Is Storage Brand Loyalty a Thing of the Past?

I was asked by a vendor recently why customers would purchase another vendor’s storage solution when theirs could offer both the functionality and performance at a lower price. Whilst there can be many answers to such a question, and I did supply several, the one that got me thinking was ‘Because they know it, they like it  and because it has never let them down’.  In other words the same reason that the chap asking the question was on his 5th BMW, he liked and trusted the brand.

However, in the wonderful world of data all you need to understand is that things ain’t what they used to be. More than perhaps ever before, success, maybe even survival, may depend on a company’s ability to cultivate loyal, maybe even devoted, repeat customers. The thing about loyalty is that it isn’t always as pure as we’d like it to be. Sometimes (ideally) it’s earned, but sometimes it can be all but forced upon us for technical or commercial reasons, or possibly the disruption is too excessive to consider change.

Storage vendors have become very good at offering competitive upgrade programs designed to retain the customer, and in general these work very well for both the vendor (who retains the footprint) and the customer (who gets a commercially compelling deal). Equally vendors can offer deals to replace another technology with their own, whilst enabling ease of migration between platforms. But therein lies the challenge; technology is always unique to a single storage vendor; whilst the underlying disk technology may be the same the connections and access methods are invariably incompatible.

Now, it’s very possible to carry out data-in-place upgrades to controllers, with the existing disk technology remaining in place, with this type of solution available from the majority of vendors, and that does encourage a sense of loyalty to vendors. Obviously the decision to change technology in an environment is a hard, or brave, decision to make, and certainly not an easy one. Therefore in many circumstances it simply becomes easier for customers to stick with what they have in place.

However, as I said earlier, times they are a changin’, and the world of data and storage is changing more rapidly than other areas, and these changes may make it harder for incumbent vendors to retain their existing customer base. As we enter the world where software is king and everything assumes the software defined banner then suddenly the need to stick with a previously preferred vendor disappears. Going further, by removing the intelligence previously provided by the disk controllers to a software layer not only removes the need to have loyalty to a vendor, it also removes the need to be tied to dedicated block, file or object based arrays and removes the need to be tied to specific features of an existing array.

New and emerging vendors are already using commodity components and are providing their USP and value through their unique software, but even this can become compromised as the software layer evolves.

It’s a challenge that all existing storage vendors will have to face; this rise of commodity infrastructure in all its guises is coming fast and not stopping, and whilst this applies to all infrastructures it’s at the data layer where the most radical changes may occur.

As always, it’s a really interesting time to be working in storage and data.

About Bill McGloin

Bill is Computacenter's Chief Technologist for Information

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