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back to article The enterprise storage buyer: Why I stick with the big guys

Enterprise storage suppliers are a picky bunch and will buy storage from outsiders only if they build a better mousetrap than their current suppliers. That's the view of "Mike", a senior storage strategy guy in a European enterprise, a Fortune 500-type company, with more than 10PB of storage capacity, I spoke to recently. And …

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EMC and NetApp are laughing all the way to the bank

Wow. This guys should be fired for this stance.

Firstly, the incumbents are loving this - their margins just went up due to vendor lock-in,.

Secondly, does he really believe that all his storage needs can be addressed by just one or two companies? How about archive, deduplication, storage manegement? Where's the innovation for looking at best of breed?

Thirdly, his organization is likely to miss out on true innovation and trends that are not picked up by the big boys, due to them being disruptive to the industry. Case in point iSCSI, which was resisted by EMC for many years due to the solid margins in the fibre-channel business. EMC only recently began to soften their stance on iSCSI for use in places other than entry level applications.

Finally, loss leading is indeed a way to introduce new technology to non-buying customers. On the other hand, the best way to introduce new technology would be to understand what a company is trying to accomplish with an application set or trying to solve with a business problem and providing the best possible solution for this, with hard ROI.

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Troll

Laughing

Have you ever tried to get your board to spend millions on kit from a company they have never heard of?

Low risk is better than a faster ROI in many segments...

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re:EMC and NetApp are laughing all the way to the bank

Starting your comment with such a one liner discredits every valid point you may have subsquently.

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WTF?

What's the point of this article ?

To show the opinion of one storage manager in one company?

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FAIL

Save capitalism from the Mike's of the world

Mike is a myopic coward who is satisfied with "good enough." I wonder if his CEO and shareholders feel the same way about how the business is run? Total fear of innovation is not a quality I would seek out in a senior level strategist (much less someone who is content to pay huge margins for average kit)

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Paris Hilton

Hardly newsworthy

This is not a shocking revelation in any way - innovation always has a cost in risk, and no enterprise-level change is ever easy. The bean counters are always going to be opposed to risk of any sort and if the little guys can't do something better or cheaper (or both!) than the big guys, they deserve to fail.

But to have a storage architect not understand the basic principle that less risk = higher cost is a bit baffling; he must like paying over-the-odds for 'good enough'. EMC and NetApp have no incentive to add features if they have a complacent user base who isn't willing to shoulder the risk of change and the lock-in that these vendors enjoy makes stiffling improvement a sound business practice for them. This further drives the cost of any infrastructure improvements through the roof and makes it harder and harder to upgrade as time goes on. To have an obviously senior storage architect not undestand this doesn't speak highly of his competence.

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In defence of Mike

I'm with Mike on this one. Quite frankly, he is well within his rights to be cautious. We're talking about the company's crown jewels here - 10 petabytes of data. With that much on the line, he would be a fool to go out on a limb with a little vendor when the big guys give him what he wants -- even if he has to pay extra for it. Bear in mind that at this scale he is not just paying for fancy disks but also the kind of support that gets top-notch engineering asses on planes at the drop of a hat. All of which keeps the CFO happy and Mike in employment.

Sure the other guys can deliver more for less. What they have to do is to get into some lower-tier accounts, and pull out all the stops to make sure they execute flawlessly. Once they have a bunch of those under their belt they can start going up the food chain to the fortune 500s. At this point they either get co-opted (everyone adopts their technology), bought out, or they succeed by themselves.

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Introducing New Technologies

One way to introduce new technologies is to apply them to new projects, where the people running with the project feel confident that the cost savings can be accomplished with a low enough level of risk and enough slack in the time line to recover.

If the newer technology does not make it, then there is always the fall-back to the higher cost and lower risk option.

Having reduced costs (and increased availability) of some systems by applying Sun storage options in place of EMC storage options, the effort is often well worth the pain of requesting the exception.

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Anonymous Coward

EMC

I'm generally speaking an EMC fan, but they need to seriously get their act together or the likes of 3PAR will start to take over. Why should I have to remember separate command sets for Clariion and DMX/vMAX? Why can't my Clariion SRDF to my DMX/VMAX arrays? This means the storage team have to maintain two different skill sets, I could have understood this a few years ago, but it's about 12years since they bought Data General.

Why did thin provisioning take so long to deliver?

Why do I need to memorise three different BCV commands, why can't one do the job regardless of which type of timefinder device constitutes the BCV?

As for the quality of their recent software, I really don't have words...

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A.C

Well, ZFS is open and the commands are only one liners. Dead simple. If more migrated to ZFS, then you could switch disk arrays from any computer to any OS. ZFS is endian agnostic, so it doesnt matter which cpu architecture you are using. And it is OS neutral. You could switch disk arrays freely from FreeBSD to Mac to Solaris on SPARC or x86, with one command: "zpool export" and then "zpool import". I only see advantages of using ZFS. It costs nothing. I would not mind if it became a de facto standard.

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IBM?

Interesting that the article lists IBM as one of the Tier 1 enterprise storage suppliers, but says nothing about them otherwise.

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Anonymous Coward

Mike is a SalesReps' Dream Come True

I'd love to be Mike's NetApp or EMC account manager. Happy days.

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Destroying 3PAR

Nothing would destroy 3PAR, or any "tier 2" storage supplier, more effectively than being bought by the current HP. Focus would shift from providing an alternative storage platform to increasing sales of already existing HP kit with 3PAR storage. This would destroy the purchased storage line; no R&D money or freedom would be allowed to further develop the product.

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Mike has a Point!

The gist of Mike’s position is that there are unknown risks that inhibit him from going outside of the incumbent storage suppliers to acquire storage technology. Interestingly, he does acknowledge that there are known risks with the incumbents too! So, it’s more the devil you know versus the one you don’t. I think Mike has a point!

Vendor incumbency breeds familiarity, and a bit of contempt occasionally, as Mike’s comments indicate! His frustration with vendor speed of change, and implicitly their ability to implement newer technology that can address his business needs, also jumps out in the piece. Unfortunately, he is making a very significant point. Vendor incumbency matters!

Incumbent vendors have a huge opportunity because of the thousands of Mikes out there. And a few have the formula right! They can and do optimize their time to market by not sticking to the typical “not invented here” syndrome. The best storage companies have shown an ability to advance products with a combination of internal, OEM and strategic acquisitions as sources for the “kit” they offer. For example, more enlightened vendors optimize by “sticking to their knitting” doing what they do best, build hardware and operating software that optimizes their product offerings. Once they establish base level architecture and systems, they source features from the best-of-breed suppliers (yes Mike those smaller companies!) for advanced efficiency, automated tiering, performance, for example, to embellish and differentiate their offerings. The result is that the enlightened incumbent vendor can deliver products to market faster and more efficiently, that is differentiated from their competitors and more closely addresses their customers “pain.” The result is that the Mikes of the world can have the security of the incumbent vendor with rapid time-to-market solutions to address their needs. You just have to make sure you pick the right ones!

Because there are aspiring companies who have advanced efficiency, automated tiering, performance, data optimization and deduplication, the pressure has never been higher to obtain the best-of-breed and embed it into the incumbent vendor offerings. Today there is increasing momentum to build out the next generation of storage solutions that optimize feature sets, differentiate and deliver quickly. A few have it right! Mike has a point!

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Prototypical European IT guy

Sounds like the old "don't get fired for buying IBM" kind of guy. Zero vision, no willingness to take risk in order to find significant upside for his organization, and I suspect generally very unaware of any of the major shifts in this industry now or coming in the next few years.

Would have been better to post his company so all of the innovators could avoid wasting their time (and his) pitching to him while he happily spends more of his employers money than he needs to during the 35-hour legal maximum work while he looks forward to his legally mandated two-month vacation.

And we wonder why the Euro is a struggling currency......

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Mike is doing it right.

One word 'reliability'

It seems very likely that he's trying out some kit on a small scale, keeping up with what the little guys are doing and the innovation happening out there.

But the risk is his JOB to keep low. Imagine how long it would take to restore a 10PB backup. Would you REALLY want to have every manager and CEO in the company breathing down your neck while you twiddle your thumbs waiting a week or more for a HUGE restore job? I think not.

That is the kind of scenario that loses customers, kills your reputation, likely gets you fired, and shunned in the industry.

It sounds like many people here like to live on bleeding edge. You don't play games with your livelihood, if you're smart.

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Megaphone

Another Mike

So, who drives an Alfa? I love them but I don't own one. Why? Well, I have no dealer near me. Now, what if I owned a taxi service and loved Alfas AND had a nearby dealer - would I run my taxi fleet on them? Probably not because my profit would depend on a mix of dealer costs, fuel economy, reliability, resale value, etc. Ford, Mercedes and Skoda win out based on what I see at the rank. If an Alfa was cheaper than a Ford, more reliable than a Ford, had better physical security than a Ford, had a better dealer network than Ford, had strong resale value, then we would all drive them over a boring Ford / VW / Skoka, etc because they are absolutely gorgeous. However, the answer to most of these points is in the negative. Net, you drive an Alfa because you love it, not because it makes economic sense...

In EXACTLY the same way Enterprise customers look at infrastructure vendors. Their vendor decision is based on product functionality, purchase & 5 year maint costs, geographic data centre distribution, stack support, company stability, performance and RTO/RPO requirements, etc. In the end, the enterprise storage decision is based on delivering a service and not just cool technology, although sometimes (mercifully) that comes into play. Sorry if that offends the propeller heads and university students.

So many new vendors can't sell their great technology to the enterprise because:

1. They are more expensive than the incumbent. Yes folks, when you have a 5+PB estate, in most cases the new guy with the cool new features costs more than the established stuff. So, we make an assessment of the benefits of the new functionality vs the cost saved and effort to deploy. In most cases the new stuff fails to deliver on this and hence does not get purchased. Every now and again something great happens, eg DataDomain before EMC purchased, FusionIO, 3PAR for some customers, etc, but generally new products fail on cost. Maybe that’s what Mike means on the ‘loss leader’ comment.

2. They don't have support coverage. Yes folks, I need to put storage in all kinds of places in addition to main hubs. Most new guys can't support a global model and hence, regrettably, don't make it. Please come back later when you've built out.

3. They are not secure. Sorry, but if you release a great product on a non-locked down version of Fedora then don't expect many enterprise customers. The pen test will find a heap of holes. Understandably VCs don't think about this stuff when investing in a new company but if it's going to make it to production this is mandatory. Come back when you’ve built in security. Maybe I’ll help you with identifying your gaps if your new technology is good enough.

4. They are not manageable. If I select a vendor I'll be buying tens (possibly hundreds) of devices and/or deploying your software widely. That means I need centralised management, reporting, patching, etc. A basic CLI doesn’t cut it. Again, if there is core value I may help you define the enterprise management requirements.

5. They are on a shaky financial footing. For anyone who nearly bought Neoscale or CreekPath a few years back you'll know what I'm talking about.

6. They have no global account management. If I commit to a vendor then I expect professional pre- and post-sales support. I also expect time-to-fix SLAs. Don't expect to sell to the enterprise without it.

7. They are a one trick pony. If you have great in-line de-dupe but lack some other key stuff (could be effective controller clustering, reporting, etc) then you won't cut it.

8. They don't support all my OSs. I have a heap of OSs. Solaris, SUSE & RedHat, HPUX, VMS, AIX, Windows. And then I have all kinds of databases and apps on top. Not only does the storage vendor need to support the stack but I ALSO need the HBA vendor, server, OS and DB vendor to support the storage. I get that from IBM, EMC, NetApp, HDS and believe me it is EXPENSIVE to maintain for the storage vendor. Most small guys focus on just a few which stops the enterprise customer from deploying widely. Maybe if the technology is good enough we'll work on a plan to support my other OSs.

9. Reliability - and evidence of it. ‘nuff said.

All of this is intensely frustrating. I would have loved to see some of the great block virtualistion / in line de-dupe / compression / tiering / bla bla bolted into VMAX, USP, DS8000 sooner (heck, VMAX now has what 3PAR had 6 years ago) but it takes years for the big guys to implement this stuff because they have such a substantial legacy tail to support in their code..

So, here is the dilemma and the key pivot point. Do deploy a few highly specialised devices as an exception just for maybe one application? If there is genuine benefit AND I can support it AND it is secure AND I can put it into all the necessary DataCenters, then the answer will be ‘yes’. But there had better be a damn good reason because it increases my operational disk, makes my environment more complex, adds another vendor to negotiate with, etc. The pivot point is this: I run a business service and not a technology research lab. All my decisions revolve around that and it is the reason why enterprises tend to buy well rounded established products rather than start up kit because it lowers my overall cost AND risk. Meanwhile, we constantly review the newcomers, investigate, test, etc. We use that information to push the small guys to build in enterprise features so that we can actually buy it and push the big guys to either buy the small guys or introduce equivalent technology. And we always negotiate the heck out of every deal to get lowest possible purchase price.

Maybe some of the posters on here are pure-play engineers who don’t care about TCO and service: you have my sympathy but you are not seeing the big enterprise picture.

I drove to work today: I saw no Alfas. Shame, I love them.

Another Mike.

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Re: Another Mike

I agree to what you write, but I also think you can add Oracle/Sun to your list of preferred vendors.

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Keep up the good work.

This is the kind of thinking that keeps ones company moving along as a major competitor for a long time to come.

Also keeps you in high regard with the people that count, and the propeller heads and uni students, and others who live on the cutting bleeding edge of drama don't.

Carry on!

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