It's no secret that I've been on the customer side of the vendor relationship for a long, long time.  Through relationships with HP, Microsoft, Liebert, GE, McKesson, EMC, Cisco, VMware and many, many others I got introduced to the competitive world of "vendor management" back in the late 1990s, and learned how the game was played.  For the most part, every vendor was polite and respectful to their competitors, with the caveat that they all felt like their solution was the best.  Every company had different strengths that they played to, and every rep had a different personality that colored your interaction with them.  At the end of the day I felt respected by my vendors, and I felt like there was some modicum of respect between the vendors themselves.

In some ways, the respect that competitive vendors showed one another was a sign of their competence; the more you trust your offering, and the more you believe in your product, the less inclined you were to be hysterical or dishonest.  I, as a customer, appreciated and valued the way that my vendors interacted with each other.  As a service provider, I had to deal with many vendors, sometimes together at the same time, and I couldn't have been successful without them understanding how to act professionally.  In the end it was good for me, good for MY customers and good for my relationship with the vendors themselves.

With that as backstory, I'd like to point out how completely unprepared I was for the onslaught of FUD and nonsense that NetApp and the people in their orbit have been putting out pretty much non-stop for the last two weeks.  It amazes me how disrespectful some of the comments have been, and at some of the messages that are being sent.  I am a hyper-competitive person, so I understand the base instinct, but this is not how I've been taught that professionals act.  I could see this behavior from the rank-and-file, sure, but to see it from higher-ranking leadership is disappointing.  On the flip side, I've been amazed at the restraint that has been shown by the EMC and Acadia/VCE teams overall, even if I don't understand it.  There's so much ammo that could be used to offset the pure misinformation and in some case purposeful lies that are out there, and mostly the team has taken the high road and let the products and customers do their own talking. 

I need to find out whether I'm comfortable letting this nonsense pass over me, or whether I need to respond.  I need to find out where the line is.  I need to find out if our customers and the market are better served by having us ignore or simply point out the FUD or by actively refuting it.  I understand it's a new game, I need to learn the rules.

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14 Responses to New Game, New Rules…

  1. Chuck Hollis says:

    J —
    Welcome to our world. Generally speaking, we try and take the high road as you state, but there’s a lot of sleaze out there to contend with.
    Let me know when you find those “rules of the road”.
    Hope you’re enjoying the new VCE gig!
    — Chuck

  2. Jellers says:

    Good post. As you’ve outlined, respect is the key. While I may have stepped on the line recently http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2010/10/20/vice_vce/ I have tried to present only facts and not run to name calling. That being said, characterizing an article as snarky and sensational probably isn’t the kindest thing I could have said.
    We are in a position to give great info to the community While I certainly can’t take the time to refute every cheap shot, FUD attack, or misinformed statement I think that it’s worthwhile to take a clear and thoughtful stand from time to time. Your work stands as a good example of this sort of education.
    It was greate being at vSpecialist training. More than once the teachings of @sakacc were discussed. Focus on your position and product. Never use negative statements about the competition to sway your audience. Solve the problems with your technology and win customers.
    Let’s raise the bar.
    I work for VCE, with Jeremiah.

  3. @jae, make no mistake, I’m willing to push back. The question is how far is too far, and what good does it ultimately do the customer? I’m under no illusions that my Tweeting is making a significant different to the buying market at large, but I know of good, intelligent customers and prospects who are watching the debate and asking “what the hell is going on here?”. Those are the people I feel like I need to reach out and connect with. Maybe VCE can offer me a “FUD-Buster” position and I’ll spend 30 minutes a day on Twitter smacking hands and correcting assumptions…
    @chuck, yes, I’m very much enjoying it. If the rules don’t exist, I’ll make some up. :-)

  4. Dikrek says:

    Hi Jeremiah, Dimitris from NetApp here…
    Interesting you mention that. In my career I’ve used and sold most storage systems (mostly EMC and now NetApp).
    The misleading and inaccurate information in most competitive documents is truly staggering.
    And, Chuck, no, EMC doesn’t take the high road, at least not in the field. I’ve seen an EMC spreadsheet claim more usable space out of a 960 than is possible even with RAID0 and no spares, and that’s one of the milder things.
    The FUD must flow, it seems.
    It’s all too easy for certain types (regardless of affiliation) to lie about the competition than not.
    Anyway, enjoy your new gig!
    D

  5. Bendiq says:

    Wow! you better make sure you and the VCE boys don’t fall off that high horse, it is a hell of a fall!!
    While I disagree with FUD (twitpiss is fud) I find it a bit funny that you are complaining about it. When I was an EMC partner, and as a SNIA member on a blogging tour of different vendors, I have walked out of many EMC presentations where EMC spent at least 20% of the time talking (incorrectly) about issues with the opposing vendors solutions (IBM, NetApp and others), rather than the benefits of their own.
    I know that there was a large number of EMC reps in Australia presenting FUD documents and info to customers regarding an outage at a major domestic airline; even after accenture noted that the hardware vendor EMC was pointing the finger at was not at fault. I heard a rumour that legal action may be pending regarding this now disinformation spreading now. If that is all you can talk about you need to work on your product offering and/or your messaging and use cases.
    quick disclousre – I’m a reseller/integrator employee that is a partner with quite a few different vendors – EMC is not one of them. I have previousuly worked with an EMC partner in a pre-sales capacity.

  6. I just started this job, but this isn’t my first time around the block. I’m not making any statements about “who FUDs more” or anything like that. Marketing is what it is, and there are sales people in every industry who have been know to bend the truth on occasion. I know that’s going to happen, and while I’m not happy with it, and I’m going to try hard not to be part of that, that’s NOT what I’m talking about here.
    What I’m surprised and disappointed about is the lack of professionalism. Dimitris’ post is rational. He makes much the same comment I do about “marketing”, shrugs and leaves with a polite comment that I very much appreciated. Bendiq immediately takes my statement and makes it about VCE (which it isn’t, this is my issue I’m adjusting to), and tells me not to fall off my high horse. Where is the rational discourse there? I’m not complaining about the FUD, I’m complaining about the seeming inability for some people to have a discussion about anything that is subjective, including the propensity for some people to introduce something subjective as fact and then shout down any attempt to question the basis for that.
    This is my issue. I was unprepared for it, and I’ll have to get over it. I’m not sure I’m equipped to participate in “discussions” like that, because I inevitably end up upset, not because I’m “wrong” or “right” but because the people who are keeping score aren’t interested in having a reasonable discussion.
    At the end of the day, there’s more than enough opportunity for each of us to sell what we need to. NetApp is a quality company with some very, very smart people who have a good story to tell the market and who have a track record of success. Guess what? So is EMC. So is HP. So are lots of technology companies out there. I respect everyone who clocks in every day and works with customers to identify need, define a solution and implement it to support critical workloads. I want to learn all I can from each of you. I just insist that if we are going to have a different of opinion or if we disagree on a piece of marketing that we do it in a civil way using discourse that doesn’t insult or demean. If we can’t do that, I don’t have time for you.

  7. Chuck Hollis says:

    @bendiq
    For someone who seems to disdain twitter fights and FUD mis-statements, you’d do well to search your Twitter stream over the last few months. There’s a pretty consistent pattern there.
    Both you and @dikrek seem to have arguments of the same form: because a single person who was working at EMC at some point in their career might have made a mistake long ago, the entire company is corrupt and should be banished.
    Especially that guy who misquoted a CX configuration — by ye gods, no punishment is too great for him!
    A few years ago, it seemed that NetApp was making bold mis-statements as a best practice from corporate. Since then, it’s been toned down a bit, but there were some big whoppers coming out a few years back.
    Now it seems the biggest problem are NetApp fans who somehow forgot the “social” in “social media”. We all have to share this space with each other.
    Tossing insults (personal and otherwise), making clear mis-statements — and sometimes complete and utter fabrications — it pollutes the commons for everyone.
    Kind of like farting in an elevator.
    I’d encourage anyone here to go search their twitter stream, and ask the question — does it represent you and your company well?
    — Chuck

  8. Jeremiah – I’m rooting for civility to emerge triumphant but what started out as a heartfelt plea for sanity has descended into farce.
    First of all, before tossing a grenade at NetApp for FUD, perhaps you might want to talk to your very own VCE colleague Nicholas Weaver regarding the whole “NotApp.com” fiasco of this summer? Pot 0 Kettle 1
    While you’re at it, you may also want to google “EMC Anti-Social Media Gang” to see how the king of hypocrisy himself (twice commented on your blog) is perceived by objective experts of our industry. Pot 0 Kettle 100
    I hope you’re an Axl Rose (of GnR) fan, because Welcome to the Jungle of your own employer’s making!

  9. Thank you for recognizing that my overall message here was a call for civility and professionalism. I am certainly aware of the reputations of some of my new collegues (whether I feel like they are 100% deserved or not…), and my hope is that even though they were kind enough to post a comment here (much like you did, thank you!) that you and I can discuss the way forward, not the past I had no part in. I value your input to the discussion as much as theirs. Hopefully the base of my post is strong enough to withstand becoming a “farce” just because of your opinion of fellow commenters.
    It’s nice to meet you, and I look forward to talking to you more!

  10. Jeremiah – It’s clear you’re cut from a different cloth than your most vocal online colleagues. My advice is to drink bottled water instead of the EMC/VCE kool-aid in order to maintain your professional and collegial demeanor. Lord knows, the enterprise storage industry could use more of that!

  11. I believe (hope) that I can be a passionate advocate for my company and my customers without losing my ability to be professional and maintain relationships. I believe there are lots of people out there who feel the same, let’s give them a place to join the discussion without feeling like they are in the line of fire.

  12. Dikrek says:

    @Chuck:
    FYI (since you may want to correct this in the field):
    What I talked about was not a misquoting issue.
    There is an EMC spreadsheet circulating among (some) salesfolk that shows system capacity vs a certain competitor, and the system capacities are all totally wrong for both companies :)
    It’s used in competitive sales and I’ve had at least 5 customers show it to me and ask “is this for real?”
    It’s just one example of home-grown FUD (it wasn’t a “proper” EMC competitive doc, more like something a TC or salesperson did on their own that’s now circulating the world).
    This hurts everyone, and it’s but one example.
    Because, unless the FUD is 100% correct, once you disprove it, the person (and by extension, company) spreading it is instantly without credibility.
    Competitive selling is extremely difficult to do right and very, very few people truly have the appropriate (and up-to-date) experience to do it.
    The vast majority of the time, the idea is that someone that, hopefully, has that experience, creates the main documents that are then distributed to the field. Said documents are obsolete almost immediately, and plenty gets lost in translation (witness the dual drive failure FUD against XIV).
    The problem is, nobody up top cares to do much, since FUD does work – it wastes the engineer’s time and slows down the sales process.
    That’s all…
    D

  13. Vince Westin says:

    ** Disclaimer: I work for EMC **
    Welcome to the fold. I hope that you find the right balance on the rules. Having been with EMC for 15 years, I have seen plenty of competitive challenges. And I have seen bad data used by others as well as some from EMC. I believe that most of our folks are trying to be accurate, or I would have trouble working here. I believe that the same is true of most of the competitors I meet as well.
    It is impossible for any of us to be up to date on everyone’s technology all the time. With the rate of change it is sometimes difficult just to keep up with changes in the EMC product lines (especially as we keep adding them). And there are times when we do want to make a comparison to make a point.
    For example, when talking about thin devices and space reclamation, not all implementations are equal. Some allocate in chunks under 1 MB, some over 40 MBs, and others over 500 GB. Are they all thin? Yes. Do they use close to the same amount of space for a given set of data? Probably not.
    We tested SQL Server building out an ’empty’ data file. DBAs do that all the time, and the data fills in later. But SQL Server puts some markers out there in the file – a dribble of data. With chunk sizes under 1 MB, these files may allocate ~2% of the requested capacity. But even a move up to 40 MBs can cause the allocation for this (still basically empty) file to be over 60%. Is this real? Yes. Does it apply to every customer file? Absolutely not! But it does seem useful as en example of why a customer might care about the granularity of the architecture.
    So I try to start any competitive items like this that I discuss with customers with a disclaimer: this was true the last time I tested it, but you, as a customer, should ask the other vendor(s) about this. And if a customer is going to make a purchase decision based on vendor claims, I would hope that they would both get the claims in writing and have a way to validate those claims. If customers do not hold their vendors accountable (if there is no penalty for lying), then the vendors are less motivated to be accurate.

  14. Bendiq says:

    @chuck
    Chuck you are probably the last one to accuse anyone else of FUD. I feel secure about the comments I have made over the last few months, can you say the same thing?
    Also worth noting that pointing out benefits of another vendor product, other than EMC, is not FUD it is just the distribution of information.
    @Jerimiah I thought you were pushing the standard marketing line and I didn’t realise you were truly surprised. If you look at a lot of the interaction between a lot of vendors and partners, at least in Australia, there is a lot of civil interaction and mutual respect (including storagebeers, vbeers and more)