Dell CTO talks modern data centers, the edge, and digital disruption

Dell CTO talks modern data centers, the edge, and digital disruption

Dell’s CTO has laid out the company’s vision of where enterprise technology is headed in 2019, and it’s not what people were predicting a few years ago.

Gone is the talk of the demise of the data center. Instead, the data center is being repurposed, and some of its tasks are being moved to the edge, said Robert Hormuth, CTO and vice president of Dell EMC Server Infrastructure Solutions. This, he said, is a time to be disruptive before your competition.

In a recent blog post, Hormuth said IT must be the enabler of the transformational journey for IT. “Businesses must transform and embrace the digital world, or get run over by a new, more agile competitor with a new business model benefiting from advanced technologies like data analytics, AI, ML, and DL. No business is safe from the wave of digital disruption,” he wrote.

I’ve been hearing that since I started technology journalism in the mid-1990s. The technolgies are different (does the term “CORBA” ring a bell?), but the message is the same: IT must be a business driver. Hormuth argues the urgency is greater now.

“If you look at it from the machine learning standpoint, IT can either embrace the right choices to allow the business to be disruptive or it will run slower than the competition. A lot of times in the past IT didn’t adopt the fastest architectures, and it was the status quo [for the business],” he told me.

“The interesting things driving IT are the state of compute architecture and performance scaling, which gives the opportunity to do something truly disruptive. Customers are more worried than ever [that] if they don’t jump on the tech curve they will be disrupted forever,” he added.

Dell plans to maintain its core systems and will invest in new technologies such as GPU servers, dense storage, liquid cooling, and edge computing. And that means what I’ve been saying for a while: Rumors of the data center’s demise are as exaggerated as the demise of the mainframe.

“Clearly there were a lot of projections the on-prem data center was going away, and that’s the normal over-exuberance of technologists at times. A lot of customers are finding balance and the right jobs with a hybrid multi cloud, on-prem, off-prem, and edge setup,” said Hormuth.

Data is moving back to the data center for a laundry list of reasons, he notes: A little over-exuberance in moving to the cloud, customers found they are moving a lot of data they shouldn’t have, they lost control of data, and security threats all added up.

“People are finding a balance of what goes where. A lot of CIOs said we’re going cloud-only and just went. Then they started seeing bills and seeing security problems and said, ‘Whoa,’” said Hormuth.

Industries using edge computing

The question now is what will go to the edge. Anything that doesn’t require immediacy, is latency-sensitive, or breaks the bank for data movement would fall into that category. “Video makes sense, to a point. Caching top 100 viewed movies makes sense. Caching one million movies at the edge doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Giant retailers have been most aggressive on the edge because they want to make the in-store experience richer. With some looking to provide an augmented or virtual reality experience, they need to provide a much richer experience for digital transformation, and many now have servers in stores.

Sports stadiums are also getting in on the action. He said the Dallas Cowboys stadium has its own data center, and others are following suit. I did a story on this subject two years ago for sister publication on the digital experience at the new arena for the Golden State Warriors basketball team.

Something that is changing is the dominant style of computing. Hormuth noted that in the past, we used compute to create data. Now we’re moving to a point where we use computing to consume data.

“The math is different,” he said. “All the AI processor startups are using different math than we’ve done in the last 40 years. We’re going to see many domain-specific architectures in 2019.”