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Realigning the stars

Realigning the stars

Recently, I slammed Veritas' management for a variety of failures that resulted in it merging with Symantec (see "Thumbs down on Veritas merger"). In April, I sat down with John Thompson, Symantec's CEO, and talked storage (see I have all the same questions about whether the merger will ultimately yield anything worthwhile for storage managers, but Thompson persuaded me he has an idea worth considering and time will tell if you agree. It's clear that he isn't naÏve about Veritas' history of tough business practices and the challenge of getting people to do things in a new way.

And that's the subject of this editorial: the danger of business as usual, for you and vendors.

I talked with a storage manager who's been laboring to get his boss to consider a new backup architecture. He wants to bring in one of the up-and-coming new players in backup software as a potential alternative to Veritas. This alternative vendor is in no danger of going out of business, has widely used products and has received high marks from users. Why is it so hard to set up a meeting? Because his boss only wants to talk to two or three long-established players.

That would be fine if those players were on the ball with product development, pricing and meeting all the emerging requirements of networked storage. But any honest appraisal of the incumbent management and backup software players' current offerings would conclude that they've left many bases poorly covered. Maybe no one ever got fired for buying the market leader, but they said that about IBM and plenty of people who couldn't see past the mainframe got fired in the early '90s.

Vendor consolidation is a fact of life in storage, but it's a two-edged sword. Some worthy approaches die aborning (take Sandial, for example); some gain resources and momentum after being acquired (EMC's acquisition of FilePool, resulting in Centera). Right now, consolidation seems to be all about beating EMC. That was a theme for Thompson, and it was the theme of the recent IBM/Network Appliance reseller agreement.

And that's a shame. EMC may be the big dog in storage, but there are better mousetraps (or equally compelling ones). I don't mean this as an endorsement, but plenty of people have found happiness and productivity with new vendors like 3PAR, AppIQ, CommVault and others. Yes, EMC is the gold standard in some things, and obviously a good choice for many users. But when you measure progress, you have to use a different standard than the established players, or you'll never actually progress.

Everyone wants to have fewer vendors. And no one wants to buy from a vendor who goes out of business next year. But those goals have to be weighed against the ultimate goal: Giving your company a more capable, economical storage infrastructure to support ever-expanding business requirements. Happiness isn't always spelled in three-letter acronyms.

I found myself saddened by the tale of the storage manager who couldn't get his boss to entertain anything new. This technology is just getting going and we need a culture of controlled experimentation to move it forward. EMC was a startup, too, and not so long ago.

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