On Februarty 15, 2008, NetApp announced the release of its StoreVault S550 platform, an entry-level device targeted for the midmarket and is a direct response to Dell (AX4 OEMed fromEMC), HP (StorageWorks MSA 2000) and IBM (DS4200).

Fast forward to less than a year later, when NetApp quietly made it known that it was discontinuing the S550 platform in favor of the FAS2000 family. So did NetApp actually launched two family of products targeting the same market segment? It does look like it but my understanding is that the FAS2000 was originally targeted at larger end of the SMB spectrum whereas the S550 was meant for those just above the SOHO-segment with a capacity requirement of 12 TB, and preferably already a NetApp customer.

Am I trying to beat up NetApp for killing a product line a year after it was launched? The S550 is an upgrade to the S500 launched in June 2006. And no, I am not berating NetApp for making a ‘wise’ decision. Why would you create two product families that target the same market segment? (Truthfully a lot of products out there in the consumer space do that – just try counting the number of Sony MP3 player models out there and you start to wonder if the marketers are in cahoots with product development to come up with new and ingenious ways of egging more money from unwitting customers.)

Back to NetApp. According to the vendor the S550 will continue to be sold until June 2009 and the product itself will be supported until 2012. But why would anyone want to buy a product that is close to end of life? You don’t! And if you did buy one recently its likely because the channel reseller didn’t want to let you know about the end-of-life secret – what you don’t know won’t hurt them! Certainly I wouldn’t buy a product that is unofficially announced as coming to an end. Why? Spare parts will be more expensive! Support queries will not get prioritized as less people become familiar about a dead product!

End-of-life is a fact of life in any product. Every product – good and buy – will eventually see its lifecycle coming to a complete grind. You just don’t want to be the ones buying at the tail end of an end-of-life. Trust me, you don’t want that! Its like buying a brand new server only to be told a month later that that particular model is phased out and a new one is now available, cheaper, better, faster – been there, done that!

Vendors have a responsibility to tell customers (every customer – not just the most important customers) that certain products are coming to an end. They can offer specials to entice potential customers to buy the ‘dying’ product but that should be a concious decision on the part of the buyer. Channel partners should take an oath of protecting the interest of their customers first before the company bottomline. Because at the end of the day, the customer is trusting you, Mr Channel and Mr Vendor, that you know every truth there is about a product they would like to consider as worthy of their hard-earned cash and investment.

If the customer can’t trust you, then you don’t deserve to sell them anything!