IT pros speak about frustration with AFA vendors

As part of a recent survey we asked a panel of IT professionals to give us some thoughts on a hot area in the storage world but with a slightly provocative edge, namely “What frustrates you the most about how storage vendors sell their products, and are there any specific irritations in relation to all-flash in particular?”

You clearly had a few things on your mind around long established Reg issues such as ‘Hype’ and ‘FUD’, along with, naturally enough ‘cost’. But alongside these you also had plenty to say about that other favourite, or should I say favourite hate figure, also known as ‘The Sales Rep’. On top of this there were a few AFA technical issues raised as well, especially ‘Dedupe’, ‘Capacity’ and ‘Features’.

Strangely enough, ‘Marketing’ and ‘Lies’ were also mentioned more than once, indeed in almost every other sentence. Read on to see the best of the quotes around the frustrations you have with how vendors sell their storage products, particularly AFAs.

Hype / FUD

Hype and FUD concerning the positioning and marketing claims of some AFA offerings accounted for a huge number of comments, a few of which were rather too explicit to print here. Staring with the subject of the maturity of certain offerings, or rather the lack thereof, one respondent stated bluntly: “Vendors make general false claims, have immature products and offerings and lack the ability to scale for many architectures.”

But others went further and take vendors severely to task for claiming AFAs can solve any storage challenge: “Flash is sold as a cure-all. Vendors have different features or benefits that are rarely assessed properly, but are still being pushed as magically solving all the problems.”

Several respondents say that some vendors can be, in the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby, ‘economical with the truth’: “Half-truths to outright lies.”

“Marketing BS, instead of straight up technical facts that the ’real world usage’ relies on.”

In the end there was a plea straight from the heart that every marketing department, not just those of IT vendors and AFA suppliers, should ponder: “Stop using FUD to discount your competitors. Just sell on your own value.”

Or even more starkly: “Let your product stand on its own two feet, or don’t sell it. Making the other guy look bad, while not providing any documented/proven way you are better is just bad business sense. Frankly customers are fed up with the FUD!”

But one survey respondent did point out that not all of the problems are to be found with vendor marketing departments and that perhaps buyers should take some responsibility: “Everybody can blame vendors for how they sell their stuff but on the customer side we have to know what our infrastructure looks like and what our applications needs are. At least we need to know what we want. The rest is comparing apples with apples – here everybody has to ask the right questions.”

Of course a big part of marketing AFAs concerns cost. But given the complexity of such systems, it is clear that working out accurately what the total acquisition cost will be is no easier for AFAs than for traditional storage platforms.


As ever, price flexibility has its attractions, but it can also be irritating: “The pricing varies wildly depending on the time of year such as at the end of their financial year or if there is a competitive bid. It would be nice if they priced it the best they could in the first round.”

But perhaps the biggest complaint of all gets back to the issue already raised of speaking the truth: “They all sell low and try to make up money on the renewals/upgrades/expansion. Most frustrating are companies that claim they don’t do this and then weasel into doing exactly this because of a close reading of the T&Cs.”

And to put it simply: “All-flash has its place – but it can still be extremely expensive and unnecessary.”

But what of the elements that separate AFAs from their hybrid and HDD based cousins? Some of the features and ‘new’ models for sizing them allowed respondents to vent one or two concerns.

Dedupe / Features / Capacity / Performance

The heavy promotion of AFAs and the price premium such systems have over traditional HDD based arrays has led to much being made of features that can reduce the apparent price per Terabyte. Unfortunately, the use of such capabilities can also make measuring how much capacity you need to acquire (which truth to tell has always been something of a guestimate given the uncertainty around projected future storage use) somewhat hard to work out with any confidence.

And vendor marketing is, yet again, adding to the confusion: “There are many myths surrounding dedupe/ compression usually over quoting reduction ratios. Re-inflation latency is often over quoted as well.”

The result is even more problems scaling any potential solution: “A lack of transparency with how dedupe, compression, auto tiering etc. affect overall capacity. Being able to plan exactly how much hardware I need to purchase is no longer a simple equation of ‘disk size + RAID array = total’ anymore.”

All of which leads to major purchase justification problems: “This makes justifying the purchase to management harder as I can’t say for sure that the volume purchased is exactly what I’m expecting.”

This can result in another traditional storage remedy being applied: “Dedupe/compression? No solid numbers until you get your workload on it, you need to over buy to make sure you don’t have to go to the well again.”

And one respondent makes a very stark warning:

“The selling of dedupe, always heavily promoted with AFA to get a capacity boost – great idea in principal, but has data integrity and availability risks, only worth using in very specific scenarios”

Even after hype and FUD, cost and capability issues have been addressed, IT pros still have a lot to say about a couple of other matters integral to the sales process and especially the sales reps who peddle them.

Sales Reps

But when it comes to sales people, few Reg readers have anything positive to say: “What irritates me most is other vendors approaching us, and spinning tales of them being oh so special that they need market premium.”

And when the sales rep seeks to combine marketing messaging with more than a little misdirection, truth is often, yet again, a victim: “They say it is simple and scalable but it is complex and slow.”

Through all the mistrust of sales reps as a whole, one participant reckons our friends over the The Register may be able to help: “I would love to have Simon ’BOFH’ and a cattle prod with me in a meeting room full of sales folks.”

But to sum it all up, ‘Marketing’ takes the last word: “Vendors are too in love with their own branding, and scarce on details about what the product actually does, relying instead on buzzwords and fad trendy phrases. You’d think they were selling luxury cars ….”

If you want to see the results of the survey that generated comments like these, you can find them here.

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Tony is an IT operations guru. As an ex-IT manager with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, his extensive vendor briefing agenda makes him one of the most well informed analysts in the industry, particularly on the diversity of solutions and approaches available to tackle key operational requirements. If you are a vendor talking about a new offering, be very careful about describing it to Tony as ‘unique’, because if it isn’t, he’ll probably know.