The 10 Biggest Dell EMC Stories Of 2016

A Landmark Year

To say 2016 was a big year for Dell EMC would be a vast understatement. By January, the process of bringing Dell and EMC together to form a $74 billion IT industry behemoth was well underway, and partners were eager to learn about the opportunities the landmark deal would bring.

As the year progressed, partners that worked with one vendor but not the other were encouraged to begin working with both, and the excitement began to build. Aggressive Dell partners were able to notch significant sales with EMC product lines, putting themselves and their bottom lines in a very favorable position.

Chairman and CEO Michael Dell assembled a leadership team for the new company that plays to the strengths of the global IT powerhouse, placing experienced senior executives in positions that play to their strengths and provide continuity as the merged company begins its new life.

Channel partners met most of the changes with enthusiasm and optimism, but were also anxious about the details of the new unified channel program being built by Channel Chief John Byrne. Next year promises to be as eventful and exciting as the last. Click through to see the 10 biggest Dell EMC stories of 2016.

10. Unity

EMC in the spring made the last big splash of its life as an independent company when it introduced its Unity unified all-flash storage array priced to do battle with Nimble Storage and Pure Storage. The Unity solution combines file, block and object storage capabilities and carries prices starting at $20,000, putting it squarely in the mid-market, where Nimble and Pure have the most traction. Coincidently, the mid-market is also where Dell has traditionally been strong. "There is going to be a lot of people at Pure that are going to sit up and take notice," an EMC exec said. "This is huge for the channel." Partners praised the timing of Unity's introduction, which came as demand for flash-based object storage began to gain traction in the market.

9. Haas Gives Partners White Glove Treatment

Ultimately, the all-star channel team Dell EMC has assembled answers to company President and Chief Commercial Officer Marius Haas (pictured). Haas is a prominent advocate for the channel, and now his company's channel operation may be more visible than ever. And while the task ahead of him is large, he sees no greater opportunity. Dell EMC and its partners, Haas said, have the potential to drive billions in revenue.

"I think we could add billions of dollars. Billions," Haas said Tuesday during a live on-stage interview at the 2016 Best of Breed Conference in Atlanta. "If you assume right now that it's well over $40 billion in revenue flowing through the channel and we're less than 10 percent of the market, why can't this be 15 [percent]? Why can't this be 20 [percent]? We're talking about an additional $40 billion," Haas said. "Where else are you going to get that kind of opportunity? Not very many places. When people ask me, 'Hey, Marius, you're in a big organization, your role has changed, why are you still excited about being here?' There is no opportunity that's bigger than this."

8. The Evolving Relationship With Cisco

Dell EMC's relationship with Cisco didn't get any less complicated in 2016. Dell and Cisco have been bitter rivals in the server market for years, while EMC and Cisco have partnered closely, including on VCE, EMC's converged and hyper-converged infrastructure business.

Partners say they expect the Cisco relationship to continue to evolve, and they're happy to sell Cisco when customers want it and Dell EMC when customers want that. In 2016, hyper-convergence emerged as the primary battleground between Dell EMC and Cisco. Dell servers are the backbone of the Nutanix hyper-convergence solution, and while Cisco at one time underpinned much of VCE's portfolio, VCE began moving away from Cisco servers in 2015 and its VxRack and VxRail solutions will now be based on Dell PowerEdge servers.

7. Divestitures Of Services Group

Dell sold its Dell Services business to NTT Data in the spring, opening a big opportunity for partners. The nearly $3.1 billion deal meant the end of Dell's stand-alone services division, and the company said it would begin relying on the channel to do that work.

Partners said the opportunities could be huge, especially for solution providers that have a good deal of engineering expertise. Dell EMC execs drove the point home during the Dell EMC World conference in October.

Channel Chief John Byrne called services a "pot of gold" for channel partners, saying, "It's a phenomenal opportunity for the channel ecosystem, the partner ecosystem. We have made significant progress on a lot of our services… We've seen partners making a lot of money and enjoying it."

6. Sale Of Dell Software

The sale of the Dell Software business – including Quest and SonicWall – allowed the company to offset the cost of the merger with EMC, and it also cleared out some of the Dell solutions that would overlap with those sold by EMC.

SonicWall partners were highly enthusiastic about the move, saying the firm's best days were when it was an independent, 100 percent channel-focused company.

Partners who did business with Quest said they expected the divestiture, and that it's easy to sign up for Quest's partner program.

However, partners worry that because Dell EMC direct sales execs will sell Quest, solution providers working with Quest will find themselves battling for deals with Dell EMC, their largest vendor partner.

5. A Strong New Channel Team

Dell EMC pulled together a new channel team under the leadership of Channel Chief John Byrne. Byrne, an entrepreneur and experienced tech sales executive assembled the team in the second half of the year, making Gregg Ambulos, formerly EMC's channel chief, head of Dell EMC's North America channel, and making Cheryl Cook, formerly Dell's channel chief, head of channel marketing.

Byrne's agenda for the channel is aggressive, and he's already organized the new Dell EMC Channel Partner Program into three main tiers – Gold, Platinum and Titanium – as well as a super-exclusive Titanium Black tier for high flying partners that double down with Dell.

Byrne has also hinted that rebate levels for legacy EMC partners will improve and that Dell EMC will provide ironclad deal registration.

4. The Battle With HPE Heats Up

No firms could have chosen more different paths than Hewlett Packard, Dell and EMC, and their chief executives haven't passed up too many opportunities to criticize the other's decisions.

HPE CEO Meg Whitman has argued that her company's split into two separate businesses made HP more nimble, more efficient and more able to innovate and lead the market. She's also called out Dell Technologies for the massive amount of debt it's taken on.

In response, Dell Technologies Chairman and CEO Michael Dell has said being big won't hamper the company's ability to innovate. He's also argued that being privately held means Dell Technologies is free to develop corporate strategy away from the prying eyes of earnings-hungry investors. Dell Technologies' debt payments, he said, will be less than HPE's stock buy-backs and dividends.

3. Unified Channel Program

Dell EMC committed to creating a single, unified channel program built using the best parts of each company's existing program. Solution providers generally considered EMC's program to be simpler and easier to understand, but Dell's was more profitable.

Dell EMC's new channel chief, John Byrne (pictured), said the new program would be called simply the Dell EMC Channel Partner Program, and would provide ironclad deal registration, as well as the simplicity and efficiency EMC partners are used to.

In the meantime, Dell EMC has adopted some elements of EMC's hard deck, and is honoring each vendor's partners positions in their respective programs. Still, longtime Dell partners have expressed worry that the merging the EMC and Dell rebate programs could prove less profitable for them. Before the merger, EMC's rebates were typically much less than Dell's, and solution providers say splitting the difference could mean smaller payments.

2. Michael's Channel Charge

Founder, Chairman and CEO Michael Dell underlined his company's commitment to the channel during the Dell EMC World conference in October. Partners will the cornerstone of Dell EMC's go-to-market strategy, and according to Dell's vision, partners will lead the way as Dell EMC drives for share as the market changes.

"We're going to provide the infrastructure for the digital future," Dell told partners during the conference. "But it's you and your customers that are going to create and do all the combinatorial inventions that will result in the big improvements that are coming in the world."

Later in the year, Dell told CRN, "As we create more of these products to bring together the combined innovations of the company, the reaction from partners and customers is off-the-charts positive, and we're just getting started."

1. The Big Merger

Dell and EMC partners spent most of 2016 in a state of uncertainty as the two companies prepared for the largest IT industry merger in history, the $58 billion blockbuster deal that closed in early September. Still, solution providers didn't let the unknowns slow them down.

Dell partners that hadn't previously worked with EMC were especially keen to bring that firm's storage and software products into the fold to create solutions that combine the best of both vendors and help customers accelerate into the future. The merger means a new leadership team for the combined company, as well as a new, unified channel program, which is expected to launch Feb. 1.

Chairman and CEO Michael Dell told CRN that the merged company has achieved scale and financial muscle that few in the market can compete with. "We are absolutely going to use our scale," he said. "Who wants to be with number three or number seven or number eight when you can be with number one?"