RESEARCH NOTE: Dell Technologies World 2024 Showcases a Vision Driven by AI

By Patrick Moorhead - May 31, 2024
Jensen Huang of Nvidia and Michael Dell talk about AI factories at Dell Technologies World 2024.

Conference season is one of my favorite times to be an analyst, and last week’s Dell Technologies World event in Las Vegas offered a good example why. Michael Dell, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the company he founded in his dorm room in my hometown of Austin, seemed relaxed but energized as he welcomed one industry titan after another to the keynote stage to talk about what Dell Technologies and its partners are doing on many different fronts, but all centered firmly on the theme of AI.

In fact, it was the first time I’ve seen such a cohesive strategy and messaging from the company around AI, and it was backed by a slew of strong new products. Dell’s strategy here makes a ton of sense, because it brings together infrastructure, a big ecosystem of partners and tailored services to deliver results across a broad range of use cases. More than that, it makes things simple, secure and economical for customers.

Later I had a chance to sit down with Dell himself so my podcasting partner Daniel Newman and I could find out more about his vision for AI. It’s clear that for Dell and his company, AI is a major inflection point for business that should be seized “here and now,” as he said from the stage, but that it also has the ability to have a great impact for humanity beyond the specifics of commerce.

The Here and Now of AI and Its Potential for Even Greater Development

The risk with attending CEO keynotes at single-company shows is that they can turn into rah-rah sessions without much substance. Dell avoided that by having those new products to discuss, but also by bringing heavy hitters to the stage whose companies are already doing big things with AI in the real world, just like Dell Technologies is.

The first guest CEO to join this chorus was Bill McDermott of ServiceNow. His enthusiasm as he hailed the “AI revolution” was palpable, and why not? ServiceNow is, according to McDermott, the fastest-growing enterprise software company in the world, and it is weaving AI into virtually everything it does. McDermott reeled off figures about how much traffic the ServiceNow platform is handling today—40 billion workflows per year, for example—and said that the company expects all those numbers to increase by 10x in the next five years. (If you want to know more about why I believe this could well happen, take a look at this detailed writeup of ServiceNow’s latest announcements by three of my Moor Insights & Strategy colleagues.) He also showered praise on Dell the man and Dell the company, pointing out that ServiceNow’s cloud—the “gold standard of reliability”—runs on Dell hardware.

McDermott believes that “every workflow in every enterprise in every industry in every corner of the world will be reinvented with GenAI.” He anticipates this to have a global GDP impact of $11 trillion over the next three years. (For some context, $11 trillion is equivalent to about 10% of current global GDP.) In this era, he expects to see the reinvention of whole industries, and believes that every company will have to become an “intelligence company”—with speed as the ultimate competitive advantage.

For his part, Dell of course expects massive growth from AI. He joined others I’ve heard in emphasizing the importance of developing the right AI models for the right jobs, giving the example that LLMs don’t work well on the factory floor, where vision models are far more relevant. He also touts the coming wave of personalized AI: “Soon personal devices will be running personalized models and will be going from AI assistant to [our] co-workers and digital agents.” I also jotted down a stunning set of figures he cited: in 2023, a total of 10 trillion AI tokens were created; in 2028, that number is expected to be 1 quadrillion.

“AI Factories” Built on New Hardware from Dell

Dell talked about the trend in enterprises to move at least some data off of public clouds because of cost considerations. In the AI context, he noted that inferencing for large language models can be 75% more cost-effective on-prem versus a public cloud. This is a key part of the rationale for organizations to build their own “AI factories”—or, more precisely, to have Dell and its partners build them. Naturally, at the event there was plenty of new hardware announced to go into these factories.

Dell reminded the audience that his company is the biggest player in storage, and that its PowerStore line is the biggest and fastest-growing product in that market. He announced that the new version of it, PowerStore Prime, has 66% higher performance than its predecessor, along with a 5:1 data reduction guarantee, which he touted as “the industry’s best.” Then he rattled through a string of new product models—PowerScale F910, PowerEdge XE9680, PowerSwitch—built to handle AI’s thirst for unstructured data.

Then he got to AI PCs—this was on the same day that Microsoft announced Copilot+—and informed the crowd that Dell is launching five Microsoft Copilot+-enabled laptops running on Qualcomm Snapdragon X-series chips. While I knew about the breadth of the offering beforehand, I’m still surprised at how broad Dell went with this. This typically isn’t the company that dives headfirst into something very new, so the company’s leadership must regard this as a huge opportunity. For my part, I suspect we’ll all look back on that day as the biggest day for PCs in decades. I’m glad to see that Dell has already joined the parade.

Innovating Together with Partners

The next partner CEO to come onstage was Dr. Sungwoo Hwang, who heads Samsung SDS, an IT and cloud services provider that’s part of the Samsung Group. Hwang is big on what he calls “hyperautomation,” by which he means using AI-based systems and particularly language models to automate the human parts of office work. He and his customers see this as a major area for innovation, and Samsung SDS already has more than 100,000 end users within customer companies using its GenAI solutions.

Language-based AI services like these carry significant security risk because they inherently rely on a company’s core proprietary data. This is why Samsung SDS is focused on delivering these services using on-prem infrastructure—with Dell at the head of their list of preferred partners. Hwang encouraged a round of applause as he thanked Dell for providing vital help to Samsung SDS last year when there was a big shortage of GPUs.

In a world of plentiful GPUs, Hwang imagines a coming age of GPU-centric computers running AI apps with language interfaces. He wants his company to be the first to change over its own platform so customers can receive economical IT services with smart language interfaces, all running on Dell hardware.

Dell and Nvidia are partnering to build AI factories for enterprise customers.

The Dell-Nvidia Partner Act

How big will AI get? Dell said he doesn’t know, but then he asked a thought-provoking question: “Is there a limit to the demand for intelligence?” His next CEO guest, Jensen Huang of Nvidia, clearly doesn’t think so. After some good-humored banter—Huang and Dell seem to be genuine friends—Huang launched into an absorbing short recap of AI’s development since the early 2010s. The result is that the new industrial revolution of AI can “manufacture intelligence” as previous revolutions manufactured software or electricity or mass-produced goods.

According to Huang, there are two big market opportunities for the Dell-Nvidia partnership. The first is the $1 trillion worth of existing datacenters that were created for the last generation of IT and need to be modernized. The second is a whole new class of datacenters created for manufacturing intelligence at scale. In other words, AI factories.

Huang is not shy when it comes to thinking big, and he said that “This partnership between us is going to be the first and the largest generative AI go-to-market in history.” He was also effusive about Dell’s capabilities as a company: “Only Dell has the ability to build compute, networking, storage; integrated with incredible software; whether you like it to be air-cooled [or] liquid-cooled; bring it to your company, help you stand it up with professional services and, with your IT department, develop new applications that you can deploy.”

Best of all for customers, the Dell-Nvidia approach is designed to be easy. Huang described their work together as “Literally from the ground up, building AI factories and delivering it to the world’s enterprises as a solution.” They’re going to build it, deliver it, and stand it up—all at scale. And according to Huang, “Everything about the whole thing is going to be easy.” I thought that was a very big deal.

Considering the geek cred of the two men on stage, their presentation wouldn’t be complete without rolling out yet more new products. In this case, Dell enthused about the new PowerEdge XE9680L (liquid-cooled) rack server, which builds on the great popularity of its predecessor. Somehow it also streamlines from 6U to 4U, while still fitting 72 of Nvidia’s B-200 Blackwell processors in one rack.

In response to this, Huang said, “Only at Dell World do you talk sexy like that.” Dell immediately quipped, “There’s more tomorrow.” The crowd loved it.

AI Can Benefit Everyone

For the last section of his keynote, Dell pivoted by saying that the real question is not how big AI is going to be, but how much good AI can do—for the organizations represented in the audience, but more importantly for the world at large. He made the point that it depends on what we, the AI users, do with it.

In line with his company’s long-running sustainability and inclusion efforts, Dell said exactly what you would expect him to about hoping that governments will aid in AI development by adopting “AI-first investment strategies,” and noting his company’s continuing commitment to green infrastructure and efficiency. Then he showed a short video about how Dell technology is being used to deliver “AI for human progress” across a range of uses including treating cancer, combating food scarcity, a digital assistant for the deaf and an AI that prepares trainees for job interviews.

From the interview we did with Michael at the show, from prior conversations with him and simply from years of watching his company, I know he’s serious about the human side of the business equation, whether that means promoting responsible AI governance or minimizing the environmental footprint. For more on this, you can check out the interview Daniel Newman and I did with Cassandra Garber, Dell’s vice president of sustainability and ESG, at Dell Tech World.

Wrapping Up

Hats off to Dell the company for delivering on a true end-to-end AI strategy, and hats off to Dell the man for 40 years of hard work to make the company what it is. He seems as humble as ever, emphasizing the basic importance of listening to customers and not being fixated on the past. He’s quick to give credit to partners, and during our interview he said, “You can’t really do any of this by yourself.”

As for hitting the 40-year milestone, he likened everything the company has done so far to a pre-game broadcast before the actual game starts. He thinks there is a lot more change and innovation to come, and he seems eager to take on the work it requires.

In my rare free time, I like to read history books, so my ears perked up during the keynote when Dell made an interesting historical analogy. Centuries ago, factories were typically situated where a water wheel or wind power would drive everything; anything you wanted to power, you hooked up to that wheel. When electricity came along, factories just used electricity to spin a big wheel, like wind and water had done before. But eventually people figured out that they could run electricity directly to the machines producing things. Dell said he wants people using AI to skip the “wheel” part of development and go straight to the direct-to-production part.

I like the analogy, because it’s not hard to imagine how excited people were 150 years ago to be able to use electricity in their work. Little did they know how much more evolution there would be in the delivery systems for electricity and the devices that could use it. These days, it feels like there are fundamental changes in the tech landscape every 90 days—and little do we know what evolutions and revolutions are yet to come. That’s why I like attending shows like this one: I get to see a glimpse of the future.

Patrick Moorhead
+ posts

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.