RealTime IT News

Dinner With Dell

Dell has no plans to make its own operating system or fabricate its own chip silicon anytime soon, according to Dell CTO Kevin Kettler.

Kettler hosted an informal dinner with a very small select group of technology industry journalists in Boston last week. The dinner discussion ran the gambit from Michael Dell's leadership style to how to barbeque a brisket and everything in between.

Time and again in between downing an India Pale Ale or a glass of merlot, Kettler reiterated that for Dell it's all about listening to its customers and then driving those customer needs back through vendor partners that supply its technology components.

Kettler noted that Dell has come a long way in the last five years from being merely a buyer of technology to being an influencer of what technologies will be developed.

"We're so much smarter about the way we do products now, we gather customer input and then figure out what to do product-wise and then we go back out to vendors to get what we need," Kettler said.

"I have no desire in the near future to do silicon design," Kettler continued. "No desire to write my own OS."

So far vendors have been responding to Dell's needs and, as such, Kettler doesn't see any point in going out and replicating what he can already buy.

"The real interesting thing is that, at the end of the day, a lot of people don't realize that Dell often provides more insight and innovation to the industry than anyone else," Kettler said.

"We have direct relationships with our customers because that's our model, other vendors don't have that."

Kettler argued that Dell gets unbuffered direct customer feedback while other vendors have a lot of channels and partners that only can provide filtered feedback.

One historical example that Kettler noted where Dell drove innovation is on PCI-Express (PCIe).

The company decided that it was going to support the new interface standard as a replacement for AGP . Graphics card vendors such as ATI and Nvidia were apparently informed of Dell's decision to support PCIe.

Kettler claimed that Dell's support for the new standard helped drive adoption and provided the graphics card makers at least with the necessary business baseline on which to make their decision.

"The compliment to me at the end of the day is when their roadmap {other vendors} overlays my roadmap," Kettler said. "And we've got more and more vendors -- 85 to 90 percent of vendors we deal with today -- where their roadmaps overlay our roadmaps almost identically. That's a sign of influence."

In other areas, Dell's roadmap does not necessarily intersect with vendor roadmaps. Two cases in point noted by Kettler were InfiniBand and Intel's Itanium processor.

"I ask them [Intel] how many people do you have dedicated to Itanium and whatever number they say I tell them that two times too many," Kettler said.

Though he sees a place for InfiniBand for certain deployments, Kettler is seeing strong momentum for Ethernet in the 10 Gigabit Ethernet space that is very promising.

"I'm not saying you shouldn't having InfiniBand," Kettler said. "But you should never bet against Ethernet."

Kettler was in Boston talking up Dell's Virtualization efforts, a topic that would seem to be contradictory to Dell's business.

After all, more virtualized servers may well mean less physical hardware servers.

"Yes, but what's the alternative? The alternative is that somebody is going to sell you the virtualization," Kettler said.

"The baseline premise is if there is a compelling need and a customer requirement, we're going to take our business that way. There are times that I've taken product and technologies where the economics aren't overly compelling for Dell, but it's the right thing to do for the customer."