The Shifting Enterprise Computing Landscape
Some of the most challenging technologies to understand are those created to serve as the backbone of modern businesses. The amount of different enterprise software and hardware tools, the number of different vendors, and the range of different capabilities all come together to create an enormous concoction of technical choices that can overwhelm even the savviest of technical minds.
It’s no wonder that there’s such an enormous services business focused on integrating this range of options into functioning solutions that people can use to operate their organizations. It’s complicated stuff.
Part of the challenge is trying to put all the various pieces into the proper context. When you start to do that, you begin to realize that some of the confusion stems from the fact that there are lots of different specialized tools for unique business situations. Not all companies share the same requirements, have the same situations, have the same existing resources and talents, etc. As a result, there’s an enormous range of options that are available to address these different needs—they don’t all try to serve the same basic functions. Some deal with older applications, some with newer cloud-style mobile apps, some are for computing and storing locally, some are for doing the same in the cloud, and many are about transitioning between these different worlds.
At the Dell Technologies World event in Las Vegas this week, founder and namesake Michael Dell laid out a vision for how he’s been able to piece together a variety of different companies and technologies to address these diverse needs. In the process, he managed to link together these various elements in a way that helped explain the company’s overall long-term strategy—as well as the success they’ve had in pursuing what many perceived was a risky plan. One particular point that stood out is that since its founding 34 years ago, Dell (the company) has generated a staggering $1 trillion in revenues and now leads the market in quite a few of the infrastructure product categories. Say what you want about old-school hardware companies, but that’s impressive.
One of the other key messages that became clear at the event was the ongoing evolution of the overall enterprise computing landscape. In particular, the move from a centralized cloud-based world back towards a distributed edge computing model, driven by IoT and new paradigms in computing, is now becoming mainstream. (A topic I wrote about in a previous column on Edge Servers Redefining the Cloud.) In addition, as part of that shift, there’s a recognition that for certain applications and certain organizations, the need to maintain their own core data centers (more of a private cloud approach) is also not going away or completely migrating to the cloud.
What you end up with, then, is the concept of edge to core to cloud, in which different aspects of an organization’s computing efforts are done through different resources, in different locations, by different types of applications and, often, even by different combinations of technologies and partner companies. Fundamentally, it’s all about building a flexible range of options that can accommodate nearly any type of existing environment, tools, and skills and can move them to entirely new sets of these factors. Pragmatically, it’s about making the transition to a software-defined world—from software-defined and managed data centers (or centers of data, as VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger smartly recognized in his keynote speech at the event), to dynamically created and updated cloud-native applications.
These concepts become particularly important as you start to see the real-world influence of major technology investments in companies outside the tech world. While people have been touting (and often “overhyping”) the notion of “digital transformation” for quite some time, the truth is, it’s just now that we’re starting to see companies beyond the early adopters within the tech industry start to deploy these new types of computing architectures. From impressive new companies like AeroFarms, which provides hydroponic-based “vertical farms” that can live inside warehouses within cities, to old-school companies like Traveler’s Insurance, a wide range of traditional industry companies highlighted at the Dell event were shown to be on the path towards becoming software-based, or software-defined organizations.
A key part of the solution for many organizations revolves around automation and various forms of AI. Though it’s easy to write off automation as little more than fancy scripting, the truth is that properly orchestrated automation routines can save organizations large amounts of time and money. In fact, in some ways, the types of simple AI that many organizations are just starting to experiment, or do simple trials, with is arguably a more advanced form of automation that relies on real-world data input to create and evolve over time. As Michael Dell himself pointed out, there’s a big difference between the kinds of artificial specific intelligence that’s driving today’s vertically-focused AI implementations, and the artificial general intelligence that many people are worried could have such a catastrophic impact on society. Realistically, it’s the focused, specific AI applications that we’re going to be seeing worked on and deployed over the next several years, while the more general AI is still likely many years away.
Making sense of all the various types of enterprise computing technologies and the transformations they are inspiring is no easy task and, in some ways, communicating how all the various pieces work together and how these digital makeovers are actually occurring is even harder. To their credit, even though the path that Dell Technologies has embarked upon is unquestionably a tough one, they’ve begun to demonstrate that there is a strong, market-driven logic to it. They still have a number of challenges to overcome—and a lot of debt to pay back—but it’s starting to look like the long term integrated technologies bet was a good one.