ASNP Aims for Independence

User group hopes to stay clear of vendor domination

July 5, 2004

3 Min Read
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The Association of Storage Networking Professionals (ASNP) signed up over 400 new members during its first annual "summit" meeting at the Storage World Conference in Long Beach, Calif., last week. But sources warn the group's at a crucial juncture, and the direction it picks now could make or break it.

ASNP was founded in September 2003 by Daniel Delshad, who also organized Storage World three years ago (see Storage User Groups Proliferate). From the start, it aimed to be different than other user forums, such as those under the umbrella -- some would say under the thumb -- of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

"Part of the it was that users didn't feel they had a place to go," says ASNP VP Max Shu. "Some felt SNIA didn't have enough end user activities."

SNIA now charges vendors up to $35,000 annually to join the group as voting members. Some say that's enabled suppliers to gain a foothold in the organization that drowns out user voices and promotes commercial interests.

To avoid vendor dominance, ASNP has kept vendor participation to a minimum. Vendors now pay an undisclosed but "nominal" fee to have their information listed on the group's Web site and promotional materials. And they must be preapproved in order to do so: "The ASNP is unique in that it was started by users for users and is not dependent on vendor or sponsor funding," the group's annual report states. "In order for the organization to remain 'vendor-neutral,' vendors can only participate in activities by invitation."Now, however, the ASNP has gathered enough momentum that vendors are looking on longingly for a piece of the action. It has more than 1,600 members in 27 chapters worldwide. Of those, 40 percent have annual storage budgets of more than $1 million. More than half manage over 10 terabytes of storage for their companies. U.S. regional directors include representatives from Home Depot, Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q). Southern Company, and the Mayo Clinic, to name just a few.

All this in one place is tough for vendors to ignore. "We spend an enormous amount of time and energy to get SAN professionals... ASNP is a great forum," said Frank Berry, VP of marketing QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC), in a speech at last week's conference. In his view, ASNP will need to find a way to accommodate vendor participation if it means to survive.

But ASNP is still mulling how to balance vendor interest in sponsoring ASNP with its need to stay focused on users -- a need that, judging by the growing membership, has struck a chord with storage networkers in the trenches. Should it charge big bucks and let the vendors sign on as adjunct members? Should it charge users more to join to cover the difference? These questions are as yet unanswered.

"We need to formalize or relationships and guidelines," concedes Max Shu. "Our users will hold us accountable... Now we're not dependent on vendor sponsorships... There needs to be a balance. It would be nice to have a sponsor, say, cover lunch [at a meeting] to break even."

At least one member, who asked to be quoted anonymously, isn't worried about whether the vendors get more involved. "Vendors are manageable," this IT manager says. The quality of IT folk in the directorship is now sufficient to keep the suppliers from pitching too heavily or otherwise alienating their actual or potential customers, in the manager's view.Qlogic's Berry thinks vendors should keep trying for meaningful participation in ASNP. "I call on all vendors to support it as a vehicle for you to work with users, present new technology... Call on the ASNP to find a way to bridge the gap to vendors," he said last week.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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