Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Is your data storage vendor your advocate or your competitor?

Last week I was talking to a client and he was asking me why his data storage vendor wants to make it harder for him to access and maintain his data. It was an interesting conversation because I had never looked at the paradigm from that perspective.

In most businesses your vendor wants you to succeed and wants your company to grow and they do that by making their products and services more convenient. But in the Storage business the vendors who create proprietary operating systems and file systems want to rapidly End of Life (EOL) equipment and constantly create software upgrades to maintain their income stream, potentially preventing you from accessing your data as it is currently configured.

I am not a Luddite, but I am not in favor of my vendor partners locking me into their upgrade cycle. Once I purchase a piece of equipment or hardware I want to be able to maintain it a long time, and if it is a piece of equipment that has our company’s data on it I want to be able to continue to access it.

Last week in Computer Reseller News, a NetApp executive was quoted as saying:

"We are in a very good margin position with our partners, compared with our competitors," said Parrish. "But the danger is if you over-recruit, you over-distribute the product and that is the number-one cause of margin erosion."

“Instead, the priority for NetApp is working with its existing partners to trap more mid-market business.”

(http://www.channelweb.co.uk/print_article/crn-uk/news/2035448/netapp-offers-partners-margin-protection)

As a business owner I don’t want to be trapped by my vendors into making deals, the main purpose of which is to make them great margins. I want my vendors to work with us on our long-term business growth, not tomorrow’s or this financial quarter’s. Our customers purchased High Availability Storage equipment from NetApp and they don’t understand why they have to upgrade just because it is good for NetApp’s business. A business partnership should be beneficial to all, sellers and consumers, or it cannot continue for the long term. Since Zerowait’s goal is to maintain and support high availability storage equipment for the long-term, our business aligns with the needs of many customers because it helps them substantially reduce their costs of hardware manufacturer dictated upgrades and the expensive data migrations that result. Zerowait has very successfully been supporting customers around the world who are operating NetApp beyond the manufacturer’s recommended EOL.

Our NetApp support customers needed an advocate and an ally that understood that data access was critical, and that maintaining High Availability equipment to be reliable was the goal. But, maintaining software support from a vendor that wants to force you to upgrade is not easy and is often extraordinarily expensive.

This is an example of the kind of Vendor thinking that drove our customers to ask us to create SimplStor, an open source reliable enterprise storage solution. Business executives around the world have embraced Open Source Linux, BSD and many variants to be their front line web servers, and workstations, and even the biggest storage companies use Linux on their servers and equipment for the simple reason that is reliable and it is inexpensive. And most storage vendors have been using highly reliable Commodity Off The Shelf Technology (COTS) for years. NetApp is proud to say it uses it also:

NetApp is not only notching hefty sales (expected to hit $2 billion in fiscal 2006) but it has also managed to maintain sky-high 60%-plus gross margins, despite building its gear with commodity, off-the-shelf parts.

(http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/dec2005/tc20051227_204146.htm)

Therefore, it seems odd that these same storage companies tell their customers that their proprietary systems are better and more cost-effective for all types of data. Zerowait’s customers know better. They understand that even their storage vendors’ studies show that most storage is not actually primary storage but is some sort of Secondary, Tertiary or Archival data.

"Compared to the full amount of allocated storage on the file servers, this represents only 10 percent of data," Leung said. '[This] means that 90 percent of the data is untouched during this three-month period.”

(http://gcn.com/Articles/2008/07/01/Most-network-data-sits-untouched.aspx)

Zerowait’s customers know that high reliability storage does not have to be expensive; it just needs to be maintained and monitored to last a long time. And this does not have to cost a lot. The Big Boys of storage know this also. If they did not think Linux was reliable they would not be using it in their systems.

Zerowait’s savvy customers asked if we could build them a simple reliable storage system that uses the same O/S that the Big Storage guys use on their internal systems. We did what our customers asked and now Zerowait has added SimplStor to the high reliability storage systems and equipment we are building and maintaining around the world.

We are focused on providing our customers long term service and support for their data storage requirements. It seems our competitors are focused on their own short term margins. Which works better for you?

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