Dell Storage Forum: Serious about storage, channel and intellectual property

Dell spent its first Storage Forum, earlier this month in Orlando, Fla., emphasizing three points: The company is committed to the storage market, it is committed to the reseller channel, and it is proud of its new intellectual property.

Taking over the Compellent user conference known as C-Drive with the acquisition of that company earlier this year, Dell welcomed nearly 1,000 end users and reseller partners to Orlando. While the Dell-wrapped Hilton conference hotel was a nice touch, Michael Dell, along with a large number of other Dell executives, kept on message touting the new storage line from Compellent and continued enhancement of the company's non-direct sales approach.

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During his keynote Michael Dell used the "fireside chat" model rather than a PowerPoint enabled speech. Starting out by reminiscing how he started in business by selling add-on storage modules for the first PC, Dell then talked to Phil Soran, founder and CEO of Compellent, about the value of Compellent's storage model spanning the mid to large enterprise market. Darren Thomas, vice president and general manager of enterprise storage business for Dell, then outlined how the company's product line fits together, from the Dell PowerVault acquired through EqualLogic about four years ago through to the Compellent storage products.

The first question asked of Dell by Soran was right to the point: "Is Dell really channel friendly?" Channel partners in the audience applauded the question.

"We love our channel partners," Dell said immediately. The company added 454 new partners when it folded Compellent's resellers into its own Partner Direct program, just modified on May 9. These Compellent resellers were grandfathered into the new program as some of the 782 storage certified resellers for Dell products. Dell also noted that many countries were served 100% by channel partners.

In a later meeting, Greg Davis, Dell's vice president and general manager of global commercial channels, said almost 300 of Compellent's resellers are new to Dell. "But of their top 20 producers, almost all were already Dell partners."

Davis said that Dell's commitment to the channel comes from the top, and that inside salespeople are being strongly encouraged to work with, rather than compete against, the channel. Salespeople who work with the channel the best are better producers, and these salespeople are held up by Davis as examples to encourage others.

Resellers at the meeting said, anonymously, that Dell's inside salespeople are getting better and becoming more cooperative. But since inside salespeople are assigned by verticals, the resellers must find and work with multiple Dell salespeople in their region.

Bob Fine, Dell Compellent director of product marketing, said Dell's EqualLogic acquisition worked out well for all concerned. "There are four times as many channel partners selling the EqualLogic product line now. Sales when the company was acquired were about $100 million and now they're about $800 million."

Channel partners said that while EqualLogic and Compellent aren't known to every business, Dell certainly is, and that credibility helps their sales efforts. Dell has already introduced Compellent to 14 countries and has brought home a 100TB storage contract win in Brazil.

While Dell has been criticized for support issues over the years, Compellent's Co-Pilot support program won cheers. The combination of U.S.-based support agents who follow issues all the way from initial call through resolution, and the "phone home" technology built into Compellent hardware, is a strong selling point for resellers and favorite feature of customers.

In his keynote Dell said he went to Compellent headquarters and sat with Co-Pilot support agents to better understand the process. He also announced he would add the Co-Pilot support process to the EqualLogic products in the near future. Resellers and customers in the audience were excited, but many said afterward that improved server support should be included in those plans.

On the intellectual property front, Dell is taking advantage of Compellent's Fluid Data Architecture and the scalable file system acquired with Exanet in February 2010 across all storage products. Dell executives promise the Fluid Data Architecture will stretch across PowerEdge servers and PowerVault, EqualLogic and Compellent storage products. Currently, 90% of R&D efforts are directed toward software improvements. Dell is actively hiring to double the number of Compellent engineers and support techs.

James E. Gaskin writes books, articles and jokes about technology from the Dallas area. james@gaskin.com

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