Workload specialization makes partners key in Dell digital transformation strategy

Chad Sakac, president of Dell EMC’s converged platforms division laid out the company's digital transformation strategy, why it's often still hard for customers to grasp, and the role the channel can play in assisting with that.

Chad Sakac on stage at the Dell EMC Toronto Forum

TORONTO – On Thursday, Chad Sakac, president of Dell EMC’s converged platforms division, took the stage at the Dell EMC Toronto Forum in the feature keynote to explain – at a high level – Dell Technologies’ digital transformation strategy to Canadian customers. Sakac indicated what the strategy means to customers, and why Dell believes they are better able to meet customer needs here than their competition, It’s a strategy in which Dell EMC partners will play a key role, because they are able to bring workload expertise to the table that Dell EMC does not possess.

“What digital transformation means to every customer that I meet is different,” Sakac told his audience. “Our job is to help enable you down that part of digital transformation. Customers want choices, but they also want opinions. Having an opinion while still being open is important to us.”

Sakac identified four separate elements within that continuum.

“Digital transformation drives IT transformation, which drives workforce transformation, with security transformation being ongoing throughout,” he said. “You transform the business by building new apps, that leverage smart apps, and build them in new ways. You drive that through a superagile continuous development cycle. And you drive it as quickly as you can.

“Only Dell Technologies addresses all four of these elements,” Sakac said.

A show of hands revealed that the audience was massively involved in IT infrastructure rather than applications – perhaps by a 10:1 ratio.  Sakac reminded them that app development is key to the whole process.

“The purpose of infrastructure is to support applications, and the purpose of apps is to support the business,” Sakac said. “When they get disconnected – that’s bad. Apps are at the top of the pyramid.”

He also said that a business geared around pure digital transformation is rare.

“Digital transformation is where nothing comes in a box and everything is customized for you,” he said, noting that no one in the room really fit that description.

“It’s okay not to be Uber,” Sakac said.

IT transformation, on the other hand, is leveraging existing apps, something that Dell Technologies is aggressively working on with initiatives like Project Nautilus, Project Fire and Project Iris.

Dell Technologies is also able to assist materially in speeding up the development cycle

“We have a critical part to play through Pivotal Cloud foundry, which lets u build cloud-native app  development,” Sakac emphasized.

Security flows through the whole process.

“Security is not an event,” Sakac said. “It’s happening all the time. It means the microsegmentation of the firewall is something that has to be on a case-by-case basis. That means it has to be software-defined. The traditional firewall business will go way in its current manifestation.”

Sakac said that the prevalent opinion a couple of years back that IT infrastructure was moving to the public cloud has been shattered.

“SaaS cloud growth is the fastest growing part of the IT infrastructure today,” he said. “More workloads tomorrow will run off-prem than today. That is not a myth. But people are coming to a more pragmatic realization that it’s not just a choice between on-prem and public cloud. You will choose hybrid cloud models in many ways.”

Sakac said that organizational inertia and resistance to change is a huge obstacle to companies making this transition effectively.

“The thing that’s most challenging for me is that most customers are stuck on uncertainty, and just need a guide,” he said. Even so, getting them to understand the new processes and realities isn’t always easy.

“Last night, I wanted to poke my eyeball out with a fork,” he said later. “I told a customer that for the simple IaaS they wanted, the best choice was our hyper-converged infrastructure with VxRail, VMware and Pivotal. They liked the stack. But deep within the IT organization, someone wanted to have a larger node. I said it was preconfigured, that the whole stack was validated on that one unit. Their world view that this could be easily changed was wrong. Their inability to let go creates rigidity in the internal cloud model. If IT wants to remain relevant it’s not going to be by picking if a server has 384 or 512 gigs of RAM.

“This is a never-ending issue,” Sakac stressed. “The biggest gap between classic IT and the cloud is agility. The only way you get that is simplification, and to get that you have to make hard decisions about how you simplify.”

That’s hard for IT to do on its own.

“Companies who want the ability of a real internal cloud have to make hard choices,” he said. He referred to a customer who he could not identify  – one of the Big Five banks. “They wanted to  build their own thing, pick their own distributions. We recommended against that, but we lost the argument. A year into it, I asked them, ‘have you even stood up the IaaS,’ and they hadn’t.”

On the other hand, he cited Home Depot as an example of a customer who had gone through all this to advantage.

“Home Depot has a massive data centre with Pivotal,” he said. “They have point-of-sale terminals in their stores with touchscreens, which use Pivotal. They have small hyper-converged deployments [HCI] in the stores to manage these and a large scale HCI infrastructure deployment in the data centre.”

Sakac said that most customers – not all – use a blend of CI and HCI.

“Today, the majority of workloads can run on HCI,” he said. “The choice between CI and HCI used to be a workload choice. HCI was VDI and fringe stuff. But it’s ready now for the majority of x86 workloads, period.

“We need to help people realize the right question they need to ask isn’t if CI is right for you, or HCI is right for you, because the answer is – it depends,” he said. “It’s a silly debate. The real question is ‘do you want to be in the business of building lifecycle management yourself, or do you want to simplify. If you say yes to simplifying, then the question is what is the right blend, so that you can start this transition from building your infrastructure to consuming it.”

Partners’ ability to provide the granularity around industry-specific workloads is critical to this, Sakac emphasized.

“At Dell Technologies, we are not structured around workloads,” he said. “Where I see partners stand out the most is if they have a superpower that is built around a workload. I have a team that builds technical computing solutions around oil, gas, retail and financial solutions. But our field teams are not experts in these verticals. We produce this great content and collateral. But how does it actually land at a customer? We have a small local partner in Ottawa that specializes in how the federal government works. We have the technology, but making it land into the federal government isn’t our focus. It is that partner’s focus.”

The converse also applies – that partners who have been successful for a long time run great risks in not developing these capabilities.

“I see partners that are less successful these days as the ones who have had a great business for years  doing transaction support,” he said. “They have always looked at CI and HCI with askance because they see them cutting into THEIR value. That was their value. Certain parts of the IT ecosystem are becoming more boring every day –  and we will make them more boring.”

Partners have to adapt to these new developments, Sakac stressed.

“Look at Azure Stack,” he said. “It gives partners an ability either to cower with fear and push against the machine –  or it can give them the chance to develop their superpower.”