Dell Technologies has unveiled a wide ranging Internet of Things (IoT) strategy centred around a new specialist division with the aim of helping customers adopt the technology quickly.
The IoT solutions division will combine various Dell technology across its business units, such as its Dell Gateway hardware and the VMware Pulse IoT Centre, with a range of consulting services to help customers launch IoT projects quickly.
Dell is also pledging to invest a mammoth $1 billion in R&D over the next three years to create new IoT products and solutions.
What is the 'distributed core'?
Speaking at Dell's IoT Day in New York this week, chairman and CEO Michael Dell explained how, with the price of connected sensors plummeting, he sees a 'distributed core' model as central to Dell's IoT strategy.
In short, this is "a layer of computing power that is near the edge”.
He said: "Dell Technologies is leading the way for our customers with a new distributed computing architecture that brings IoT and artificial intelligence together in one, interdependent ecosystem from the edge to the core to the cloud. The implications for our global society will be nothing short of profound.”
Cutting through the vendor marketing speak here, Dell is saying that in the IoT world, where companies want to automate processes and respond in real time, sending data back to the central cloud infrastructure causes latency issues - as well as incurring a cost - which would be of little use if, for example, your self driving car is deciding when to break if a deer runs in front of it.
So a certain amount of compute needs to occur near the device - in other words, edge computing.
This "new breed of apps that require a real-time response will drive a huge move back to a distributed model,” according to Dell. "We believe there will be an order of magnitude more data at the edge than in the cloud, and that will require plenty of local processing power at the edge as well.”
Once the largest player in the PC market, Dell is now best known for its enterprise IT. Dell Technologies is the umbrella brand for a whole host of IT vendors, including Dell EMC following the 2016 mega-merger, Pivotal, VMware, RSA, Boomi and SecureWorks.
Where does the IoT division fit in at Dell Technologies?
The IoT division will look to bring together the IoT capabilities present across the Dell Technologies ecosystem. The man tasked with this job is VMware CTO Ray O'Farrell, who has been appointed general manager for the IoT division and will perform both roles concurrently.
Responding to the appointment, Martin Garner, senior vice president, internet at CCS Insight said: "Dell's choice of O'Farrell to lead its new IoT division highlights the importance of securing and managing IoT systems as a key vector in how the market develops.”
O'Farrell said at the time of the announcement: "Our new IoT division will leverage the strength across all of Dell Technologies family of businesses to ensure we deliver the right solution – in combination with our vast partner ecosystem – to meet customer needs and help them deploy integrated IoT systems with greater ease.”
He also told Computerworld UK during the event that customers often complain about implementation challenges when it comes to IoT, so they need an end-to-end solution rather than a bunch of separate technology.
He added that as most customers aren't technology companies - they are primarily in the manufacturing, healthcare and industrial sectors - they want Dell to be more of a partner than a vendor, by looking after the "nuts and bolts” of implementation.
What was announced?
Along with the big-picture thinking around the vendor's IoT strategy, Dell also made some specific announcements:
- Dell EMC 'Project Nautilus': Software that enables the ingestion and querying of data streams from IoT gateways in real time. Data can subsequently be archived to file or object storage for advanced analytics
- Project Fire: a hyper-converged platform that is part of the VMware Pulse platform, built to include simplified management, local compute, storage and IoT applications such as real-time analytics. Dell says Project Fire enables businesses to have consistent infrastructure software from edge to core to cloud
- RSA 'Project IRIS': Currently under development in RSA Labs, Iris extends security analytics to provide threat visibility and monitoring out to the edge for more predictive threat detection
- Greater collaboration with chipmakers like Intel, NVIDIA and the Dell Technologies Capital investment in UK firm Graphcore to optimise servers for AI, machine learning and deep learning performance
- Project 'Worldwide Herd': for performing analytics on geographically dispersed data – which is increasingly important to enable deep learning on datasets that cannot be moved for reasons of size, privacy and regulatory concern
This follows on from some of the work the company announced at Dell EMC World in Las Vegas back in May, where it announced the IoT Technology Advisory Service and the VMware Pulse IoT Centre as the preferred management and monitoring solution for its Dell Edge Gateway hardware.
The company is also looking to position Pivotal Cloud Foundry and the Pivotal Container Service as the ideal places for enterprise customers to develop bespoke IoT analytics applications.
The ideal stack for the vendor looks roughly like this: connected devices are managed near the edge using Dell Gateways, the VMware Pulse IoT Centre is your window into monitoring and managing these devices, and Pivotal can provide a platform to build bespoke applications.
Everything should be instrumented by Dell Technologies and connect back to the cloud environment of your choice, interact with any partner technology and then Dell also provides support.
This also reflects the wider industry trend when it comes to IoT of bundling the 'full stack' of consulting, software, hardware and a partner programme. Echoes of this can be seen with SAP's revamped Leonardo brand and Hitachi's recently launched Vantara brand.
How this will look in practice is not all that clear at this point, with O'Farrell saying that his priority is to establish how to engage with customers to understand what they want from Dell when it comes to IoT.
This sounds like a similar strategy to what SAP is doing under its Leonardo brand, namely consulting customers on what they want to achieve with IoT, before packaging up these solutions to roll them out more easily for other customers in that vertical looking to get the same results.
This also is in line with Dell's Blueprint Solutions, which aims to create "open, standardised, and repeatable” IoT solutions which have already been implemented by customers in the field.
Dell is also expanding the consultancy services it has for IoT as part of this new strategy to help customers to start architecting solutions quickly. There are essentially three IoT consulting services:
- Dell Technologies IoT Labs in Santa Clara; Limerick, Ireland, and Singapore where customers can whiteboard ideas and get hands on with the technology alongside Dell engineers
- IoT Vision Workshops to help customers identify the biggest IoT opportunities across their enterprise
- IoT Technology Advisory to help customers actually design and architect their IoT systems for implementation
Then there is the Dell partner ecosystem, driven through the IoT Solutions Partner Program, which includes giants like Intel, Microsoft and SAP, as well as startups like FogHorn and Zingbox (both of which have received investment from Dell Technologies Capital).
O'Farrell admits that it is too early to say exactly what pricing will look like, but that it will probably lean towards an as-a-service model.
The company said at the time of the announcement: "IoT is creating new revenue models for customers and, in turn, Dell Technologies is offering new financing options to support those customers.
"In particular, Dell Technologies provides cloud-like payment options through Dell Financial Services flexible consumption models. These payment solutions are available across the Dell Technologies family of business and allow customers flexibility in technology acquisition and consumption.”
One customer already using Dell for IoT solutions is vertical farming startup AeroFarms. The company relies on IoT to monitor the conditions under which it grows vegetables in urban 'vertical' farms, without sunlight or soil.
AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg spoke at the event, and was quoted in the official press release as saying: "We have worked closely with Dell Technologies to develop the tools to wirelessly track and monitor our product throughout the growing process from seed to package.
"Dell Technologies understands our IoT infrastructure and integration needs, and we see the opportunity to collaborate on additional solutions as we build our indoor vertical farms in major cities around the world.”