Users Keep Vendors Guessing

Mind games, politics, and hardball are key to getting storage deals, users say

June 22, 2006

4 Min Read
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LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Storage World Conference -- To get the most from storage deployments, users should be prepared to keep their vendors on their toes. This was the message from CIOs and IT managers speaking on a panel here this week.

"You want the ability to frighten them," explained Charles Curtis, senior storage engineer of Stewart Transaction Solutions, which runs more than 1,000 servers in its Houston, Texas, data center.

Curtis's firm typically works with one primary storage vendor, which he did not name, but the firm also maintains links with a "couple of minor players" to keep things interesting. "It's political," he said. "It's the ability to leverage an advantage over the storage vendor so that they are afraid you are going to leave them."

Other panelists echoed these sentiments. "We keep evaluating all types of technologies that are around in the marketplace, and we make sure that our vendors know that we're doing that," said Jeff Rochlin, manager of server strategy at Walt Disney Worldwide Services.

Disney, which uses a single vendor for about 90 percent of its infrastructure, is not afraid to rock the boat, according to Rochlin. "It lets them know that they cant get complacent. They can't fall behind in developing feature sets and getting those things that we need."Users are buoyed in their efforts to keep storage vendors hopping by a market that's unusually competitive. Despite some uncertainty about the long-term prospects for the U.S. economy, recent indications suggest that storage spending will remain solid. (See Uncertainty Shadows IT Spending and Vendors Set Sights on SMB Windfall.) Analyst firm IDC recently reported that revenues from external disk storage systems in the first quarter of 2006 grew 10.3 percent from one year ago to $4.2 billion. (See External Storage Hits $4.2B.)

Nonetheless, Tom Lindblom, CTO of CKE Restaurants, which owns and operates more than 3,000 restaurants across the U.S., likes to keep his main storage supplier aware that he's looking around. "When they come in, they will always see a SAN from their primary competitor."

Lindblom, who uses a 60-Tbyte transactional database to run his firm's operations, believes timing can be crucial when it comes to clinching storage deals. "It's incredible what happens at the end of the quarter, at the end of the fiscal year."

Users are more than happy to play favorites. Patrick Copland, senior technical systems specialist at the Integrated Waste Management Department for Orange County in California, keeps three vendors on the radar. The County devotes "time, energy, and money" to one of these firms, which Copland categorizes as "up and coming." A second vendor is "kind of a has-been," and a third is "in the batter's box" ready to step up if called upon.

Curtis warned that users should also think about the vendor's situation. According to the exec, an effective storage-purchasing strategy is based on a number of factors that take the vendor's sales cycles into consideration as well as the users' current and projected needs. "If you're in a situation where 'I have got to have storage and I have got to have it now,' you haven't been doing your job."For Curtis, dealing with a vendor is very much a two-way street, particularly when coping with sudden capacity spikes. "You maintain that really solid vendor relationship because there are times when that bails you out," he explained. "I don't know any [major vendors] that won't come through in a pinch and help you out."

Some panelists were ambivalent about adopting early technology. "If it will help us get through the challenges of getting a film out faster, we will adopt early technology and take the risk that goes with it," said Rochlin.

This was not the case for Curtis. "We don't early adopt anything," he said. "We're very much into making sure something is extremely reliable before it ever appears."

Copland spends about 10 percent of his time looking at new technology, although he relies heavily on resellers to ease his procurement strain. "A lot of the work we are doing is trying to work with resellers, trying to find what products are out there," he said. "We leverage their time."

— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch0

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