this is why I'm going to buy Compellent,'" Soran said.

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Dell the company is also ready to take on other storage vendors, even where there is no Dell infrastructure in place.

Soran, after touting the benefits of Compellent storage, cited a win for his company against storage from Hewlett-Packard at Heineken. "We displaced HP. . . .," he said.

Dell broke in, and said, "That's OK, you can run HP servers with Compellent."

"We try not to," Soran responded.

Dell even went so far as to say that his company was actually a storage company when it was first started.

In his dorm room at the University of Texas, Dell started his business making disk subsystems for IBM computers. "This was a booming business, particularly if you are a 19-year-old just starting out," he said.

However the business changed when one disk subsystem customer, Martin Marietta, called to order 150 of the disk subsystems, which was Dell's largest order to date, but wanted to visit the Dell office first. Dell said he and his colleagues cleaned up their "office," and he bought what he thought at the time was a suit.

When the Martin Marietta visitors arrived, they noticed a computer Dell had built specifically for testing the disk sub-systems, and asked if he sold them as well. "That's a good idea," Dell recalled saying.