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Manipulating the Message – The Art of Marketing

Manipulating the Message – The Art of Marketing

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The last few weeks have seen a couple of important flash technology announcements.  They are important as they bring two of the “Big 5/6” storage vendors up to speed in a market that is already pretty well occupied.  Unfortunately all of these announcements are coupled with hyperbole, figure hiding and in some cases, bare-faced lies.

Company N

Let’s look first at NetApp’s announcement of their first all-flash array, the EF540.  Here are some of the bold statements NetApp make:

In a move that extends its leadership in the industry…

With the strongest and broadest flash portfolio in the industry….

…is the industry’s first flash array to combine consistent extreme performance with enterprise-class high availability, reliability, manageability, and worldwide support.

Presumably, NetApp thought by adding “wordwide support” onto that last statement, people would believe they were the first to deliver all those other features too.  We all know that all-flash arrays have been available for some time.  Excluding the start-ups, who may not be able to provide world-wide support, we can reference the following:

(above list updated with kind thanks to Calvin Zito)

Focusing more on the startups, I’ve discussed the players many times before.  They are leading the market and purely by virtue of their startup nature may not be able to offer sales and support in every country, but if you don’t operate globally then who cares.  In the NetApp announcement, reference is made to a product that will not ship for another 12 months.  FlashRay seems to describe what NetApp would love to have announced now, but clearly doesn’t exist or isn’t ready (or they haven’t acquired the technology).  This says that the EF540 is a a stopgap product, not a leadership position.

Company E

Then there’s EMC.  Today the company announced the evolution of their server-based PCIe SSD cards, now branded as XtremSF.  These appear to be rebranded Virident cards (as highlighted by Chris Mellor), with EMC software.  The presented comparisons use the lower specified Fusion-IO ioDrive2 1.2TB MLC pitched against the top end XtremSF 2.2TB model.  Naturally, EMC’s figures look best, but it would have been more transparent to compare the two devices with similar capacities and using the same bus architecture.  For flash, more capacity means more performance, so the Fusion-IO ioDrive2 Duo has more throughput and lower latency, particularly on random writes.  Take a look at the “entry level” XtremSF 550GB model and we see this is outperformed by the nearest ioDrive2 model (785GB) in every respect.

EMC also quietly dropped Thunder, their “server-side” cache product, through what appears to be lack of interest (at least Mark Twomey was honest enough to admit this).  However EMC made plenty of pronouncements for that technology, but they were wrong – sometimes innovation is misconceived.  NetApp need to remember that when announcing a product that will ship in 2014 (assuming it doesn’t have the Spinnaker issues).

The Architect’s View

The marketing message has reached new levels of absurdity, almost matching those we see from the music industry with a new album released.  Unfortunately many customers will take the big boys’ statements on face value.  Please, always remember – Caveat Emptor.


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About Chris M Evans

  • http://twitter.com/HPStorageGuy Calvin Zito

    Add HP 3PAR StoreServ and HP LeftHand P4900 to your list of all SSD arrays with worldwide support.

    No vendor is immune from making their press releases sound like they just announced the first, best, industry leading widget. I can tell you at HP, we can’t put something in a press release (e.g. “the only, the first, the whatever”) without substantiating it. However, NetApp’s was claiming more than just worldwide support – they’re claiming they’re first to provide consistent extreme performance with enterprise-class high availability, reliability, manageability, and worldwide support. I’m thinking each of the vendors you’ve named (and HP) would say “poppycock”.

    • http://thestoragearchitect.com/ Chris M Evans


      How bad am I! Just updated the post, thanks for reminding me.


  • Mike Riley

    NetApp employee here. Appreciate your viewpoint but let me violate an unwritten vendor/customer rule. In all candor, this blog is bilge. I think NetApp can ably defend its claim but I’m not responding to that. I think HP, IBM, EMC can all wade in and present their case as well.

    Where you lost me is when you wade into the “well, maybe world-wide support isn’t important to you.” Seriously? Since when? Let’s look at the typical list of customer requirements:

    Extreme performance? Yes/No.
    HA? Yes/No.
    Reliable? Yes/No.
    Management? Yes/No.
    World-wide support? Better to have it or not?

    Now, do any of these capabilities strike you as absurd? As a customer, how many RFPs have you put out asking for slow, complicated and unpredictable solutions? Any? It’s like walking into a customer site and they tell you no, no, no – performance isn’t important. (Oh – O.K. I’ll make a note of that and see how well it flies to bring this up during the POC). These are all jacks-or-better-to-open capabilities.

    How about announcing roadmap items? Anyone ever done that before? Any customers ever ask for vision and strategy statements and make purchasing decisions based on that vision? Or, would you prefer a company that has a jack-in-the-box product announcement strategy? And, what if the market changes between now and the projected release date? Should the vendor drop or change the product or deliver an over-priced square peg for what has now become a round hole?

    Honestly, you’re way off base. I don’t think that “many customers” will buy a product based on who has the best press release (i.e. buying it at face value). But, press releases do serve a purpose and those companies that don’t ultimately live up to their promises become relics. Even some of the startups with great products become relics (maybe because someone told them that world-wide support wasn’t a priority.)

    • http://thestoragearchitect.com/ Chris M Evans


      This article was discussing the statements NetApp made claiming to be leaders in flash technology. Your company also claimed to have released the “first” flash array with all those features.

      This is clearly not true. Other vendors have had flash arrays out for years with all of the features you quote. The EF540 is bought in technology because the design of Data ONTAP doesn’t work well with high performance, i.e. all-flash arrays. The EF540 isn’t built from scratch for flash like Whiptail, Kaminario, Pure Storage, Violin etc.

      Leadership implies having the best technology, the most advanced features, being first to market. NetApp wasn’t first to the market with flash drives. EMC was first in 2009. NetApp followed in 2010. Flash Cache was a good solution to fix performance issues, I’ll grant you that, but most storage vendors simply added more NVRAM to their arrays and used selected caching algorithms.

      Flash Pools only arrived in the middle of last year – bringing HDD & SSD tiering as a feature many vendors had already had for some time. Don’t take my word for it – http://searchsolidstatestorage.techtarget.com/news/2240151239/NetApp-launches-Flash-Pools-for-SSD-HDD-RAID-groups-FAS2220-NAS

      NetApp hasn’t been first with flash arrays, and looking at the features of the EF540 and the fact NetApp are already talking about a successor, shows the EF540 is purely a stopgap. Take primary storage de-duplication, offered by Pure Storage, Nimbus, SolidFire and others – a feature the EF540 doesn’t have.

      NetApp is never going to put out a press release saying they are second to market – no vendor is and I’m not naive enough to think so (nor is anyone else). But claiming leadership and firsts when it’s simply not true just smacks of desperation.


      • http://twitter.com/MSR11 Mike Riley

        Hi, Chris,

        I’m used to customers moving the goalposts but you’ve made another minor shift here. Your blog was on the absurdity of vendor marketing (not on NetApp “firsts”). You used NetApp and EMC as examples (although you could have used ANY press release statement from ANY industry). Your blog. You can shift the premise on the fly if you want. I’m used to the goalposts moving. It’s part of the business. So, let’s take up the issue you have with NetApp claims in their press release.

        Press releases contain bold claims. I’m not a great defender of HP, EMC, HDS, Cisco, Ford, GM, Fiat, Honda, GE, Northrop, Proctor & Gamble or Keebler but I think all can ably defend the claims they make in their press releases. Looking at the punch-list cited in the NetApp press release and the list of competitors you cite in this blog, I have no problem defending it’s claims as a first to pull it all together with an EF540.

        You disagree and to protect your argument you reserve the right to change the punch-list. Let’s include a previously unnamed feature (dedupe) and discount a named one (world-wide support). You might as well say NetApp couldn’t make it’s claim of extreme performance, manageability, HA, reliability and world-wide support because it has a purple bezel. If you want to talk about manipulating the message, you’re doing a great job of it.

        You then make this enormous leap that many people will read a press release and buy the product based on face value. That’s absurd. Most people don’t do that when they buy shoes much less million dollar technology. There’s a reason caveat emptor is in Latin. It’s an old term. Time-tested and valid but I don’t think anyone reads the outside of the box of Bounty towels and sees “50% more absorbent” and not wonder “more absorbent than what?”

        Now as far as the EF540 being a stop-gap, you act like that’s a bad thing. First, all products are stop-gaps! Now it’s just a question of how long is the gap. Markets change; products change, come and go. Second, whether a product is a stop-gap does nothing to tell you whether it’s good or bad; does it work or not; does it address an immediate need or doesn’t it? Stop-gap is a red herring. All products are stop-gaps. Is the EF540 a stop-gap all-flash array with extreme performance, HA, reliability, manageability backed by WW support? Yes, it is. A darn good one and, we will be building on this all-flash array in the future with the Flashray product. Happy to share the NDA on that.

        From the NetApp point of view, we see the all-flash market heating up and we have a choice: put a great product into that market that was ready and waiting or take a pass on a year’s worth of revenue and wait until we release the next all-flash platform? You’re a CEO. How does that board meeting go when the chairman asks so you have a product superior in many ways to products currently in the market and you decided not to release it? How do we explain that to our customers, partners and investors? Putting an EF540 into the market doesn’t smack of desperation. It’s a sound business decision.

        Again, I look at the blog and I see nothing here.

        • http://thestoragearchitect.com/ Chris M Evans


          Correct, my blog. I can write what I please as long as I’m not breaking any laws. I look forward to reading your defence of the EF540 compared to existing flash products, it should make interesting reading.

          The punchlist remains the same. All of the items you mention; performance, HA, reliability, management and support have already been done. NetApp are bringing nothing new to the party with this product and they are not first. There’s no leadership – you don’t lead from the back, you lead from the front.

          Many customers struggle to understand vendor metrics and claims. Many don’t have the time and resources to evaluate new technology. I am constantly amazed by the purchasing decisions companies make when there’s better choice in the marketplace. Clearly customers are influenced by press releases or NetApp and others wouldn’t bother to spend so much time crafting them.

          Not all products are stop-gap. Hopefully in a company with a strategy, there is product evolution. The EF540 and FlashRay announcement sends the message that “we’re doing this for now, but the next version is what you really want”. Imagine Apple saying “the iPhone 4 isn’t our best work, wait until the iPhone 5, it’s what you really want”.

          I would entirely expect NetApp to put something into the marketplace. After all many existing customers will buy on face value.

          If you see nothing in this blog, then I suggest you stop reading. It’s no loss to me.

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