I just read Steve Duplessie’s take on the HDS acquisition of Bluearc. If I had a dollar for every time I read about HDS buying a NAS appliance, I’d still be poor. They tried it a few times with some small OEMs over the years and in most cases the problem was part technology and part a sales issue.

Let’s face it… HDS is used to selling humongosaur-like systems to the very large enterprises who can afford to buy big iron. Much of HDS’ traditional hardware (manufactured by parent Hitachi) is designed around block-based storage (yes, agree with Steve on this).

Unfortunately for HDS, and lucky for NAS-behemoth NetApp, there are still customers out there, even the big ones, who need file storage  because companies still store a lot of information in the form of files – probably a lot more than you feel comfortable with. I have a 1.5TB redundant NAS appliance at home serving the four members of my family. Yes, applications like ERP, CRM and SCM have limited use for NAS systems and will run a lot faster if the database is running off a powerful SAN engine. But for 100% of employees in any company, they will need to store their files in the network somewhere – and a NAS is a perfect place for that.

So back to HDS… why does HDS need a NAS solution? Likely because customers are hinting they need it. But more importantly lacking a NAS  solution gives competitors like NetApp a window to get in and slowly eat through the HDS armor that surrounds Mr Enterprise customer.

Will this ever work for HDS? I think the bigger challenge for HDS is understanding the technology and being able to sell it convincingly.  From history, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where all those countless NAS technologies that HDS tried to sell got buried. The good news is HDS has had a few years of history selling BlueArc. Now its just a matter of getting the sales people (in Asia) to get moving.

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So why do customers buy from whom they buy? Depending on who you ask the response can be different. Marketers will tell you it’s because of the effort the company puts into creating a trusted brand. Sales will tell you it’s all about relationships. Consultants will want to credit the effort placed in educating the customer on the uniqueness of the solution.

Most of my career was from the vendor side of the fence but I did spend a number of years on the user side. So allow me to share with you my own personal view gained from years of selling to customers in the region, as well as more recent discussions with large corporations in Asia about their decision-making criteria that eventually lead to a sale.

Obviously not every customer buys for the same reason but in many cases there are some key common considerations:

Buy everything from the server vendor

This is an easy and potentially safe solution. It may not be the most price-competitive on offer and it may not provide the best product for the job. The point here is you have throat to choke, one supplier accountable for everything.

Buy more of what is already installed

Often times we come to situations where we just need a little more juice, or additional disk space, or perhaps new employees mean additional licenses are needed. It is so much easier to expand on what is installed than to go out and buy something new. It has, potentially, has the same downside as the first point in that it maybe not the lowest cost and not necessarily the best product.

Buy on brand or company name

During the days of the mainframe era, many years ago, there used to be a saying that no-one ever got fired for buying from IBM. These days the same may apply to buying from EMC, the largest independent storage vendor. But this may not give you the best solution and price.

Support

For the larger vendors this generally is not an issue. It should be more of a consideration for a new vendor or small in the region or if you have a need to install in a remote location. Another issue to bear in mind is support in a heterogeneous environment, It can happen that when something goes wrong, vendors like to point to the other vendors components as the cause of the problem.

Buy on Price

Some enterprises know exactly what they want. They define the specifications of what they need and then buy the lowest cost solution that fits the requirements.

Buy because of feature

In a dynamic business environment, there will be occasions when you need to deploy a new feature that is recently introduced into the market and this is only available from one or maybe two vendors. A good example is flash memory for storage arrays.

Let me stress the point that decision-making is never simple. There will not be just one reason that will be considered but usually a combination.

Even within Asia there can be a different bias depending on the country or culture.

For instance, in China there is a focus on brand; name, image and reputation. In Japan quality and reliability are very important. Koreans look at feeds and speeds — what has the fastest throughput, the biggest cache, or the largest capacity. In India price is very high on the list of decision criteria.

I spoke to two large customers in Hong Kong and received two very different opinions. Michael Leung, Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer for China Construction Bank (HK Branch) looks for “value” in any purchase. He believes in competition and does not like to be tied in to buy storage from the server vendor as in the case with the IBM AS/400’s CCB has installed, which has many benefits because of the closed architecture, but has also some drawbacks. Leung added that the decision making process takes into account features, functionality, reliability and support.

On the other side of the spectrum is Andrew Ling, the Director of IT and Supply Chain for the Bossini Group. He told me that his preference is to buy storage from the same vendor as the server. Ling believes that Bossini will get better discounts as well as fewer integration and support issues. The other important consideration is the vendor’s reputation, which includes support and their research and development.

Whatever you do and whenever you can, get at least two quotes. And make sure the vendors you are talking to know what you are doing. This way you will get a better deal.

There is one other factor that I have not mentioned yet although I first heard this more than 20 years ago from one of the best account managers I’ve ever worked with.

People buy from people they know and trust

From my experience as long as the vendor has a good-enough product and a good-enough price, the key differentiator is the customer relationship with the account manager, the company’s management and the support staff. To be honest for over 90% of user requirements most products from reputable vendors will do the job.

This is the same anywhere in the world, not just Asia.