Dell, Gates promise better control over PCs and servers

Talk of server computers that can automatically notify technicians of a failure, or "self-healing" servers, is one of the messages put out by chief executive Michael Dell today at Dell's Computer conference in Texas.

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AUSTIN, Texas--Server, heal thyself.

That was one of the messages today at a Dell Computer conference here. "Self-healing" servers, i.e. server computers that can automatically notify technicians of a failure, are one of the goals in an ongoing effort to simplify the control and management of PCs and servers, said chief executive Michael Dell in his keynote speech at the DirectConnect Conference.

And, although totally self-sufficient servers aren't here yet, both Dell and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who spoke after Dell, told the audience of close to 1,000 that both companies are working on ways to improve the problem of control.

Besides being easier to use, PCs and servers--if the effort succeeds--will also get cheaper. "Support is certainly one area where we can cut down costs" and hence the price of PCs, Dell said.

Dell this week is kicking off a number of initiatives to tackle the problem. The target is to reduce the number of support calls to Dell by half, sources have said.

One feature of the new technology will allow remote technicians to get a clearer view of a computer's problem, because data will be forwarded from the server to the support desk.

In a short preview of the technology, Dell unplugged a server. The remote help desk was notified via the Web that the power supply had shut down. The help desk then e-mailed the hypothetical customer.

For consumers, Dell will be launching a similiar service for PCs. Under this service, a user sends an email to a remote support desk with a general description of the problem. The remote support desk receives the email but also data from the computer that will help narrow the problem.

In an example, a consumer received a potentially virus-infected email attachment. The remote support desk updated the PC's virus program and then detected the virus.

Gates promised that the Windows 2000 operating system for businesses will be far more easy to use for information technology managers. Under one feature, for instance, programs deleted by a recalcitrant employee can be automatically re-inserted on the desktop.

The urgency for better management in many ways comes from the sudden emergence of the Web, Dell noted. The vast amounts of capital streaming into "dot.com" companies, combined with the growth in online sales, have irrevocably changed the face of commerce. In the future, more transactions will take place online.

However, for that to be successful, "the Web experience must be better than an experience in the real world," Dell said. That means better back-end systems, which in turn are predicated on more efficient management.

The rise of the Internet, he added, has also opened up competitive advantages and opportunities for Dell. As more customers forsake calling up technicians and are trying to fix their problems online, the company's costs have declined.

Secondly, it has opened up new market. Currently, for instance, most PBX boxes, those large, ungainly boxes used to manage telephone traffic, are expensive servers built on isolated networks. The convergence of data, voice, and phone communications, however, is prompting corporations to use standard NT servers, which Dell makes, for PBX boxes.

Dell has also seen its online business boom. Many of the company's major customers now buy their systems via private Web portals, he said.

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