Virtually all large-scale tech conferences highlight broadly focused strategic initiatives and objectives. Many are described by vendors as “transformational,” but more than a few of those are overblown and eventually buried or superseded by new initiatives announced at following events. However, a few carry the potential to significantly transform the companies launching them, along with the customers, partners and markets they serve.
Dell Technologies APEX, which was formally launched at last week’s Dell Technologies World conference, is among this latter group. Let’s consider APEX, what Dell aims to achieve and how that is likely to impact the company and how it does business.
What is APEX?
Originally announced last October, APEX is designed to simplify how Dell’s customers and partners access the company’s products, including storage, servers, networking, hyperconverged infrastructure and PCs via an as-a-service purchasing model. APEX will also incorporate Dell’s private and hybrid cloud strategies, new and emerging solutions such as edge computing, and the company’s go-to-market and sales efforts.
An essential point is to offer customers a consistent, dependable as-a-service experience wherever they run workloads, including on-premises, edge locations and public clouds. Back in October, Jeff Clarke, Dell’s COO and vice-chairman said: “Our goal is to give customers the freedom to scale resources in ways that work best for them, so they can quickly respond to changes and focus less on IT and more on their business needs.”
Exactly how that will be accomplished was largely clarified at Dell Technologies World. As noted by Michael Dell during his opening keynote: “We want to give (customers and partners) cycles back by making your infrastructure highly automated, multi-cloud and as-a-service. So, you can dedicate your time and energy and investments to your data, your applications and creating business results and competitive advantages. That’s where APEX comes in, to bring together our cloud and as-a-service capabilities.”
Four initial APEX offerings were announced during the conference:
- APEX Data Storage Services provides storage when and where organizations need it with as-a-service solutions, transparent pricing and no overage fees, and with what Dell says is “performance unmatched in the public cloud.”
- APEX Cloud Services offers hybrid cloud deployments that the company says are up to 86% faster than do-it-yourself hybrid cloud. The solution is available in Hybrid Cloud and Private Cloud iterations, providing integrated compute, storage, networking and virtualization resources for traditional and cloud-native applications.
- APEX Custom Solutions are flexible consumption options that span Dell’s entire portfolio. APEX Flex On Demand allows organizations to apply a pay-per-use experience, metered in a variety of ways, across all Dell infrastructure solutions. APEX Data Center Utility adds an additional level of flexibility through custom metering and managed services applied across their Dell data center assets.
- The APEX Console is a web-based portal designed to access Dell Technologies’ catalog of offerings. Customers can use the Console to configure, subscribe, manage and adjust APEX services. To that end, the APEX Console is designed to simplify IT spending with easy-to-understand billing that shows the amount of IT used each month.
Dell also announced a strategic partnership with Equinix, a global provider of data center and colocation solutions. Customers can deploy APEX-enabled applications and services at Equinix’s 220+ data centers in 63 major metropolitan locales where Dell’s technicians will manage and maintain infrastructure assets.
In addition, the company announced new solutions and partnerships designed to accelerate edge computing efforts and initiatives. Among them was the new Manufacturing Edge Reference Architecture with PTC. Customers can use it in concert with APEX Private Cloud solutions to increase production line reliability, reduce operational costs and improve decision-making processes.
The importance of user experience
You could argue that APEX is simply a blueprint and action plan for developing and delivering as-a-Service offerings of various kinds. In fact, the company has delivered PCs in an aaS model since 2017. So how is this new effort transformational? In keynotes and analyst sessions, Dell executives noted that the offerings announced were simply the first of what would eventually be APEX solutions spanning the whole of Dell Technologies.
As CMO Allison Dew noted, Dell’s leadership is “looking across the entire company and reengineering the entire organization.” Darrel Ward, SVP of APEX Project Management put it another way: “We’re really good at selling gear, but that’s totally different than selling outcomes.” While every major division at Dell is developing APEX offerings, Ward underscored the importance of delivering “Consistency of experience for customers both in the service solutions and with the APEX Console.” Denise Millard, SVP of Dell’s Global Alliances put it another way during the partner keynote: “We’re changing our mindset from delivering products to delivering experiences.”
What exactly does “delivering experiences” mean? These are a few points to consider:
- Swift deployment and dependable performance: Dell has committed to an aggressive schedule in offering to deploy APEX within 14 days of order processing. Solutions will be based on systems, storage and networking hardware and associated software and applications developed by Dell and strategic partners, including VMware.
- Easy access and management: The APEX Console is designed to enable customers to easily access the APEX portfolio, explore and subscribe to solutions, and manage and adjust their services and preferences.
- Predictable costs/transparent billing: The APEX Console also allows customers to access their accounts. Billing is straightforward and easy to understand, showing the precise amount of IT used each month.
In essence, APEX is a “Portfolio-as-a-Service” solution that will eventually span all of Dell’s major products and solution categories. At the same time, the company emphasized that it isn’t pivoting away from traditional hardware sales. While many companies are enthusiastic about APEX (particularly large enterprises), others plan to stick with traditional IT solutions for now. That plays to Dell’s strengths and will enable it to develop APEX carefully and organically. It should also allow the company to avoid the challenges that many ISVs and other vendors have faced in shifting to aaS business models.
Dell noted that APEX was inspired by issues, including market trends, consultations with key clients and partners and the success that organizations have experienced in coping with the business challenges of COVID-19. Overall, this strategy and the initial solutions Dell will deliver appear well-designed and should provide solid value to the company’s business customers and strategic partners.
But how likely is it that APEX will truly transform Dell Technologies?
It is important to consider that this is not the first such transformation that Dell has embarked on. When company founder Michael Dell resumed the CEO role in 2007, he began a conscious effort to shift the company from its PC roots to become a leading business IT solutions provider. That was bolstered by the $67 billion acquisition of EMC in 2016, and further extended by close collaborations with VMware and other strategic partners. With annual revenues approaching $100 billion, Dell Technologies is the world’s largest provider of end-to-end business and consumer technologies.
In that context, APEX is simply the latest step in Dell Technologies’ extraordinary, continuing evolutionary journey.