Dell’s IQT and the Continuum of Technology

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  October 18, 2017

It’s no surprise that IT vendors are excited about the Internet of Things (IoT). After all, if the commercial demand for IoT becomes even half of what some analyst firms suggest, it will equal or eclipse past major technology market opportunities.

But more important than that, though some in the industry are attempting to position IoT as an entirely new technology, it simply represents a next, logical, practical step in the evolution of digital business. Rather than being essentially unique, IoT mainly takes numerous existing IT assets, seamlessly adds in newer components and developments, tweaks them with hard-earned industry expertise, and applies it all to longstanding business challenges.

However, that does represent a fundamental shift in organizations’ IT efforts to add digital intelligence to processes that traditionally depend on analog tools, with the aim of gaining advantage from data and analytics insights. That need for incorporating digital intelligence in new areas inspired Dell Technologies to label their related efforts as “IQT” with the IQ representing new digital smarts. Last week, company executives hosted an event in New York City to publicly announce the company’s IQT/IoT strategy, solutions and plans.

 A world awash in rich data

The event kicked off with CEO and chairman Michael Dell laying out the company’s vision. As Dell noted, while we live in a world where every action and event creates information – “a world awash in rich data” – much or most of that information is lost, ignored or otherwise forgotten.

That is a ridiculous waste of resources, especially considering how data provides the “fuel” powering digitally-empowered businesses and organizations. In fact, Dell sees his company’s elemental role as creating powerful, secure IT infrastructures that enable customers to use information to deliver more personalized and insightful services and solutions. The promise of IoT lies in IT infrastructures where “every node is additive to the intelligence of the whole.”

Dell also stated that those who believe that technology reached an ultimate apogee with the emergence of cloud computing are wrong. Instead, cloud simply reflects the IT industry’s tendency to continually swing from centralized to distributed computing architectures. In that sense, cloud is a 21st century expression of what IT accomplished with monolithic mainframe computing in the 1970s-80s. In that same sense, IoT reflects an elemental shift toward the distributed client/server architecture that emerged in the 1990s.

In point of fact, Dell contributed mightily to the client/server innovations that helped drive digital technologies into unprecedented, critical new roles in businesses and among consumers. So, it is natural for the company to assume a leadership position as the industry shifts toward IoT. To that end, Dell noted that the company would supplement its existing innovative products, smart, connected systems and flexible partner programs and relationships with $1B in IoT investments over the next three years.

Digitizing the analog world

Michael Dell was followed by Ray O’Farrell, formerly VMware’s CTO who is now a Dell EVP and GM of the new IoT organization. O’Farrell focused his time in the spotlight on explicating the practical strategy around Dell’s IoT efforts. The fact of the matter is that while many in the industry have focused on endpoint sensors and actuators as representing the bleeding edge of IoT, fully effective practical solutions follow a systemic approach.

Why is that the case? Consider how a nervous system unconsciously senses and transmits information to the brain for analysis. If that flow of data is slowed, interrupted or halted in any way, it impacts the brain’s analytical abilities. Likewise, if the brain is impeded or injured, its ability to perceive and understand data, and to formulate understanding declines. The notion of the primacy of IoT sensors and actuators is a bit like ludicrously believing that understanding begins and ends in the fingertips.

O’Farrell focused on edge-to-the cloud solutions as being “where the physical meets the digital.” That is, IoT represents a model for successfully bring into the digital world processes that until now have mainly been fulfilled with analog, often manual services and processes. What does this have to do with Dell? Beginning with his return to the CEO position in 2005, Michael Dell successfully focused on transforming the company from a leading light in PCs into a leading end-to-end systems vendor, an effort that was capped with its successful acquisition of EMC.

Dell’s interest in IoT is also anything but new. In 2015, the company launched its Edge Gateway 5000 series: compact, “smart” compute platforms that live on the edge of a network, collect and parse data from sensors and actuators, and then transmit results to data centers and/or cloud provider for further analysis. The Edge Gateway series is still central to Dell’s industrial IoT solutions and services, but it also reflects the company’s larger focus on overarching end-to-end, edge-to-data center/cloud infrastructure solutions. As O’Farrell succinctly put it: “The core IT infrastructure knits this all together.”

Getting started/Staying the course

When the Edge Gateway series launched, Dell’s IoT efforts resided in the company’s OEM business unit which supports thousands of business partners who develop products based on Dell components and often manufacture and deliver them with the company’s help. During her presentation, the OEM BU’s leader, SVP Joyce Mullen, described the group’s role in the company’s new IoT strategy and plans.

She noted that Dell OEM qualifies as a core resource for IoT partners. That includes OEM customers that are actively shipping products, like IMS Evolve, a company that delivers “cold chain” solutions for effectively managing and maintaining temperatures in commercial refrigeration systems and displays, like the ones thousands of grocery chains and individual stores use to keep milk, cheese, yogurt and others dairy items properly chilled.

But Dell OEM also works at the other end of the IoT dairy spectrum. In her presentation, Mullen described her group’s work with Chitale Dairy, the largest commercial producer of milk and associated products in India. In order to support annual sales of around 16 million gallons of milk from its own and small surrounding dairy farms near Bhilawadi, India, Chitale depends on Dell IoT solutions, from sensors for monitoring dairy cow habits and health to a high-speed, high-availability network used to automate and improve milk production.

Along with the work it’s doing with existing and established players, like Chitale Dairy, IMS Evolve, Emerson Electric, Fujian University and the JTG Daugherty race team, Dell OEM has also developed services and solutions for getting new partners, developers and enterprise customers started with IoT planning and development. That ranges from early stage discussions and training sessions to providing tangible assistance in product design, development and manufacturing.

Under Mullen’s leadership, Dell OEM has enjoyed strong, sustained annual growth. That past success should enable Dell OEM to help lead and profit from the company’s heightened strategic focus on IoT.

Final analysis

The main tent presentations by Michael Dell, Ray O’Farrell and Joyce Mullen, along with the introduction and background information provided by CMO Jeremy Burton, were the beginning of a fascinating and compelling event. Other highlights included a session on the investments that Dell Capital, the company’s venture funding group, is making in IoT start-ups, including AeroFarms, Edico Genome, Graph Core and Zing Box. The event also offered small group and 1:1 meetings on IoT with Dell Technologies executives.

So what were my overall impressions? First of all, was the sizable scope of ambition that Michael Dell and his organization have invested in IoT. Dell isn’t the only company focusing on IoT, but it would be difficult, at best, to find a vendor with a clearer grasp of the subject or understanding of what it will take to bring customers and partners along for the IoT ride. That journey will be anything but simple and easy, but Dell Technologies appears to have the insights, assets and will to make its vision of IoT a reality.

In addition, the company’s optimism around IoT is firmly rooted in previous successes and accomplishments. I found Michael Dell’s positioning of IoT as the latest, predictable shift from centralized to distributed architectures to be particularly compelling. His and his company’s original focus on PC endpoints and their role in the client/server era, along with the elemental move toward end-to-end systems that Dell began in 2005 leaves them well-positioned to seize competitive opportunities, lead and win as IoT markets evolve.

Will the move toward IoT be easy or simple? Anything but. Can the company deliver on its vision and promises? From what I saw and heard at the IQT launch event in New York City, Dell Technologies is more cognizant of the challenges and better prepared to meet them than many if not most other IT vendors.

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