Thursday, December 27, 2007

Another NetApp customer rescued

A few weeks ago a NetApp power user who was considering giving his NetApp infrastructure to the grim reaper called us with his problem. NetApp refused to sell the customer 72 GB drives which they needed to provide their Oracle Database the spindle count it needed for performance reasons. Complaints by the customer to his Oracle DBA's about a lousy Database design were not winning him any friends, and were falling on deaf ears in management. NetApp's solution was to sell him larger drives. But if he went with bigger drives he would not be able to stay below the Raw capacity limits of his Filer and would therefore need to upgrade the head unit, incurring huge costs. He just wanted some drives! So he began looking at alternate sources for storage of his Oracle DB. In a conversation with one of his peers, he learned about Zerowait. Out of desperation he called us to learn if Zerowait could help him. We told him we have a large stock of refurbished 72GB drives and can ship right away. After a series of questions and answers he wanted to check our references. I provided him with a list of reference customers for him to contact and he said he would.

Subsequently I learned that our customers told him that Zerowait's folks really care about the details and provide them with excellent follow up on issues. He told me how he was pleasantly surprised by the comments he heard about us and wanted to give us a try. He told me he was recommending to his purchasing folks that they place an order with Zerowait.

We got the order and delivered the product on time and as specified. After a few weeks the new customer wrote me: “NetApp filers are great for databases because you can quickly provision storage, tightly integrate the host and the filer with the SnapManager suite, and change filer parameters to handle different database workloads." The same customer goes on to say "Zerowait is great because they can provision equipment faster than Network Appliance, procure equipment that means your specific needs, and provide parts at a lower cost than Network Appliance.”

Our customers recognize that Zerowait provides them with a unique blend of NetApp hardware and outstanding high availability service and support. Our commitment to independent high availability service and support is what separates us from resellers and distributors of NetApp's products. We recognize that NetApp makes great products; our focus is helping our customers maintain them for the long term, and helping these customers get the most value and performance out of their NetApp investments.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

NetApp's SSP , is it a punative "Tax" on legacy storage.

Outrage is building in NetApp's reseller channel as NetApp continues to redefine resellers' best accounts in an effort to build their own representatives' sales figures. NetApp acts towards resellers as if they are a missionary sales force working to generate leads and create house accounts for NetApp's direct representatives, instead of facilitating the reseller's long term revenue growth. Resellers' sales forces need to make a living and provide long term value to customers. However, NetApp seems to care more about unit sales and providing sales incentives to promote unit sales than long term service to resellers and their end users.

One reseller was telling me recently that NetApp would not let them quote Software Support only and that they must include hardware support also. I replied that many resellers and NetApp itself provides 'SSP' only quotes. I showed him the evidence and he chuckled at recent comments by NetApp that say they are trying to build a new relationships with their channel partners. Resellers know that NetApp seems to change its reseller stance with the tides.

"The most critical factor for channel success is to have executive support and sponsorship. For example, what we are achieving at Network Appliance is changing the company's business model, leveraging the channel to move the top line. This requires a change in attitude, affects our corporate culture and requires new processes that will lead to success with our channel partners."
"... the company is implementing a new pricing model, including lower list prices for commodity products and an across-the-board increase in partner discounts. Our discounts are off gross revenue to encourage partners to not discount off list price," he said. "We feel they can achieve [discounts] in excess of 20 percent if they don't drive the street prices down."
"We always said it was a matter of time, not when we would do it..."

" NetApp's goals for bringing its appliances through distribution are two-fold: let the distributors take care of administrative details so NetApp can focus on its core business, and use the distributors to expand its business to even more solution providers. Our channel sales are growing three times the rate of the rest of the company," he said. "We can't scale without partners."
"Network Appliance (NSDQ:NTAP) is preparing to offer solution providers customer leads for the first time. Starting Oct. 1, NetApp will provide leads to its channel partners."... "It's the first time NetApp has ever done a lead-generation campaign with the channel," he said. "I'm not sure if I should be proud of this, or embarrassed."
"The VIP reseller program and initiatives are an important component of the Network Appliance strategy to attract and retain the industry's top storage-focused resellers..."
"The StoreVault line will have only one sales channel: VARs. 'This is the only go-to-market vehicle for us,' Krishnan said. 'No CDW (NSDQ:CDWC ). No e-tailers.'”
"StoreVault, a NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP) division, today announced it is adding CDW Corporation (NASDAQ: CDWC), a leading provider of technology products and services to business"


In a discussion I had with a NetApp direct customer a few weeks ago I was told
"Our discount structure with NetApp is 40% off Hardware and 65% off Software". This seems to be quite an aggressive pricing structure and it is more than the discount off list that many resellers seem to be getting. When a vendor provides this type of discount off their list pricing to end users it makes a mockery of the list prices that they publish. One customer recently was quoted software support by a reseller and NetApp and found the pricing difference of almost $20,000.00 . While this is significant in itself, the customer is trying to justify the pricing over a 36 month period and is concerned about the additional "tax" on his 6 TB of data. NetApp is turning into a very expensive storage platform when Software support is added in to his costs.

Robin Harris wraps up some of NetApp's problems well,

"NetApp needs to focus on their long-term marketing problem: NAS is a commodity. They’ve got 5 years to re-invent themselves for a world of Internet-scale data centers."

NetApp's sales management hierarchy historically has taken a very short term, tactical approach to working with resellers. Their pricing, discount structure and history of abrupt changes in channel marketing strategies creates an atmosphere in which resellers are disincentivised to build any strategic customer relationship. Storage is a long term investment for most customers, and creating long term relationships is very important to both resellers and end users. How can a customer make a strategic storage decision when the sales force is concentrating on monthly or quarterly numbers?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holiday

Oren Arnold wrote.....
“Christmas gift suggestions:

To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.”

Zerowait will be closed until Wednesday the 26th, have a great holiday!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Can Loyalty be purchased or must it be earned?

Loyalty is priceless and Is neither sold nor bought. Alas, how few who seem to know Its value as they ought." Thornton W. Burgess

Over many years in business (18), and many transactions (thousands), with many customers (hundreds), Zerowait has learned that customer loyalty is earned not purchased. As
Darrell Zahorsky says - "Forget about customer relationship management software, customer loyalty programs and cards. Customer loyalty can't be bought. It must be earned."

So I was surprised to see that NetApp is going to try to buy Loyalty from its resellers now,

"To promote loyalty from its channel, NetApp has packed the programme with many attractive purchase conditions and bonuses. The company is keen to point out though that the new programme is more than just a list of partner gifts and its main focus is product know-how, which it aims to improve through a comprehensive curriculum of education and certification training. Partners new to the programme should work their way through the ranks starting as authorised, becoming gold, platinum and platinum elite until they finally reach the heights and accompanied rewards of being named as a star partner."

NetApp has changed directions on its resellers many times in the past and it looks like its newest direction is to try to buy them off. Manufacturers need to provide resellers a long term commitment to ensure their profitability, not a continually changing kaleidoscope of changing programs, pricing schedules, and packages.

Manufacturers need to understand that resellers and integrators need to have a long term partner that can be relied on, because they are making a long term commitment to learn how to integrate a reliable strategic solution for their customers. How is an end user to judge the long term reliability of a partner that a manufacturer recruits with "attractive purchase conditions and bonuses." ?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cisco is going to open their Kimono?

Imagine if you were a small company with a limited budget that had to build a big storage and archiving application to provide Storage As a Service (SAaS) . Being a small company without layers of hierarchy allows you to be creative. So you go to the internet and do some research and find out that there already is a lot of support for ZFS out there and it runs on OpenSolaris and BSD.
What are you going to do about switching? You are going to need some pretty specialized switching also and proprietary storage switches can get really expensive. So what can you do?

When Cisco says it is going to open stuff up a bit we need to pay attention..

"SAN JOSE – Cisco's plan to open up its venerable IOS routing software to customers and third-party developers is a bold move designed to further the company's push to make the network the epicenter of the virtual data center.

Cisco plans to "componentize" IOS – developing only one implementation of a specific function instead of several, depending on the image – dynamically link IOS services and move the software onto a Unix-based kernel. Cisco then plans to open up interfaces on IOS to allow third-party and customer-developed applications to access IOS services."

Here is what Cisco Senior Vice President Don Proctor says they are going to do...

"If you look at the portfolio today for the enterprise you'll see that we have solutions at every layer of the stack, all the way up to applications with our collaboration applications. What we're doing with some of the SaaS assets with WebEx is creating a new kind of information work space for the knowledge worker that allows them to build business mashups with the collaboration applications that we provide and the business applications provided by other suppliers."

Interesting times.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Customers creating solutions that Vendors might not like

A few months ago I hosted a dinner party for about ten of our customers in Los Angeles. During the dinner our customers compared war stories of infrastructure problems they had encountered and discussed various strategies for negotiating with vendors for better prices, and also how to increase their system reliability while not breaking their budgets. I was astonished by how many of these customers were playing with ZFS at the time but I never expected to see ZFS going mainstream so quickly.

So today when one of our customers sent me the link to this article and pointed out the solution that Arizona State University came up with I was pretty surprised.
"Some users looking for new disaster recovery tools have encountered frustration. ASU is charged with storing half a petabyte of video footage from the Apollo space missions and replicating that data between two sites for disaster recovery. ASU ran into two limitations on its NetApp filers: a 16 TB file system limit and the fact that researchers move file directories around frequently, something that can wreak havoc on performance when hundreds of terabytes of data are attached.

ASU tried NetApp's OnTap GX product to overcome the file system limit and provide a global namespace, but Scheib grew weary of the fact that OnTap GX doesn't support NetApp disaster recovery tools, such as SnapMirror. Scheib found other clustered NAS systems beyond his budget, especially when it meant losing investments in the NetApp storage already on the floor.

In the end, Scheib designed his own architecture using open source ZFS layered over the NetApp filers, spanning the two locations. ZFS is a 128-bit file system with an exponentially larger namespace, and its performance allows for the quick movement of folders and directories. Because ZFS spans the two sites, data replication can be accomplished by dragging folders from one directory to another. The actual migration of data over trunked Ethernet pipes takes much longer, but users still have access during the process.

The irony of pairing ZFS with NetApp, when ZFS creator Sun Microsystems Inc. and NetApp are suing each other over the file system, isn't lost on Scheib, but he isn't concerned about that. "By the time that's settled, I hope there will be more prepackaged alternatives to meet my particular needs."

This really surprises me because NetApp considers ASU one of its quotable and reference clients.
"Cost savings and reliability prompted us to look to NetApp to provide a scalable storage infrastructure for the IDEAL project," said Samuel DiGangi, assistant vice provost of Information Technology at Arizona State University. "ASU continually strives to give back to the surrounding communities, and IDEAL is the next step of that initiative, encouraging lifelong learning and eliminating educational barriers."

"Supporting the nomination for the award was Network Appliance, Inc., a technology vendor for the project. NetApp extended its congratulations to ASU in a news release the day the award was announced. Elisa Steel, vice president of Worldwide Integrated Marketing at Network Appliance, said, “We are thrilled that ASU’s innovative approach to creating the IDEAL project has garnered them recognition.” The company’s file storage servers are one of several components of the IDEAL system, which includes equipment from IBM, Sun, Cisco, and F5 Networks."

Perhaps NetApp started getting too expensive to maintain in 2007,
"Google has economies of scale that we don't have," Page said.

The university has already been able to transition two of its four full-time engineers who had managed the 4 terabyte (TB) NetApp storage system to other functions, according to Page. As soon as the migration is complete, the other two will be reassigned as well. Once the NetApp filer is also reassigned, Page said, the switch to Gmail will save the university $350,000 per year in storage, maintenance and personnel costs."

As architectures grow more complicated storage managers are going to be put under a lot of pressure to reduce costs while maintaining reliability. Is NetApp going to be able to compete when they are being pinched on multiple sides by pressures technologies like ZFS and services like Gmail? We live in interesting times for technology companies and storage managers.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

NetApp's strategy of Shock and Awe

Over the last many years that we have been working with NetApp products we have never been able to discern any long term marketing strategy. At least now they admit they are not talking about their strategy though.

"NetApp isn't talking about its strategy. A company spokesperson said all the information NetApp will make known on today's announcement is in its press release."

According to NetApp's CEO in recent Eweek interview they have a strategy that appeals to the investor community. "We've had tremendous success in terms of putting the company on the map, identifying a market strategy." The strategy when we were NetApp resellers and Registered Service Providers seemed to be to get into companies that had exploding needs for departmental storage, which is where the NEtApp F740 and F760 fit so well.

As I have pointed out numerous times in the past in this blog, NetApp's channel Strategy seems to change with the tides.

Network Appliance (NetApp) launched its new, two-tiered channel strategy earlier today, to build and expand its enterprise storage sales with the value-added reseller community. By engaging with Arrow, NetApp resellers can gain additional support through Arrow's dedicated sales and focused marketing services.

"The NetApp™ STAR partner program and initiatives are important to our strategy to attract and retain the industry's top storage-focused resellers,"

"The VIP reseller program and initiatives are an important component of the Network Appliance strategy to attract and retain the industry's top storage-focused resellers,"

But aligning their strategy with the goals of growth is a good thing and one that investors and customers should be happy about.

"Network Appliance (NSDQ:NTAP) is defining which customers can and cannot be approached by its direct-sales reps, CRN has learned.

Under the forthcoming Hard Deck program, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based vendor of SAN and NAS products will work with its channel managers and district sales managers to determine which customers throughout North America will be named accounts targeted mainly by direct sales and which will be channel-exclusive, said Leonard Iventosch, NetApp's vice president of Americas channel sales."

"NetApp’s latest launches will expand that strategy, with the StoreVault line positioned against EMC’s Clariion AX150 and the EMC Insignia lines at the low end and the FAS6000 line going head-to-head with EMC’s Symmetrix line in the enterprise-class SAN space."

The StoreVault line will have only one sales channel: VARs. “This is the only go-to-market vehicle for us,” Krishnan said. “No CDW (NSDQ:CDWC ). No e-tailers.


"NetApp(R) StoreVault(TM) Adds CDW to Expand Channel Strategy

SUNNYVALE, Calif. --(Business Wire)-- StoreVault, a NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP) division, today announced it is adding CDW Corporation (NASDAQ: CDWC), a leading provider of technology products and services to business, government, and education, to its roster of authorized StoreVault resellers. The new agreement provides small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) another way to access StoreVault S500 solutions."

"TBR said NetApp would align its financial strategy to focus on increasing revenue growth to drive net income going forward. The company would focus less on scaling back R&D and selling costs, and concentrate on expanding its international foothold and product design to increase its storage solutions market share. However, market competition is fierce and we believe NetApp will seek to differentiate its products through virtualization technology offered in non-complex storage solutions. TBR also said the company will be forced to strike a balance between manageable gross margin and operating profit, and increased revenue from new product design and selling activities."

Zerowait has a long term strategy - We will provide a long term affordable alternative to NetApp for service and support of their equipment.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Business planning is always unpredictable

This week I was in Atlanta and Denver and right now I am in Denver Airport writing this blog. Traveling to see customers at the end of the year is interesting, most folks are in a reflective mood and thinking about their costs of storage acquisition and management. I met with several folks who are worried about whether we are entering a recessionary period and some are also concerned if we are also entering a inflationary period. Business planning is always difficult, but now storage managers have to be concerned with not only uptime and connectivity but also about power usage and costs.

2008 is going to be an interesting year.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Google's Gdrive and Storage services

A few years ago when storage was a hot new thing, and the internet was still in boom times there was a company called Storagenetworks that got lots exciting press coverage.
In 2000 one well respected analyst was enthusiastic..

Business is starting to get ready for storage outsourcing, said Steve Duplessie, senior analyst at The Enterprise Storage Group Inc., a Milford, Mass.-based consultancy.

StorageNetworks pitch was that Storage could be run as a service, and at first it made some sense. However, their cost structure was too high and at the time major corporations were afraid to outsource their tier one storage and databases to a company like Storagenetworks.

Google is now trying to offer a similar model but with some Google mixed in...

Popular Mechanics
has an excellent article on some of the issues with this...

"Trusting information with a third-party client can still expose you to thorny legal challenges such as a subpoena. Unlike a search warrant for your off-line hard drive, which is far more restrictive and difficult to obtain, Google could perhaps be persuaded by law enforcement to deliver up your files—without even telling you.

“Google would be wise to offer users an option to encrypt your information,” says Nimrod Kozlovski, a professor of Internet law at Tel Aviv University. “It really needs to have really detailed explanations of what the legal expectations are for storing your info.” "

"Then there’s the trickier part: How does giving away storage translate into profits for Google? The company could potentially serve up contextualized ads to Gdrive users similar to its Gmail service and the Ad Words search model that made Google a giant in the first place. In this case, a computer might scan through all your files for relevant keywords, in a move that’s certain to spook privacy advocates, who tend to give Google a free pass compared with some of its competitors. "

There is no question in my mind that Google will get market share and it is a disruptive enough model to upset the storage oligarchs model of selling more hardware. If Google is able to pull this off it may validate the StorageNetworks model, it may also create a whole new storage services sector in the marketplace and provide companies, and just plain folks, with more choices for how they manage and maintain their storage. And this will be a good thing for everyone except those array manufacturers who maintain their box selling sales and marketing strategy.

History may not repeat itself, but it certainly is entertaining to look at old news reports like this...

StorageNetworks IPO Signals Boom For Storage Outsourcing
EMC Accuses SNI Of Misrepresenting Relationship
By Joseph F. Kovar - CRN - Waltham, Mass.
7:58 PM EDT Fri. Jun. 30, 2000

StorageNetworks Inc. demonstrated that the IPO market is still alive and well when its shares skyrocketed 234 percent after going public today.

StorageNetworks, an early entrant in the storage service provider arena, is hoping to ride an expected wave of storage outsourcing.

SNI, based here, sold 9 million shares of common stock priced initially at $27 per share, up from its original plans to offer shares at $17 to $19. By the end of trading day Friday, shares closed at $90.25, after retreating from a day-high of $102 but still up 234 percent.

SNI is the best known of several storage service provider startups offering to manage the growing storage needs of businesses and consumers at remote data centers.

International Data Corp. projects that worldwide storage services spending will exceed $40 billion in 2003, up from about $21 billion last year. Of those services, management and outsourcing will have a compound annual growth rate of 31.8 percent during that time, IDC said.

Business is starting to get ready for storage outsourcing, said Steve Duplessie, senior analyst at The Enterprise Storage Group Inc., a Milford, Mass.-based consultancy.

As storage needs grow faster than the ability of companies to grow their storage capacity and management, outsourcing will become an important part of their strategies, Duplessie said.

It is easier for businesses to focus on core competencies and leave storage to the experts, Duplessie said. "Clearly the dot-coms were born for (storage outsourcing)," he said.

Duplessie agreed with many industry observers who predict corporations will hesitate to hand their data to outside service providers. "However, data backup is a universal headache," he said.

When it comes to disaster recovery and backup, he said companies will find outsourcing preferable to building a whole second storage infrastructure.

"I could outsource such secondary and tertiary operations, and still control all my own data," he said. "And as companies get used to working with SSPs, they will move more of their data."

All is not necessarily rosy for SNI, however.

Company officials, in a regulatory filing filed Monday, said that EMC Corp. sent SNI a letter on June 21 alleging that SNI has misrepresented that EMC is an investor in SNI even though that is not the case. EMC, in that letter, also accused SNI of recruiting EMC employees and targeting EMC customers in violation of agreements between the two.

SNI purchased over 90 percent of the disk storage arrays and related software it uses to provide its services from EMC last year, although the company now works with about 15 different suppliers, company officials said. Forty percent of SNI revenue in 1999 came from providing professional services to customers of EMC.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sales droids are the same in every business

What I noticed at the RSNA conference this week is that there are a lot of competitive solutions being offered for PACS ( image archives) and that there seems to be a lot of marketing dollars being spent on spinning who has the best answer and the best pricing. Also, I noticed that Medical Sales folks wear suits, not just khaki pants and logo shirts! WOW : )

The big storage array vendors seemed to be pushing the idea that security and their large size is worth more to the customers , while the emerging vendors were touting low priced alternatives to the high price solutions. I spoke to one salesman at an emerging company from Irvine, CA who was explaining that his system stores a lot of images. I asked how much and he said they had almost 40 TB of storage at one location in TX. The salesman really thought I would be impressed by that amount, since I was paying very close attention to the system specs. I explained that that was still a small amount of storage, and asked him what type of storage he was using. He was not able to tell me if his system was using RAID 5, or RAID 1, or RAID 0 or whether this Texas installation figure being quoted was a Raw number or a usable storage number. He proudly told me that his system uses new High Availability SATA disks though. I asked him whether he had a higher failure rate with SATA than he experienced with Fibre Channel disks? I clarified that up to this point we have seen higher failure rates with the SATA disks we support. The salesman could not provide me with any numbers or statistics and at this point decided that he should talk to another customer. Although he had a very nice suit, he should have known more about the technology he was selling. His programming was incomplete.

A few minutes later, I was purchasing some coffee and struck up a conversation with an engineer from one of the large array vendors. I asked him about their experience with failure rates between FC disk and SATA disk. This turned out to be a very interesting conversation because the engineer explained that older SATA disks did seem to have a higher failure rate than FC disks for them. I asked for more details, and I was told that their testing of the newest SATA disk do seem to test out almost as reliably as FC disk. I was not able to learn which disk models have been tested by them to be superior models, but I am really interested in this information. Finding reliable and verifiable disk failure rate information which compares enterprise array failures of FC and SATA disk seems very difficult. I understand that over all disks are very, very reliable, but I would like to see some verifiable statistics instead of marketing numbers.

I also got the chance to visit some of our Chicago area customers this week. I really enjoyed my visits and it was great to be told by our customers how much they enjoy dealing with Zerowait.