I saw a great quote recently—my friend Richard Heard (the CEO of Red8) uses it in his corporate deck. It is from Jack Welch: "If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”
Boy is this true across a myriad of endeavors…and boy is it a challenge for traditional vendors in the storage industry these days. For years—well, decades—IT organizations have essentially hand-built their infrastructure and systems, combining a multitude of components to achieve their desired and/or required results. Now, admittedly, the components have always been extremely complex and sophisticated—whether they be switches, blades or storage systems—but they are also ultimately dumb until the “white coated magicians” of IT integrate, tune, and give them meaningful-results-oriented life. But this approach—so long the norm—is under attack; instead of people buying seats, engines, and wheels to build custom vehicles, an increasing number of actual car and truck manufacturers (that is, integrated systems, purpose-built appliances, and everything-as-a-service) is arriving...and—just as important—users are testing and demanding such options. People want to transport themselves and their stuff (i.e., run applications and deliver IT and business results) rather than merely build and care for the automotive solution (i.e., infrastructure) that can do so. But wait, there’s more…
Maybe you don't want to actually buy or own a vehicle? Well, then there's public transport options or you can rent a Zip car as and when you need it. In IT, we—currently at least—call this the various types of cloud or XaaS. And the rate of change is fast and many IT and storage vendors are responding by offering such things as:
- Reference architectures (that's essentially a kit car, where you get the right parts—or at least a list of the right parts—with good instructions).
- Tweaked products for the CSPs and to cope with different buying behaviors (this is the multiple options of pay-as-you-go offerings from vendors, guarantees, etc. that we see arriving daily).
- More scalable and integrated—even hypervisor like!?—control of multiple [storage] systems (akin to selling/renting and servicing multiple car brands and types but ensuring all the seats and controls, entertainment selections, and climate preferences are in the same place for you all the time and react identically to your changing parameters). And, of course, many of the more traditionally minded vendors, user-organizations, and people (often simply the ones who have been in the industry for a long time in each case) are fine with all this as it allows them to appear contemporary while clinging to (the user desire) or protecting (what vendors want) the old way of doing things. Right now is the toughest time for everyone involved as there's a real bifurcation.
But, back to the Jack Welch comment: These changes are looking imminent and are happening faster than we might all care to admit. It is really the early sightings of what we might call “Storage 2.0.” Not a component, or a bunch of subsystems, but an integrated and functional, easy-to-deploy service (and I say service whether you own and run it yourself or outsource it, as that is how it will be consumed and feel). Vendors that want to remain relevant, viable, and still-profitable a few years hence had better be working real hard and fast on the requisite strategic internal changes; or else the change itself—together with the advance of an emerging demographic with new perspective—will remove their choice. It is Darwinism in action.