Dell EMC made a broad swathe of announcements pertaining to its midrange storage systems this week.
Aside from the product news (and there’s certainly some important technological advances/catch-ups in the announcement*) there’s notable news on the commercial front, with Dell EMC launching its full blown “Future Proof Storage Loyalty Program.” It is a mix of assurances, flexibility, and guarantees - and I think one would have to say that objectively it’s pretty darned good. Certainly, having such assurances from a market leader like Dell EMC will be especially welcome for its myriad users (and channel partners too, I would imagine).
But the story is broader than that; time was (OK a fair time back!) that the storage business was essentially buyer beware....you really could end up with some dire stuff decades back. And as we come closer to today, you still just bought the product and hoped it did everything you expected (and that the data sheet and sales team had promised). As storage systems got not only generally better but also more complex, gradually a few vendors (invariably the smaller ones that wanted to get noticed, snub their noses at the big dogs, and of course grow their business) started to offer guarantees of some sort. Early on, these focused on effective capacity, but have gradually expanded to cover everything from performance to, essentially, ongoing - almost rental-like - rolling purchase and deployment options.
Well yes, no, and maybe.
- The ‘yes’ is because the overall purchase experience is no doubt better with these safeguards in place. No vendor wants the contingencies invoked, so everyone is aligned to make everything work optimally.
- The ‘no’ is because now pretty much every vendor has some form of commercial and/or operational protection attached to the purchase, meaning that establishing differentiation simply by having this (“we truly stand behind our product and claims”) isn’t going to cut it.
- The ‘maybe’ is because to a large degree we are back to the days of ‘buyer beware.’ This time it’s more about the degree of positivity than negativity but the principle is similar. Making optimum storage purchasing decisions hasn’t necessarily become easier in these days of competing guarantees. It HAS probably become less likely that users will make a bad decision, simply because every vendor is standing behind its products to some extent. But now the user - the decision maker - has to try to divine the differences between all these various programs and then figure out exactly what each means as well as what is best suited to their situation.
When all the vendors have “something like this,” then it can be all-too-easy to assume that they are all very similar and then it can quickly become just a “checkbox” item. This has happened with technology; think, for example, of thin provisioning when that rolled through the storage industry - the various deployments were actually markedly different (they still are by the way) and yet the shared name served to encourage a “semantic fog” where everything seemed the same.
So what happens now that most storage buyers will find that their choices are both protected by - and indeed made foggy by - a bewildering cornucopia of guarantees? There are two possibilities
- Buyers really spend the time to truly figure out what each plan means and what is best suited to their needs.
- Buyers assume that “heck, whatever I choose I am better covered than without these guarantees” and get back to making decisions based on the product and vendor.
Dell EMC looks to me to have planted a [strong] corporate foot in each camp. For Option 1 it has a compelling deal to offer - it has not gone as far down the “rolling purchase” road as others but it does nonetheless offer everything from guaranteed overall capacity-efficiency (4:1) and a 3 year satisfaction guarantee through to “Never-Worry Data Migrations.”
But, my gut feel is that for most buyers option 2 Is way more likely than option 1. And if I am correct then it makes Dell’s announcement in this regard all the more intriguing. Now that the biggest dog on the mid-range data storage block offers guarantees too (with more to come I'm sure), the item is effectively taken off the decision making table. As users look back instead at the products and vendors themselves, Dell EMC (with its new enhancements* and its market-leading share) looks even shinier than before. Indeed the inclusion of such things as the built-in Virtustream Storage Cloud “easy button,” and all-inclusive software are not really anything to do with guarantees or even loyalty but are everything to do with enhanced overall product value. And I guarantee you that's a smart move by Dell EMC!
* These references are to such things as the enhanced “all-in” software suite on Dell EMC’s mid-range SC product, the long-awaited delivery of deduplication on the Unity platform, together with other performance, replication and upgradability improvements spread across both platforms. These are well covered by my colleague Scott Sinclair in his blog HERE.