Michael Dell On AI Innovation, 5G And His Vision For Dell Technologies
‘I’m constantly learning and staying curious. I love technology. I love to learn about new things, and I love business. That’s been a pretty good combination for me in terms of my life journey,’ the Dell Technologies CEO tells CRN.
Dell On Dell
Dell Technologies founder and CEO Michael Dell is bullish about his company’s future in an artificial intelligence- and data-driven world.
“The implications here in terms of the new infrastructure, tools and capabilities required to build all this out is quite substantial. This is why we created Dell Technologies,” said Dell in an interview with CRN. “We’re now talking about zettabytes and yottabytes of data because as everything becomes intelligent and connected, it’s generating enormous amounts of data and all the data has to be reasoned over to make it effective.”
Data infused with AI is a major focus for the $91 billion Round Rock, Texas-based infrastructure giant. As 5G begins to emerge and momentum around the Internet of Things takes off, Dell Technologies is perfectly positioned to drive revenue to the next level.
In an interview with CRN, Dell talks about the future of the IT world, AI investments, Dell Technologies’ culture and how channel partners should transition alongside the company.
What is the future of the IT world according to Michael Dell?
Do you remember when we had 1G? Sort of a long time ago. Then we had 2G, then 3G—3G was kind of a big deal. Then 4G, that was really big, that was amazing because it created over 100 new businesses that are generating over $1 billion in revenue now. In each cycle as you go from 1G to 2G to 3G to 4G, it is something like three times bigger than the prior cycle. So as we are sort of on the pregame show of 5G, I think it’s incredibly exciting when you combine all of that with the explosion in intelligent connected things, billions of sensors powered by unlimited amounts of computing power, all the data being created and the data now being reasoned over with artificial intelligence and machine learning— there’s the opportunity to transform all sorts of sectors. Whether it’s autonomous transportation, manufacturing logistics, health care, energy—it’s enormously exciting. I think we’re at the very beginning of a very strong technology-led investment cycle.
What about this ‘technology-led investment cycle’ gets you excited?
The implications here in terms of the new infrastructure, tools and capabilities required to build all this out is quite substantial. This is why we created Dell Technologies. We see all these opportunities and we’re going to go serve them. We’re now talking about zettabytes and yottabytes of data because as everything becomes intelligent and connected, it’s generating enormous amounts of data and all the data has to be reasoned over to make it effective. It’s a super exciting time for our industry, our society, and the role technology is going to play in the future is only going to be enhanced, and it’s only going to help enable human potential further.
How are AI and machine learning going to make their way more and more into Dell products?
We’re already doing quite a lot of that. A lot of our products are embedding AI, machine-learning capabilities to make them better and more effective for customers. A lot of our new products automatically adjust themselves based on the workloads that they’re being thrown. For example, PowerMax storage array will do billions of calculations per day to optimize its performance based on all the workloads that it sees. We have hundreds of projects across the company [because] AI, machine learning, deep learning are so pervasive now. They’re really enabling foundational technologies that are running through everything we’re doing—from products to services to sales—and I think that’s going to be true for every company that succeeds in the future. If you have a lot of data, and certainly we have a lot of data, and you’re not using the data with AI you’re doing it wrong. So certainly, we are very focused on it internally, but we’re also focused on, ‘How do we help our customers use their data?’ We build tons around creating the AI-ready architectures and enabling the different workloads, the different AI development platforms and making sure our infrastructure is tuned specifically for those. That’s another big area of focus.
You’ve been through so many transitions over the decades, what’s the biggest one or two key transformation goals for Dell over the next couple of years?
You got a preview of this at Dell Technologies World where we talked a lot about the Dell Technologies Cloud and the capabilities we’re building there with VMware. We talked about Data Center as a Service and increasingly embracing consumption. We talked about VMware coming together with the VMware Cloud Foundation and VxRail, our Unified Workspace across Dell Technologies, tons of new capabilities in our storage platform including the new midrange Dell-EMC Unity-XT, which is doing really well. Then, of course, our Microsoft partnership that is bringing together the leading companies in IT around doing a multi-cloud, hybrid cloud architecture in the fullest and most robust way.
VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger(pictured) says you don’t do anything urgently, you’re not emotional about things, and you’re willing to make big hawkish bets. Michael, can you describe yourself as a business leader?
That’s a reasonable description. I won’t argue with any of that. I think I’ve been pretty resourceful in terms of figuring out what skills I need around me to be successful. I’m constantly learning and staying curious. I love technology. I love to learn about new things, and I love business. That’s been a pretty good combination for me in terms of my life journey. I’m going to stick with that.
Can you talk about your legacy? What do you want people to think of when they think about Michael Dell?
(laughing) It feels a little too early to be talking about that.
Do you think you’re the same person as you were 10 years ago?
Yeah, I think so. I think so. Look, we keep learning and evolving and hopefully we’re smarter today than we were yesterday. We make mistakes, we learn, we keep processing new information. I don’t spend a lot time thinking about myself, to tell you the truth.
What is your suggestion to channel partners—from WWT and CDW to some of the smaller solution providers that go all in with Dell Technologies? Where should they invest and focus over the next couple of years?
As always, the business is changing. So we all have to evolve our capabilities in line with that. So how do you stand up a new capabilities around Data Center as a Service, enabling the multi-cloud future and AI? There are also tons of opportunities in Unified Workspace. There’s no shortage of opportunities. For a number of the partners, we have brought together the VMware program, so they work with us across one Dell Technologies. That’s been super well received as well.
You said last year Dell is expecting to surpass the $100 billion sales threshold by 2022. Is that still the revenue target?
We haven’t changed or updated our projections.
Dell has had great success this year in servers, storage, hyper-converged, etc. Do you think you’d be in this position today if Dell didn’t really shift course to bet on the channel?
I don’t think so. No. All the things that we’ve done have contributed to the success and certainly the strong embrace of the channel that has been going on now, it really started back in 2007 for us. So it’s been every bit of 12 years now. Partners want to bring the best solutions to their customers [and] we are by far and away No. 1. If you look at storage, we’re No. 1—we’re bigger than No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 combined. We’re No. 1 in all types of storage. No. 1 in midrange, all-flash, high-end, unstructured, in hyper-converged, in any type of storage you want to name. Then, of course, VMware is No. 1 in all types of software-defined infrastructure—whether it’s software-defined networking, software-defined storage, software-defined server with vSphere and the whole VMware capability in this multi-cloud era is resonating extremely strongly. And, of course, we’ve integrated our platforms together and that’s been super powerful as customers want more of a complete solution across infrastructure, hardware, software, security, application development platforms, etc. Partners also want financing. Dell Financial Services continues to grow quite rapidly, and partners have done really well with that as well. There are lots of good things going on.
What was going through your mind when you decided to acquire EMC?
[In 2014] I knew if we could combine the No. 1 player in servers, the No. 1 player in storage, the No. 1 player in all things software-defined infrastructure—VMware—that you’d have the essential infrastructure company and an incredibly powerful juggernaut to continue to grow. It wasn’t a quick decision. We started that discussion with [former EMC CEO] Joe [Tucci] and we worked on it for more than a year in secret. It was a really small group of people who knew about it. Then in October 2015, we announced the plan to combine together. We came up with an agreement. Then in September 2016 it was completed, and then off we went. There was tons of technical collaboration, tons of new products created, tons of innovation. We combined the channel programs together and there was lots of growth.
Can you talk about the culture that you’re building there? Has it changed over the last couple of years after integrating EMC and VMware?
We went to about 75,000 people across the company before we combined and we asked them, ‘What was important to them?’ And what we found was that across the different parts of the previously separate organizations, the cultures were very similar. We combined the best of that together and basically said, ‘Look, there are five things that are really important to us at Dell Technologies. It’s our customers, it’s winning together, it’s innovation, it’s results and integrity.’ We have very specific definitions of what all those mean and how we live those values, and everybody rallies around that. We were able to organize teams and get everybody excited about this mission and this vision of where the company is heading. Of course, people love to win. You’ve seen how we’ve been gaining share. So you put a plan out there, you execute behind it and do what you said you were going to do—it creates a lot of momentum.