Reporter’s Notebook: Remember, remember the month of September.
That could be the theme for high-tech events in New York City in 2006, as officials from HP, Sun Microsystems, Dell and Oracle all traveled to New York to tout new wares and curry the favor of east coast press and analysts.
The events moved like clockwork, with HP officials portraying the company’s strengths in making enterprise-class computers and storage servers.
Unfortunately, the company’s boardroom shenanigans overshadowed its technological accomplishments by a long shot.
But that’s a whole other story.
Dell’s technology day on Sept. 12 proved to be far more noteworthy because of the company’s recent financial woes and earnings delay.
And then there are things that make reporters cringe. Not many things but enough.
I witnessed one at this Dell tech event, where company officials debuted new PCs.
Check out this exchange between Michael Dell and a reporter during a Q&A session following Dell’s keynote.
Reporter: “In your last quarterly report, your revenue earnings had fallen 51 percent.”
Dell: “Our revenues did not fall 51 percent.”
Reporter: “Your revenue earnings had fallen.”
Dell: “Our revenues did not fall. Our earnings fell.”
Reporter: “Oh, I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Dell then made light of the gaffe, bailing the poor guy out from an embarrassing mistake. He said something to the effect that it was hard to keep the revenues and earnings straight.
Kudos to board chairman Michael Dell for his handling of the situation. He could have ripped the guy for the misstep. But he took the high road.
He sure wasn’t rewarded though.
Another reporter asked Dell to comment on the job Kevin Rollins is doing as CEO. That was the second time of the day Dell had to deal with that line of questioning.
Seems there is a lot of anti-Rollins sentiment floating around after the company missed some financial targets.
Dell again handled the tough question with grace and aplomb: “I think my comments earlier about Kevin were quite clear and I don’t plan to repeat them because I haven’t changed my mind since this morning.”
Earlier that morning, Dell staunchly defended Rollins, noting that he disagrees with press and analyst comments that Rollins isn’t the right man to lead Dell. He even called Rollins and “excellent executive.”
Dell noted that the board has Rollins’ back, as well, adding: “I’m the biggest shareholder so you can do the math.”
Will Dell and the board can Rollins? Dell, point blank: “It’s not going to happen.”
Sounds like Rollins’ and Dell’s fates are tied together for the time being. But one wonders if Dell will sing a different tune if things don’t improve.
Viva La Ponytail!
A week later, I took in the tech news at Sun Microsystems’ event at Chelsea Piers, the third consecutive year Sun has schlepped to New York in September to hold a quarterly news briefing with press and analysts.
Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, sporting the coolest ponytail in high-tech, regaled the audience with tales of how Web 2.0 is harboring a lot of convergence and that we as a society are moving from a static, passive information age to one of active participation.
That was the message peppered in and around the hard news about a few new servers and storage devices. But the real fireworks took to the sky in the Q&A.
Someone in the audience asked Schwartz for more details about Sun’s relationship with Apple. The interrogator was subtly referring to the rumors that Apple might acquire Sun.
“We’ve consistently partnered with Apple,” Schwartz said. “Certainly we feel that customers want choice. As for specifics of what else we’re working on, stay tuned.”
Later, Schwartz provided an object lesson in jabbing at the competition by ignoring them.
An analyst asked what effect the pending Opteron server offerings from IBM, HP and Dell will have on Sun’s ability to grow its Opteron server business going forward.
“I’ll leave the Opteron-specific question for John [Executive Vice President John Fowler] and just tell you how thrilled I am that we’re seeing such an aggressive uptake of Solaris on HP, Dell and IBM.”
In the past, you could count on former CEO Scott McNealy to answer such questions about competitors by roasting Dell and HP with acerbic wit.
Schwartz’ approach is much more subtle. Where McNealy’s words were sharp jabs, Schwartz projects a sunny, “can’t we all just get along” aura. But don’t be fooled.
The new CEO’s digs are just as vicious, albeit in a subtler fashion.
Check these Schwartz nuggets out:
“We’re not anti-vendor. We’re not here to bash anybody. Every single business we’re in must be multi-platform if it’s going to be successful. When I’m selling the hardware we’re talking about, I’m going to be thrilled to talk to the Linux community about running Ubuntu on Niagara. When I’m talking about Solaris I’m going to be thrilled to talk to you about HP and Dell. They are no longer competitors in my mind. They are now channel partners.”
Go ask IBM, HP or Sun if they feel like they’re Sun channel partners.
To his credit, Schwartz let an opportunity for a barb pass by. When an audience member asked Schwartz what he thought about Dell and HP’s recent struggles, Schwartz wouldn’t bite.
Instead, he said Sun is not focused on Dell or HP, but on customers.
I doubt McNealy would have passed on the chance to take a bite of that whopper of a question.
Oracle Locks Up Your Datacenter
For a company firing on all cylinders, see Oracle in the high-tech dictionary.
Fresh off a solid first-quarter revenue bump, Oracle President Chuck Phillips and several other executives came to New York this week to outline the company’s past, present and future security strategy.
Phillips stressed breaking out of the silos of security products, eschewing point products for integrated suites.
“Most companies use a very fragmented set of solutions, and that’s the way the industry grew up — specific companies addressing specific threats with no thought of how this all fits together,” Phillips said.
“One of the things we bring to the table is thinking about security holistically from the application down to the disk through the network.”
Company officials demonstrated how to lock down the network at the event by detecting off “orphan” or “ghost” access privileges of former employees, to how to block a corporate insider from accessing sensitive data.
We hear about such technologies all of the time, but it was nice to see them in action.
Moreover, the interfaces made sense to me; it looked like I could grant a new employee highly specific access privileges on an HR application throughout a company’s network without fouling it up.
Oracle is going to try to fine-tune its software to put IBM, Sun and others even farther in the rearview mirror.