Just before the holidays, I had the opportunity to attend Dell’s second annual Dell World user conference. Here’s my take on  Dell’s progress towards becoming an end-to-end solutions company, and its directions in the small and medium business (SMB) market.

To put things in context, Dell has been on a journey for a couple of years to transform from a hardware company provide businesses with open, flexible and easier to use IT solutions that can scale up or down as needed. Dell is leveraging cloud computing, open standards, and a blend of hardware, service and software offerings to build more comprehensive solutions. And, Dell has pegged midmarket business requirements as its design focal point to ensure scalability for organizations of all sizes. As I discussed in The New Dell and What it Means for SMBs: Takeaways from Dell’s 2011 Solutions for a Virtual Era Event, Dell has also made many acquisitions to turn this vision into reality, including KACE, Boomi, Wyse, SonicWall, Quest and AppAssure and others.

On Track for Transformation

Dell has taken a lot of heat for not turning around fast enough to please some analyst and pundits. But, at the event, Dell provided a status report on its progress, and unveiled several new strategies, products and services that I believe will continue to propel it forward.

For example, Dell reported that cloud revenue has increased 30% year for Q3 FY 2013, and that its x86 server shipment growth outpaced the industry overall (and HP and IBM in particular) according to International Data Corporation’s (IDC) Q3 2012 Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker. In addition, security revenue for Q3 FY 2013 rose 16% year over year. Dell now processes more than 30 billion events every day, and is growing its footprint in the security area. Perhaps most importantly, services and consulting now account for roughly one-third of Dell’s sales.

Among the many announcements that are part and parcel of any vendor user conference, several highlighted how Dell is turning its vision into reality, including that Dell has:

  • Chosen OpenStack as its open source cloud platform of choice for public and private cloud. This extends Dell’s commitment to open, standards-based solutions. While it will still provide customers with solutions on other cloud platforms, the vendor has endorsed OpenStack as the most open, flexible way to implement a hybrid environment and move workloads between private and public clouds.
  • Added new solutions to its Active Infrastructure converged infrastructure portfolio. Dell announced new blueprints for VDI and unified communications and collaboration applications and workloads. This builds on Dell’s goal of helping customers to streamline IT deployment and management with Active Infrastructure solutions. These combine servers, storage, networking and infrastructure systems management into integrated solutions that zero in on specific workload requirements to speed deployment, cut costs and energy consumption, and simplify operations.
  • Unveiled the CIO Powerboard. Using Boomi, Dell has knit together management tools from Quest, KACE, SonicWALL and AppAssure to provide IT with a unified view and metrics across their IT environment–another proof point of Dell’s ability to provide more integrated, end-to-end solutions.

We also got a glimpse into the strong potential that Dell’s Wyse acquisition has to propel Dell into the mobile management space from the very energetic Tarkan Maner, Dell Wyse President and CEO. Maner demoed the Pocket Cloud web service, which allows users to search all of their physical, virtual systems and clouds. As I discussed here, Dell recently launched Dell Wyse Cloud Client Manager (CCM), which incorporates Pocket Cloud technology, and provides businesses a centralized mobile management platform with an SMB-friendly price tag.

Stepping Up Support for SMBs

Beyond new solutions and technology directions, Dell took the wraps off of two new initiatives designed to help entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.

For starters, Dell launched the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs, headed up by its Entrepreneur in Residence, Ingrid Vanderveldt. In this video interview,  Ingrid discusses how the community is built by and designed for entrepreneurs. One of the program’s key goals  is to help entrepreneurs secure capital to invest in the technology they need to grow. Dell Financial Services and the Dell Innovators Credit Fund supply credit and leasing options, and the site also offers webcasts, videos and case studies from Dell, industry experts, and a community of entrepreneurs sharing their experiences.

With former President Bill Clinton on hand as the event’s marquee keynote speaker, Dell also announced that it is sponsoring this year’s Clinton Global Initiative University and support the entrepreneurship theme at CGI U 2013, which will be held at Washington University in St. Louis in the spring. The track is designed to help students and young entrepreneurs get the grounding they need to launch, run and grow a business, and the increasingly vital role of technology in building a successful business.

Quick Take

Yes, Dell still has to figure out how (or maybe even whether) to really differentiate and innovate in the client and particularly the mobile device battle.

But Dell World served to highlight that Michael Dell has crafted a strong vision and is sticking to it, building it through a series of strong acquisitions (compare this to HP’s Palm and Autonomy debacles) and solid technology directions. Combined, Dell has assembled many of the building blocks it needs to achieve its vision. And, Dell will keep filling in missing puzzle pieces, as evidenced just a few days after Dell World, when Dell completed its acquisition of Credant Technologies to fortify its data protection capabilities.

Meanwhile, Dell’s continuing commitment to provide solutions that scale up and down from the midmarket bode well for growing its footprint in the SMB market. In addition, Dell’s new initiatives to support entrepreneurs are a natural, given Michael Dell’s credentials as a poster child for entrepreneurial success. Through these programs, Dell will not only help young companies benefit from technology, but forge engagements with entrepreneurs that will fuel future directions with fresh insights.

Overall, Dell World 2012 demonstrated while Dell still lacks a magic bullet for the client device side of its business, it is making steady progress in its goal to supply the end-to-end IT infrastructure solutions and services that businesses need to support them.