Dell's $1.4 billion bet against history

Seeking to expand his company's storage offerings, Michael Dell is buying EqualLogic for $1.4 billion. This is a monumentally bad move. Leave aside the details of what EqualLogic does. (Something to do with tying storage servers together on a network.) Let's remember what Dell does. Dell is a highly skilled repackager of commodity tech, like Intel microprocessors, Seagate hard drives, and the Windows OS. Add a few extra parts, slap some plastic around it, and you've got a PC. Sure, it can make some money installing that PC, too. But what it doesn't do, and shouldn't do, is try to advance the state of the art on its own. His own hard experience should have told Michael Dell not to make this deal.

When was the last time Dell did a big, splashy acquisition? Why, the frothy year of 1999, of course, when it acquired ConvergeNet for $340 million. That deal, too, was Dell's largest ever to date, and also for a storage-technology company. And Dell later wrote off $194 million in connection with the purchase.

EqualLogic may have fine technology. That's not the point. The question is whether Dell has any skill at distinguishing itself from its peers on technology, as opposed to price and sales channel. History tells us it doesn't. And now, Michael Dell has placed $1.4 billion of shareholders' money on a bet that history doesn't repeat.