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Product Bells and Whistles do not a Tier One Storage Provider Make; Defining a Tier One Storage Provider, Part I

In almost every industry there is a tendency to use phrases such as Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 to describe providers, the products in a specific market, the quality of service provided, or some combination thereof. It is one applies these three terms to the storage industry and how to properly classify storage providers into one of these various tiers that the conversation becomes intriguing. After all, how does one define what constitutes and separates a Tier 1 storage provider from other providers in the market?

This topic was recently the subject of conversation with a longtime colleague of mine in the storage industry. Our conversation was initially about DCIG Buyer’s Guides. I talked a bit about the original methodology that DCIG used to develop its Buyer’s Guides and how DCIG recently updated its methodology to do a single body of research. That research is then used to create various Buyer’s Guide Editions by applying specific criteria to the underlying data to create each edition.

This intrigued him and prompted him to ask why certain storage providers that he would classify as “Tier 1” had their products listed alongside other providers that he viewed as Tier 2 or lower. His point was a provider that he would consider a “Tier 1” provider potentially has more skin in the game from a legal and liability standpoint as well as a testing perspective if it claims to support a specific feature than some of those he considered Tier 2 providers might have.

He argued Tier 2 providers tend to have far more to gain and less to lose when saying they can support a feature than Tier 1 providers. By the Tier 2 provider claiming its product can support a specific feature, it can potentially elevate the view of its product in the eyes of a prospective customer versus its Tier 1 competitor. Further, the Tier 2 provider can be more aggressive in claiming support for a specific feature since it does not necessarily have to meet the same bar from either a legal or testing perspective that a Tier 1 provider may have to meet.

That was a fair argument and that is certainly a fair case to make. In the case of DCIG, it has found that most providers, regardless of how one may classify it, generally accurately state the actual level of feature support for their products. While we do occasionally run across those that, how shall we say, are a bit too aggressive in their claims of feature support, we see those as being more the outliers than the rule.

Thus, one should not automatically conclude that just because a provider that one may view as Tier 2 and who claims support for a specific feature automatically misrepresents or overstates its ability to support that feature. It may be that they are ahead of the market in delivering this functionality. It may be that the feature on the product from the provider viewed as Tier 1 does not work or does not work well. It may even be that their definitions as to what constitutes feature support may differ from the definition that DCIG uses.

While I understand where my friend is coming from, I cannot fully agree with him on this point. Am I inclined and do I want to believe that providers viewed as Tier 1 by organizations are telling the truth in terms of holding themselves to higher legal standards to accurately represent the features on their products and thoroughly testing these features before publicly stating they support these features? Absolutely.

But as someone who has also worked for a Fortune 500 company on products from providers viewed as Tier 1, I cannot equate their statements as always being truthful about feature functionality. Unfortunately, I have personally found that buying their products still does not guarantee that their features will work any better than products from providers viewed as Tier 2. In some cases, I have found that products from these other providers may have features that are better supported and more robust.

It is these attributes of support and provider size that I suspect get more to the heart of how organizations classify and view a Tier 1 storage provider anyway. Sure, they may ideally want a provider that they view as Tier 1 to deliver a product full of the bells and whistles that they could want either now or in the future. But at the end of the day, they typically care more about the provider’s ability to remain financially viable over time and who can respond to support calls when needed as opposed to their products possessing a specific feature today. I will talk more about that in my next blog entry in this series.

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Jerome M. Wendt

About Jerome M. Wendt

President & Lead Analyst of DCIG, Inc. Jerome Wendt is the President and Lead Analyst of DCIG Inc., an independent storage analyst and consulting firm. Mr. Wendt founded the company in September 2006.

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