Scenes From Dell Storage Forum: Visions Of Harmony

From C:Drive To Dell Storage Forum

The Dell Storage Forum came about as a result of Dell's acquisition this year of Compellent. Compellent, which sold its storage exclusively through the channel, had a yearly event called C:Drive in which the first two days were devoted to channel partners, the third to joint channel partner and customer events, and the next couple days focused on the customers.

Dell previously had an end-user storage event picked up from its EqualLogic acquisition, but adopted the C:Drive event as the model for its first-ever Dell Storage Forum.

Turn the page, and see more of what went down during this year's Dell Storage Forum.

Are You Fluid?

Dell adopted Compellent's "Fluid Storage" tagline to describe its vision of how storage should work for customers. That resulted in the words "I'm Fluid" popping up all over the Dell Storage Forum, including on the clothes the main desk personnel of the Hilton Walt Disney World hotel in Orlando, which is where the event was held.

In keeping the spirit of the event, hotel front desk personnel Melissa (left) and Preslie (right) wore "I'm Fluid" shirts.

Dell defines "Fluid Storage" as storage able to shrink and grow as needed and fit any size company (i.e. like water in a glass) via thin provisioning, automated tiering, and other automation technologies.

There's Something Missing. . . .

A big difference between the old Compellent C:Drive and the new Dell Storage Forum was the lack of some great gimmick. For instance, in 2010, Compellent rolled out an EMC SAN on-stage, and sent several guys with bats and hammers, (left), to smash it.

Compellent last year also rolled out a series of short YouTube videos featuring EMC SAN arrays being smashed, blown up, shot, and even bored to death, such as this one titled, "Smash the SAN."

Forget The Hammers, It's Peace And Harmony

Instead of hammers, guns, and bombs, the Dell Storage Forum's main theme was peace and harmony between Dell's three storage lines: Compellent, EqualLogic, and its PowerVault line based on Dell PowerEdge servers.

Dell executives spent much of their time on-stage talking about the importance of selling all three lines to customers, depending on requirements, and on the differences between the three.

And for anyone counting, no, there was no mention of the EMC Clariion, which used to be Dell's primary storage offering.

Tame Event?

One solution provider said Dell missed a great opportunity to build excitement at the event. " It was tame," the solution provider said. "Not lame. Just tame. What Dell is doing is exciting. It just didn't come through."

Brian Bell, executive director of worldwide sales for Dell Compellent and a former top Compellent executive, responded that the Dell Storage Forum had deeper content than C:Drive, and so it may not have seemed as outwardly exciting. "We're still learning to work together effectively," Bell said.

Dell is also avoiding bashing the competition like Compellent did, 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 they live on in some salesman's PC."

Bringing Solution Providers And Customers Together

Like the old C:Drive event, the Dell Storage Forum was a chance for solution providers and their customers to attend together.

Some solution providers went all out. Long-term Compellent partner and now Dell partner Davenport Group of St. Paul, Minn., brought five people who took the opportunity to meet with customers such as John Loy of the South Carolina Attorney General's office (standing on left), a Davenport customer and Compellent user.

Davenport attendees included CEO Sonia St. Charles and Dallas McMillen, account executive, standing in the rear. Seated in front, (from the left), were Paul Clifford, president; Brandon Cole, account executive; and Bill Parker, senior systems engineer.

Michael Dell Arrives

Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of the company which bares his name, surprised partners and customers by visiting the combined solution pavilion and evening party the night before was scheduled to make his keynote.

Dell made the rounds, stopping to visit with several clumps of customers and partners.

Michael Dell: I Love Storage, I Love The Channel

During his keynote presentation for solution providers and customers, Dell said he loves storage and the channel, and thanked everyone for their support as the company transforms itself into one of the industry's top storage vendors.

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

Dell even went so far as to say that his company actually started out as a storage company. 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.

Brocade Not Acquired Yet

One of the biggest topics of conversation at the Dell Storage Forum was whether or not Dell would acquire Brocade. Analyst and press speculation over such an acquisition ran rampant the week before and the week of the event, but solution provider opinion leaned towards such an acquisition as being of little impact to their business.

At one point during Michael Dell's on-stage panel presentation, indeed while he was talking, a very loud buzzer interrupted him. The audience was silent, expecting that to be the signal that the Brocade acquisition was signed. But no, it appeared to have been just a hotel buzzer going off by accident.

CommVault Not Acquired Yet

The other big rumor that also failed to become reality was that Dell would acquire data protection software vendor and Dell technology partner CommVault.

That rumor has been around for as long as a year as Dell has been assumed to be looking to add to its software portfolio as a way to move away from its PC roots.

CRN took photos of both the Brocade and CommVault booth just in case this was the last time one or both of them would actually exhibit at a major conference under their own brand names.

Instructor-Led Training

Training was a big part of the Dell Storage Forum as the vendor pushed its solution providers and customers to get as much training as possible on its various storage technologies.

Building The Channel At Dell

Greg Davis, vice president and general manager for global commercial channels at Dell, told CRN that Dell has a neutral compensation program for its direct account reps that gives them the same compensation whether they take a deal direct or work with a partner.

He admitted it is not a perfect system, and that under some cases a direct rep could get more points of margin or add services by not going through the solution provider, but that partners can protect themselves by registering the deals.

Davis said that solution providers who run into occasional issues should remember that it takes time for a company like Dell to build a channel.

"Every system within Dell was built for direct sales," he said. "Our systems were not set up to have something resold. Who owns it? How do you handle warranties? These are all cultural changes."