Column

Storage -- Evolution or revolution


There's only one defined constant -- time. It moves too fast for me now, but too slow for my ninth grader. With time, everything changes. We don't even see most changes happening unless they're an "event." And it's easy to miss even a huge change if it takes long enough to happen. That's what's happening in storage right now.

Events force revolutions. The intellectual rationale for securing data isn't new, but current events force dramatic public changes. Revolutionary change catches both sides of our world by surprise: vendors who aren't ready to participate in the new world order, and IT buyers who aren't educated about the issues and resolutions of that new order. Market revolution driven by events allows new vendors to grab a slice of the business and ride to unimaginable heights. Almost every successful organization can point back to an event, or an unforeseen break created by an event, that led to its opportunity to play.

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IBM was founded by creating the event, the ability to use business machines to automate previously manual tasks. Its success meant that buyers -- the businesses that wanted the machines to make their operations more competitive and profitable -- created the next series of opportunities, like software, for example.

Most change happens slowly. The very nature of the human buyer is that once a decision is made, the last thing they want to do is go against the company they originally bet on to solve their problems. Being the incumbent is the best thing you can be in business because it's yours to lose. Customers don't buy the cheaper, faster, simpler gizmo from the new competitor until they realize: a) the incumbent can't even get close to the competitive offering and, more importantly, b) the problem the competitive offering will solve is approaching event/revolutionary status. No one buys from another vendor just for sport. Cheaper, faster and simpler is cool, but it won't get you the deal until the problems associated with the success of the previous solution -- or an event-driven societal change such as a new law or regulation -- force consumers to face the new reality and admit that the way they do things now, with the vendor they do it with, won't cut the mustard anymore.

Which gets me to my long belated point: What revolutionary and evolutionary changes are occurring now that have enabled so many "upstart" storage players to suddenly become relevant business entities? At no time in the last 40-plus years in this business has there ever been a more vibrant, legitimate "alternative" market challenging the incumbent big guys. There are now billions of dollars being spent by millions of folks on IT technologies and services provided by companies that most people have never heard of. That's never happened before.

Some are taking advantage of revolutions -- security/privacy breaches have legislatures scurrying to write new laws and the specter of regulatory compliance has been a blessing to many, but most are riding evolution. The nature of data has changed; it's no longer transactional. Our industry was built on transactional data being the only thing that mattered, but that ship -- while still very much afloat -- is just a small craft on a very big sea. Not seeing it coming means incumbent power brokers tend to adapt what they have and force it into the new world order. That might work for a while, but eventually it goes the way of the dodo.

Evolution and time have presented us with the next set of problems to be addressed, which has forced reluctant buyers to look beyond the easy way into the new world. What they're finding is a lot of cool companies and cooler products that have been built from the ground up to face the problems of today in the new world order, and that "let them eat cake" attitudes from incumbents may lead to another historical beheading. Stay tuned.

This column by Mr. Duplessie first appeared in Storage's March 2007 issue.

About the author:
Steve Duplessie is the founder and senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.