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By | Trevor Pott 7th September 2016 11:29

My Dell merger wish list

I want geeks, the future and a pony

Sysadmin Blog It's merger day, it's merger day! Everyone please crank out a pile of speculation, research, facts, and innuendo about Dell, EMC, VMware and the ever important "what it all means". We will watch and participate as the entire internet completely overloads everyone's signal-to-noise filters by bombarding them with unprecedented levels of contradictory bullshit – rendering the topic meaningless.

This isn't that.

I've done my fair share of "what's up with VMware/Dell/EMC/$deity knows whom else" last month and I'm not writing another. Besides, smarter, better connected people than me are writing those pieces. People with access. People who've done interviews, who have surveys, analyst reports and "well known truths" to brandish.

I have none of that. More accurately: I don't have enough of that. I can chew your ear off on things VMware if you'd like. I know about a lot of the great things they're up to that I'm not supposed to, and a lot of the desperate problems they face that I'm really not supposed to. Ditto EMC.

What I don't know is Dell. Their management are an enigma to me. Unlike some who study the industry I don't rely simply on facts and figures. I need to know the people involved. Their management styles. Their foibles and weaknesses. I need to know how they'll react under pressure and how that reaction will cascade down through the human infrastructure that forms their company.

Without enough sources in the right places I can't do the kind of analysis I've been trained to do, so I leave the more traditional analysis to those better suited.

What I do have is a wish list.

Recent EMC history

Had we had a discussion over beers 8 years ago I would have been pretty worried about EMC going through a merger with Dell. EMC didn't "get it". They didn't understand their place in the future.

More precisely, they didn't understand their own irrelevance.

EMC's brass – along with that of many other tech companies – believed in a sort of manifest destiny. Their corporate largesse and sheer market share meant that they could dictate terms to customers. They believed, seemingly honestly, that this would persist.

So sure were they that they could summon the future they fired Diane Green. Backroom politics, narcissism, hubris and ego led the powerful, experienced and supposedly intelligent men running one of IT's only empires to commit one of IT's only truly legendary stupidities.

And then 2009 happened.

EMC shed many of its best minds overnight. The storage industry exploded with a new generation of startups that would reshape the storage landscape and lead to a crisis of faith amongst all but the most devout believers in the church of EMC. Cracks appeared in the castle's foundation and soon thereafter the whole of the empire fell.

Sometimes, however, you need to fall so that you understand the importance of paying attention to where you're going. EMC may have gone from dreams of unchallengeable empire to a hearty meal for Dell, but along the way valuable lessons were learned. By some, at least.

EMC II

EMC II is not as spry as it should be, but it's working on it. EMC may not be topping the charts in nouveau storage tech like Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI), but they're getting there.

EMC II seems to have realized that change is the only true constant, and this is filtering down throughout the executive layer. The old ways are dead, so it's time for everyone to find new approaches that work. Kudos to EMC II for coming to this realization. I really hope Dell lets them keep this as a part of their corporate culture.

To this end, my wish list for EMC II revolves around R&D. Dell: please let EMC II experiment. Let them try new things. Above all let them fail.

Don't focus group every technology, every change. Throw stuff out into the wild and see if you can create change. EMC II is at it's best when it is not dully responding to change that has already occurred.

Ditch the suits. There's only so much starch you can wash out of east coasters but please don't look to IBM rejects and the army of faceless "yes people" whose most outrageous quality is a fanciful tie on a Friday afternoon. Hire the troublemakers, the radicals. Hire customer advocates and people who actually understand statistics.

EMC II has a nascent spark of an anti-traditionalist culture, and that's everything necessary to survive in tech today. Dell, I ask you to nurture it. I also ask you to put pressure on EMC II's brass to check that their down-org-chart managers aren't awful human beings. Making numbers earns you nothing if you chase away the best and brightest worker bees, and I can tell you for a fact that despite all the positive advancements EMC II has made, this is happening today.

VMware

My wishlist for VMware is almost the opposite of that for EMC. VMware has become Microsoft. It's sharded into warring fiefdoms, each laser focused on their own product. Whereas EMC II needs to nurture a culture that challenges the status quo, VMware desperately needs to nurture a culture of harmony.

My wishlist for VMware is that whatever pressures required be brought to bear to ensure that VMware stop thinking of themselves as the provider of multiple separate products and start thinking of themselves as a solution provider.

The hypervisor isn't a product. The microvisor isn't a product. Management tools aren't a product. The "yay, we reinvented the System Center single installer" Cloud Foundation that doesn't actually install everything you need to run a VMware-based hybrid cloud isn't a product. vRealize isn't a product. (It sure as all pants isn't four!)

All of these things are features. The product is an Infrastructure Endgame Machine. VMware had one job at VMworld 2016: to announce an IEM and give a date for delivery. They failed, and now the competition is about to steamroller them.

Dell, save VMware from itself. Pretty please. I have a lot of friends there. I love their technology. And I really want there to be as many IEM providers as possible so we can help keep the likes of Microsoft (Azure + Azure stack = superpowers), Amazon and Nutanix (more on that later this month) in check.

VMware has the technology for victory. They don't have the corporate vision, execution or leadership to attain it. They think and operate like a tech vendor from 15 years ago. If the merger can't force changes then they're already dead, and I don't want that to happen at all.

Dell: please make VMware understand that ease of use is king. Make them understand that simplicity and convenience are not nice-to-have's for the future, but became table stakes 18 months ago.

Dell: please make VMware check its rearview mirror. The Amazon it sees in it is bigger than it at first appears. Fire the entire executive layer if you have to.

Dell

Dell proper, I hope, takes some things away from the merger as well. Perhaps the most important thing that Dell needs to take away is an understanding that R&D is critical.

Buying some startup and then smothering it in bureaucracy and red tape until everything that made it special has been neutered and all of the top minds that drove change have left is not OK. That's how the tech titans of yore worked.

Dell, you're not a tech titan any more. You're fighting for relevance and survival in a technology industry where Amazon is the new normal and de facto future king. You may have pulled an unholy amount of money out of the aether and bought a fallen empire, but the combination of two fallen empires still makes for an underdog in the game of thrones.

The underdog won't survive this war peddling risk aversion, fear and the technologies of yesterday. They'll survive because they make the technologies of tomorrow accessible and convenient for everyone, today.

Dell: you need the freaks and the geeks. You need those who question authority. More than anything, you need those who look at technology not as a means to an end, but as an ever-evolving collection of symbiotic systems and who are capable of saying the five most important words in any industry...

..."now why did that happen?"

Godspeed. ®

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