New Dell chief plans to stay the course

He may be about to take on the CEO role at Dell Inc., but current chief operating officer Kevin Rollins said neither his customers nor the industry at large should expect anything different from the Round Rock, Tex.-based IT equipment supplier as a result.

"Truth be told, it's not going to change much," he said, speaking to Canadian journalists Tuesday at Dell headquarters. "Michael (Dell) and I have been running the company as a team now for years ... there's a glass wall between (us), we never shut the door."

Rollins will formally assume the role at a shareholder meeting this summer -- Michael Dell himself is retaining the role of chairman at the company he founded 20 years ago, and will focus more on developing technology and customers.

In fact, Rollins said the company's plans are unfolding according to plan: in February it announced overall revenue had jumped 18 percent, while its server and storage product shipments jumped 40 and 47 percent respectively.

This week, Dell also shored up its product offerings for small- and medium-sized business, enhancing a year-old agreement with Oracle Corp. The deal will see Dell ship pre-loaded versions of Oracle Standard Edition One database software on PowerEdge servers running Red Hat Linux or Windows. Dell also will meet its customers' grid computing demands through Oracle Real Application Cluster technology.

Rollins offered insights into Dell's business and the current state of the IT industry, predicting that four way severs "are going to be like eight way, it's just going away," in favor of one and two-way boxes assembled in a "scale-out" model.

He also noted a gradual shift away from Unix systems. "There's always going to be proprietary systems," he said, "(but) we believe that volume applications are going to slide off of Unix ... that's where the volume is."

It's how CIOs ultimately gauge the availability of applications and assess costs that will dictate whether it's Windows or Linux that will fill that void.

Hewlett-Packard Co, the company Rollins admits is Dell's closest competitor, recently inked a deal to sell Mandrake Linux desktops in Asia. But Rollins said Dell has no such plan in the works. "We could to it today ... (but) we're just not seeing enough customer demand," he said.

He also said reports of the customer complaints that eventually led Dell to close an Indian customer support call center were blown out of proportion, and would not stop Dell from engaging in offshore activities in the future.

"The issue of on(shore) or off(shore) is a little overblown." Rollins said. "We're still trying in India, still developing call centers there ... You can't say, 'we're not going to put any jobs in your market, but we're going to harvest all of the profits.' You can't say that."

So what is the biggest challenge facing Rollins today? "Execution ... the ability to turn the crank at these volumes is hard."

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