Candid conversation with Dell Cloud-Client Computing chief strategist

Jeff McNaught, Executive Director & Chief Strategy Officer, Dell Cloud Client-Computing and co-inventor of Wyse thin client had a candid conversation with Techaisle on his new product initiatives, focus on security, building solutions for small and medium businesses and renewed attention to channel partners. Jeff is deeply involved in software solutions which includes partner software - Citrix, Microsoft and VMware and is responsible for the cloud-client business which includes devices that Dell build’s exclusively for Citrix or VMware as well as new products and software security offerings. One of his major new initiatives includes simplifying and securing virtual workspaces better than anyone else.

Dell VDI converging on security, cost, complexity and channels

Based on extensive primary research with SMBs and the channel partners, Techaisle forecasts the US SMB VDI market to be US$13 billion in 2020 as VDI penetration increases to 34 percent from the current 26 percent and an increase in number of seats from users who have already deployed VDI. Most of the midmarket firms that have invested in VDI are still experimenting with the technology, and most small businesses are still several years away from even this level of preliminary adoption.

The allure of VDI is clear – but the technology itself and the path to realizing its benefits is still mysterious to many small and midmarket businesses. Techaisle research shows that there is a need for VDI vendors to embark on a messaging exercise that includes - real-world examples of successful deployment of VDI, ease of VDI implementation with the least pain for SMBs & simplification of understanding VDI technology by removing fear and complexity.

Over the last two years Dell has been trying to build a momentum to remove the mystery and reduce deployment complexity. Along the way it has had more successes than missteps and it seems that Dell has reached a stage where it reasonably understands the needs of the end-customers and how to work with channel partners to win business and deploy solutions. Dell has architected multiple VDI solution delivery models for SMBs of all sizes and levels of technology adoption.

Focus on Appliances & Thin clients

In recent weeks Dell has made several announcements in the appliance space for SMBs specifically to eliminate any of the costs and nearly all of the complexity in rolling out virtualization solutions. For example, Dell’s appliances can be deployed either in a data center or simply stuck on the floor next to someone’s desk and be able to support between 75 and 300 virtual desktops.

Last year was really about simplification by adding appliances to Dell’s product line and introduction of a couple of appliances for Citrix. Dell also introduced appliances for VMware and Microsoft with the objective of reducing the cost per user below US$500 wherever possible, and in some cases Dell got it lower to US$400. These appliances are designed for 75 users all the way up to 300 users, and if an organization grows or anticipates needing to go beyond that, the appliances are architected in a way that allows SMB customers to simply buy another one of the same devices, slide into the rack and scale to the next level.

An SMB could potentially scale with these low end devices all the way up to 5,000 users which provides a tremendous amount of flexibility for small and medium businesses who want to grow big and do not want to be caught in a solution that is ideal for small and medium businesses but cannot grow with business growth.

Dell has been introducing new and more powerful thin clients primarily because of increased usage of unified communications. Skype for business and Lync and other similar applications have historically not worked very well in virtual environments but Dell has been working with Microsoft and Citrix to build an engine that is specifically designed to make Skype for business and Link work especially well in a virtual environment. As per Jeff McNaught, Dell introduced the world’s fastest thin client and the world’s most flexible thin client, in terms of it being able to work through fiber networks, wireless networks and copper networks.

In keeping with the trend of SMBs hosting their own virtual environments in public clouds like Azure or Amazon Web Services, Dell has also introduced a set of thin clients that are designed to connect directly to the Amazon cloud and provide all functionality. This allows SMBs to either host completely on Amazon’s cloud or as a hybrid between one of Dell’s appliances and Amazon cloud. It still allows SMBs to protect, backup and duplicate their data and make it possible for anybody, anywhere & anytime to get access to that data securely.

Focus on VDI Security

Cloud and mobility security are top concerns of SMBs. As per Techaisle’s latest survey on US SMB & Midmarket Security Adoption trends, 64% of US SMBs had one or more mobility security breach, only 20% of midmarket firms are using cloud security, 55% of SMBs want all in one protection suite for end-points and 37% fear unauthorized access or data breach.

Security has been a very big part of Dell’s VDI strategy and in May Dell introduced new security software technology which is available in two key forms. One of them is for the VDI data center, Dell Endpoint Security Suite Enterprise and the other is Dell Threat Defense for Windows-based end-client.

SMB customers are concerned about three things when it comes to the security of their VDI environments. The first is making sure that the right people get access to the data and information and no one else. The second is, how do they protect data & information from malware, viruses, spear phishing and social engineering. And the third is if someone does break into the system, how do they prevent them from taking all the really important stuff. Dell has introduced two software products to directly address the three areas of concern in VDI deployment.

The first product, which is aimed at the VDI environment is called Dell Endpoint Security Suite Enterprise, and it’s a software product that gets loaded onto the virtual machines on a Citrix or a Microsoft or a VMware virtual desktop environment. The encryption is done thoughtfully as it does not try to encrypt everything including system files. Encrypting system files actually slows down the system, therefore, only the key assets that one would want to protect from a breach are highly encrypted.

The second technology addresses the inadequacy of signature based anti-malware as it is only about 50 percent effective, slows down the system, requires constant updates, and zero-day malware is never caught. In addition, polymorphic malware is difficult to catch. Dell has developed new security software product using artificial intelligence and machine learning. Instead of detecting and remediating malware, Dell is aiming to prevent and protect SMB customers from it.

The way Dell’s technology works is that when any application, whether it’s Microsoft Office or some new application from the web wants to execute, the security software studies what privileges it wants to execute, what APIs it is attempting to use before it even executes and the software makes a decision to execute or not. It is different than behavioral because behavioral lets the application execute and then examines what it does. Dell’s software scans in advance without using any signature based technology. Jeff McNaught said that the security software is replete with artificial intelligence and machine learning and is based on five years of development with a 99% catch rate in zero-day malware. The software therefore protects all of the virtual machines inside a VDI environment without any of the slowdowns or any of the high utilization of disk and CPU that one sees with other solutions. The VDI security software was launched in May 2016 and it is shipping now.

Dell Threat Defense software is designed exclusively for use on a Windows based end client and it provides anti-malware technology for the VDI using the same artificial intelligence technology and same console as in the Enterprise suite. The software is not exclusive to Dell and any SMB customer who has a Windows-based end client can use it.

Future of Dell’s vWorkspace

In light of the fact that it was too difficult to be the fourth broker behind Citrix, VMware, and Microsoft Dell has made the decision to move vWorkspace into maintenance mode. The product itself is not being discontinued but Dell’s customers have been informed that Dell itself will no longer be adding features to the product but will continue to provide support till the end of service contract. In the interim Dell will be helping its interested customers to migrate to a Citrix or a VMware platform. However, Dell is continuing to sell licenses to existing customers who are expanding their implementation. All of Dell’s vWorkspace customers are going to be supported for the next four or five years and if they have service contracts that go beyond that timeframe Dell will continue to support them for the duration of that service contract.

Channel missteps and corrective path

Dell Cloud-Client Computing channel strategy misstepped. When Wyse was first acquired by Dell the plan was to grow the business through Dell’s account executive channel that works directly with customers, predominantly the midmarket and the low-end of large enterprise. By his own admission, Jeff McNaught said that they over-indexed on that strategy. Dell is therefore embarking on a correction path by doubling down on its participation with the channel. Jeff McNaught is committing that his business was and is a 100% channel business, and for go-to-market strategy within SMBs the channel is crucial. He has been investing steadily in the channel and about 60% of the revenue today is through the channel and plans to grow it further by year-end.

Jeff and his team are kicking off of a major set of strategies and activities in the latter half of this calendar year that are all aimed at the channel, aimed at putting more Dell people into the distributors, aimed at putting more Dell people into supporting the individual channel members, into better channel training, into more communication, to really go back and get back to that position where Wyse was at before the acquisition.

Techaisle’s research shows that Dell should develop a network of virtualization and mobility channel partners and provide them appropriate training and skills to sell and manage VDI for their SMB customers. There should be a three-pronged strategy – 1/Education- Educate and train Channel Partners on what VDI actually means, how it affects the SMBs, 2/Develop- Relevant solutions and use cases, transfer the expertise to Channel Partners, 3/Support- Provide an effective and efficient pre-sales support to their Channel Partners and engage with SMBs from an early stage.