Michael Dell defied predictions of the PC's doom, noting that PC sales have more than tripled since the term "post-PC" was first coined in 1999.
Dell was speaking at a CEO roundtable today in San Francisco at VMworld 2012, VMware's annual convention for customers and partners.
The panel was moderated by Wired editor in chief Chris Anderson, who started off by recalling a recent survey he did of MIT undergrads, where he asked them what they wanted. "Toner," was their number one answer, followed by Internet access. That's it. "These people are good at technology," Anderson said. "They don't need the CIO."
These are large vendors who sell primarily to IT buyers, so there wasn't a lot of jumping up-and-down excitement at the prospect that IT departments may be losing control.
Tom Georgens, CEO of network storage company NetApp, was blunt about the changing role of IT workers, noting that IT departments used to be paid to keep the lights on and the systems running, and would only be fired if they failed at that job. Now, you can also get fired if a competitor gains an advantage by using a technology that you said was too risky or impossible. Cloud computing is the perfect example, he said.
The panel didn't address the elephant in the room -- the rise of the iPad and smartphones as potential PC replacements -- until most of the allotted time was over. But when a poll of the audience named the rise of "post-PC" devices as the number-one trend in IT this year, outgoing VMware CEO Paul Maritz had to respond:
"I defy anyone to edit a PowerPoint presentation on a mobile phone."
Anderson replied, "The iPad is really cool."
Dell turned the conversation back to virtualization -- this was VMworld after all -- and argued that desktop virtualization is a key technology to enable employees to access corporate data on any device. He said that Dell was seeing the same kind of growth in desktop virtualization that it saw in server and network virtualization in years past.
"Think about all these mobile devices and ask how you secure these mobile devices, it probably involves virtualizing the corporate client, then have it show up on any device they use."
Dell also pointed out that 380 million PCs were sold last year. "The post-PC era has been pretty good for PCs so far."
Later, Anderson asked Dell if the rise of personal devices in the enterprise might call for looser security -- suggesting that perhaps IT departments can't control everything their users do, so they shouldn't bother trying.
"I haven't heard any of our customers ask for that," said Dell.
Toward the end, the panel also discussed the rise of social networking in the enterprise.
Maritz, who led VMware to buy social enterprise provider Socialcast last year, noted that employees use social networks in cases where they'd never use email, like to share problems that customers are having and poll their departments for possible solutoins. That kind of interaction would be viewed as a burden on email, but is natural in social networks.
Dell agreed that social networking could be useful for communicating with customers.
NetApp's Georgens cautioned the audience not to discount social networking just because they personally don't find value in it. There's a whole generation of workers who have grown up with social networking, and have "vetted" the value of such systems. Ignoring the desires of those workers will make recruitment hard.
"People come to a technology company and expect it to be technically advanced," he said.