The Dell you knew and (maybe) loved is going with the news that it is to buy services company Perot Systems for $3.9bn.

Let's count the ways:

(1) Dell was never acquisitive in the mode of IBM or HP, picking up only small deals. This is by far its biggest purchase yet, dwarfing the $1.4bn it paid for storage networking firm EqualLogic. Indeed, Michael Dell himself has frequently been critical of mergers and acquisitions in the technology sector, pointing to the rate of failures that have ensued. Now, according to reports, Dell is saying that this deal can act as  launch base for more M&A.

(2) Dell has always been a hardware company. Again, this came from the very top and Michael Dell has been very sceptical about companies that have attempted to reinvent themselves through services sells that, he has argued, do little to please the buyer and everything to improve supplier revenue streams. 

However, be wary of suggestions thyat this is just to be filed alongside HP-EDS or IBM-PwC as a way to book more dollars and hedge against dwindling sales and margins in hardware. A recent alliance with Perot might be instructive: it points to Dell using Perot's virtualisation and datacentre capabilities to remotely or locally manage desktop estates. Dell sees a niche for itself in being a cloud owner that can control the clients of large businesses -- a sort of second act to its first big role of supplying the tin for the estates themselves.

My best guess is that Dell sees Perot as a fellow-Texan conduit to its own future in a world where beige boxes still reside on the desktop (or mobiles on but data, admin and security lie elsewhere. Ten years ago, the idea of Dell as outsourcer would have been anathema to its founder but it seems that things have changed -- don't bet against his chances of pulling off another sea change just as he did by popularising direct sales to business.