TFD9 Review: Dell Data Protection

Dell presented a session on their Data Protection products and the roadmap for them.

My overall impression was that, like Dell as a whole, there are a lot of products in the portfolio, and it’s not clear which one is for what. Dell showed a slide about here in the video that listed all the different products used for different kinds of data protection problems; replication, dedupe, backup to tape, etc. Now, in reality things aren’t as fragmented as all that, but there was no slide showing which product has which feature set, or which product set would suit which kind of customer.

Targeting is Important

Let me explain. I’ll use AppAssure as an example, since we had a small presentation from them later in the day when we were touring the labs.

AppAssure is not suitable for all customers. It has a combined Master/Media server (in NetBackup parlance), and doesn’t support federation of these functions; you can’t add other media servers/data movers under the control of a single master server that has the catalogue and schedule. That necessarily limits the size of your deployment, and therefore your potential customers for the product.

Unfortunately, when pressed on this by the delegates (particularly Howard Marks), the Dell folks became defensive. They didn’t really need to, but it’s quite common for people to do this. I think it’s partly because we get personally invested in our work so much that when the product or work are criticized we take it as a personal attack, which it isn’t. But your brain goes into fight-or-flight mode and it’s hard to think straight. It’s good to be committed to something, but only to a point.

Because the limitations of AppAssure aren’t the point. If AppAssure isn’t targeted at customers who need to back up thousands of nodes and huge amounts of data, then it doesn’t matter if AppAssure doesn’t have that feature. Arguing about whether or not it does is a waste of time. AppAssure is targeted at a completely different customer segment, so what it can and can’t do is only relevant if it’s important to that target segment.

Product Mapping to Target Segment

And that’s what was missing from the data protection presentation: a clear mapping of product to target customer segment. It would help me, as a potential customer, figure out which product is right for me, because right now it’s just confusing as all get-out. It needs to be grouped by customer problem, not just technical bells and whistles.

It would also help the product teams, because they’d know who they are building for and selling to. That helps to make the right product, and also communicate its benefits. Doesn’t support multiple data movers? No problem, because our target customers don’t need them. If you need that feature, you want a different product in the portfolio, which is X. And now I’m not trying to sell the customer the wrong product and have stopped wasting their (and my!) time.

I did talk to the Dell folks about the lack of this map, and, to their credit, they were very open to feedback.

New Problem

The data protection portfolio is a new thing for Dell. Srinidhi Varadarajan, VP of the Data Protection Group, said during his presentation that 14 months ago, Dell had no in-house data protection products; they were just a reseller of other company’s products.

Since then, Dell have bought many different software products (VisionCore, BakBone (i.e. Quest), Ocarina, AppAssure and SonicWall, also LightSpeed which wasn’t on the slide) and a bunch of hardware platforms that do things like replication and snapshots. That’s a lot of different pieces, and getting a coherent portfolio out of it is a challenge.

Which is something I have a problem with: Without an overall map, how did Dell choose its acquisition targets? One would hope that each of these acquisitions was made because it provided a key piece of the overall data protection puzzle for Dell, in which case, there should have been a picture to show us of where each piece fits. If such a picture/map doesn’t exist, that would be a dire warning, and Dell is a large company full of smart people, so let’s assume that there is a map.

So why not show it to us? Perhaps Dell are keeping it secret so that you can’t see where the holes are, and therefore potential future acquisitions, but I could go and work that out myself with a bit of effort.

No, I think it’s because Dell didn’t have a fully worked out plan overall, and the map driving the acquisitions was vague. They’ve since realised that the scattershot approach isn’t a good way to run the portfolio, and are now fixing that up over the next 14-20 months (they started about 4 months ago). Part of that process is to work out how to communicate the roadmap to customers, and Tech Field Day 9 was a part of developing the marketing message. It’s clearly not finished yet, but work is well under way.

Wait and See

Like all things Dell, I’m going to wait and see. I get the impression that the data protection portfolio is more for small to medium sized businesses, not the big enterprises, and that’s perfectly fine. The mid-tier is poorly served, so a solid offering that solves their problems should be received well, but Dell need to take care that they don’t get sidetracked with arguing with other vendors about whose product is objectively “better”. There’s no such thing. Concentrate on making your stuff subjectively better to the customers you want to serve, and are good at serving.

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