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Low risk or low gain?

Low risk or low gain?

Low risk or low gain?

At Storage Decisions this September in New York City, a storage manager from a large pharmaceutical company spoke of the trouble he has getting his firm to evaluate products from a vendor they're not currently doing business with. Buy a product from a startup? It's more likely that the CFO will hand out $100 bills to all employees every Friday.

This storage manager's quandary was evident: How can he pick the right technology for the job when he's locked into a small pool of vendors? At any given moment, those in the pool may not be at the front of the train, leaving him and his company in the caboose. That's ironic for a company whose whole business is built around discovering new drugs.

Storage managers face a lot of challenges these days in buying infrastructure. Vendors like 3PAR, AppIQ, Copan Systems, Decru, Maxxan Systems and Nexsan Technologies have seriously changed what we might consider doable in storage. Storage managers may wish for these startups to all find a home with a household-name vendor, as Decru and AppIQ have (Network Appliance and Hewlett-Packard, respectively), but there's no guarantee that will happen. Some former startups have developed decent midsized businesses (Xiotech comes to mind) built around their distinctive products, but many potential customers still have purchasing policies that can keep them from being on the short list without a lot of special pleading.

Large storage vendors continue to innovate, but they're far from the sole source of innovation. Serious holes remain in the storage networking story, holes they haven't filled. And even the successes of recent years--I'm thinking of the explosive growth of tiered storage--have certainly been influenced by many startup innovators.

Maybe buying from a handful of established vendors is a low-risk policy. But in a fast-moving area like storage, it can be a low-gain policy, too. If you can't get your usual vendor to acquire your favorite vendor, or at least create a strong alliance, you may need to get your CFO to reconsider your corporate vendor-selection policy.

Speaking of acquisitions, the first fruits of Symantec's acquisition of Veritas were unveiled at Storage Decisions. Symantec has produced a robust bare-metal restore for Windows systems and integrated it into Backup Exec, and NetBackup will follow. I'm not passing judgment on how well the products work, but integrating these two functions makes sense. I wasn't particularly positive about the Symantec/Veritas merger, but if this is typical of where they're headed, I'll be the first to admit that, in this case, one less vendor turned out to be a stronger offering.

Trickier is Hewlett-Packard's pickup of AppIQ. It's a good move for HP and its customers, but this one has broader ramifications. Lately the poster child for open storage management, AppIQ has saved several major vendors the embarrassment of having no standards-compliant management tools. HP did a lot to establish standards-based network and desktop management a decade ago; one can only hope it continues that record with storage via AppIQ.

More problematic is whether other vendors give in to "the friend of my enemy is my enemy" mentality and ditch AppIQ in spite. Given the mediocre pace of standards adoption to date, the last thing storage managers need is for major vendors to drop their already limited initiatives and sit and pout in the corner.

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