Gartner recently released its updated view of the storage industry, ranking vendors on their ability to execute and the completeness of their vision in a graphic they call the Magic Quadrant. In my last two columns I provided analysis of what Gartner calls the “Leaders” section and the “Visionaries” section. In this column I’ll take a look at the “Challengers” section, which I also call the “boring section”.
The Challengers section is defined as companies that have the ability to execute, but lack a complete vision or at least have failed to convince Gartner of that vision. As a result, companies in this section are typically large and have been around a long time. That is where they get execution points from. These are typically high quality, reliable, but for the most part, unimaginative, products.
The Challengers section also seems like the section that once in it, you can never break free from something like “storage purgatory”. Oracle, Fujitsu and DataDirect Networks have been in this section as long as I can remember. But Gartner, just to make things interesting, tossed Huawei into this space in the latest Magic Quadrant Update.
The Challenger Problem – Innovation and Messaging?
If you look at three of the four companies (Oracle, Fujitsu and Huawei), they lack one of two basic capabilities, either the ability to innovate or the ability to message. In some cases they lack both. To make matters worse these companies have struggled to clearly articulate what message they do have. In most cases their social media presence is pitiful and their engagement with analysts and the press is worse. One of these companies still puts out a monthly, printed on high-gloss paper, magazine. Who does that anymore?
Each of these three has multiple storage solutions that they can offer, but that may be their biggest problem. They tend to focus on everything instead of being very good at just a few things.
Finally, as I mentioned, each of these companies are big, too big to fail and too big to get bought. This is important because no one is going to come along and put them out of their misery. They will just keep bumping along, making a little bit of money but not really inspiring anyone.
The DDN Exception
I’m surprised the fourth company, DataDirect Networks, is in the Challenger section. They have clearly shown the propensity to innovate with solutions that scale into the TBs/sec range, including in-memory computing technologies using NVM and WOZ: Object Storage Platform. The above innovations would certainly put DDN on par with many of the players in the Leader and Visionary sections of the quadrant.
There is another problem with DDN’s position on the chart, while they participate in the general purpose storage market that is not their focus. To some extent DDN’s inclusion anywhere in the chart is a little confusing to me. DDN is focused on HPC and Cloud. For example DDN’s WOS has become an established player in object storage space (listed in the top 5 by IDC) and actually one of the first object storage systems covered by Storage Switzerland in 2009. But many of those players don’t have DDNs robust capabilities as it pertains to HPC and Cloud Storage.
My take is that Gartner may have gotten it wrong, but to some extent that is DDN’s fault. It is their job to convince Gartner that they indeed have a vision, not Gartner’s to piece it together.
How To Break Out of Challenger Purgatory
Priority number-one for these companies is to decide who they are. They need to decide what product or set of products are going to make them influential in storage. These should be products that they bring unique value to and can leverage to provide true innovation.
Second, they need to make a bet on those products and stick with it; stop trying to be all things to all people. Focus is a great motivator and makes communication with customers, analysts and press more effective.
Third, of course, is for them to define their message and get that message out using a medium that people actually use today. I hear that online content is going to be big, maybe they should look at that.
In my last blog in this series we will look at the Niche Players, which is supposed to be the worst place to be, but it may actually be better than the Challengers section.