CEO Outlook 2019: 5 Tech Titans Predict How The New Year Will Shape Up

For top technology CEOs, ringing in the new year means making big bets on game-changing innovation to propel channel sales growth in emerging markets from edge computing to artificial intelligence to multi-cloud data management.

How does that innovation take shape? CRN asked the leaders of the industry’s powerhouse companies for their insight into the coming year.

Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell, for his part, calls 2019 a year of investment and innovation.

“We will continue to invest heavily in developing the essential infrastructure to support the digital future,” said Dell, a PC pioneer who now oversees an $87 billion end-to-end digital transformation leader that has invested a whopping $12.8 billion in research and development in the last three fiscal years. “That means cloud-neutral development platforms and containers that let you iterate with agility and run workloads in any environment; highly automated and intelligent data centers; and a massive build-out of the distributed core at the edge. All AI-enabled. All secure. All seamless.”

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, who helms the Dell Technologies company that has been a crown jewel in the digital transformation drive, said 2019 means doubling down with partners on innovation that allows customers to “securely run, deliver and manage any app, to any device on any cloud.”

For Gelsinger, the key to success for partners in 2019 is simple: “Take advantage of services that will meet your customer challenges as they live in a hybrid and multicloud world.”

Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Antonio Neri, who earlier this year committed to investing $4 billion over the next four years to accelerate the intelligent edge revolution, said in 2019 HPE will be investing in an edge-to-cloud data platform, multi-cloud management through OneSphere, a consumption-based model with HPE GreenLake, and adoption of composable infrastructure.

Neri, who has transformed the $30 billion HPE into a leaner, more agile and sharply focused hybrid IT-intelligent edge company with his Next initiative, said HPE is focused on giving its partners a “unique, competitive and compelling proposition that no one else in the industry can offer.” That includes HPE GreenLake and GreenLake Flex Capacity, which has been hailed by partners as the first channel pay-per-use model that offers a viable alternative to public cloud.

Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins, the driving force behind transforming the $50 billion networking market leader into a software subscription superstar, said among the big investments the company is making in 2019 are automation architectures for multi-cloud, security and SD-WAN backed up by “cross-domain automation” with policy management.

Robbins’ key to success for Cisco, which spent $6.3 billion on R&D in 2018, and its partners: “To continue to deliver on this innovation pipeline against the architectural vision that we’ve laid out.”

For HP Inc. CEO Dion Weisler, who has powered the $52 billion PC and printer giant into new markets like 3-D printing and the immersive 2-D/3-D Sprout Pro platform, the biggest investment the company will make in 2019 will be on “tools, analytics and automation that help reduce complexity and simplify our systems and processes.”

Weisler said that in 2019 HP will continue to face industry risks, challenges and market headwinds. “That’s just business,” he said. “To win, HP and our partners must leverage these changes to create new opportunities for growth.”

New opportunities for growth is indeed the theme for 2019. It’s a market rallying cry that solution providers said they are prepared to deliver upon in the new year.

Dell CEO: Artificial Intelligence-Enabled Infrastructure Is The Future

As far as Dell Technologies Chairman and CEO Michael Dell is concerned, the future is digital.

As Dell looks ahead to 2019, he’s focused on building innovative infrastructure that connects the Internet of Things with artificial intelligence “seamlessly and securely from the edge to the core to the cloud.”

“This AI-enabled infrastructure is the platform for human progress. There has never been a bigger market opportunity, or more important work,” he said.

With that opportunity top of mind, Dell Technologies will ramp investments next year in bringing to market offerings that support the “digital future”—one in which mission-critical applications span environments, service providers and vendor ecosystems.

“That means cloud-neutral development platforms and containers that let you iterate with agility and run workloads in any environment; highly automated and intelligent data centers; and a massive buildout of the distributed core at the edge,” Dell told CRN.

Enterprises that have not yet digitally transformed their businesses are missing out on meeting current customer and market demands, Dell said.

“For customers to grow and thrive in 2019 and beyond, they must be able to embrace new technologies and solutions,” Dell said.

The solution providers that will be charged with bringing Round Rock, Texas-based Dell’s expanding hybrid cloud, IoT and artificial intelligence portfolio to those customers, like Sentinel Technologies, are cheering on the company’s strategic innovations, realizing they’re critical to the channel’s success going forward.

Partners have a big role to play in making those cutting-edge technologies deliver value to enterprises, said Robert Keblusek, CTO of Chicago-based Sentinel Technologies.

“As technology integrators, we need to be designing and deploying solutions that enable the businesses to apply these technologies to their use cases rapidly and securely,” he said. “Modern data centers are no longer restricted to a room or facility. They have to securely extend to multiple cloud infrastructures and cloud platforms.”

Dell has the right strategy, Keblusek said, because it empowers business leaders to take advantage of the artificial intelligence advances delivered by hyper-scale clouds.

“The ability to tap into machine-learning platforms from leaders such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google will be a requirement going forward, and as Michael [Dell] pointed out, this means having a secure and manageable infrastructure from the edge to the core to the cloud,” he said.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are currently being infused throughout a broad range of applications. While use cases like autonomous vehicles get a lot of attention, the possibilities are nearly endless, according to Keblusek.

Dell also recognizes the need to develop next-generation platforms that not only run software on devices in the field, but also, given the massive amounts of data generated at those sources, “allow for edge-based analytics and decision-making,” he said.

At the same time, the company appreciates that security features need to be integral components of that infrastructure while allowing workloads to run across multiple cloud platforms, Keblusek said. “IT needs to be easier and safer to consume,” he said. “Our customers are demanding it.”

—Joseph Tsidulko

VMware CEO Gelsinger: Solving The Challenges Of A Multi-Cloud World

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger expects 2019 to be the year of the “self-driving data center.”

For Gelsinger, that means a future “where [artificial intelligence] and machine learning will be deeply infused into private and public clouds” is upon us. “As organizations plan their strategies for modern multi-cloud and cloud-native applications, VMware’s full portfolio of solutions helps customers drive digital transformations from core data center, to cloud, to devices and the edge,” Gelsinger said. “Of course, we will continue to invest in those areas, but at the same time we will invest to open up huge opportunities for partners to expand and grow their practices into these high-growth areas, helping them super-charge their revenue.”

Going into 2019, a priority for VMware is to work with its customers to address the primary challenge they’re facing in what Gelsinger calls “the multi-cloud era”—running workloads that span sprawling environments. “We’ve been saying over the past year that customers want to remove the complexity in their digital infrastructure, so that they can securely run, deliver and manage any app, to any device, on any cloud,” Gelsinger said.

Because customers are using different tools, teams and architectures, “without a consistent infrastructure and operational environments, innovation can be stifled,” he said.

As VMware innovates to simplify operations across hybrid and multi-cloud environments, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based software giant maintains a strong focus on security. In fact, Gelsinger in October at The Channel Company’s Best of Breed conference said he wants “to disrupt everything about the security industry.”

“With every new or emerging threat, most customers react by buying more security products,” Gelsinger said. “But a security strategy that involves purchasing dozens or hundreds of products simply creates a patchwork security infrastructure, where cracks can offer more opportunities for attack.”

That’s why VMware is building security functionality directly into products like NSX and AppDefense, a virtualization layer technology that monitors application behavior, he said.

David Klee, founder and chief architect at Heraf ux Technologies, a VMware partner based in Scarborough, Maine, credits the virtualization powerhouse for expanding its portfolio to deliver multi-cloud offerings. With products like VMware Cloud Foundation and VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware “is setting themselves up to basically become the foundation for a solid platform for business down the road as companies are willing to start adopting those different hybrid components,” he said.

Enterprises have made large investments in on-premises technology, he said, but hybrid cloud makes sense for many.

“The hybrid play is the most powerful play out there because it lets you use your own investment where it makes the most sense or leverage the right component in the cloud where it makes the most sense,” Klee said.

—Joseph Tsidulko

HPE CEO Neri Taking Partners To The Edge And Beyond

Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Antonio Neri isn’t put off in the least by the ever-increasing pace of change set to rip apart legacy data center infrastructure models yet again in 2019.

“We are living in one of the most exciting times in business history,” said Neri, who has received high praise for calling fast-growth market transitions like edge computing and hybrid IT that are paying off for partners. “Digital transformation is happening everywhere—increasingly at the edge, which we see as one of the biggest market opportunities.”

Biggest market opportunities indeed. Solution providers said edge compute and intelligent edge software from Aruba, an HPE company, and the HPE Edgeline systems are setting the pace for what HPE estimates is a $100 billion-plus market with an edge compute segment alone that is growing at a 187 percent clip.

Steve Shaffer, founder and CEO of solution provider Zunesis, Lone Tree, Colo., expects HPE’s edge computing leadership to pay big dividends in 2019.

Zunesis’ Aruba business was up 90 percent in 2018, and Shaffer expects another great year in 2019 sparked in large part by new Aruba Wi-Fi 6 products and the HPE Edgeline series. “We see dramatic growth in Wi-Fi, a lot of meaningful IoT use cases and pent-up demand for greater bandwidth, greater security and greater energy conservation,” he said.

Shaffer said he teams with all of the major vendors but there is no one that can match the edge computing muscle and the mobile cloud-first innovation and customer-first mentality of Aruba and HPE.

“We are really excited about what Aruba is doing,” he said. “That is where we are really focused on growing. They really get it, they listen closely to customers and pay close attention to where the market is going. With intelligent edge, they are absolutely the market leader.”

Neri said HPE’s bet on edge computing is just point one for the big investments the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company is making in 2019. Among the others: a consumption-based service model with HPE GreenLake, which is growing at a triple-digit rate in North America; multi-cloud management through HPE OneSphere; an edge-to-cloud data platform; and, finally, the adoption of composable infrastructure, which includes HPE’s hot-selling Synergy platform.

Steve Tepedino, president and CEO of IT Partners, an HPE Platinum partner based in Tempe, Ariz., said Neri’s vision has put HPE head and shoulders above competitors.

On the innovation front, HPE’s InfoSight, a crown jewel that came from Neri’s acquisition of Nimble last year, is a game-changer for partners and customers.

“When you have machine learning, what you have is a next-generation data center,” said Tepedino. “Think about the impact. It means having no Level One and no Level Two admins doing that work. It’s huge. What can that do for our business? What can’t that do for our business? The sky is the limit.”

—Steven Burke

Cisco CEO Robbins: Simplicity, Clarity Will Guide Us In 2019

Cisco Chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins sees 2019 as the year customers get the simplicity they need from their IT architecture, and he’s positioning the networking giant’s portfolio to make it happen.

“Enabling multi-cloud, driving automation, integrated security, SD-WAN—all of these things are part of this whole architectural transition, and I think 2019 is going to be a huge year for that,” Robbins said in an interview with CRN.

Robbins recognizes that battling complexity is among customers’ top challenges, and he has steered the San Jose, Calif., company’s strategy to emphasize software, subscriptions, recurring revenue and, perhaps most importantly, automation.

Cisco last month introduced several products and initiatives designed to simplify large portions of its portfolio. It is integrating its full security stack with its Meraki and Viptela SD-WAN products, expanding and unifying its Catalyst 9000 range of intent-based networking products and tying together what had been an ungainly set of unified communications and collaboration offerings.

Robbins said the company will continue to invest in the simplification of its portfolio, not only to automate each individual technology but to automate across product families as Cisco moves to further establish a strategy based on selling unified, programmable systems rather than simply products.

“There’s a significant amount of investment that’s going into cross-domain automation,” Robbins said. “There are pieces that you’ve seen, but then there’s the overarching larger pieces that bring all the policy management together.”

Greg Kushto, vice president of sales engineering and director of security at Force3, a Crofton, Md., solution provider, said the advances Cisco has made are beginning to pay off for partners and customers.

“What they’ve done is really simplified the administration of these tools,” Kushto said. “They’ve really done so much work in building out that integration that it’s almost plug-and-play at this point. The recommendation is don’t go to the CLI [command line interface] unless you really, really need to.”

Kushto pointed specifically to Cisco’s DNA Center network management platform, saying the company has irtually eliminated the need for customers to get their hands dirty.

“We’ve spent 30 years telling customers that you want a custom-built architecture and you want to sit there and figure out what packet goes where, and it’s almost like we’re saying everything we told you before, don’t ever do that again,” Kushto said. “Trust us. This does work. They can deploy this seamlessly. They don’t need to poke under the hood because Cisco has spent a lot of time building it for them. For partners that’s huge.”

—Matt Brown

HP CEO Weisler: Security Is Key To Winning In New Digital Era

HP Inc. is looking ahead to 2019 with an eye toward helping customers more securely navigate the increasingly digital world, HP CEO Dion Weisler told CRN.

“Along with the need to digitally transform comes increasing concerns about security,” Weisler said. “Customers are producing and consuming an increasing amount of valuable data, making devices at the edge vulnerable and attractive targets for security breaches.”

HP, Palo Alto, Calif., offers the most secure printers and PCs in the world along with “an ecosystem of experienced partners,” he said. “In services we have built our expertise with the channel in managed print services and Device-as-a-Service, which we will continue to invest in. Together we have an opportunity in 2019 to move even faster, embrace change, and help our mutual customers win in the new digital era.”

The vast majority of successful cyberattacks take place through endpoints, said Andy Jones, CEO of MCPc, a Cleveland-based HP partner. It’s a lot of sprawl,” Jones said. “More and more things are coming into your environments that are outside the purview of traditional IT. Chain of custody of assets and, more importantly, the data they contain is fast becoming the focus of IT teams as well as the C-Suite.”

HP’s EliteBook notebooks and its other commercial PCs are resonating with customers—and helping to drive strong growth at MCPc—thanks to the security capabilities that are baked in, Jones said. Those capabilities include HP’s Sure Start self-healing BIOS and Sure Click, which ensures that malware doesn’t leave browser tabs to reach the PC.

“HP has myriad security solutions and software built into their products that do quite a bit to help stave off malware and cyberattacks,” Jones said. “Choosing a more secure device is an integral part of a holistic data protection strategy.”

Oklahoma City-based ImageNet Consulting, meanwhile, recently developed a new security-focused solution for SMB customers built around HP’s Device-as-a-Service offering.

“In order for us to design something that is 100 percent secure from edge to edge, we had to have an intrinsically secure edge device—and HP’s done that,” said Juan Fernandez, vice president of managed IT services at ImageNet.

Along with device security capabilities, the Device-as-a-Service offering also includes HP’s TechPulse software for proactive identification of device issues. “All of these problems that we’ve had over the history of IT can now be discovered with the click of a button,” Fernandez said.

In 2019, HP’s biggest investments will be in tools, analytics and automation to “help reduce complexity and simplify our systems and processes,” Weisler said. “We are committed to improving our operational excellence and driving profitable growth for our channel.”

—Kyle Alspach