Author Archives: cking

Lenovo TruScale – Where Infrastructure-as-a-Service Customers Come First

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  February 13, 2019

As-a-Service (aaS) solutions are nearly ubiquitous in the IT industry and commercial markets. The aaS model largely defines public cloud platforms and solutions and is central to a range of other hosted IT services. Indeed, the “pay as you go” model is one of the most compelling approaches to IT that has arisen during the past two decades.

Why so? Because it significantly eases or eliminates two of the biggest headaches that enterprises and other IT customers face – the capital investments required for IT equipment and the continual operational expenditures required to staff, run and manage on premises IT infrastructures. However, it would be a mistake to assume that aaS offerings are perfect or a panacea for all IT challenges.

These points are germane when considering Lenovo’s TruScale Infrastructure Services, a new subscription-based offering the company says provides customers the precise hardware, software and services they need, whenever they require it but without onerous investment or commitment requirements. Let’s take a look at Lenovo’s TruScale and what the company is offering customers and broader markets.

The problem with aaS

Early on in the cloud revolution, evangelists posited a day when cloud-based services would naturally overtake and replace traditional IT. Despite their optimism, that vision remains nebulous and seems unlikely to solidify anytime soon, if ever. Why so?

While public cloud usage continues to grow, the vast majority of corporate cloud customers still operate premises IT assets and data centers. That makes sense since it reflects continuing concerns about securing business critical data and reducing oversight of IT usage and costs. But it also results in difficult to deploy and manage “multi-cloud” environments.

IT vendors have stepped-up with a variety of offerings, ranging from multi-cloud consulting to on-premises solutions designed to emulate the easy, user-friendly functionality of cloud. Problem is that data center customers often discover that these offerings are more limited and include sizing and minimum commitment requirements that are less hospitable than they expected.

The situation is somewhat analogous to receiving an attractive offer from a car rental company. You arrive at your destination airport, looking forward to picking up the two-door coupe or family sedan you reserved, only to be told that the only vehicles available are ¾ ton crew cab pickups or full-sized SUVs. Plus, the rental contract includes frivolous options, and makes you liable for mileage charges that far exceed the distance you plan to drive.

Not surprisingly, you decide to check out other nearby agencies. However, you discover that they, too, only have ¾ ton trucks and massive SUVs available and that their rental contracts require many of the same unnecessary options and impose similar mileage charges. But you can have your choice of color.

You leave the airport, maybe behind the wheel of a vehicle far larger and more ungainly than you wanted, wishing that there was some service that met your needs without costing an arm and a leg, or being loaded with unneeded extras.

Lenovo’s TruScale Infrastructure

Sound familiar? That’s precisely the kind of scenario that Lenovo aims to avoid. So, what are its new TruScale Infrastructure Services, and how do customer engagements work?

In essence, Lenovo TruScale is a subscription-based IT service that enables customers to access, use and pay for the data center hardware and services they need without having to buy the equipment. Systems can be located wherever the customer prefers—on premises in an existing company data center or at another location. Most importantly, customers only pay when their workloads are running, and capacity can be scaled up/down as needed so organizations have the exact compute capacity they need.

How does Lenovo accomplish this? By leveraging what it describes as a unique metering dashboard that remains outside the customer’s data plane, thus delivering both the economic advantages of cloud and the security of on-premises hardware. Organizations can view their IT consumption in real time using a customer portal, allowing them to easily manage and accurately predict costs. Plus, assigned Customer Success Managers provide clients whatever information and problem resolution services are required.

Finally, Lenovo’s TruScale Infrastructure features the company’s enterprise-class ThinkSystem servers and ThinkAgile integrated appliances and systems solutions. Customer engagements include hardware installation, deployment, management, maintenance and removal by Lenovo service professionals.

Final analysis

It’s entirely sensible that IT product developers focus intently on what they want products and services to accomplish. After all, a solution’s capabilities are central to how it is marketed and received by customers. But Lenovo’s TruScale Infrastructure Services demonstrate why it is also important to consider what you hope to avoid. The company could easily have gone the way of so many others and created as-a-Service solutions that don’t and can’t really fit customers’ requirements.

Instead, Lenovo developed a framework that enables clients to capture a profound combination of on-premises IT capabilities and the economic benefits of cloud, all without requiring capital investments. Plus, since customers can closely monitor and easily adjust IT consumption in real time, they can be assured that they have precisely the compute capacity they require whatever the circumstances.

In essence, with its new TruScale Infrastructure offerings, Lenovo has redefined Infrastructure-as-a-Service into “Infrastructure-at-your-Service” for enterprises and other IT clients. If other aaS vendors aren’t taking note of Lenovo’s TruScale, they should. Their own customers certainly will be.

© 2019 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.


About Pund-IT, Inc.
Pund-IT™ (
www.pund-it.com) emphasizes understanding technology and product evolution and interpreting the effects these changes will have on business customers and the greater IT marketplace. Though Pund-IT provides consulting and other services to technology vendors, the opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone.

Dell EMC’s OEM Partnership Survey and the Value of Strategic Collaboration

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  February 6, 2019

“Collaboration” is a popular concept in the tech industry. It classifies an entire subset of business processes and related software and is used to indicate close relationships between vendors and their customers and strategic partners. But I believe that how collaboration fully impacts and can significantly enhance strategic partnerships is less discussed and understood than it should be.

That’s often due to companies’ natural hesitancy to highlight efforts that provide them substantial benefits lest competitors get wind of it and try to copy and peel off some of that success themselves. At the same time, individual partnerships are typically unique in how they are structured, the goals they pursue and the partners’ various responsibilities. Even relationships between a vendor and partners that use the same technological tools for the same processes or use cases can be wildly different.

So, it’s worth looking closely when vendors peel back the curtain on strategic partnerships, as Dell EMC has done with the new OEM Partnership Survey it conducted with Intel through Futurum Research. The study compiled responses from over 1,000 senior decision makers in OEM-type businesses worldwide, and asked their thoughts on how OEM and third-party relationships can drive innovation, improve time to market and increase competitive capabilities and value.

Dell EMC OEM – More than just digital intelligence

As background, the work Dell EMC’s OEM organization engages in is worth a quick look. Like other IT vendors in the business, Dell EMC OEM works with customers that develop and build products that depend on digital intelligence provided by the company’s compute, storage and other components.

Early on, Dell EMC OEM focused on conventional computerized OEM products and systems, including arcade games and bank ATMs. Today the company helps over 3,500 OEM customers in more than 40 industries deliver commercial solutions for applications, including telecom switching, industrial automation, cybersecurity, factory floor management and operations, and video security and surveillance.

Far from simply supplying technology components, Dell EMC OEM also offers customers a range of product design and development services, as well as manufacturing, sales, distribution, service and maintenance options. For companies working to explore or expand into new markets, being able to leverage Dell EMC’s global supply chain and distribution centers, and service personnel can be hugely beneficial.

Along with familiar solutions and conventional market plays, Dell EMC OEM is also on the leading edge of emerging markets and technologies, including Dell’s Internet of Things (IoT) efforts. As Bryan Jones, SVP and GM of Dell EMC OEM and IoT noted in a recent conversation, many of the company’s longstanding OEM customers “have been doing IoT since before it was called IoT.”

That is, along with supporting specific compute functions, customers were using Dell EMC-enabled products to collect data, share it with other networked devices and use that information to gain insight into their businesses and solve larger problems. The journey for those companies to business-class IoT solutions is far shorter than it is for many organizations.

Let’s consider the findings of Dell EMC’s OEM Partnership Survey.

The OEM Partnership Survey

So, what exactly does the study conducted by Futurum Research consider? In short, it explores issues related to the business value and economic benefits that can be achieved with strategic OEM partnerships.

For example, only a tiny minority (just 16 of the surveys 1,000+ respondents) said they derive no business transformational value from OEM products and solutions. Given that vote of confidence, it’s hardly surprising that over three quarters of the survey participants expect to increase their use of OEM partnerships and 26.7% said they anticipate increasing their partnership efforts dramatically.

What about economic benefits? An overwhelming majority (93%) of respondents said that OEMs can accelerate innovation in the products and services they develop. Another large majority (81%) noted that OEM partners are helping them embrace emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), multi-cloud and IoT. In addition, survey participants noted that their OEM partnerships are helping reduce costs on average by over 40%. Those are numbers you can take to the bank.

A blog post about the study by Ethan Wood, VP of marketing for Dell EMC OEM and IoT explored several OEM partner success stories that are worth considering. Those included:

  • Bionivid – says that it reduced product development costs by at least half by collaborating with Dell EMC OEM.
  • Tracewell Systems – noted that its collaboration with Dell EMC OEM has enabled it to scale rapidly and get products to market faster
  • Olivetti – collaborated with Dell EMC OEM and a member of Intel’s IoT Alliance, Allentia, to create and bring to market a turnkey solution for industrial floor and plant operations

Responses from survey respondents like these led Futurum to predict that OEM partnerships have the potential to achieve a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20% to 25% during the coming decade.

Final analysis

What can we conclude from Futurum’s OEM Partnership Survey? First, that OEM-focused businesses and solutions are more diverse and dynamic today than they have ever been. Additionally, when one considers the continuing digitization of businesses and business processes in industries worldwide, it seems likely that the number of OEM-enabled solutions and corresponding commercial opportunities will continue to grow dynamically for years to come.

In the case of Dell EMC, the company’s OEM organization assists thousands of clients develop, deliver and maintain new products more speedily, more effectively and more profitably than they could on their own. In many cases, Dell OEM also helps customers accomplish what they could never have done on their own. That is part of the practical magic of strategic partnerships, and something that Dell EMC OEM practices successfully day after day.

© 2019 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.

Virtustream and Smithfield Partnership Highlights Multi-Cloud Benefits

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  January 30, 2018

Over the past 2-3 years, the ascendance of multi-cloud as a primary cloud consumption model for enterprises, has become increasingly evident. However, why that’s the case is often muddled with IT jargon and PR clichés. Thankfully, that’s not correct concerning the recently announced multi-cloud partnership between food processor Smithfield Foods and cloud service and software provider Virtustream. The details of their successful multi-cloud effort are worth a closer look.

Smithfield by the numbers

A subsidiary of WH Group, Smithfield Foods (based in Smithfield, VA) is a $15B business best known for brands, including Armour, Nathan’s Famous, John Morrell and Farmer John. The company is the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer, with some 40,000 workers employed at 50 U.S. facilities. Smithfield is also recognized as the #1 supplier of pork products for retail, food service and export markets, making it a global enterprise by any definition.

Not surprisingly, Smithfield is also a major consumer of IT products and services, including SAP solutions and systems supporting core business processes. Like many other organizations, the company has been exploring ways to more efficiently integrate its on-premises IT infrastructure and cloud-based data and applications with the aims of improving performance and lowering costs. As noted in the companies’ press release, that puts Smithfield in line with over half of the enterprise respondents in a recent Forrester study on multi-cloud trends.

Virtustream multi-cloud trims the fat from corporate IT

Smithfield determined that Virtustream offered the multi-cloud expertise its strategy required. After several months of what the pair describe as “meticulous preparation”, they launched a “One SAP” project in July 2018 that was designed to move all of Smithfield’s operations on SAP to a single, unified S4/HANA SAP platform on Virtustream Enterprise Cloud. Virtustream and Smithfield announced the project’s successful completion on January 24, 2019.

Will significant benefits result from the finished project? Absolutely. The most practical effect is that by having access to Virtustream’s dynamic, scalable multi-cloud resources, Smithfield will only pay for the services it consumes. In other words, partnering with Virtustream has enabled the company to embrace multi-cloud enabled, on-demand IT services and pricing schemas, improving IT consumption and performance efficiencies. That, in turn, will result in substantial savings. In fact, Smithfield estimates it will save $3 million in IT costs over the next three years, a tidy sum by most any measure.

Final analysis

There are numerous points to take away from Virtustream and Smithfield’s One SAP project. First and foremost, it’s critically important for an organization to clarify the goals it hopes to attain, and meticulously prepare prior to embarking on so large and significant an effort. Just as important is engaging expert partners that understand your goals, possess the skills your project requires and have the means to deliver the results you seek.

Like any other trending IT service or solution, the fine details and requirements of multi-cloud are often hard to separate from promotional pronouncements and technical jargon. But successes do exist, particularly when they involve the efforts of knowledgeable, experienced muti-cloud vendors and businesses that understand the importance of careful, rigorous preparation.

Smithfield’s One SAP project stands out today as an excellent example of what an enterprise can accomplish with multi-cloud solutions and services. But it is neither the first nor is it likely to be the last such success announced by a Virtustream partner.

© 2019 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.

BNP Paribas and Vodafone — How IBM Cloud is Driving IBM Services Wins

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  January 23, 2019

Technology services have long been critical parts of IT vendors’ portfolios and playbooks, especially those focused on the needs of enterprise customers, like IBM. Not surprisingly, as IT and many other industries have shifted increasingly toward services-based solutions and provisioning, vendors with experience and expertise have enjoyed advantages over those with fewer assets and less exposure.

At the same time, IT services organizations are anything but static. They must adjust to significant changes and successfully accommodate new technologies and developments, or risk being overtaken and left in the dust by nimbler, more adaptable competitors. Again, IBM is a good example of this trend. The company’s latest earnings report noted revenue growth and “continued strong profit margins expansion” in IBM Technology Services, particularly related to hybrid cloud offerings, along with AI, analytics and security engagements.

Two recent deals announced by IBM Services offer insights into those trends, and why the company continues to be the vendor of choice for global enterprises.

BNP Paribas

The larger of the deals is an agreement between IBM and BNP Paribas, France’s largest bank with more than 196,000 employees and a presence in 73 countries. The two companies have worked together since 2003 when they created the IT services company BNP Paribas Partners for Innovation (BP2I) – a joint venture the pair holds equally.

BNP Paribas developed its first private cloud in 2013, and the new agreement enables it to integrate with IBM Cloud solutions hosted in data centers dedicated to the bank. BNP Paribas will also strengthen its hybrid cloud “as a service” capabilities by using IBM Cloud to support the development of new services, including test and applications environments.

This deal also aims to enable BNP Paribas to use IBM Hybrid Cloud solutions to increase its services capabilities across dedicated, public and private cloud environments. That should help improve the integration and optimization of workload management between Cloud infrastructure services. Over time, the bank believes the effort will contribute to acceleration of its digitization strategy, improvement of client services and the creation of new applications.

Vodafone

Similarly, the IBM/Vodafone deal extends and builds upon a long term (2+ decades) relationship between the companies. With the new agreement, IBM and Vodafone Business aim to remove the complexity and barriers business customers face in technology choices and ensure that data and applications flow freely and securely across their organizations.

To achieve this, Vodafone Business customers will have immediate access to IBM’s full portfolio of cloud offerings. Over time, the pair will co-develop new digital solutions, combining the strengths of Vodafone’s leadership in IoT, 5G and edge computing with IBM’s multi-cloud industry expertise and professional services capabilities.

As part of the agreement, IBM will also provide managed services to Vodafone Business’ cloud and hosting unit, an eight-year engagement valued at approximately $550 million (€480 million). According to the companies, Vodafone Business customers will benefit from IBM’s optimization, automation and cognitive capabilities designed to run business effectively in cloud environments.

Final analysis

So, what are we to make of these two deals? How do they compare/contrast?

Let’s first consider the smaller one – Vodafone – though an eight-year agreement worth over half a billion dollars is anything but small. In essence, the deal is designed to offer Vodafone’s business customers immediate access to a host of IBM Cloud’s enterprise-class services. Then, over time, it will develop new solutions that leverage still-emerging IoT, 5G and edge computing technologies.

In short, you could call the IBM/Vodafone agreement a significant strategic partnership and long-term enterprise IT services deal that’s designed to help Vodafone’s business customers adapt to and adopt new technologies as they become fully commercially viable. The position of IBM Cloud as the primary enabling platform casts an interesting light on the agreement, suggesting that enterprise believers are responding to IBM’s hybrid and multi-cloud evangelizing.

While the Vodafone agreement is big, the deal with BNP Paribas is larger still. How big? Though specific numbers weren’t mentioned in the announcement, comparisons with other recent cloud announcements could offer some insight. For example, Microsoft’s services/cloud agreement with the US Department of Defense (DoD) is worth $1.7B over five years. The comparison isn’t perfect since the DoD deal includes software licenses. But it seems reasonable to conclude that eight years of large enterprise cloud and other services would come in at around or somewhat above $2B.

Consider also that while about three quarters of the bank’s near-200k employees are located in Europe, its work in 73 countries defines the company as a very large global enterprise. A significant cloud infrastructure will be required to support the company’s worldwide digital services strategy, and that BNP Paribas is comfortable with IBM’s ability to develop, deliver and support its needs.

That raises another question: what cloud vendors would have been able to fully support the bank’s global requirements? Banking is among the world’s most highly regulated industries, but rules and compliance requirements can vary significantly between countries and regions, meaning that BNP Paribas needs cloud services that are widely deployed, flexible and robust.

At last year’s CEBIT conference, IBM Cloud announced a host of improvements to its global infrastructure, including 18 new availability zones in six major regions in North America (Dallas, Texas and Washington, DC), Europe (Germany and UK) and Asia-Pacific (Tokyo and Sydney), enhanced security features, including global availability of IBM Cloud Internet Services, and previewed its Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) service for expanding network protection.

In other words, IBM is obviously ready, willing and able to support BNP Paribas’s needs, regardless of the location or demands. How many other cloud vendors could really say the same?

A final point to consider is how the deal extends an existing partnership between the two companies—one that began in 2003 with the creation of a joint venture designed to help BNP Paribas adapt to evolving digital technologies. The IT market has obviously changed during the past 15 years and it’s likely that other IT vendors and cloud service providers vied for the bank’s attention. The fact that BNP Paribas decided to stick with IBM suggests a satisfying, successful relationship for both companies.

Overall, the cloud-led services deals with Vodafone and BNP Paribas highlight the clear and often unique value that IBM provides. Though IBM Cloud tends to be ranked below better-known names, like AWS and Microsoft Azure in terms of overall size, the company’s clear focus on meeting the needs of the world’s largest businesses makes it a force in the cloud market’s most valuable sectors.

Though competitors are actively, even aggressively trying to find a place among that same clientele, the strategic deals with Vodafone and BNP Paribas demonstrate why IBM Services and IBM Cloud continue to remain at the top of the enterprise class.

© 2019 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.

Microsoft – Becoming an Agent for Retail Transformation

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  January 16, 2019

An announcement that slipped beneath some radars during CES 2019 reemerged at this week’s National Retail Federation (NRF2019) conference in New York. In the original press release, Microsoft and Kroger announced the first Retail as a Service (RaaS) solutions which they believe will “redefine the customer experience.” At NRF2019, the companies demonstrated the new solutions, and Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO, detailed the effort during his conference keynote.

Is this a big deal? Perhaps, but in any case it casts light on the current state of consumer sales and how mainstream retailers, with the help of partners, like Microsoft are proactively using technology to transform their customers’ shopping experiences and streamline their own operations. Since this also reflects and has implications for online retail, it’s well worth further consideration.

A RaaS by any other name

So, what exactly is the new Kroger/Microsoft solution? Leveraging Kroger’s homegrown technologies and the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, the RaaS product is based on Kroger enablement software “built by retailers for retailers.” An initial effort will transform two pilot stores located in Monroe, Ohio and Redmond, Washington (near each company’s headquarters). Eventually, the pair plan to jointly market a commercial RaaS solution to the retail industry.

The pilot stores will incorporate shopping technologies, including the latest generation of Kroger’s EDGE (Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment) Shelf, a system that uses digital displays, instead of traditional paper tags, to indicate prices, promotions and nutritional/dietary information. Microsoft Azure will be used to store and process the data generated in stores and Kroger’s app.

Using Microsoft Azure AI, EDGE Shelf will also connect with Kroger’s Scan, Bag, Go, providing customers a guided experience designed to simplify shopping and checkout. By means of video analytics, personalized offers and advertisements can be presented to customers based on their demographics.

For store associates, a pick-to-light productivity solution can reduce the time it takes to fulfill curbside pickup orders. Microsoft Azure-powered video analytics will also help store associates quickly identify and address out-of-stock items to ensure customers can successfully locate products. Kroger also plans to generate new revenue by selling digital advertising space on EDGE Shelf displays to consumer packaged goods (CPGs) brands.

Retailers’ taste for tech is evolving

Does the Kroger/Microsoft partnership really deliver or portend anything new? In fact, yes. Though Kroger has previously deployed its EDGE Shelf technologies in some of its outlets, integrating those displays with data from its shopping app, analyzed and delivered with the help of Microsoft is new. Standardizing on Microsoft Azure is another new cloud-enabled wrinkle that should benefit both companies with both short- and long-term payoffs.

Why is that the case? First and foremost because perceptions about the uses for IT in retail and relative positions of related vendors appears to be changing significantly. For the past decade, Amazon has typically been considered the horse to beat due to the company’s dominance in online retail. That notion was amplified by the misfires and slow starts that plagued most traditional retailers’ online efforts.

Additionally, many saw Amazon’s 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods as a coup that would lead the company to become a substantial threat to brick-and-mortar retailers. While the deal did provide Amazon some intriguing opportunities, including helping to power its online grocery sales, some analysts suggest that traditional grocers who offer delivery and/or in-store pick-up on orders placed online are doing far better than Amazon.

Also consider that while Whole Foods owns some great locations and maintains a firm position with high income clientele, the company is ranked ninth among Top-Ten global supermarket chains with $15.4B in 2018 revenues, far behind #1 Kroger’s 2018 revenues of $105.1B. Plus, though Amazon’s AWS organization offers a number of cloud-based services designed for retailers and has racked up some interesting client wins, most are specialty firms, like Brooks Brothers and Eataly.

How will that stack up against Kroger and Microsoft’s enterprise-class solutions “built by retailers for retailers”? That’s impossible to say for certain, but it’s likely that the two companies’ effort will be considered with interest by medium to large-sized brick-and-mortar retailers and chains.

In addition, companies that have seen their business transformed due to competition with Amazon may be particularly attracted to the Kroger/Microsoft offerings. If the solutions pick up momentum, the two companies could well become the integration platform of choice for bricks-to-clicks retail transformation.

Final analysis

How big a deal is this for the parties involved? It has huge potential. Consider that after a bit over two decades of steady growth, ecommerce accounts for around 10 percent of overall retail sales in the U.S. Owning a bit over half of online retail has helped Amazon become a juggernaut within the tech industry and other markets. But when the company’s results are compared to the greater retail market results, Amazon’s 5%+ of the whole shows just how much upside broader technological transformation of retail players and processes might achieve.

It’s also worth noting that Microsoft is doing nothing like resting on its laurels. Under CEO Satya Nadella’s leadership, the company has become a major force in cloud computing, up to and including taking on and besting AWS in some markets—an achievement many would have scoffed at 2-3 years ago. It is also actively pushing into broader markets and vertical industries.

Plus, following its Kroger partnership strategy/solutions and the NRF2019 demoes, Microsoft announced a new seven-year strategic partnership with the Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) which is designed to develop new health care delivery models, technology and retail innovations. Along with rolling out Microsoft 365 to WBA’s 380,000+ global employees (in 11,500+ stores in 11 countries), Microsoft will also become WBA’s strategic cloud provider, with plans to migrate the majority of the company’s IT infrastructure onto Microsoft Azure.

Taken together, these announcements show Microsoft shooting for leadership in designing, developing and delivering transformational IT solutions and services for large retailers. If these efforts proceed as the company and its partners intend, the future of bricks and clicks consumer sales is likely to be brighter and quite different than many in the industry have long assumed.

© 2019 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.

Dell PCs at CES 2019 – Commercial Differentiation Via Technical Innovation

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  January 9, 2019

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas hosts thousands of vendors pitching new and improved products. But like a lot of what you see on The Strip, there’s less than meets the eye in many of these pronouncements. These range from trendy tchotchkes to dressing up fading products for one last go-around to bandwagon climbers hoping to make a buck on improbable new “trends” (remember 3D TVs?).

But CES also highlights its share of winners, including member companies that use the show to launch impressive new solutions, enhancements and innovations. This year, that list clearly includes Dell which was honored with nine CES 2019 Innovation Awards spanning its PC, workstation and display portfolios. The company also noted that it has secured two U.S. EPA awards for its recycling and Circular Gold initiatives.

Awards are always nice, but the fact is that Dell’s product innovations also set the company’s solutions apart from competitors’ efforts. Let’s take a closer look at some of Dell’s new and improved offerings to get a sense of how this process works.

Latitude 7400 2-in-1 – Killer design?

Late last week, Dell pre-announced the latest addition to its Latitude family of business notebooks, the new Latitude 7400 2-in-1. Some controversy emerged when a few commentators called the new system a “ThinkPad killer” – a reference to Lenovo’s line of enterprise-focused notebooks.

This issue of the Review includes a detailed commentary by Rob Enderle on the issue, so I won’t delve too deeply into it myself. But I will note that the deaths of iconic products tend to be slow-motion affairs triggered by significant changes in the market that established players ignore or avoid and that innovators anticipate and fully leverage. In other words, “killer” events depend as much on the victim’s cluelessness as they do competitors’ premeditation.

What does the Latitude 7400 2-in-1 include that makes some believe it fits into this category? In essence, near 24-hour battery life, biometric (facial recognition) security, a new hinge that allows the 2-in-1 to be opened single-handedly, high portability without compromising performance and some new esthetic points.

Looking a bit closer, the near-24 hours of battery life isn’t guaranteed. Instead, Rahul Tikoo, Dell’s VP of Commercial Mobility products, says the system “is designed for 24 hours of MobileMark ’14 run time on a single charge using the 78Whr battery option.” But even that is notable and will be of great interest to on the go businesspeople, as will Dell’s ExpressCharge which charges the battery up to 80 percent in just an hour.

The Latitude 7400 2-in-1’s facial recognition features are based on Intel’s Context Sensing technology, integrated with Microsoft’s Windows Hello. Basically, this enables what Dell calls Express Sign-In, so when the user sits in front of a system, it detects his/her presence, wakes up, scans for facial recognition and starts the Windows Hello login process. When a user leaves, the system recognizes their absence and locks itself to remain secure. That’s likely to be attractive to many executives and workers, particularly those who work in busy office settings and open cubicle environments.

Dell’s new “variable torque hinge” is an interesting bit of technology that the company demoed at a recent analyst event. The hinge keeps the 2-in-1 firmly closed yet it can be opened far more easily than typical notebooks, including single-handedly. Is it a “killer” technology? No, but it demonstrates a singular ‘elegance’ of engineering that has become a watchword of Dell products over the past decade or so. Other new features include a new Titan Gray machined aluminum finish, a reduced footprint (making the new Latitude the world’s smallest commercial 14-inch 2-in-1) and the presence of Dell’s ocean-bound plastics packaging (a first for Latitude products).

So, does the Latitude 7400 2-in-1 spell the end of the line for Lenovo’s venerable ThinkPad line? We’ll have to wait and see for the answer to that question. To its credit, Lenovo never lost a step with the ThinkPad brand after acquiring it from IBM in 2005, and ThinkPads continue to define “enterprise-class” laptops for thousands of satisfied customers.

At the same time, the past decade has seen Dell evolve from a volume producer of pedestrian notebooks and desktops to a leading vendor of eye-catching, technologically sophisticated business and consumer endpoints. The Latitude 7400 2-in-1’s remarkable battery life and facial recognition features are notable additions that are sure to appeal to many business customers.

If Lenovo can’t respond in short order, its customers will reasonably ask, “Why not?” When Dell sales personnel come to call with the new Latitude 7400 2-in-1, Lenovo customers may well answer, “Why, yes.”

XPS 13’s top-mounted webcam + Inspiron 7000 2-in-1’s Garage Hinge

Dell also added new features to its XPS and Inspiron lines. In the former case, the XPS 13 finally has a top-mounted webcam. That might not seem like a big deal, but the fact is that complaints about the webcam’s previous location (at the bottom left hand corner of the display) regularly appear in XPS 13 reviews. I personally feel the issue is minor, at best, but people’s fixations are what they are.

Problem was that the XPS 13 also boasts an Infinity Display that numerous other vendors eventually tried to emulate, with an ultra-thin bezel that was too thin to accommodate available webcam technologies. At CES 2019, Dell revealed that the latest XPS 13 incorporates a miniscule new 2.25-mm HD webcam located at the center-top of the display. The new system also leverages Intel’s latest 8th gen Core processors (meaning it remains the most powerful 13-inch laptop in its class), Dolby Vision video technology and a new frost anodized color option.

Dell also added design points to new 13-inch and 15-inch Inspiron 7000 2-in-1’s, including what the company calls a first of a kind “garage-in-the-hinge” that accommodates a Dell Active Pen included with the system. That’s a handy feature that should also make losing Active Pens (which cost around $50 each) less likely, meaning it offers both functional and financial benefits.

Inspiron 7000 2-in-1s also include what Dell calls Adaptive Thermal technology which enables the devices to automatically change their power profiles depending on their location. If a user has the 2-in-1 sitting on his/her lap to watch a movie or surf the Web, the system powers down to generate less heat. When it’s placed on a table or desk, it ramps up to full power and productivity.

Final analysis

These aren’t the only endpoint improvements that Dell announced at CES 2019. The company also made notable additions to its Dell Cinema solution that are designed to enhance sound clarity, color saturation and video streaming. Additionally, Dell added new functions and discussed future capabilities for its Mobile Connect software which enables integration between users’ smart phones and their PCs.

The new XPS 13 and Inspiron 2-in-1 features are well-designed additions that significantly enhance those portfolios and should appeal to many or most users. As such, they show how Dell is making significant, customer-focused improvements in its endpoint portfolios at the same time it is using the new Latitude 7400 2-in-1 to hone strategic efforts against competitors, like Lenovo.

These points are all to the good for Dell and its consumer and corporate customers. However, they also demonstrate how able, knowledgeable vendors can turn an internationally recognized event with tens of thousands of attendees to their advantage. Sure, countless vendors try to use CES to pawn off junk technology or announce fealty to trends whose value is mainly transparent. But in the announcements coming from Dell and a few others, conference attendees and watchers will find far more than meets the eye.

© 2019 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.

IBM’s Ginni Rometty at CES 2019 – Relying on “IBM Underneath”

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  January 9, 2019

The value of keynoting the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) can’t really be overestimated. That’s especially true for the opening session when the attentions of the event’s tens of thousands of attendees (over 182k at CES2018) and thousands of media members (6,600+ in 2018) haven’t been eroded by crowded conditions, noise pollution, sleep deprivation and the excesses of food and drink that Las Vegas depends on.

For years, Microsoft had first dibs on the opening keynote but since 2013 (the year after then-CEO Steve Ballmer decided to walk away from trade shows), CES’s opening keynote has rotated among executives with deep ties to and associations with consumer electronics. That is until this year, when IBM CEO Ginni Rometty took the stage following Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro’s “State of CES” speech.

Why IBM? That’s a good question since the company isn’t exactly a consumer name, having sold off its PC division in 2005 and exited its work in processors for gaming (where it once provided the silicon for Playstation, Nintendo and Xbox consoles) in 2009. Rometty acknowledged that point but noted that while consumers don’t know it, they rely on IBM “being underneath” a wide variety of services.

That’s an intriguing contention, and Rometty spent the rest of her keynote supporting her claim by detailing IBM’s pioneering advances in cloud and quantum computing, Watson artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, among other areas. She also enjoyed able assistance from executives representing name brand consumer-facing enterprises, including Exxon Mobile and Walmart.

Let’s take a closer look at Rometty’s keynote, as well as the value IBM brings to the table by being the power “underneath” consumer, home and workplace technologies, products and services.

The end of independent personal computing

CES 2019 is occurring at an interesting time for the consumer electronics and technology industries. At one level, consumer products from kitchen appliances to automobiles have never been “smarter” in the sense of being integrated with and enhanced by digital intelligence. But at the same time, those intelligence features have become increasingly abstracted from the devices themselves.

Consider the natural differences between 1990s PCs and today’s desktop and notebook systems – not in terms of computational power and performance but simply as devices. Originally, PCs were essentially independent in the sense of running programs and performing tasks without the assistance of other devices. That was also mostly true for networked PCs in offices and other workplaces.

The commercial Internet changed that, along with consumer email, peripheral devices, and other products. But the appearance of smart phones and mobility-enabled features increased the speed of the transition away from independence by orders of magnitude, as did cloud-based services, including automated back-up for image, music and video files. Lightweight apps that have a fraction of the footprint and offer fractions of the capabilities if traditional software were another critical factor.

In other words, personal computing today is mostly about accessing external services, not running powerful applications. Just as importantly, the infrastructure supporting those services is essentially invisible, supported by systems housed in data centers located scores or hundreds of miles away from end users. So long as those systems are up and running, life is a dream. But if or when things go south, as they occasionally do, all hell breaks loose.

Many people understand this and most associate these scenarios with cloud services from companies, including Amazon, Google and Microsoft. But what about the businesses that consumers depend on, and essential online services for consumers’ banking, shopping, travel and financial services needs? That’s what IBM “underneath” is all about.

The value of IBM underneath

As I noted, Rometty’s keynote was enhanced by testimonials from executives from brand name companies. IBM has long partnered with ExxonMobile on a range of initiatives and services. For example, IBM Cloud provides the foundation for the company’s Speedpass+, a personalization service that enables customers to pay for gas and car washes with their mobile devices.

During Rometty’s keynote, Vijay Swarup, VP of R&D for ExxonMobil, discussed the company’s decision to sign an agreement with IBM to advance the use of quantum computing in developing next-generation energy and manufacturing technologies. By doing so, ExxonMobil will be the first energy company to join the IBM Q Network, a global community working to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications for science and business.

Quantum computing could help ExxonMobil address computationally challenging problems across areas, including optimizing power grids, performing more predictive environmental modeling and discovering new materials for efficient carbon capture. According to Swarup, “Quantum computing can potentially provide us with capabilities to simulate nature and chemistry that we’ve never had before.”

Charles Redfield, EVP of food for Walmart U.S., discussed the work the company is doing through Food Trust, an IBM initiative that focuses on using the company’s blockchain technology to transparently ensure food freshness and safety. The effort has attracted about 50 enterprises, including Walmart, Carrefour and Kroger that share data about where they are sourcing and shipping fresh produce and other products.

As a result, if a safety issue arises (like the recent E. coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce), Food Trust members can more effectively identify and track potentially unsafe products and remove them before consumers are affected. For example, it used to take Walmart up to a week to track a package of mangoes back to its point of origin. Today, Food Trust’s IBM blockchain system allows Walmart to perform that same process in 2.2 seconds.

Final analysis

ExxonMobile and Walmart provided just two of the highlights in IBM’s maiden CES keynote. Along with illuminating how IBM’s development efforts and technological innovations are helping their own companies, Swarup and Redfield also underscored Ginni Rometty’s statement about the critical value IBM offers and will continue to deliver to global consumers.

Rometty’s address was a refreshing departure for a conference that, in past years, has too often been a megaphone for trumpeting vapid trends and short-lived products. Rather, she spent her time on the CES stage detailing how consumer electronics, like many other industries is on the cusp of fundamental changes enabled by new, foundational infrastructure technologies.

By showing what IBM is accomplishing with its enterprise customers today, Ginni Rometty offered CES attendees a look at the benefits they can expect to see and enjoy in the near future.

© 2019 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.

Intel Architecture Day: Manufacturing, IP, Integration to Drive Next Gen Markets and Opportunities

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  December 19, 2018

The IT industry’s big love for new products and achievements is well-documented, but like any obsession, it occasionally turns pathological. That’s especially true regarding the assumed superiority of emerging technologies over well-established products and services.

Oft times, these breathy claims carry more than a hint of compromise. Leading companies, including IBM, Cisco, Oracle, Dell and many others have also been depicted as circling the drain due to innovations from plucky upstarts. Heck, IBM’s mainframe business has supposedly been on the verge of collapse for over a quarter century. Instead, despite some hiccups and with a few adjustments, these vendors continue to motor along driving billions of dollars in revenues and profits.

A similar dynamic has been in-play around Intel, with critics claiming that the company’s various challenges and the rise of innovative new silicon vendors and products signal an imminent wider collapse. Instead, most of those vaunted innovations have faltered or failed while Intel continues to lead its sector and target markets, reliably delivering superior solutions and solid-to-stellar financial results.

That doesn’t mean the company has done everything right or is idling along like an overly-entitled cruise ship. The words of former CEO Andy Grove – “Only the paranoid survive.” – are baked into Intel’s DNA and followed by its leadership and board. So, it was hardly surprising that the company used its recent Architecture Day event to discuss developments and strategies it will pursue during the upcoming decade of “data-intensive” computing.

Six strategic pillars

During the event, Intel detailed half a dozen “strategic pillars” it will rely on to continue its technical leadership and capture business in emerging “data intensive” markets and use cases, including next gen PCs and consumer devices, high speed networks, ubiquitous artificial intelligence, specialized cloud computing and autonomous vehicles. The six pillars are:

  1. Process: Emphasizing Intel’s manufacturing innovations, including demonstrating the new “Sunny Cove” 10nm CPU architecture and “Foveros” its “industry first” 3D packaging technology which is designed to allow products to be broken up into smaller “chiplets” that can be organized and connected to enhance specific features and performance.
  2. Architecture: Rather than focusing largely on its traditional IA scalar architecture, Intel envisions a future where diverse scalar, vector, matrix and spatial architectures are deployed in CPU, GPU, accelerator and FPGA sockets as needed. In turn, these architectures will be uniformly supported via a unified scalable software stack and integrated with Intel’s advanced packaging technologies.
  3. Memory: Given the growing demand for high-capacity, high-speed storage, Intel believes its Optane technology will enable it to uniquely fill gaps in the memory hierarchy and provide enhanced bandwidth closer to the silicon die.
  4. Interconnect: The company plans to offer a complete line of scalable offerings from silicon-level package and die interconnects to 5G infrastructure solutions.
  5. Security: Intel believes it has the necessary components to build a “better together” strategy that improves end-to-end security.
  6. Software: According to Intel, for every order of magnitude performance improvement enabled by hardware, software can enable two orders of magnitude improvements. Among other efforts, the company is planning a common set of tools for developers, including a “One API” project designed to simplify programming across diverse CPU, GPOU, FPGA, AI and other accelerators.

Manufacturing as a differentiator

Not surprisingly, these six strategic pillars emphasize Intel’s longstanding leadership in semiconductor manufacturing and its continuing investments in new and emerging technologies. This former point is worth emphasizing, especially since most of Intel’s core competitors have replaced their own silicon production with third parties, like TMSC and GlobalFoundries.

That makes financial sense, at least in the short term. After all, building and supporting a chip fab is always complex and costly, especially as semiconductors become ever smaller and older 200mm and below wafers are replaced by current state-of-the-art 300mm wafers. Given the ongoing funding requirements, signing-up with third party fabs seems eminently prudent.

But it also opens the door to unexpected challenges if foundry partners falter or succumb to problems of their own or are impacted by external events, like natural disasters or global trade disputes. Interestingly, a few days after Architecture Day, a blog post by Dr. Ann Kelleher SVP and GM of Intel’s Manufacturing and Operations organization, detailed how the company is investing in expanding its 14nm manufacturing capacity to increase supply.

Kelleher also noted that Intel is in early planning stages to expand its global manufacturing facilities in Oregon, Ireland and Israel, and will also continue its two-decades-long strategic use of foundry partners for specific technologies. With what has been estimated to be a $300B total addressable market for silicon solutions, Intel is doing all it can to ensure that it can and will reliably meet future customers’ demands.

Final analysis

Good enough. So, the strategic vision and practical steps Intel discussed during its Architecture Day proceedings show the company well-positioned to take full advantage of current and future opportunities, right? Mostly, yes, but there are also some lines that need further definition and coloring-in.

For example, though its security strategy is intriguing, there could be devils lurking in the details. Security is a notably tough nut to crack for IT vendors and more strategic security initiatives fail than succeed. Those include Intel’s 2010 $7.7B acquisition of McAfee which never produced hoped-for synergies, leading to the company selling its McAfee assets TPG for $3.1B in 2016. How Intel delivers on its “better together” security vision should be interesting but it will also be closely scrutinized.

Another point: Though Intel’s Optane memory technology has been promising, computer memory is a notoriously volatile business. In fact, some knowledgeable analysts (including Jim Handy of Objective Analysis), are anticipating a collapse of DRAM prices in 2019. Should that occur, it could result in significant losses for Optane (which is priced to be competitive with DRAM). Intel’s steady profitability would help minimize the pain but no one wants to incur significant losses.

Those points aside, Intel’s Architecture Day provided notable insights into the company’s ongoing efforts and upcoming plans that should cancel out rote disparagement from critics and competitors. Of particular interest were the demos of the upcoming Foveros 3D packaging technology and Sunny Cove CPU architecture. If those innovations deliver what Intel suggests, the future will continue to be bright for the company’s Core and Xeon portfolios.

Along with Foveros, the One API software project should be of particular interest to Intel’s OEM and other customers. People tend to forget that IT and consumer electronics vendors whose solutions depend on third party chips and other components are always in the hunt for ways to lower costs and improve efficiencies. Using Foveros to effectively mix/match chiplet blocks should pave the way to enhanced new silicon solutions, as will reducing the complexity of developing software for diverse computing engines.

Overall, Intel’s Architecture Day clearly highlighted the ways in which the company is anticipating and preparing for the future. But it also revealed that far from passively waiting for that time to arrive, Intel is actively working to make the future it envisions into a reality.

© 2018 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.

Dell EMC’s OEM Solutions: New Leadership + Evolving Strategy = Continuing Success

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  December 3, 2018

Leadership changes can be challenging for business organizations, particularly when the executives being replaced have enjoyed notable success. Those can be tough acts to follow, but by choosing the right people and implementing the right processes, the affected organizations and its people can continue their upward trajectory. The Dell Technologies Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) and Internet of Things (IoT) Solutions group is a great example of how this dynamic can work well. Continue reading

Dell Technologies – An Enterprise Vendor in Full

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  November 28, 2018

Does massive, ground-shifting change ever happen in an instant? Sure, at least enough to inspire songs, films and best-selling books. But more often, significant, fundamental changes require careful planning and steady, dedicated execution. It isn’t that love at first sight is a fiction – more that, along with a modicum of luck, reaching your Golden Wedding Anniversary requires a different sort of thought process and action.

The results of that approach to long term strategy were clear at Dell’s recent Analyst Summit in Chicago. The event and 200+ global analysts were a far cry from the modest analyst meeting Michael Dell hosted in 2007, a few months after he returned to Dell’s CEO position. At that time, his central pitch focused on “Dell 2.0” – a concept hinging on Dell’s planned transformation into an enterprise-class vendor of desktop-to-data center IT solutions.

The company arguably achieved that pinnacle with its blockbuster purchase of EMC just over two years ago but integrating so large and complex an acquisition takes time. Plus, it presents a greater question: Where does a fully-formed, fully-enabled Dell Technologies go from here? In Chicago, Michael Dell, his executive team and enthusiastic partners and customers, including Mastercard and Carnival, offered cogent answers and a clear vision of a future centered on Unlocking the Power of Data. Continue reading