Why Enterprise Storage Customers Stay in Suboptimal Vendor Relationships
Guest Blogger: Eric Burgener, Research Vice President, Infrastructure Systems, Platforms and Technologies, IDC
Many enterprises have an "approved vendor" list that includes vendors they have identified as "preferred" to do business with over time. Primary research performed by IDC in 2019 indicates, however, that 61.2% of enterprises with approved vendor lists feel that these lists constrain them in their ability to select optimal solutions and that 50.6% of them have strayed from the "approved vendor" lists in the past. This raises an interesting question: why do enterprise storage customers stay in vendor relationships that don't seem to meet their needs?
Enterprises look to establish relationships with storage vendors because long term relationships sometimes deliver informal benefits. Once administrators are trained on a vendor's system, it can be easier to get trained on subsequent features and releases than switch to a completely different vendor. Skills shortages may limit the time needed to training on new equipment, another factor when considering changing storage systems. Purchasing comes to understand how to work with a specific vendor. Relationships develop between field technical resources, technical support, and sales that can help enterprises better achieve their business goals. When the customer relationship is mutually beneficial, these are all good reasons for staying with a vendor.
Interestingly though, 55.6% of enterprises noted that they have removed suppliers from their "approved vendor" lists, primarily for one of the following reasons:
- An "unforgivable failure" like loss of data integrity, a lengthy outage, or an unresolved support issue
- Continued poor quality of customer support over time
- Taking advantage of the relationship by not delivering what the customer perceives as good value for the money
Between satisfied enterprises and those that have actively removed a vendor from their list are others who are only partially satisfied but for one reason or another continue to stay with that vendor. That behavior is primarily driven by the perceived risks of switching. A customer may not be happy, but if their perception is that the potential benefits of a move don't outweigh the risks and/or costs of making the move, it's easier to just stay with a mediocre solution.
There are a number of ways to mitigate the risk of switching, but there will have to be a large, overriding concern to spur an enterprise to consider it. The top reasons for considering switching include increasing dissatisfaction with technical support, a strong economic draw that is based more on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) rather than just a lower purchase price, and technology not available from the incumbent vendor that enables new workloads or significantly better operations.
Dissatisfaction with their storage solution or technical support often boils down to an inability to meet performance or availability SLAs, and a move to a system that can validate their ability to meet these requirements, based on both their technology and customer testimonials, can present a strong case. System architectures, metadata handling, storage media, data placement algorithms, and quality of service controls can all have a significant effect on performance. System architectures, features like host multipathing, RAID, snapshots, various replicated topologies (including active/active clusters), hardware redundancy, hot-pluggable field-replaceable components, and design tenets like storage operating system design and non-disruptive operations, migrations, and upgrades all play a part in maintaining high availability. There is significant variability in vendor implementations that can make a big difference in both a system's ability to deliver consistent performance at scale and meet high availability requirements. The use of new technologies, like solid-state media, software-defined design, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and granular byte-level locking, offer ways to mitigate deployment and operational risk that may not be available in legacy storage, making it that much more attractive to replace an incumbent. The willingness to stand behind a system with performance and availability guarantees that include meaningful benefits is one indicator that a vendor is confident in its abilities to meet these requirements.
TCO considerations can be a bit tougher to gauge. Apart from the upfront purchase price, enterprises need to consider administrative ease of use (and associated new training costs), operator productivity, ability to integrate into new paradigms (like containers, automated operations, and cloud) that will be deployed, ongoing maintenance costs, data migration facilities, and the overall efficiency of the new storage. More efficient designs can significantly increase performance density, which allows much smaller systems that use less energy and floor space to handle an enterprise's workloads.
Storage consolidation is an area that potentially offers the single largest opportunity for improved economics. When an enterprise can retire two, three, or even four separate systems by moving to a system specifically architected to deliver performance at scale with multi-petabyte capacities, this produces a multiplicative effect on cost savings. By centralizing management, it boosts administrative productivity. It enables more efficient economies of scale for both performance and capacity utilization, reduces the number of maintenance contracts, and it cuts vendor interaction (and may even winnow down the number of vendors). But the catch here is that the new system must be able to deliver the performance and availability at scale needed to cost-effectively meet a broad set of SLAs. Vendors with storage systems that can enable denser storage consolidation, along with the other risk minimization features mentioned above, can offer an extremely compelling reason to switch vendors.