Be your own storage analyst

The concept of "product pipeline" refers to a vendor's portfolio of present and future products, and where those products are in terms of their launch and continuing development.

Analysts are constantly being asked about product pipelines:

When will a vendor come out with its new killer app? When will there be enhancements to last year's killer app so that the product will actually work? And numerous variations on these themes.

Clients that are vendors seek insight into what the competition will be coming out with. Clients representing enterprise IT departments engage with us because they know some analysts talk to a lot of vendors in the course of a week, are consultants to many of them, and occasionally we even understand some of what we see. An IT director might want some help understanding what to buy, or (and this only comes from the sharpest among them) how to form a storage buying strategy.

Providing this kind of information to clients - and to readers - sometimes has analysts skating on the edge. Much that we might like to share comes to us under a "nondisclosure agreement" or an "embargo" (when a company tells us something in advance, but makes us promise not to blab about it until a specified date). Obviously, information acquired in this way can only be shared in strict compliance with the guidelines that accompany the information... at least for those of us who play by the rules.

Enterprise users, and the competitive analysis ferrets of the various vendors, don't have to adhere to such rules, of course.

The vendors' competitive analysts know how to go out and troll for data, but it is a curious fact of life that enterprise managers, frequently bright and insightful in terms of their technical environment, haven't a clue as to how to go out and get even the most basic sort of information on their own.

Maybe they just lack the time, but many fail to take even the simplest of steps that might provide them with the wherewithal for more informed decision-making.

What would you do if you wanted to find out about the latest and greatest from various storage vendors, but can't afford to engage in a consultative relationship with an analyst firm?

Are you prepared to go the first mile on your own when it comes to researching storage vendors?

Here is your homework project:

During the last two months, three important storage software vendors announced significant additions to their lines.

Legato announced the "NetWorker Availability" module to its flagship NetWorker product. What does this do?

Tivoli (a division of IBM) released Tivoli Storage Resource Manager. Are the features of this product valuable at your site?

Computer Associates began shipping Version 9 of BrightStor ARCserve Backup for Windows. Should you upgrade, or convert to this product?

The more "'Net-savvy" among you will pull in all this information within five minutes. For the rest of you:

Hint #1: All companies offer a description of their products on their Web site, typically in a section called "Products" or "Solutions." However, that is NOT where to go to find out what's new.

Hint #2: Even the clumsiest vendor knows enough to announce its products (although many of them do an astonishingly poor job of it anyway). Where does this newly announced information appear?

This of course is an exercise in research, not in analysis.

Nothing here gives you insight into unannounced products, and this certainly doesn't offer you anything in the way of disinterested "third-party analysis."

How can you get a glimpse of unannounced products from the vendors? That's tough... unless you happen to be a customer of one of them (and given that we all store data, aren't we all).

Here is an often-ignored tactic: ask questions. The next time a vendor's rep comes into your shop, tell him that rather than another free coffee mug and T-shirt you would prefer to get a view of the technology in his company's pipeline. You may be asked to sign an NDA, but that shouldn't be a problem.

If there is no response, well... I guess that provides insight into how they value their relationship with you. But in most cases they are likely to share.

Finally, how can you get useful analysis of what they say? I blush to tell you.

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