The Bell Tolls For BMC Storage Management

After assuming the mantle of “mind share leader” in application-centric storage management, BMC After assuming the mantle of “mind share leader” in application-centric storage management, BMC Software has pulled the plug on its storage business unit. Lamentations aside, the company is owed a few parting kudos for steering the storage industry a couple of degrees toward the direction of end user requirements.

Hail and farewell to BMC Software’s storage management business. The Houston-based software vendor lowered the curtain on its storage management business unit—right on the heels of its greatest triumph.

Application-centric storage management (ACSM)—that is, managing storage from the perspective of application performance itself—was a BMC innovation in the storage management space. It contrasted nicely with storage resource management, a technique for managing storage from the perspective of storage itself. BMC spent a lot of time, money, and effort convincing the industry that it was the most efficient approach available.

Late last year, they succeeded in turning the tide. In October, EMC and Veritas noted the flagging fortunes of SRM and decided to co-opt the BMC mantra. (EMC also co-opted ACSM’s most charismatic advocate, Chris Gahagan, by hiring the storage management business unit VP away from BMC Software.) In short, everyone who was anyone was finally singing from the same sheet of music.

This column credited the ACSM newbies for their wisdom in shifting their strategic product directions. We argued that until the promise of SANs to provide a self-managing, self-provisioning infrastructure was delivered to market, SRM simply was not enough. Application-centric storage management established a 360-degree feedback loop between an application and storage infrastructure used to support it. It set application performance up to be the metric of successful storage management. In practical terms, it recognized the reality that most companies and their IT decision-makers didn’t much care about storage management, but nearly everyone cared about application performance.

We’ve talked to many BMC’ers who will be hitting the bricks in search of new employers. (Full disclosure: My own company, Toigo Partners International, will be seeking to hire a few of them.) Surprisingly, no one has “sour grapes” over the move. Not surprisingly, each one has his or her own perspective on the underlying reasons for BMC’s decision. Dissecting the reasons may be useful to readers considering the acquisition of BMC competitor products and their potential longevity in the market.

Reason #1: BMC’s product took too long to sell.

Instrumenting a diversity of platforms for application centric storage management is no plug-and-play operation. Sales guys say that multi-month sales cycles required a lot of custom engineering and “face time” with the consumer. With sales guys compelled to show revenues every three months, and a catalog of other less cumbersome products to sell, there was little incentive to sell storage management software.

Reason #2: It wasn't "channel friendly".

Price it right, teach channel partners to deploy it efficiently, possibly offer additional incentives to represent the solution to their customers, and BMC might have been able to exploit more opportunities with smaller staff (realizing greater revenues in the process). The problem, according to some BMC insiders, was that the product wasn’t designed to be channel friendly, required very stringent skills sets to deploy, and didn’t carry with it too many deal sweetening financial arrangements.

Reason #3: The product had a few flaws.

The flaws showed up as scaling issues in large deployments. What product doesn’t have flaws? According to one software analysis house, vendors make more money selling software that is only about 76 percent completed than they do by selling a product that is 100 percent complete. This factoid should make consumers very angry, but instead has made Microsoft and others very rich.

Reason #4: No one anticipated that storage management software revenues would be as low as they are industry-wide.

Just two years ago, Gartner Group, IDC, MetaGroup, AMR, and Forrester were all projecting hockey-stick growth curves for storage management software. Venture capital firms bought into the hype and dropped a lot of money into storage software startups, “pulverizing” the SRM market in particular. Of course, no one anticipated 9/11 or the downward spiral of the current economy. And, of course, financial market projections were never a forte of technology research and analysis firms and how they ever pretended to have the right shingle to do this job is beyond me. Anyone who believed, much less used, their misguided marketing numbers in their business planning efforts, frankly, deserved to get burned. For the most part, many of the current cadre of technology analysts deserve to be marched down the perp walk right next to those financial wiz kids that hyped SAN start-ups and took a piece of the funding for themselves. Bottom line: BMC expectations were set at a break-even or profitable quarter after several dismal quarters of product- and market-building. When the profits didn’t come, they dumped the line of business. Smart move, even if it smarts for those folks who vested a lot of time and energy to making the business successful.

The question that the BMC experience opens is a valid one. If there is another company that will rapidly find itself in the same spot as the originator of ACSM, it is Computer Associates. Downstream, however, it is likely that EMC and Veritas will also need to come to grips with revenue that is well below expectations in the storage management space.

The blush, it seems, is off the rose of storage management. Users feel cheated by products that don’t deliver promised value, don’t work across all platforms, or that fail in general to live up to their brochures.

Our advice: buy a product that installs quickly, that is cheap to use, and that delivers instantaneous ROI—even if it is from a no-name vendor. You don’t need to bet the ranch on a “strategic solution” because, honestly speaking, there aren’t any strategic solutions out there. The key fact behind this observation: there is no common storage model from which to derive a universal storage management approach.

IP storage could conceivably help, and CIM/WBEM would move things a bit further into the win category. But both of these technologies help to commoditize storage, and that is simply something the industry is not prepared to support.

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.