Dell exec sees gloomy future for Unix

Dell Inc.’s second-in-command says not only is Dell looking forward to the day when IT is a commodity, it’s banking on it.

In an interview with ComputerWorld Canada during a recent visit to Toronto, Kevin Rollins, president and chief operating officer of the Round Rock, Tex.-based company, said he has good reason to be optimistic.

He oversees a company that is now taking in an estimated US$38.2 billion in yearly revenue. Gartner Inc. recently confirmed that Dell is the top PC maker, with a 17.8 per cent share, although Hewlett-Packard is very close behind. In the U.S., Dell’s PC growth outstripped the overall growth of the market. It’s second to HP in Intel server shipments, and second in Linux. Its storage and young peripherals business are also healthy.

But the future of the IT business, from Dell’s perspective, looks even better, so good that Rollins says he’ll double the company’s revenues over the next several years to US$60 billion. That will be due in large part to what enterprise customers are doing today, he added, which is ridding themselves of proprietary Unix platforms and gradually shifting toward more standardized platforms.

“By standards, we refer to Microsoft, and Linux and Intel,” Rollins said. “We’re actually seeing a huge growth in Linux apps porting off of Unix, and it shows customers are very rapidly moving to Intel-based hardware. That has been going on a pretty torrid pace lately.”

In fact, he added, were it not for the sluggish economy, and manageability issues around Windows-based software, “I think (this trend) would be happening faster.”

Rollins said Dell is also taking a close look at the growing buzz around grid computing, a scenario where banks of blade, or two- to four-way servers handle real-time information access loads. With the company’s non-inventory approach to building equipment, grid computing is a concept he said Dell has been perfecting for years.

“We’ve already tested large databases in large transaction activities with these clusters… and they work really well. So what we’ve concluded is the notion is just starting to make more and more sense.”

But Rollins doesn’t approve of all the current IT trends. At a time when outsourcing IT functions is generally seen as a wise move for most companies, for instance, Rollins takes the opposite view, calling the practice tantamount to an “abdication” of responsibility on the part of corporate leaders.

“What happens is many companies have large IT departments and they don’t want to have a massive layoff, so they outsource them to someone else and let someone else have a layoff…. So they really duck that problem in their so-called outsourcing, low-cost strategy.”

Negotiating price with an outsourcer is difficult once they’re in control, he pointed out. To prevent paying more, a client could then bid the contract out to other outsourcers, but, Rollins said, “then you’re totally throwing your IT up in the air again for whoever might run it, and that’s very dangerous.”