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Dell’s $1bn IoT plan targets greenfield, pushes MNOs to the side

With $1bn and a three-year plan, Dell Technologies is launching a new IoT division to target the ‘Distributed Core,’ – a new model of computing that it believes will see central processing functions move closer to the network edge (a variation on what rival Cisco calls ‘fog computing’, or ETSI ‘multi-access edge computing’).

Notably, Dell makes no mention of telcos or MNOs in the announcement, despite the large role those organizations are going to play in both gathering and transporting data from those IoT devices. Dell currently plays in the data center, and doesn’t control the pipe between those servers and the network edge – but with the IoT strategy, its Edge family of gateways could begin expanding into a rather large greenfield opportunity for the company.

The MNOs or telcos letting Dell casually turn them into dumb pipes seems unlikely. They’ll want to get in on the action in some manner, and know that services are the easiest way to do so. Consequently, there’s going to be some tension between Dell and the carriers of the data that it wants to use as part of a service offering. It seems likely that hostilities will break out in this field, but the carriers know that their infrastructure positions them well to offer all manner of IoT services, and that they can partner with hardware providers where needed.

But the telcos and MNOs can’t sit back and count on the increasing amount of IoT data to pay their bills. Companies know that backhaul is priced by volume, rather than by bandwidth, and so there is an incentive to transfer as little data as possible, to cut down on the connectivity bills. Because of this, edge computing and analytics are becoming more popular, as a way to process data at the edge, and only transmit deltas or back-ups to the centralized cloud-based applications.

For time-sensitive applications, edge computing can help severely cut down the latency in a system, if the device is able to make a decision for itself instead of waiting for a remote cloud to receive, process, and send a command back to the edge. Emergency shut-off valves are an obvious example, where an edge-computer like a Dell gateway might be pulling in local sensor information to help augment its decision making – and in such a model, the MNO or telco gets completely relegated to a supporting role, and certainly not a high value partner.

So while Dell – and other vendors like Nokia with its Cloud Packet Core and Wings IoT platforms – cracks ahead in what looks like it could be a fairly unprecedented greenfield opportunity, the likes of Telefonica or AT&T need to quickly work out how to take a slice of that pie. Cisco’s Jasper acquisition showed that the old-school IT equipment providers have plans to steal the carrier’s lunches, and Dell has enough cash to make similar moves if it wants.

“IoT is fundamentally changing how we live, how organizations operate, and how the world works,” said Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies. “Dell is leading the way for our customers with a new distributed computing architecture that brings IoT and AI 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.”

Using the Distributed Core model as the basis of the new IoT Solutions strategy, Dell is planning on adding AI and machine-learning components to the mix, in order to turn the vast quantities of data generated by the IoT into something actually useful – an ‘actionable insight,’ as has become the common parlance.

The IoT Division will orchestrate the development of new products and services across the Dell Technologies group, which includes important enables of cloud IoT platforms – EMC, Pivotal and VMware. VMware CTO Ray O’Farrell is taking the reins as GM of IoT Solutions.

Dell notes that customers have expressed a growing need for one company to pull together complete IoT solutions that can be deployed within their organizations. To this end, Dell Technologies constructed the new division to better manage that process, and there are presumably going to be some synergies to be had between departments. It should also help with the sales process, as Dell can target large enterprise customers with a more unified offering.

The three-year plan will see Dell invest some $1bn into new IoT products and services, as well as into partner programs. Expanding on its Edge gateway portfolio, Dell says it will be enhancing its Dell EMC PowerEdge C-Series servers for machine-learning workloads, and boost its EMC Isilon and Elastic Cloud Storage offerings.

In addition, its Pivotal Cloud Foundry and Pivotal Container Service have been pointed out as key components for the new strategy, as well as Virtustream Storage Cloud for off-premises storage. Finally, Dell is positioning its new Boomi acquisition’s tools for connecting the stored and processed data to cloud-based analytics and deep learning.

As for new product development initiatives, Dell has opted for some interesting designations: Project Nautilus (IoT data stream ingest for real-time gateways); Project Fire (real-time cloud analytics using hyper-converged VMware Pulse); Project Iris (an RSA Labs project for network-edge security analytics and threat monitoring); and Project Worldwide Herd (analytics for geographically dispersed data, for deep learning that complies with data protection regulations and can’t be moved).

Collaborations with VMware, Intel (CPUs, FPGAs), Graphcore (specialist machine learning silicon), and Nvidia (GPUs) have also been cited, with Dell confident that processing accelerator hardware is going to play a big role. To this end, Dell Technologies Capital is going to be working closely with the new IoT division, to target investment opportunities.

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