The VMworld 2013 expo was all about storage, cloud (storage) and securing the data (on the storage). I wouldn’t be surprised if a trade show analyst declared this to be the enterprise storage event of the year and a preferred alternative to Storage Networking World (SNW). I’ll expect the same next year because the vendors I spoke with told me it was a good event for them. They said they met more end-users this year and most have exhibited for many years.
All in all it was a great event, but by the time I hit the expo the booth babes were looking a little rough.
I checked in with the storage-related vendors: Aberdeen, Asigra, Avere, Bluelock, Cloudbyte, Cloudfounders, Codefourtytwo, Commvault, Coraid, Dell, EMC, FalconStor, Fusion-io, Greenbytes, HDS, HP, Maginatics, Maxta, Micron, Nasuni, NetApp, Neverfail, Nexsan, Nexenta, Nimbus Data, Nutanix, Permixdata, Pure Storage, Qnap, Quantum, Racemi, Scality, Simplivity, sTec, Synology, Tegile, Tintri, Violin Memory, Virident, VirtunetSystems, WD, X-IO, Yuruware, Zadara, as well as other neat firms like Brocade, Cognizant, Rapid7, Sandbox, Splunk, Thinking Software and others.
From a marketing perspective it was clear that almost all the vendors had innovative products and if you gave the salespeople a chance they could articulate what makes their particular product special. Frankly, it was important to give them a chance to talk because many booths failed to adequately communicate to passers by what their company was selling, let alone what made their particular product special. It’s easy for marketers to assume that everyone else knows as much as they do about their offering. However, they assume too much. I can name 75+ Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash Memory — that list excludes standard HDD-based storage, and most of the software solutions, including a gazillion backup/recovery products. There are easily 200+ firms vying for the attention of enterprise storage managers, analysts and journalists.
Nimbus Data was clear. They were showing “The most resilient, future-proof flash memory storage ever.” And, it must be fast to set records.
Coraid’s value proposition was not immediately clear to me from their signage. However, when you talk with Coraid you can learn that their storage uses ATA over Ethernet, rather than iSCSI, Fibre Channel or Infiniband. I haven’t checked the specs., but they told me it was faster than iSCSI and Fibre Channel, it offers parallel performance, and it’s not limited by cable length. I’m sure storage buyers can see the value in that, especially if the price is right and they are open to another interconnect standard.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas) pricing models helped differentiate some products. Bluelock offers recovery as a service where they continuously backup data to the cloud and enable failover to the cloud if an issue takes down the primary data center. Asigra also offers recovery as a service. Brocade allows enterprises use networking infrastructure on a subscription basis. Users rent the equipment and can return it anytime. Zadara will also ship hardware to customers on pay-as-you-go terms or you can subscribe to their multi-tenant infrastructure in such a way that the infrastructure used is dedicated and not otherwise shared. As a 4-P marketer I’m always interested in innovative pricing and place-of-sale (delivery) strategies so I’m looking forward to seeing if the hardware rent models work.
There were a number of Software Defined Storage and Unified Storage vendors and firms that are betting on a shift from SAN and NAS. Such firms include Cloudfounders, Nutanix, Scality, Simplivity, amongst others. The unified server/storage approach fits well with the development of DIMM-based Flash modules showcased at the recent Flash Memory Summit. Like PCIe Flash drives, the DIMM Flash fits directly into a server (like RAM) taking advantage of available DIMM slots. So with the right software, all the direct attach hard drives across multiple servers can be pooled and managed as a unit while the servers’ Flash is used as a cache for application acceleration.
The well known performance issues associated with VDI had all the Flash system vendors and Intelligent Caching products on display. Although most storage systems have some form of caching built in (usually read-only), Pernixdata offers read and write caching at the kernel level for VMs, eliminating latency. VirtunetSystems has a similar VMware enhanced offering.
Cloud storage also had a big presence with the most interesting being Maginatics and Nasuni. These firms cache cloud-based data so it works like the data on your local hard disk. Racemi offers cloud to cloud data migration service and charges only for successful migrations.
Of course, all the typical storage product categories were represented — everything from innovative JBOD chassis, to backup/recovery/archive software, to RAID and Flash systems. However, I’ll leave the product reviews to the analysts and journalists and move on to other marketing related topics.
On the promotion side of things, firms love to make make big announcements at trade shows. StorageNewsletter reported 33 storage-related announcements for VMworld 2013. I’m not sure why everyone follows this strategy, other than a trade show is a useful milestone that can get the engineering team to release the product. My PR and lead gen. firm, Marketingsage, has looked at the publicity firms achieve with trade show timed announcements. Unless you are a really big firm with a really big announcement, most firms simply get a mention in a roundup that covers everyone’s announcements. However, if you take Marketingsage’s advice and announce either before or after the event, you can get a nice story all to yourself. It’s simple supply and demand. Provide news when it’s scarce and you’ll get better coverage.
That said, I did have a very amusing encounter with one startup that absolutely did not want to announce the product they were promoting at VMworld. As I approached their booth, a representative spotted my “Blogger” badge and immediately intercepted me, blocking my view. I asked about their product. He answered with a few nebulous words that meant absolutely nothing, despite the information on display on the booth wall and monitor. It was a conversation akin to a cop on TV asking the guy they just pulled over: “Is that your Porsche?” To which he answers nervously “It’s my friend’s. She said I could borrow it.” “What’s your friend’s name?” “I forget, she’s really just a friend of a friend.” “I see you’ve started her Porsche with a screwdriver, didn’t she give you a key?” “No, she lost her key and I wanted to surprise her by getting the car started without it…”
So what would you do if someone blocked your view and said something to the effect of “move along now, nothing to see here.” Precisely! I stayed. It turned out they are planning a big PR announcement when they add a few more customers and did not want to dilute that announcement. I’ve seen that before. Some marketers call it a “soft launch.” It doesn’t work well. The pundits will know about the product, because they see it at the events (or at a briefing). Like me, they may respect the vendor’s request not to go public (as if a trade show is not public). However, soon the so called news is not news to the people who deliver it to the public, so the eventual announcement fizzles. The soft launch becomes a weak launch.
There were two trade show innovations that I think are worth a mention. First, there were several booths with whiteboards (see the Nutanix picture above.) A whiteboard is really helpful when discussing a network or a software stack. The second was HP’s lightbox rack. Sure it’s just a picture, but I’ve always questioned the benefit of shipping a ton weight of equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, then having 2 engineers spend hours setting it up for a so called demo that amounts to a bunch of flashing lights. If it’s a canned demo, why not record it, ship the hardware face plates (blinking lights) and replay it on a screen?
About the Author
David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).