The Feeding Frenzy on End Users
As the ultimate consumers of storage networking products, corporate users have enormous power in the market. This power is fragmented, however, as individual purchasing decisions are dispersed over thousands of client customers and tens or hundreds of vendors.
Although storage networking vendors have a strong and common voice through the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), attempts to create end user associations for storage consumers are either still in process or have simply failed due to lack of consistent interest, organization, or financing.
Like all customer advocacy initiatives, end user associations can be either noble efforts to give customers influence over their vendors or hotbeds of opportunism as vendors attempt to use such associations for their own purposes. On the one hand, vendors really do need to have input from end users to help shape product direction and define priorities for new features. On the other hand, wherever two or more customers gather together, a vendor will inevitably sniff out the opportunity for a more immediate sale. Mixing vendors and end users under the banner of vendor-neutral consumer advocacy is not typically a formula for success.
Many storage networking vendors have customer advisory councils specifically created to help channel end-user input for product development. These vendor-sponsored councils have value for both the vendor and its customers, although typically the information gathered is considered competitive intellectual property by the vendor and is not shared across the storage networking community. There are usually some perks for customer participation: meetings in a resort-like setting, a golf outing, a vendor-logoed jacket, or in the worst case, a chintzy desk plaque.
Still, even small signs that a vendor is listening to and values the opinions of the customer are often welcomed, even if the venue is defined by the people who are trying to sell you more product. Vendor-sponsored advisory councils are not really meant to be forums for democratic expression. The last thing a vendor wants is for a leading customer to stand in a customer advisory council and complain bitterly about some unfortunate incident or the failure of the vendor to support a particular mission-critical feature. Advisory council agendas, therefore, tend to be tightly managed to avoid customer-to-customer infection.