Approximately a month ago I posted a blog entry that examined what features constitute and separate Tier 1 providers from Tier 2 or lower providers in the market place. In that blog entry, I concluded that product features alone are insufficient to classify a provider as Tier 1. It is when one lays aside product features that four other characteristics emerge that a provider must possess – and which DCIG can objectively evaluate – that one may use to classify it as Tier 1.
Since I wrote that blog entry a month or so ago ruminating on what defines a Tier 1 storage provider, I have spent a fair amount of time discussing this topic with folks inside and outside of DCIG as well as reviewing what other individuals say about this designation. Unless I missed something, I could find no agreed upon definition as to what constitutes a “Tier 1” provider.
Obviously, there are many opinions and thoughts on the topic though most are subjective. While a subjective view is certainly permissible in making such a determination, DCIG demands that its analysts weight and score products and providers alike on objective criteria in the preparation of its Buyer’s Guides and Product Ranking Bulletins. As such, identifying criteria that they may objectively use to classify a vendor as “Tier 1” has taken some time since we recognize that a product that DCIG ranks well may not necessarily originate with a provider that meets DCIG’s definition of Tier 1.
While a feature rich product certainly helps a vendor achieve a Tier 1 classification, there are four other characteristics that DCIG believes organizations are more apt to internally use to make this assessment as to whether they classify a provider as Tier 1.
- Brand Awareness. Whether technicians like it or not, the amount of money that a provider spends on marketing its brand and product has a direct correlation to whether the vendor is perceived as being a Tier 1 provider. In other words, if you ask a provider, “Who in its company is responsible for marketing?” and it says no one, that would communicate it is probably not a Tier 1 provider. Similarly, if you ask that person in charge of marketing, “How much money do you spend on marketing?” and he or she pulls the change out of their pocket, that again serves as a good indicator that it is not a Tier 1 provider.
This lack of a marketing executive and/or an inability to commit any funds to marketing the product would indicate that no one outside of the company knows anything about the company, its products, or its capabilities. Rightly or wrongly, brand awareness has a direct correlation to the degree of market adoption that its product will experience in the market place. The more marketing it does, the greater the likelihood the vendor and its products will be perceived as Tier 1. In practical terms, the company probably needs to spend at least a million dollars annually on marketing to be classified as Tier 1.
- Service and support. Companies are almost fanatical about a provider’s ability to service and support the product after they acquire it. Here again, my experience tells me that a company would rather have an average product backed by a provider that provides great service and support than the best product with average service and support. In practical terms, a Tier 1 provider should have a call center that operates 24x7x365, the provider has its own support staff in all major markets (population of over 1 million) in the countries in which it operates, and offers 4-hour on-site support guarantees.
- Size. Any time an organization deploys a product into what they consider the mission critical portion of their data center, they want to have a high degree of confidence the company will be in business to support and service it over the life of the product. Practically, organizations are going to want providers to have a market cap of at least $US1 billion before they consider it Tier 1.
- Simulation. The ability for the provider to simulate your environment in its labs may be viewed by some as an extension of service and support. However, this characteristic also comes into play in pre-sales situation. Simulation in this context simply means the provider can simulate or replicate your existing IT environment in its labs. The simulation helps in pre-sales situations to confirm to both you and the vendor that its product will work in your environment once it is deployed.
It also can help in situations where there are performance or interoperability issues. On these occasions, the vendor can replicate your environment at its site to do a root cause analysis, identify the solution to the issue, and then implement the solution in your environment. This eliminates the need to do the testing and troubleshooting at your site and potentially in your production environment.
While these four characteristics may not represent all attributes of a Tier 1 provider, one can objectively quantify these four attributes and “check the box,” so to speak, in determining whether a provider minimally satisfies these criteria. The standards by which your organization defines a Tier 1 provider may be a higher or lower than the attributes shared here. However, by using these quantifiable characteristics as a starting point, organizations can more easily create a short list of products from a list of vendors that match their internal requirements.