I write this the day after returning from the spring "Storage Management 2003" show in Chicago, put on by the owners of this very magazine. Without giving them excessive stroking, the show really is the best in the biz. (No, they don't pay me to go there or even to write this column, so I don't need to make them happy). There were a real IT professionals, with real problems and get this--budget dollars!
I spent time catching up with IT guys and vendors, and what I heard was encouraging. In the face of a all-around uncertainty, it seems IT is back to spending money. Even better, it appears that IT is spending money fixing legitimate problems--and that means they are spending money with innovators as well as the establishment. The rumor that EMC made their number and returned to profitability gave the whole market a palpable lift. Veritas is whispering positive results. Cool, but not as cool as what I heard from some of the little dudes.
It's hard to be a startup or small player among giants. The only way to get any attention is to do something radical--like build stuff that actually solves a real problem. Some of these guys deserve a bit of recognition for pulling of some amazing victories. For example: SSP-turned-storage-management-software players Storability and CreekPath have each nailed deals in excess of a million beans at two of the largest Wall St. firms--who of course, can't be named. (You'll note this is a common theme).
Invio, who had to deal with the BMC bumble, is still booking like crazy. InterSAN stuff runs on the biggest "gigantic financial services firm" stuff--over 200TB worth. Little-known guys like Fairfax, VA-based Vyant, FilesX, Southborough, MA, and Deepfile, Austin, TX, had mobbed booths, and it wasn't because of the giveaways (really guys, lets work on the giveaways, some of us rely on vendors for all of our clothing). FalconStor did a deal with a megavisible (yet unnamed, of course) guy on my top five IT people lists. That means they made a deal with a really smart dude. Really smart dudes typically don't buy dumb things.
In bad economic times, established vendors get all the money. It's safer. What I'm seeing going on tells me that the pain that IT folks are feeling is so strong they're willing to leave the comfort zone of the devil they know to look for someone who can cure their ills. People are willing to take chances if the potential upside beats the potential downside of, say, the company going the way of the dodo.
Seems like at most of these events over the last couple years people would rather be jumping off a Shark than trying to hawk their wares to an uncaring, non-buying audience. The attendees actually appeared to enjoy talking to the vendors--and looking for answers. It was weird. I feel good knowing I helped the U.S. Senate in their quest to move from DAS to SAN. Several of the IT folks were talking about implementations they had recently done-- of products that they had discovered at the last show.
It's never going to be the same way it was five years ago--we're never going to see spending as silly as that again, but right now things are starting to look pretty good. Solve a real problem, and somebody might pay for it. Imagine.