Two Big Vendor Takeaways from Storage Field Day 5

Storage Field Day 5 is now over and was a marathon of vendor information and tech information. A marathon. I’m tired from 17 hour days, I’m addicted to caffeine, and my brain and body hurt. We had some great people along, on both sides of things. We had great vendors all around, even if some of the presentations were more controversial than others. That’s what I want to talk about here.

Storage Field DayProblem #1: Efficient Use of Time

Tech Field Day participants and viewers already know a lot about the problems a vendor is addressing. We’re on the front lines of this stuff. We help our customers and organizations work around these problems every day. We know budgets aren’t infinite, that IOPS and capacity often come as tradeoffs, and that there are pros and cons to different architectures. We’ve implemented all those different architectures. We meet with sales staff from companies like EMC, Dell, Veeam, VMware, etc. and have knowledge of product offerings, their design, and where they fit in the world.

These are the table stakes for techs at TFD and on the stream.

Takeaway #1: When you have a limited amount of time in front of a highly technical audience use that precious time to tell them things they don’t know and cannot get from other sources.

Is what you’re going to present available to your global sales force? Delete it, this audience has seen it. Does what you’re going to present assume anything less than an expert knowledge of the problems at hand? Remove it, we know it already. You are wasting both your time and ours, and diminishing any future value the session recordings will have because it’ll be duplicate content.

TFD delegates and staff take criticism when we prod presenters to move along if they have a lot of marketing and duplicate content. Perhaps they aren’t aware that every vendor is briefed prior to TFD to avoid these situations. We know these things are being recorded, and we know that some marketing is necessary, even helpful, to the discussion at hand. It might not seem like it, but we’re all fine with some marketing, both up-front and interspersed in the presentations. The SanDisk and SolidFire presentations are good examples of how to do it well.

Folks need to remember our point of view, too. We flew across the world at great personal expense[0] and expense to vendors to take part in a conversation that we couldn’t have at home. We expect that conversation. We also expect that conversation to be recorded by Tech Field Day for all the wickedly smart people in organizations everywhere that want to know more, but can’t get more from the sales guys in the field because those sales guys are non-technical. Vendors should help TFD record something that people will want to watch into the future, not another video about marketing position and the types of storage architectures. You have those already.

Corollary to #1: Only go in deep in relevant directions.

Given the preciousness of time with the TFD crew, every distraction means that you’re not getting to something this audience appreciates. For example, a protracted discussion of the possibility of SHA-1 160 hash collisions is unnecessary. Nobody in the room is a mathematician and is qualified to even comment on it, and if you built your product around SHA-1 160 you already did a risk analysis. So say that and move on. Likewise, details about the SQL table structure of your monitoring software are interesting to us, but when it means we ran out of time to talk about something materially relevant to the topic of the Tech Field Day that’s not a productive use of time.

Problem #2: Facts are not FUD

Given what we saw on Twitter during the SolidFire presentation, the tech industry seems to be overly sensitive to people naming names as competitors in comparisons. I suspect the cross-pollination in Silicon Valley has much to do with this. It also speaks to the disconnect between the Bay Area and the rest of the world, because all sales reps name names. They have to, because customers ask. It’s important, because as a customer we need to know who we’re talking about so that we can make an informed decision about the money we’re going to spend. If they don’t tell us who they’re comparing themselves to we think they’re making stuff up.[1]

When industry folks yell at others for doing this, or leave in a huff and call it “disgusting,” it might look like an intra-industry catfight, but in reality they’re calling me an idiot. They’re saying that, as a customer, I’m incapable of doing a fair comparison between vendors to find one that matches my needs. I will buy what I’m told to buy, apparently, by the high priests of the Valley.

Beyond being insulting, it also demonstrates a lack of understanding of how humans work, which really isn’t surprising for the tech industry. Make a big noise about something and it attracts more attention to the issue. Sometimes the best way to deal with a situation is to quietly observe. Especially if it’s obvious that the customer likes what they’re getting and it isn’t what you gave them.

Takeaway #2: When you tell the story you control the message. If you don’t tell your story well you leave the door open for someone else to tell your story the way they think it should be told. Attempting to suppress details that have been asked for and are very relevant to the discussion of products also conveys disrespect for customers and reflects poorly on your organization.

Oh, and by the way, it’s the audience that decides whether you told your story well. Not you.

In Conclusion

Tech Field Day comes more naturally to some than others, on both sides of the table. X-IO showed us great respect as we politely asked them to change course, and we ended up with a deep knowledge of both their marvelous storage offering and issues that face mechanical storage implementations. PernixData put their funny and engaging CTO in front of us to tell us about their new features, and saw record numbers of people on the stream. Scale Computing showed us their hyper-competent, laser focus on a part of the market that gets zero attention from others.

EMC showed us what we wanted to see with ViPR, their consolidated storage management & services layer that helps them deliver software-defined storage. SolidFire killed it with a very fair and impartial explanation of the deep technical issues and tradeoffs that all-flash array vendors face, on top of a great explanation of both the technology and the business drivers behind their array. SanDisk brought top-notch folks together to adapt and deliver their message, and demonstrated why they’re getting to be a very large, very mature player in the flash market. Veeam, as always, made great product announcements around the ever-changing market. And Diablo Technologies awed us by thoroughly complementing SanDisk’s ULLtraDIMM message with their own. Between SanDisk and Diablo we got to see lots of the ULLtraDIMM iceberg, not just the part above water that everybody sees.

A big thanks to everybody that worked to make it happen. I hope it’s the start of more great conversations between us.

[0] Somebody will inevitably point out that Tech Field Day is sponsored. That is true. I do not pay for airfare, lodging, or meals while the event is happening. However, we don’t receive any meaningful direct compensation for attending. Very few of us are permitted to attend as part of our employment, and a number of us are self-employed. This means that, at the least, we need to consume vacation to attend. At the most it is an opportunity cost, expressed as money we did not make, and customer projects that I delayed or didn’t take because of the conflict. Put simply, if I billed Tech Field Day as a consulting client for the time I spent this week they’d owe me more than $10,000. So when EMC is in front of me telling me how storage works, and that there are these things called arrays, some with two controllers and some with no controllers, I’m thinking about the money I could have made working on other projects, the time I could have spent with my wife and daughter which I’ll never have back, and the much better uses for my vacation time, instead of being a long way from home being condescended to in person and by and armchair quarterbacks on Twitter.

[1] This was actually a contribution from a sales guy who was standing in the lobby of the TFD hotel who overheard us discussing this.

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