Key highlights from Dell’s customer and partner conference in May 2023.
Dell made some significant announcements at Dell Technologies World 2023, its annual customer and partner conference. For example, the company highlighted the number of new services now available under the APEX brand. But even more noteworthy was the fact that Dell delivered on all the projects it had announced the previous year and again set out some new projects that it expects to deliver for next year’s event. This approach of telling customers what it is going to be working on in the next 12 months and then delivering on that promise is building customer trust and loyalty. Customers can see that when Dell says it will develop something, it does—and it delivers within 12 months.
The global COVID-19 pandemic caused organizations to accelerate the switch to adopting cloud computing to ensure IT services could be delivered in the face of countrywide lockdowns. Over the past three years, businesses have transformed to become more digitally enabled in their processes. For infrastructure vendors like Dell, this transformation represented both an opportunity and a threat.
The threat comes from the agility and elasticity required to support the resource availability to meet the needs of an increasingly dynamic digital business. A secondary threat is a desire for a close connection between IT resource costs and business value. To achieve this meant reevaluating how IT was purchased and consumed—and ultimately accounted for.
While the cloud computing model used during the pandemic delivered on both these objectives, organizations discovered it failed in some other scenarios, most notably cost and data management. In terms of cost, the cloud was not a good fit for all workloads, as some workloads are more expensive when run in cloud compared to on-premises. Data management is another area where the increased use of cloud was identified as problematic to organizations, especially due to the data egress fees cloud providers charge. However, the reason to use cloud is not a cost decision alone; it is also driven by the need for agility and simplified operational management.
Over the past 12 months, Dell has been evolving its approach to solving these challenges and has further developed its APEX concept to become truly multicloud in nature. It has also developed an edge platform designed to simplify the management of edge deployments and introduced the concept of zero-touch from an infrastructure perspective. However, the most exciting news from Dell Technologies World 2023 was Project Helix and the concept of building artificial intelligence (AI) factories.
- Dell’s approach to multicloud is what it terms “ground-to-cloud” and “cloud-to-ground.” The company aims to make on-premises and cloud resources available irrespective of where they are located—all with a consistent management experience.
- The rise of AI factories is set to become the new term for the data center.
- Zero-trust is needed in a disaggregated decentralized world.
- Making the edge a consistent simplified management experience is key to wider adoption.
Dell made several new announcements to build out its multicloud offerings based on the ground-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground concept with a consistent management experience. This approach effectively creates a data mesh that connects the on-premises and multiple public clouds together. The key is delivering a consistency of experience, which is more than just data management/ movement. It is also infrastructure management, which includes the ability to move data, deliver consistency in data protection, and provide flexibility in the tools, skills, and IT control needed to ensure CIOs can deliver more with less. Dell’s multicloud offerings enable on-premises storage to be available in the public cloud and make its storage in the public cloud available for on-premises—with management control that covers all the APEX storage services.
Dell also announced new APEX Cloud Platforms that were developed in collaboration with Microsoft, Red Hat, and VMware, as well as new storage solutions. It added compute and PCs to the APEX brand and new management capabilities.
New APEX solutions announced for Azure, Red Hat, and VMware
- Dell APEX Cloud Platform for Microsoft Azure: This offering enables customers to use the Microsoft native management tools and has extensions specifically for the Dell APEX Cloud Platform. The platform is aimed at customers that want application modernization, as it delivers faster time to value for Azure based on Azure Arc-enabled infrastructure. It also offers consistent operations and governance across on-premises data centers, edge locations, and the Azure public cloud using Azure Arc.
- Dell APEX Cloud Platform for Red Hat OpenShift: This offering is designed to simplify container-based application development and management. Customers can run containers and virtual machines side-by-side, natively within Kubernetes—with a unified experience for a wide variety of workloads.
- Dell APEX Cloud Platform for VMware: This solution is designed for customers that want the flexibility to deploy vSphere on a fully integrated system that is scalable. It uses Dell software-defined storage and joins Dell APEX Private Cloud and Dell APEX Hybrid Cloud within the broader Dell APEX portfolio to offer more choices for VMware customers on their multicloud journey.
Dell expands its APEX storage offerings
At last year’s Dell Technologies World, the company announced Project Alpine; at this year’s event, it delivered three new storage offerings:
- Dell APEX Block Storage for Amazon Web Services (AWS)
- Dell APEX Block Storage for Microsoft Azure
- Dell APEX File Storage for AWS
These solutions combine Dell’s enterprise-class storage performance, scalability, and cyber-resilience with public cloud economics and services, such as analytics and AI. In Omdia’s view, one of the key value propositions of these offerings is that they provide customers with data mobility and management consistency between Dell on-premises storage and public clouds. Another benefit is that they avoid the need to refactor applications. In addition to block storage for the public cloud, Dell APEX File Storage delivers file storage capabilities in the public cloud.
Management of APEX adds more capabilities
Dell APEX Console enhancements include new management, deployment, data mobility, and discovery software as a service (SaaS) offerings that make it easier for operations teams to maintain multicloud storage and Kubernetes clusters. Managing the block and file storage can be performed through Dell APEX Navigator for Multicloud Storage. This is an SaaS solution that enables customers to securely manage block and file storage across on-premises and public cloud. It also adds configuration simplicity, automated deployment, and storage monitoring. In addition, Dell APEX Navigator for Kubernetes is an SaaS offering that simplifies Kubernetes storage management.
PCs and servers now come under the APEX brand
Dell APEX Compute delivers bare metal compute resources in a data center, edge environment, or colocation facility. Using bare metal, customers can support virtualized or container-based environments by installing the hypervisor or operating system of their choice. Because this is now an APEX-branded offering, customers will be able to consume these compute resources through a predictable monthly subscription.
Dell also announced its APEX PC as a Service (PCaaS) solution. Omdia is less sure about this offering, as Dell has previously had some form of PC leasing offering. However, bringing PCs under the APEX brand does simplify how customers can consume the service. While Omdia believes this solution will appeal to a segment of the market, organizations are increasingly adopting a more flexible approach to employee devices, allowing a bring-your-own approach or providing a wider choice of devices for employees to select. Organizations can customize offerings across the entire PC portfolio—inclusive of devices, software, and services—with flexible one- to five-year terms and scaling up or down as needed. Dell reported that early customers using Dell APEX PCaaS have reported 50% fewer help-desk efforts, a 30% savings in support costs, and 50% less time spent onboarding employee devices.
The rise of AI factories is set to become the new term for the data center
Project Helix was announced
In separate keynotes, both Michael Dell and Jeff Clarke talked about how Dell believes generative AI will evolve. In fact, it took only eight minutes before ChatGPT was mentioned by Michael Dell in his keynote speech at Dell Technologies World, while Clarke started with ChatDTW. The rise of ChatGPT in the last few months has changed just about every keynote this analyst has seen, and Dell was no exception. However, the announcement of Project Helix was not a knee-jerk reaction to the rise of ChatGPT—it was just a very well-timed announcement of a project that Dell has been incubating for a number of years.
Project Helix is a collaboration between Dell and NVIDIA where the large language models (LLMs) developed by NVIDIA can be used by organizations to generate specific AI applications based on their own data. These domain expert AI development models will be the catalyst for greater enterprise adoption of AI. Yet, they will require significant processing power, dependent upon the size and complexity of any domain-specific trained model.
The other aspect of Project Helix is the Dell PowerEdge XE9680 and R760xa servers that have been optimized specifically for delivering the performance needed to build these AI models at scale. Omdia likes the fact that Project Helix will support the complete generative AI lifecycle—from infrastructure provisioning, modeling, training, fine-tuning, application development, and deployment to deploying inference and streamlining results. Dell has used the concept of validated designs to help enterprises quickly build on-premises generative AI infrastructure at scale. It is the combination of Dell servers with NVIDIA H100 Tensor Core GPUs and NVIDIA Networking that form the infrastructure backbone for these workloads.
Zero-trust is needed in a disaggregated decentralized world
Project Fort Zero builds on the momentum of Dell’s Zero Trust Center of Excellence
For a number of years, Dell has been talking about how in a disaggregated world, security needs to become a first-class citizen. With Project Fort Zero, the company is building an end-to-end zero-trust security solution for global organizations to protect against cyberattacks. Omdia considers the fact that Dell has stated it will take responsibility for all the partners and get the solution validated by the US Department of Defense as evidence of its commitment to deliver on this project.
The company has already built a Zero Trust Center of Excellence and a partner ecosystem that has accelerated zero-trust adoption. Dell is leading an ecosystem of more than 30 leading technology companies. As part of Project Fort Zero, it has stated it will deliver a validated, zero-trust solution within the next 12 months. Project Fort Zero is expected to serve a variety of use cases, including the following:
- On-premises data centers for organizations where data security and compliance are paramount.
- Remote or regional locations like retail stores where secure, real-time analysis of customer data can deliver a competitive advantage.
- In the field where a temporary implementation is needed in places with intermittent connectivity, like airplanes or vehicles, for operational continuity.
Making the edge a consistent simplified management experience is key to wider adoption
Delivering on the promise of Project Frontier
Dell NativeEdge software will provide the platform that organizations can use to transform edge operational management. Omdia defined the edge in 2019 as any compute and storage infrastructure that is not installed in a traditional data center environment. Our research found that management of the edge was the top challenge enterprise customers reported as delaying their expansion of edge projects. The edge is also a mixture of different software environments, from virtual machines to Kubernetes, and can be deployed in locations where there are no humans, let alone IT professionals, and locations where humans are available if needed. The Dell NativeEdge software platform has been designed to simplify and automate edge infrastructure and application deployment in a secure manner.
While Dell believes this is a horizontal platform, it did announce the Dell Validated Design for Retail Edge. This validated design provides the retail sector with a robotic warehouse automation capability that will improve worker productivity and accelerate customer order fulfillment. To support these robotic capabilities, the validated design covers Dell Private Wireless Program that delivers enterprise connectivity across edge locations.
Roy Illsley, Chief Analyst, Cloud and Data Center