Posts Tagged ‘vendor agnostic’

Magic Quadrants are good, but working equations are better.

21/11/2009

For those of you who know me well …or have joined me for a Chief Wine Officer event …you’ll know that my two favourite hobbies which I’m most passionate about are aeroplanes and wine.  Not always in that order, and never enjoyed together as the Civil Aviation Authority takes a dim view of such interaction.

But I’ll tell you a secret …I don’t actually have a favourite bottle of wine, nor do I have any silly rules like ‘no bottle under £20’ or some such.  I admit that I do subscribe to Decanter, read Jancis Robinson online, and subscribe to more wine blogs and Twitter feeds than I care to mention.  Whilst data can be very useful, you always run the risk of ‘analysis paralysis’ and, at the end of the day …much of what is written about wine is frankly someone’s subjective opinion.

No, I firmly believe that wine should be had for enjoyment …and I’ve tasted exceptional wine at £5 as well as wine costing much more which I wouldn’t clean Mrs. PL’s motor engine with.  Equally, as each one of us has an idea of the tastes we like and don’t like …who am I to tell someone else whether a bottle is good or not?  All I can do is tell you if I like it, although this does introduce the small problem of what to serve at dinner parties or when Mrs. PL and I are sharing a bottle.

So, what to do?  I do have a little formula in my head that I use which takes things into account when I choose a bottle …why are we drinking this, is it a celebration or a weekday? …how much does it cost, and is that a fair price? …what kind of food are we eating, or are we not eating until later? …and so on.  I want to get on to the crux of this post, but at the bottom of this post there are a few wines which make the PL Wine List.

What has this got to do with data storage and protection?

I’ll tell you another secret …contrary to what some might believe …including a few of our vendors …I don’t have a ‘favourite’ vendor or product any more than I have a favourite bottle of wine.  Without getting too Eddie Haskell about this, what is truly important to me …and I know I am far from alone in this within Computacenter …are our customers and how our solutions can help them remain competitive in their respective markets in the midst of a difficult economy.

Great, fantastic, huzzah.  But so what.  Isn’t that, you know …your job?  Indeed it is, but just as it can be difficult to select a wine for an occasion where it will be shared with others …how do we select a solution for a customer in a selective and demonstrably valuable way?

Some customers work directly with vendors and often use Gartner Magic Quadrants as a way to select their preferred solution.  Nothing wrong with that, but just as some winemakers and wineries are now openly criticising scoring systems they see as subjective scoring techniques such as the Robert Parker 100 Point Scale …so too are some vendors criticising the Gartner Magic Quadrants claiming the research methodologies are something less than scientific.  Indeed, a vendor recently brought a suit against Gartner claiming exactly this, with the suit having been initially thrown out but likely to be appealed.

Now, this post isn’t about criticising or having a go at Gartner or their Magic Quadrants …indeed, I applaud Gartner for being very open and transparent regarding their research techniques leaving folks to make up their minds for themselves.

That said, I believe research provided by companies such as Gartner to be but one part of the solution equation.

In an effort to inject more science into a solution decision, rather, I would argue that the solution equation should be expressed as [ROI] + [CBA] + [DPB] = CSS.

ROI, or Return on Investment.  How does our proposed solution return ROI within our customer’s stated period?  How can we leverage the existing infrastructure and investment to improve upon the ROI period?

CBA, or Cost Benefit Analysis.  Once the solution has been implemented, how much cost can be removed from our customer’s infrastructure and related budgets?  Exactly how will this be achieved (e.g. thin provisioning, data deduplication and/or data compression, storage virtualisation)?  What is the CBA not just for one to three years, but for five years from implementation?

DPB, or Disruption to Production Business.  What disruption is the recommended solution likely to have on the customer’s production business?

We give each of the above blocks …[ROI], [CBA], and [DPB] each a possible score of 100 such that a perfect solution would give us 300 expressed as CSS, or the Composite Solution Score.

How do we score each of the blocks such that we aren’t scoring subjectively?  Well, firstly we ensure that our data consultants retain the highest credentials in the industry …but we then couple their knowledge with a point system derived from IDC Storage v3.0 criteria as well as the Carnegie Mellon Capability Maturity Model.

The findings, CSS, are then presented to the customer in either a ‘leader table’ format or as an executive review comparative matrix based upon the vendor solutions the customer informed us they were most interested in.  In addition, the findings often form the basis on which we can offer to underwrite / gainshare the proposed cost savings for up to and including five years from implementation.

How do we do that, exactly?  Well, I can certainly provide you some samples but it does very much remain Computacenter intellectual property …and it probably doesn’t hurt to have a Practice Leader for Data Storage & Protection who studied neuroscience and Technology Leader for Data Consultants in Bill McGloin who studied applied mathematics.

Does it always work?  Yes …and no.  Just as people have reasons for liking or disliking different wines, so too customers will have reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with our findings.

But I believe this is just about the fairest way I know to present a proposed solution in an agnostic way …and, at the very least, absolutely articulates our value to a customer as a true service and solution provider.

As always, if you would like further assistance in taking this journey please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Have a great weekend,

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

PL Winter 2009/10 Wine List

If you like champagne as a pre-dinner drink or to celebrate, you won’t go far wrong with Heidseck Monopole Gold Top vintage 2004.  Always a quality drop, but at £19.99 from the normal £40 …or even £18.99 if you are near a Budgens …this is a steal!

If you are looking for something more ‘unique’ in the champers department, why not try Nyetimber?  Produced in Sussex, which has geographical features identical to the champagne region, this the the tipple good enough for Her Majesty to serve at the Royal Garden Parties.

I’m a huge fan of pinot noir from New Zealand, and you won’t go wrong with the bottle which won the International Wine Challenge for Best Red Wine, Wild Earth.  At £18 a bottle …and if you hunt around I’ve seen it as low as £13 …how affordable is the world’s best red wine?!

One of the most complex and interesting reds I’ve recently is Lillian Shiraz Mataro 2005.  At £11.75 a bottle, I challenge you to blind taste it and tell me it doesn’t taste about three times more expensive.  I’m stocking up on this one!

Finally, to round out the reds I give you Château Méaume ‘Château Matured’ 2003 Bordeaux Supérieur.  A bit of a mouthful for a wine costing a very affordable £8.99, yet if you open it 45 minutes before dinner I guarantee your guests will think you spent a whole lot more than that!

Advertisements

Chicken soup for the storage.

23/10/2009

Mrs. PL is an exceptionally good cook.  I don’t just say that because she is my wife, I say it because I fundamentally enjoy her food more than just about any restaurant I’ve ever been  to.  I won’t go so far as to blame my weight gain on her cooking …I’ve put on about 7 pounds give or take for each year we’ve been married …as I have nothing but a lack of self control, love of good wine, and inability to put down geek toys and take exercise to blame for that.  I’ve discussed exactly how this all happened here and here.

But I’m not the only one who gets the benefit and joy of Mrs PL’s exceptionally good food.  Mrs. PL runs the catering and prepared food side of the family business, a butcher shop in Edgware, cooks prepared meals and just about anything you can think of for customers and local organisations.  And many of them are as devoted followers of my wife’s culinary delights as I am!  Indeed, we were on holiday in Cannes several years ago when a woman walked up to as as we were walking down the croisette …a customer, as I was later to discover …and proceeded to order her cooked chicken, soup, roasted vegetables and all the trimmings for the Friday when she returned to London.

Now, Mrs. PL is always happy to help and is genuinely delighted when people enjoy her food.  What I admire most about her is that she also isn’t terribly precious about others knowing that it was her what cooked them their lovely meal.  I’ve been to houses and events where I have overheard the host accepting compliments for the meal they have cooked …I’ve even had the host not realise who I am and ask me if I’ve enjoyed his/her food.  To which I smile kindly and reply, ‘Yes, Mrs. [Insert Surname Here].  It was delightful!  Perhaps the best chicken I’ve ever eaten!’  It would probably be crude and overly cheeky to then inform her in mixed company that I’m sleeping with the chef.

What has this got to do with Data Storage & Protection?

Mrs. PL really doesn’t give a jot if folks who buy her goods try to pass them off as their own.  She understands all too well just how difficult it is work and also manage a home, PL Junior, me with military precision …and also find time to cook great meals [Note: I’m not trying to be sexist here …I’m rubbish at cooking!].  The only time she does care is if she hears that someone didn’t like the food!  She prides herself on using quality ingredients and spending the time to make the food properly, so if someone has a complaint …she wants to know about it so she can ‘fix’ whatever process or ingredient has led to a possible perception of substandard quality.

I have sometimes heard the term ‘reseller’ used at industry trade shows and even by customers as if it were a four letter word.  Now, I don’t disagree that there are resellers in our industry who have failed to add value, recommend a solution based solely upon the margin they reckon they’ll get from a particular vendor over another, or just won’t work with customers such that they are recommending and implementing solutions which are of real and demonstrable value …which reduce risk, not introduce it.  But we’re not one of them.  In fact, I would go so far as to say …we’re not a reseller, we’re a service and solution provider.  I’m not alone in this, either …my boss hates us being called a ‘reseller’ only slightly less than I hate being called ‘Matt’.

That said, I am not advocating that we make sandwich boards which say ‘We’re awfully nice folks and can add value to your business!’ and go picket our customers.  Nor do I believe we should be so arrogant as to say ‘well, we’re £1.35b company so we must know what we’re talking about!’

So what makes us different from ‘resellers’ and how can we articulate our value to customers and vendor partners alike?

Firstly, I fundamentally know that we recommend solutions based upon the demonstrable cost reductions and optimisation we bring to customers through programmes such as Sharpen Your Business.  How?  Well, one key way is by simplifying the messaging during the sales cycle.  Note that this doesn’t mean diluting the messaging, but let’s be honest …customers don’t particularly care about zero page reclamation, or automated storage tiering, or data deduplication in the same technoweenie ‘indulge my inner geek’ way that I do.  Want they want to know is …how will this solution help me reduce costs and optimise my business?  We have answers to those queries, and that is what our internal sales Masterclasses and related sales enablement are all about.  Equally, watch this space as I’m developing collateral to help our sales folks articulate how these technologies reduce costs and optimise business in language business folks will understand and relate to.

Secondly, remember [ROI] + [CBA] + [DPB] = [CSS]?  Click here if you need a quick refresher, but when we’re working with vendors we need to understand …how will your solution positively affect the return on investment for our customers?  How will your solution positively reduce CapEx and OpEx costs for our customers, expressed in a cost benefit analysis?  Let’s not get too wrapped up in how fast we can whiz a zero or one from point A to point B …that’s what I’m here for, as is our data consultancy team …but, rather, challenge our vendor partners to help our customers understand how specifically their solutions will work in the equation above.  As always, I’m available to help our customers …and anyone else who wishes …understand this more fully.

Finally, we shouldn’t be in any way dismissive about how, no matter how insanely great and safe our recommended solution may be, customers may feel regarding perceived risk within a Computacenter recommended solution.  Given we do this day in and day out, it can sometimes be easy to forget that whilst we may see the benefits of automated storage provisioning with a grid storage architecture …if you’ve never seen such a solution before, all you may see is risk, more risk, and complexity.  Our job …with support from me and the consultants …is to take our customer on the journey, using all the tools we have at our disposal.  Short demo videos, which are currently in production …cost models that show that for a £1.3m expenditure, you’ll save £2.0m per annum each year for five years …demonstrable customer reference sites.  You get the point I’m sure.  That said, I think the ‘secret sauce’ is in our ability to underwrite and gainshare with selected customers once we have agreed it necessary to cover the risk potential.  We reckon you’ll save £2.0m per annum and, if you don’t …we’ll write you a cheque*.  Now, don’t get me wrong …I wouldn’t necessarily lead with this message as it should be seen and appreciated a tool and not a gimmick, but I’m convinced that this empathetic and credible offer is unique in the marketplace.

And sets us apart from our competition …the ‘resellers’ …thus articulating our unique value to our customers and our vendor partners alike.

Have a great weekend,

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

*Conditions apply!

I need to learn Norwegian!

14/08/2009

I need to be brief with this Weekly View as it is PL Junior’s birthday today, and Mrs. PL has made it quite clear that I am required to help setup for his party …and ensuring I don’t bore our guests with analogies of birthday cake slices and how they remind me of data deduplication.

But with guests coming over later this evening, I got to thinking again about our recent holiday.  As I said last week, this is the second year running that we went to the same resort in Malta on holiday.  Last year PL Junior as just learning how to swim and, as he was just turning two, wasn’t yet to the point where he would play with children he didn’t know.  Equally, as only about twenty percent of the folks holidaying in this resort are British, there were many children speaking a multitude of languages that PL Junior didn’t understand.  This year saw many changes, from PL Junior spending nigh on six hours a day in the pool and, interestingly PL Junior developed a relationship with three Norwegian children whom he played with non stop.  Did PL Junior suddenly become a fluent Norwegian speaker?  Nope, didn’t understand a word of what the three children aged three, five, and nine were saying …nor they him …but between my German, my wife’s French, and the Norwegian parents’ English we were able to find enough common ground to enable us to go out to dinner together and generally enjoy one another’s company.  PL Junior continues to ask for Markhus, Khristof, and Nikolay and when we are going to go back to Malta to play with them …and Mrs. PL and I have a standing invitation to come to Norway with PL Junior to ski in their family chalet.

What does this have to do with data storage and protection?

The sale of enterprise [e.g. EMC Symmetrix] and modular storage [e.g. EMC CLARiiON] ‘crossed over’ during the last recession in 2000 / 2001, with modular storage sales overtaking enterprise for the first time and, since then, modular storage sales have continued to rise whilst enterprise have continued to decline.  There are many reasons for this, but customers realised that they could achieve similar performance and reduced complexity with modular storage at a price significantly lower to enterprise.  We are about to see a similar ‘paradigm shift’ as enterprise and modular storage converge.  You can tell your friends that you heard it here first, and there are storage products on the market today which represent the future converged enterprise/modular arrays as I’ve described …think IBM XiV and EMC Vmax …and trust me when I tell you that other major vendors such as NetApp, HDS, and HP aren’t far behind.

As the storage arrays converge we will be able to provide customers performance, high utilisation, and decreased management complexity without sacrificing quality and, perhaps most importantly, at a competitive cost.  But as this convergence occurs, how will customers be able to differentiate one solution from another to satisfy their business needs …or will they all look the same?

No, I can assure you that, whilst they will seek to achieve the same outcomes, how they get there will continue to be different.  IBM XiV solves the grid architecture question by using a massively parallel SATA array and using software to allow storage to be ‘written‘ across all the drives thus giving high performance to all applications equally …whereas EMC takes a different view with Vmax useing mixed solid state drives, fibre channel drives, and SATA drives with software to ‘promote‘ and ‘demote‘ storage as application demands require.  Equally, storage vendors will seek to differentiate their products with features …whilst they will all provide thin provisioning, vendors are now going to war re how their thin provisioning works.  To wit, they go to great pains to explain ‘chunklets’, or how large a thin provisioned block they will use.  It is now being argued that use a chunk too large and you may negate the very applicability of thin provisioning long term, whereas use a chunk too small and you may overrun the onboard storage cache and negatively affect performance.  HDS uses 42 MB chunk sizes to allow for their thin provisioning solution to execute zero page reclamation, thus ‘reclaiming’ up to 30% of previously allocated storage back into the storage pool as fully usable …thus equating to cost savings …whilst EMC uses 768K chunklets as this is optimised for performance on their systems.

Who is right and, more importantly …what to do?  Firstly, they are all correct …and all incorrect!  The solutions will all technically ‘work, however what matters is what the customer is trying to accomplish and the business issue(s) we are trying to solve.  This is where Computacenter comes in as our vendor agnostic yet vendor selective consultancy practice enables us to firstly understand how each of our vendor partners accomplish things like grid architecture, thin provisioning, and chunklet size …and secondly, which vendor or vendors can demonstrably solve the customer business issue(s).  Just like PL Junior and our new Norwegian friends, there are folks who can translate what is being said at the bits an bytes level into real world cost reduction and the solving of business issues.

What sometimes happens, however, is that the most applicable solution could actually involve more than one vendor …but as we’re trying to reduce complexity, not introduce more many customers decide to go ‘sole vendor’.  Again, this is where Computacenter come in as …just as we parents helped PL Junior and the Norwegian children understand one another …Computacenter can provide consultancy, implementation, and support services which span multiple vendors thus providing customers with the best of breed solution at a fair cost without increasing complexity.

Mrs. PL and PL Junior have already stated their intention for us to holiday with our new Norwegian friends next year, and I plan to work a bit more on my Norwegian before we go away.  In the interim, please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping to articulate the ‘why Computacenter’ for you  …our customers.

Have a great weekend.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me