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Use caution when dealing with data storage vendor buzzwords

Data storage buyers must navigate through a complex maze of marketing buzzwords when evaluating data storage products before making a purchase decision.

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I'm sure all data storage vendor marketing people are honest, upright citizens who never lie. Well, almost never. What they're more apt to do is (kind of) tailor the truth to better serve their companies' products -- heck, that's practically a job description for a marketer. It's all done with a wink and a nod, but is underscored with an earnestness that belies the lies. In fact, data storage vendor marketers can get so earnest with their pitches that, in short order, they actually believe what they're saying.

So it's up to us to parse through their often hyperbolic rhetoric to answer our core question: what can (or can't) this product do?

For tech journalists, data storage vendor briefings are a way of life. We do phone briefings with vendors; meet them in person at conferences; sit in on their webinars and press conferences; and read their announcements, data sheets and specifications. It's how we keep up with what's going on in the industry -- particularly on the product front -- so that we can get information to you in a timely manner, with the appropriate context or analysis, of course.

It's actually a lot of fun, for the most part, especially for us nerdy types who gobble up tech tidbits like candy. Most vendors are pretty straightforward when describing the technical aspects of their products. But they often trip up when they wander into the marketing wilderness.

Beware the storage buzzword!

A buzzword is like a holy grail to a storage marketer. Find one that's getting some airplay, fashion a story (fiction or fact -- that's not too important) around it, attach it to the product name and then say it as often as possible.

In fact, data storage vendor marketers can get so earnest with their pitches that, in short order, they actually believe what they're saying.

There are a couple of interesting angles to buzzword-ism. First, a carefully chosen buzzword isn't likely to raise any eyebrows -- or questions, for that matter -- if it's delivered with an "of course, you know all about this" self-confidence. It kind of puts the person getting buzzworded on the spot because they don't want to own up to, maybe, being a step or two behind the leading edge. So a buzzword slinger can often slip some embellishing verbiage by an unsuspecting potential customer.

Another interesting buzzword factoid is they tend to wear out -- sometimes pretty quickly -- so you need to have a few buzzwords on the bench, ready to step up to the plate and take their whacks at unwary customers. The fact that what was so in yesterday is definitely out today is all part of the game.

So what does this all mean to a storage shopper? It means look out. Read between the lines, ask a lot of questions and stay focused on what you really need.

'Perfect for DevOps'

I recently sat in on a briefing in which the data storage vendor was trying to differentiate its product from all the other seemingly similar storage arrays available. The product had some very interesting bells and whistles, but apparently felt those little noisemakers weren't enough to make it really stand out as something new. Not too far into their spiel, the phrase "perfect for DevOps" started popping up -- as in, this new box is really perfect for DevOps. If it had just been said once, I probably would've dismissed it, but it became something of a litany -- maybe even this new array's outstanding feature.

I'm hardly a DevOps expert, so I had to ask just what made this array the ideal storage system for that environment. There was a long pause. And then the answer: "Well, it supports Linux." Hmm, and I thought DevOps was difficult to understand and hard to implement. Little did I know it's as easy as Linux. Hmmm …

Seriously, a response like that causes all pretenses to fall away, leaving the buzzword blowing in the breeze.

"Perfect for DevOps" is just the latest in a long line of buzzwords that vendors try -- usually unsuccessfully -- to attach to storage products to make them seem, well, more than just storage.

A legacy of hyperbole

If you were shopping for storage 12 or 13 years ago, you might've been caught in a blizzard of "compliance editions" buzzwords. With Sarbanes-Oxley recently enacted and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, just taking hold, all of a sudden, it seemed like every IT product was specially designed to deal with the burdens imposed by those regulations. Of course, they weren't -- they were the same products that were for sale before compliance became the buzzword du jour.

Don't be distracted by these data storage vendor marketing hijinks. You know what you need to solve your company's problems, and whether it's virtual or real, who cares?

That fizzled out pretty quickly, only to be replaced by the equally short-lived "green edition." Did storage vendors expect IT managers to be flannel-shirted leafy sorts, only to be surprised when they weren't? Or maybe those managers were just too smart to believe that an array was a "green solution" just because it didn't dim the lights of Manhattan when it was turned on.

The buzzword juggernaut is unstoppable, however. Soon, "virtual" got tacked on to every product whether or not it actually had anything to do with virtualization. And with everything becoming "virtual," there was little left of reality to stand on, so "software-defined" quickly rose to number one on the buzzword hit parade. And even that's waning, as any ITer knows that everything is software-defined, so what's new about that? Enter "DevOps ready."

This barrage isn't going to stop any time soon -- it's marketing 101 and has been used for ages to drub innocent victims into buying stuff. Don't be distracted by these data storage vendor marketing hijinks. You know what you need to solve your company's problems, and whether it's virtual or real, who cares if it can solve the problem? And if it's software-defined or hardware-defined or defined by some fourth-dimension terminology, who cares?

But if your boss asks if your new array is DevOps ready, you can say, "Of course it is!"

About the author:
Rich Castagna is TechTarget's VP of Editorial.

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This was last published in November 2016

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