Surfing the services wave

I should never complain about information overload. After all, I am one of the offenders, along with my pals at InfoWorld. Nevertheless, those waves of announcements that storage vendors aim at the public are sometimes overwhelming. Often, the major topic those messages address is not a new technology or product, but rather a new (or revisited) strategy, a promising partnership or a statement of direction for the future.

An example is the EMC-Microsoft collaboration that promises customers smooth integration between products from the two companies and marks the adoption of the Microsoft WPN (Windows Powered NAS) filer system by yet another large storage vendor. Another example: the interesting component Brocade-Veritas plans to bring storage management intelligence through the SilkWorm Fibre Channel switches.

When vendors join efforts to ensure or create product interoperability, it's good news for their customers, but that plug-and-play dream is still a moving target.

In fact, Carly Fiorina's recent address on the "Adaptive Enterprise", delivered on the first anniversary of the HP-Compaq merger, contained a message of a slightly different nature. It focused on the notions that technology should serve business (and not the other way around) and that companies should leverage their IT structure to become more adaptable to new challenges, including more formidable competitors. It's difficult to disagree with those concepts. Many CIOs probably heard the same from the top brass of their own company.

In all fairness, with possibly one of the most complex mergers well-settled and behind it, HP is in the best position to say: We've done it, we've managed that challenge to adapt and can help your company achieve the same goal. This is obviously good marketing for HP Services. It contains a not-so-veiled suggestion that customers should purchase the products as well as the services that HP delivers in cooperation with partners.

If you're wondering how this relates to storage, here is the link: check any storage vendor site and you will see an emphasis on delivering services rather than just the box or the software. The reasons? Well -- profit, for one. You will have to shell out more budget money to acquire those services, and vendors welcome sales dollars, regardless of their source.

However, vendor greed is not the only rationale behind consultants' storage acquisitions fees. A much more compelling reason is that storage and its surrounding technologies become constantly more complex and interdependent, which makes choosing the right solution for your company more challenging and risky.

Moreover, acquiring storage products is often a sub- task within a much broader project, such as deploying a new e-business application, improving the performance of your supply chain, or launching a new product line in your company. Therefore, whatever storage solution you analyze has to respond not only to storage-specific necessities but also fit the larger business requirements of the main project. This calls for a range of skills that you may not always find inside your company or from a single vendor.

If your company counts in its employees' roster proven expertise in telecommunications, networking, security, databases, ERP and e-business applications, in addition to storage, then you may not need to hire consultants. Otherwise, those service fees could be the best dollars you ever spent on storage. At least until that elusive interoperability dream becomes a reality.

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