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Sitting comfortably in an armchair on-stage, flanked by Phil
Soran of Dell Compellent and Darren Thomas of Dell Storage, Michael Dell spent
about an hour discussing the company’s humble dorm-room beginnings as a storage
business, its evolution into a PC powerhouse, and its embrace of the channel
during a “Fireside Chat” at Storage Forum 2011 in Orlando this week.

“Storage is obviously a very important part of our
business, an exciting part of our business,” Dell told the audience, which
primarily consisted of solution providers, end-customers, and vendor partners.

To the laughter of the crowded ballroom at the Hilton
hotel, Dell briefly recalled his eponymous company’s early years as the vendor
of storage subsystems for IBM PCs. That changed after an executive from
customer Martin Marietta, who had insisted on visiting Dell’s office, asked about
the company-made computer Dell used to format the hard drives, Dell said.

“Within about three months, the whole business turned,”
he remembered.

After briefly introducing themselves and addressing their
rosy views of Dell’s future in storage, Soran, founder of Compellent who is now
president of Dell Compellent, and Thomas, vice president and general manager of
storage at Dell, took turns interviewing their boss. Pulling no punches, Soran
immediately asked Dell whether the company was a channel-friendly company.

“We love our channel partners,” Dell replied. “The reason
we’ve grown predictably and consistently is because our approach has been

In some countries, Dell’s entire sales strategy is
channel-based, he said. In addition to compensating sales people for indirect,
as well as direct, sales, Dell continues to create both general-business and
vertical solutions such as healthcare, education, manufacturing, and finance,
said Dell.

“The transformation is working very well,” he said. “It’s
a very different company than it was five years ago.”

Much of the IT transformation occurs in the midsize
world, Dell continued, rather than at the enterprise level.

“Many of you are midsize organizations or large
organizations, but not the world’s largest organizations,” said Dell. “I think
IT [trends] tend to start in the midsize organizations and move up.”

Dell recalled visiting a large automotive manufacturer in
Detroit during the x86 server evolution. The CIO, while impressed in theory,
told Dell to return after he had retired. “You see barriers to adoption,
barriers to acceptance,” Dell said.