Dell EMC World 2017 recap: “Cloud is not a place; it’s a way of doing IT” and “AI is here to stay”

DellEMCWorld 2017 logoThis is a long overdue post covering Dell EMC World 2017 in Las Vegas and the announcements that were made during the event. I’ll recap some of the topics that resonated most with me, namely that cloud computing is not a place but a way of doing IT. Secondly, I spoke briefly with some of the Dell EMC server guys whom give me hope that the Dell 14th generation servers are a big step up from previous experiences. Finally, I’ll share a bit of insight in what the Dell EMC Elect picked up during an interview with John Roese, and will link to a few posts from friends that attended Dell EMC World 2017. Maybe it’s a bit more of a “Dear diary,”-style post, so hang in there.

Influencer program Kick-off

On Monday morning we started with a Influencer Program kick-off, led by Jeremy Burton and Stella Lowe. They introduced the main announcements of Dell EMC World 2017, first of all IT and workforce transformation. Workforce transformation was mainly about the different type of tools that can be used by end-users of IT: designers and engineers using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to speed up product development like cars and shoes. This is, in part, possible due to much faster compute and storage solutions, some of which are key product announcements at Dell EMC World 2017. While the main message was about the end-users, I think the recent transformations in IT will also impact the IT admins managing the infrastructure (read: all layers between the datacenter and the virtual machines). I’ve written a separate post about both topics over here.

“Cloud is not a place; it’s a way of doing IT”

During the general keynote, Michael Dell took the stage and presented Dell Technologies and its achievements: “7 companies combined, with innovation capabilities like a start-up, but the reach of a global powerhouse”. He also repeated that”cloud is not a place, but a way of operating and doing IT”.

This is what resonated strongly with me: there’s too many companies shouting “we do cloud!”, where in fact they just run your servers in their own datacenter. What they neglect is to offer you any of the automation and orchestration aspects of “true” Cloud Computing. That’s not cloud, that’s a managed services product offering, jumping on the cloud marketing bandwagon.

In my humble opinion, true cloud computing is all about:

  • Self-service, offering business agility through automation of tasks and thus faster, standardized provisioning. This is one side of the medal: it adds value to the business because IT can respond faster to business or application requests, by quickly rolling out standardized virtual machines or containers. All this extra agility is an “extra” over regular, oldskool IT, and thus increases costs. So…
  • Costs are kept down with standardization (you have a limited number of VM options, instead of full customization) and a pay as you use model (switching off unused systems).
The Piaggio Ape!
Couldn’t pick on the Lada again…

Another humble opinion: not every business needs true cloud computing yet! Or better said: is ready for and can benefit from it. If your business processes and applications are the cars, and the IT infrastructure is the road, do you need a 4 lane super highway capable of 300+kmph speeds when your legacy applications are a Piaggio Ape going 60kmph?

The true rise of cloud computing will go shoulder to shoulder with a new style of applications, that actually use the added agility: e.g. containerized applications that autonomously spawn new instances on the continent where most of their users are awake/active, and more importantly, shut down unused instances as well. As long as that last part isn’t implemented in the applications, IT processes and business, I fear “cloud” will only add cost in the short term.

Jumping back to cost reduction: cloud providers can afford to not bill you for a powered off virtual machine or container because a different customer will use that left-over processing capacity. One customer switches off a machine, another one switches a machine on. I’m curious to see what the main reason for switching on/off a VM or container is: is it because a user goes to bed, or because a batch process finishes? If it’s mostly centered around user activity, that would mean international cloud providers with international customers across the timezones and globe would have the best average utilization of hardware. And could offer the lowest prices. What would that mean for small, geographically limited cloud providers? They potentially don’t have users spread across the globe, thus a less ‘steady’ active workload. Feel free to comment below.

Dell 14th Generation servers

Dell announced their newest generation of PowerEdge servers at Dell EMC World 2017: the 14th Generation in fact, built around the following 3 core tenants:

  • Scalable
  • Automation
  • Security

There’s also a bit of environmental improvement: by utilizing Fresh Air Technology, the servers can cope with warmer air in the datacenter: up to 45°C/113°F. A higher datacenter intake temperature means less chilling, and thus lower energy consumption. Yay for free air cooling and high PUE datacenters!

I’ve said it a couple of times, but I am (or was?) not a big fan of Dell PowerEdge servers. I’ve experienced too many weird issues at customers, in the sorts of “reboot this perfectly healthy server and poof, iDRAC management is gone”. Firmware management was always a bigger pain compared to competition servers that used easier, bootable ISO images.

So I checked out the PowerEdge stand at the Dell EMC World 2017 Solutions Expo, and was happily surprised with:

  • Firmware bundled into catalogs, which you can download the latest version of. You can house this on a repository proxy in your network, and it can alert you if a new catalog or component matches the firmware baseline you’ve just set. High level of automation, with potentially automatically staging of firmware at the lifecycle controller and automatic installation at reboot.
  • iDRAC9 Enterprise with OpenManager integration into VMware vCenter and the vCenter Web Client. Enabling you to lock down firmware and configuration settings, or export these settings to other systems to avoid configuration drift in large environments.

Now of course, there will probably be a license left and right you need for the whole automated experience. However, hearing this, I might have to give the PowerEdge family another chance. According to Robert Hormuth, CTO of Dell EMC’s server division (with whom I only spoke very briefly due to a interview scheduling error), we’ll be seeing more Dell servers in all the Dell EMC storage products as time progresses.

Dell EMC Elect interview with John Roese – Artificial Intelligence

The Dell EMC Elect also had the opportunity to collectively interview John Roese, Global CTO of Dell EMC. We spoke about a wide range of subjects, one being Artificial Intelligence (AI). Here’s some notes:

AI is here to stay: you can’t solve all problems by throwing more humans at it. For example, it is expected that we need 10.000 additional doctors just to fill radiology demands of analyzing Xrays and other scans. If this can be automated with AI (and using humans for a second opinion), it would result in faster service for the patient and lower costs.

AI is therefore an opportunity for the IT industry, and not a threat:

  • All Artificial Intelligence needs new software, which in turn needs high performance storage. AI is “performance bounded”, thus a customer needs faster gear. AI is also realtime, which brings along challenges: you can’t clean up data or build datasets, you’ll have to stream the data to it.
  • And AI will be used for the most critical services in your business, not the ancillary services. This is the market Dell EMC wants to play in, and thus can provide added value using AI.

Dell EMC World 2017 interview AIOur first experiences with AI shouldn’t form our opinion about its potential. As an example, most people think you need to train the system, and then inject reasoning into this learning in a blackbox. However, those are not fair assumptions. AI might not need a learning phase, but could use a rule engine, i.e. learn AI to process language instead of throw 1000 books at it.

If you intend to use AI, it should be a fundamental component in the product or technology. Not a SaaS product that you screw onto the side of your box.

Dell is not planning on building its own AI stack: there are already too many stacks out there. You can look at AI as a person: everyone thinks differently. It’s very likely that an enterprise will instantiate multiple versions of AI (“multiple brains”) to solve different problems. For example, an AI specialized in memorization, calculation, spacial recognition, etc.

My thoughts on Dell EMC World 2017

I am really happy with the introduction of more-than-just-storage products into Dell EMC World this year. As we can see, the role of dedicated storage admin is dying. So it’s a good thing that we’ll have different types of tech at the showroom floor, so die-hard storage admins can broaden their view of the IT world.

The Dell EMC Elect program also provided us with quite a bit of interviews (one-on-one or in a group setting), and I’ve enjoyed speaking with and listening to various very smart people. And of course, seeing old Elect and Storage Field Day friends again is always a delight.

I still need to catch up on the nitty-gritty new features of some products, as I didn’t have the time to attend all technical sessions that I wanted to see. In the meantime, check out Dan Frith’s Dell EMC World 2017 link-o-rama post; he’s covered most of the announcements and linked to many other posts from smart people. To be honest, I don’t think this guy ever sleeps.

Many thanks to Dell EMC, Mark Browne and Sarah Vela for inviting me to Las Vegas and for covering a lot of the costs. It has been a blast, and I look forward to next year.

Disclaimer: Dell Technologies flew me out to Las Vegas for Dell EMC World 2017 and paid for my conference ticket, flights and hotel. Sarah arranged a few neat backpacks for us after we found out our conference ticket didn’t include a complementary backpack. Various events were also organized, either by Dell EMC Netherlands and other vendors, and they often picked up the tab for beers and food. My employer Open Line covered the majority of the rest, and I bought my own orange juice (needed some vitamins!). I was however not compensated for my time and there is no requirement to blog or tweet about any of the presentations. Everything I post is of my own accord and because I like what I see and hear.