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Human element will be key for Dell/EqualLogic

So far, I’d have to say Dell has done just about everything it can to make its acquisition of EqualLogic go right. The question now, though, is whether or not it will be enough.

Dell has said all the right things, gone through all the right motions, to address user and channel partner concerns. They’ve trotted out Michael Dell to assuage channel partners multiple times, held user forums, and demonstrated with their event yesterday that they mean to continue to develop EqualLogic’s product. What’s been most interesting to me is the way Dell has gone about handling the merger with the open admission it doesn’t have much storage expertise–hence the attempt to hire a storage analyst to supply some of that know-how.

Along these same lines, Dell also seems to recognize that retention of EqualLogic personnel is important. They held their post-acquisition event yesterday at EqualLogic’s former headquarters in Nashua, NH, which might as well be Siberia as far as a big multinational like Dell is concerned. Still, it appears EqualLogic will be staying put there, at least for now. “Dell” has been added to permanent signs around the office park campus as well as inside the offices; otherwise, the facilities look exactly as I remember from having visited there in the past.

Some familiar faces are also at least giving the Dell gig a chance–much of the EqualLogic PR and marketing staff that I’m familiar with has been re-titled and retained with Dell. The most encouraging sign I saw yesterday was that EqualLogic’s former VP of marketing, John Joseph, was front and center as VP of marketing for Dell.

All this has to be comforting for end users, who told me after the acquisition closed that what they want is for Dell to essentially leave EqualLogic’s product alone, except maybe where pricing is concerned. Yesterday, Dell tweaked EqualLogic’s chassis design a bit, standardizing both its SAS and SATA arrays on a 16-bay form factor, and said it will ship the new PS5000 at a lower price per GB than its predecessors–$19,000 starting list price for a chassis with 2 TB of storage, as opposed to $22,500 previously for 1.75 TB capacity. So far, so good.

But Dell also confirmed yesterday that Tony Asaro has left, and estimated EqualLogic CEO Don Bulen’s tenure at around 3 to 6 months now that the acquisition has closed. For execs like John Joseph to still be around is also typical of this stage of the acquisition process, and it remains to be seen how many familiar faces will remain in Nashua a year from now. There’s still a long road ahead, and the fact that Dell’s attempt to add expertise from Asaro fell through, the uncertain future of Bulens, and the fact that channel partners are still not going quietly, are the first rumblings of the political difficulties that could follow. And that’s to say nothing of the technical ones.

So far, Dell can leave EqualLogic largely as-is, but eventually, it’s going to have to wade in and change, or at least update, EqualLogic products, if only to keep up with technology trends. Furthermore, to get the bang for its 1.4 billion bucks, Dell’s also probably going to have to get its hands dirty spreading EqualLogic’s IP around its other product lines.

Meanwhile, Dell’s partner / competitor, EMC, isn’t going to be sitting idly by–the storage giant has already taken an indirect shot at Dell’s fledgling storage business with the AX4-5. Dell is clinging to the Fibre Channel capabilities of that array as a differentiator, but EMC officials have made it clear that the AX4-5 is an iSCSI play. In fact, with eerily similar messaging around ease of use and support for virtualized server environments, AX4-5 and EqualLogic’s new PS5000 series seem destined to do battle. Factor in the fact that this somewhat contentious set of product lines will be distributed by two potentially conflicting sales forces–direct and the channel–and we have all the makings of a rodeo on our hands.

When all these chickens come home to roost, Dell will have to hope that the storage expertise it picked up with EqualLogic’s remaining execs sticks around longer than Tony Asaro did.  If Dell can retain people like Joseph, as well as EqualLogic’s existing support and engineering staff, to keep the technology on a steady course, it has a good chance of sorting out the political and logistical hurdles to bring EqualLogic’s product to market. But if it can’t, well…as a certain loudmouthed NFL wide receiver would say, get your popcorn ready.

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Hi Beth, Dell didn't keep EqualLogic talent to rest on laurels. There is a lot left to do and a lot of gas in the tank to do it.
So exactly why did Tony Asaro leave Dell after such a short period of time? Inquiring minds want to know.
hey marc, thanks for the link and comment. i will definitely be watching to see what happens with great interest. conner, you and me both are inquiring minds! i haven't heard anything i'd call conclusive or worth repeating yet.
This is going to be interesting, normally I am the positive spin guy but I know just enough to be dangerous . First Dell is a big company, granted it does not exactly have SUN's reputation of destroying an acquisition but none the less it is a Goliath. Equallogic had a great run, now why do I say had... I am certified in both technical and sales on the Equallogic line, I install, demo, and sell Eql. I have not seen anything new and exciting out of Eql in at least a couple of years. Please don't try to tell me that new drive sizes and things like that are new and exciting. Customers have been asking why nothing new, and customers are starting to look to other vendors more frequently. Eql. is a good product but it has lost it's momentum. I am inside the Nashua headquarters at times, I have life long friends on the inside and let me be honest you can feel the changes in the energy level... it is not going up. Dell is going to step in when they realize the product is not flying off the shelves like it used to. I got most of my recent head-hunter leads from Eql employees, believe me they are looking around outside the company. You can not equate this the the EMC/VMware equation, the Eql folks now have Dell paychecks among other things, this is just an entirely different deal. If you don't think that a percentage of the current Nashua jobs will be phased to Round Rock Texas then I have some swamp land for you in Sunny Fla. When the momentum change in Eql is fully realized by Dell you will see a lot of familiar faces dissapear from Nashua. When things get tighter and Dell needs to squeeze more out of their 1.4 billion dollar gem they will start to move more of the well known Equallogic service out of country. They can't afford not to, the shareholders will demand it. This is a great setup for others like Xiotech, LefHand Networks, and a ton of others that I can't remember at the moment, there is a bunch of them. Gives them a chance to fight back in to that tier 2 space. We shall see how it all plays out, but I would not bet Eql to be the leader in any category within the next 18 months to 2 years. Dell will dilute and pollute them into their other products.