Back when I was an angst-ridden teenager, I took it upon myself to carve "CH+JD" enwrapped in a heart on a tree in our local park.
At the time, she was the target of all my affections. Now, I can't even remember what the initials stood for.
Unfortunately, she probably didn't know who I was, and then there was the small matter of her boyfriend and the several-dozen potential suitors who were probably carving similar initials in similar trees.
Our friends at NetApp must believe in the power of positive thinking -- even when the facts might not be in their favor.
This annoys me on several levels, and I thought I'd share with you just why I'm so annoyed.
Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed that I take NetApp to task on a regular basis.
Just to set the record straight, I have no beef against competitors. The stronger, the better.
Strangely, I believe that having strong competitors is good for EMC, good for customers and good for the industry. And any industry segment that doesn't have robust competition is trouble just waiting to happen.
This one annoyed me on two additional levels.
First, I think I'm very close to how VMware is changing the industry on several levels. Go check out my category link for some background.
Second, my day job is Technology Alliances, and I bring to it certain standards of professional conduct that I guess aren't widely accepted.
And, just so we're clear, EMC and VMware have been operating as independent companies for a while now. So we have to work with them pretty much the same way everyone else has to work with them.
The "Barney" Press Release
One thing I won't ever have to do (hopefully) is issue one of those "Barney"-style alliance press releases.
As you might remember, Barney is a large purple dinosaur whose theme song is "I Love You, You Love Me". Therefore, a "Barney" press release is an industry term where two partners profess their love for each other in public, and little else.
No specifics. No defined customer problem. No unique differentiation. Just lots of nice "I Love You" words. If I saw one of those kind of press releases come through EMC, I'd send it back in a hurry.
In NetApp's case, it even wasn't this good. There wasn't even a reciprocal statement from VMware.
So I guess it's a half-Barney -- just the "I Love You" part.
Maybe I'll find them a tree and a penknife.
What It Should Have Been
I've written before about what I think makes a good technology alliance. And I think it takes time and investment to create a combination that makes a difference in the marketplace.
Thankfully, I've been able to impose my views here at EMC. Long periods of mutual investment, followed by press releases that evidence significant investment, tangible benefits to customers, etc.
We don't carve our name on the tree until the work has been done.
In the case of VMware and NetApp, other than just providing a convenient storage platform, there's a world of customer challenge (and opportunity) for vendors such as NetApp. I just have to wonder -- are they late to the party, or are they busy with other things?
Have you done all the advanced storage quals? Have you made sure that your replication products work well with individual virtual machines? Are your storage management products virtual machine aware? How about backup? Customer service ready to take the calls? Have you worked out joint escalation?
Or is it all press releases and seminars?
There's a long list of potential technology integrations with any server-virtualized environment. Customers will need them to be successful in the long run.
But they're expensive, and they take a lot of time. See what EMC has done here.
What about solutioneering? Has NetApp invested in qualifying and characterizing their products against real-world applications running in virtual machines? EMC has.
Or services? Do you have people that can assess an environment, propose and cost-justify a server consolidation, and then deliver the program management to make it successful? EMC can.
Substance Vs. Style
Well, if nothing else, they're consistent.
For years, NetApp made much in public about their great relationship with Microsoft. No real quantifiable details, specific or unique value-add, or much of anything else.
I don't want to speak for Microsoft, but I asked them about it a few times, and didn't exactly get a very strong response.
A few years ago, EMC started to move into this space in a very coordinated, orchestrated way. I look at what we've done with Microsoft as one of the few things I'm proud that the company has done well. More details here and here.
Now that I think about it, I haven't heard much from NetApp about their great Microsoft relationship these days. Hmmm, maybe there's someone more interesting?
NetApp seems to have the same general scheme for Oracle, and SAP. Lots of happy words. Lots of sharing the partner's brand.
They seem to market the scheme using a mild form of bait-and-switch. Publicize a seminar for Microsoft, Oracle, SAP or VMware. Invite lots of people. Have a speaker from the partner say a few nice words, then spend most of the time pitching NetApp products.
Technically speaking, there's nothing wrong with this. But it just rubs me the wrong way.
NetApp's Challenge Going Forward
I think every IT vendor goes through a maturation process where they (and their customers) realize that substance is more important than style in building a long-term business model.
And I've written before how NetApp is likely to go through a few changes going forward.
Will this be one of them?