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Posts Tagged ‘technology marketing’

One Year with VCE

February 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Early January marked my one year anniversary with VCE.  I was hired to be a Program Manager on the virtualization team and my first project to lead was bringing vSphere 5 to the world of Vblocks.  I didn’t think this would be as difficult as it turned out to be.  I knew I would be herding cats, but I didn’t plan on herding cats from outside the herd.  About midway through the project, both Cisco and EMC informed us that they weren’t going to certify vSphere 5 on older levels of firmware.  In the case of Cisco, this meant the we were going to move all the Vblock platforms to UCS 2.0.  For EMC, it meant upgrading the firmware for all our supported storage arrays.  In essence, I was actually leading a project to upgrade all the components in a Vblock platform.

If I do say so myself, I did a great job.  But it wasn’t just me.  I worked with a great team of engineers, tech writers, product managers, trainers, and more.  This was truly a cross-functional project and involved over 50 staff across three companies by the time the project completed.

In this same one year, VCE had gone through tremendous change.  When I hired on, VCE was basically a startup.  About midway through the year, a certain level of operational maturity was needed.  We had achieved significant growth, both in sales and in head count. Thus began a series of reorgs.  There was basically one large reorg and a series of refining reorgs.  In my case, I went through two refinements.

The first reorg moved the virtualization team in with the rest of the Product Management team.  It also moved the bulk of our engineering staff into one engineering group.  This was a smart move as it removed barriers to introducing new product. Unfortunately for me, all Program Managers were moved into a formal Program Management Office.   While I did a great job on the vSphere 5 project, I found that this wasn’t the position for me.  Luckily, my managers recognized my talents and kept me on the virtualization team, which was now part of the Product Management group.

As the vSphere 5 project was winding down, the virtualization team was disbanded and we moved into the direct chain of Product Management.  Again, not a bad idea but it did leave me in a bit of limbo since Product Management does not have a need for a Program Manager.  Again, I got lucky.  The director of Product Management recognized my abilities in the areas of process management, barrier breaking, and general mayhem.  A product management operations team was created and I was assigned to it.   Our charter is simple: keep things moving.  Think of us a “fixers”.  If a project is in trouble, we show up and get it back on track.  If someone is not getting things done in a timely manner, we will.  We are also developing various policies, processes, and procedures for the Product Management team as well as working with other teams inside of VCE to develop company-wide policies and processes.

It’s been interesting to me because I am being exposed to areas of the business that I have not had previous exposure to.  For example, I am working with the marketing group on website redesign and developing launch materials.  I am also working with our supply chain managers on setting appropriate stocking levels.

I’ve had an exciting first year.  I’m betting the second is going to be even better.

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Does the Storage Tecchnology Really Matter?

November 15, 2010 4 comments

This article is really more of a rant.  Take it for what it is.  I’m just a frustrated infrastructure admin trying to choose a storage product.

I am not a storage admin (and I don’t play one on TV), but I am on our storage replacement project representing the server infrastructure area.  In preparation for this project, I started reading a number of the more popular blogs and following some of the storage Tweeters.  One thing I noticed is that all the banter seems to be about speeds and feeds as opposed to solving business problems.  In the case of Twitter, I am guessing it’s due to the 140 character limit, but I would expect to see more in the blogs.  Some of the back & forth reminds me of the old elementary school bravado along the lines of “My dad can beat up your dad”.

I must admit that I am learning a lot, but does it really matter if it supports iSCSI, FC, FCoE, NFS, or other acronyms?  As long as it fits into my existing infrastructure with minimal disruption and provides me options for growth (capacity and features), should I care?   If so, why should I care? We recently moved the bulk of our data center to Cisco UCS so you would think that FCoE would be a highly valued feature of our new solution.  But it’s not.  We don’t run Cisco networking gear and our current gear provider has no short term plans for FCoE.  Given that we just finished a network upgrade project, I don’t forsee FCoE in our environment for at least three years unless funding magically appears.  It doesn’t mean that it isn’t on our radar; it just means that it won’t be here for at least three years.  So stop trying to sell me on FCoE support.

So who has the better solution?  I am going to use EMC and NetApp in my example just because they blog/tweet a lot.

I think if one were to put a chart together, both EMC and NetApp could be at the heading of any column.  Their products look the same to me.  Both have replication software, both support snapshots, both support multiple protocols, and so on and so on and so on.  The features list is pages long and each vendor seems to match the other.

There are technical differences in how these features are implemented and in how the back-end arrays work, but should I care?  Tell me how these features will help my business grow.  Tell me how these features will protect my business.  Tell me how these features will save my business money. Tell me how they can integrate into my existing infrastructure without having to change my infrastructure.  And when I say “tell me”, don’t just say “it can do this”, or “it can do that”.  Give me case studies more than six pages long, give me processes and procedures, and give me REAL metrics that I can replicate/validate (assuming I had the equipment and time) in a real-world scenario which information telling me how they affect my apps and customers.

This is an area where companies need to do a better job of marketing.  EMC started down this path with the vBlock.  Techies aren’t really interested because the specs are blasé.  C-level folks love it because it marketed towards them and the marketing focuses on the solution from a business perspective.   NetApp is starting to do the same with their recently announced FlexPod.  The main downside to these new initiatives is that they seem to forget about the SMB.  I think it’s great from a techie POV that a FlexPod can handle 50,000 VDI sessions.  But as an IT Architect for my organization, so what?  We only have 4200 employees or so.

Right now, I’m sort of in-between in what type of information I need: technical vs business.  I am technical at heart, but have been looking at things from a business perspective the last few yrs.  I am in the process of trying to map what our mgmt team wants to accomplish over the next few years to the storage feature sets out there in the market.  This is where both types come together.  Now if I can just get past the FUD.

My Thoughts on Our Cisco UCS Sales Experience

August 31, 2010 2 comments

This is a topic that when I think about it, I jump around in my head from subtopic to subtopic.  To make things easier on myself, I am going to write a bunch of disjointed paragraphs and tie them together in the end.

Disjoint #1

I’ve never worked on Cisco gear in the past.  Everywhere I worked where I had access to network/server equipment, Cisco was not a technology provider.  I don’t know why, other than I’ve heard Cisco had the priciest gear on the market.  I’ve also heard/read that while Cisco is #1 in the networking gear market, their products are not necessarily #1 in performance, capacity, etc.  Throw in the perception of the 800lb gorilla and you get a lot of negative commentary out there.

Disjoint #2

When I was 19, I started my career in the technology field as a bench tech for a local consumer electronics store.  The owner (Ralph) was a man wise beyond his years. He saw something in me and decided to take me under his wing, but because I was 19, I did not understand/appreciate the opportunity that he was bestowing upon me.

While I learned some of the various technical aspects of running a small business, I did not do so well on the human side of it.  I was a brash, cocky 19yr old who thought he could take over the world.  However, there is one thing Ralph said that I remember very well and that is, “If no one has any problems, how will they ever find out what wonderful customer service we have”.

It’s not that he wanted people to have problems with the equipment they purchased.  He knew that by selling thousands of answering machines, telephones, T.Vs, computer, etc there would be some issues at some point and he felt that he  should do his best to make amends for it.

Ralph truly believed in customer service and would go out of his way to ensure that all customers left feeling like they had been taken care of extremely well.  If there was poster child for exemplary customer service, it would be Ralph.

Disjoint #3

A number of vendors with broad product lines have somehow decided that the SMB market does not need robust, highly available (maybe even fault tolerant) equipment.  Somehow, company size and revenue have become equated with technical needs.  Perceptions of affordability have also played into this, meaning, if you can’t afford it, then you don’t need it.

Why do I bring this up?  Way back in one of my earlier posts, I mentioned that we had a major piece of equipment fail and received poor customer service from the vendor.  The vendor sales rep kept saying that we bought the wrong equipment.  We didn’t buy the wrong equipment, we bought what we could afford.   In hindsight it wasn’t the equipment that failed us, but the company behind it.

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Tieing all this together…

When we first started looking at UCS, some folks here had trepidations about doing business with Cisco.  There were preconceived notions of pricing and support.  Cisco was also perceived to have a reputation of abandoning a market where they could not be number one in sales.

I must also admit that there are technical zealots in my organization that only believe in technical specifications.  These folks try to avoid products that don’t “read” the best on paper or have the best results in every performance test.

However, my team diligently worked to overcome these objections one by one and we couldn’t have done it without the exceptional Cisco sales team assigned to us.

In the early part of the sales process, we pretty much only dealt with the Product Sales Specialist (PSS) and her System Engineer (SE).  The rest of the account team entered the picture a month or so later.

These two (PSS and SE) had the patience of Job.   The sales team took copious amounts of time meeting with us to explain how UCS was different from the other blade systems out there and how it could fit into our environment and enable us to achieve our strategic goals.  All questions were answered thoroughly in a timely manner.  Not once did I ever get the feeling that they (Cisco) felt they were wasting their time.

When the infamous HP-sponsored Tolly report (and other competing vendor FUD) came out, Cisco sales took the time to allay our concerns.   As we read and talked about other competing products, not once did they engage in any negative marketing.  Cisco took the high road and stuck to it.

We had phone calls with multiple reference accounts.  We had phone calls with product managers.  We had phone calls with the Unified Computing business unit leaders.   We had phone calls with…you get the idea.  Cisco put in a great amount of effort show us their commitment to be in the server business.

On top of all this, there was no overt pressure to close the sale.  Yes, the sales team asked if they could have the sale.  That’s what they are supposed to do.  But they didn’t act like car salesman by offering a limited duration, once in a lifetime deal.   Instead, they offered a competitive price with no strings attached. (Disjoint #1)

Needless to say, we bought into UCS and have transitioned to the post sales team.  This means we now interact more with our overall account rep and a generic SE rather than the PSS and her SE.  I call our new SE generic because he is not tied to a particular product but represents the entire Cisco product line.  He’s is quite knowledgeable and very helpful in teaching the ways of navigating Cisco sales and support.

So has everything gone perfectly?  No. We’ve had a few defective parts.  If you have read of my other posts, you know that we have had some integration issues.  We’ve also found a few areas of the management system that could use a bit more polish.  So in light of all this, do I regret going with UCS?  Not at all.  I still think it is the best blade system out there and I truly think the UCS architecture is the right way to go.

But with defective parts, integrations issues, etc…”Why do I still like Cisco?” you ask.  For starters, I don’t expect everything to be perfect.  That’s just life in the IT field.

Second, go re-read Disjoint #2.   Cisco must have hired Ralph at some point in time because their support has been phenomenal.    Not only do the pre and post sales teams check in to see how we are doing, any time we run into an issue they ask what Cisco can do to help.  It’s not that they just ask to see if they can help, they actually follow through if we say “yes”.  They are treating us as if we are their most important customer.

Finally, to tie in Disjoint #3, any time we run into something where other vendors would say we purchased the wrong equipment, Cisco owns the issue and asks how they can improve what we already have purchased.   It’s not about “buy this” or “buy that”.  It’s “How can we make it right?”, “What can we do to improve the product/process/experience?”, and “What could we have done differently?”   These are all questions a quality organization asks themselves and their customers.

I don’t know what else I can write about my Cisco sales experience other than to say that it has become my gold standard.  If other vendors read this post, they now know what standard they have to live up to.

To other UCS customers: What was your sale experience like?

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A Trend in Technology Provider Marketing Techniques

The recession has brought about a few major changes in sales/marketing techniques in the technology industry.  There was a time when only executive management was wined and dined and the common man was left out in the cold.  Well my friends, that time is no more.

Over the last 18 months or so, I have been invited to more lunches and activity-based events that I have in my 20+ years in the IT industry.  The two (lunches and activity based events) can be broken down into two categories of providers: those selling really expensive products and those with not-so expensive products.

Those in the really expensive product category usually are storage providers.  Since these systems can easily reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the sales/marketing experience has to be equally impressive.  As such, the event most often chosen is lunch at an upscale steak restaurant such as Ruth’s Chris or Fleming’s.    The typical event consists of a small presentation (usually under 30 minutes) followed by a lunch from a scaled-down menu.  Even though the menu is scaled down, the quality of the food is not;  the reputation of the restaurant is still on display.

In the not-so expensive category, we typically find VARs and small product vendors.  The event of choice in this category is entrance to something with mass appeal such as a blockbuster movie’s opening day.   As with the lunches, the event begins with a 30 minutes presentation and then the movie begins.   This type of event has become so pervasive that I recently had three invitations to see Iron Man 2 at the same theater on the same day (all at different times).

I don’t go to the lunches very often because I feel it is disingenuous to take advantage of something so expensive for no return.   I only attend when I have a budgeted project.  I’m also careful to keep track of the “promoter”.  Some promoters are very good at setting up the presentations so that real information is imparted.  Others are there just to get butts in the seats and the presentations tend to suffer for it.  While I enjoy a good meal, I don’t want to waste my time.  However, I do partake in some of the movies since they usually take place on a Friday (my day off) and I use them to network with the VAR and other IT professionals.

Other events in the expensive category:

  • Tickets to major golf tournaments
  • Tickets to basketball games
  • Tickets to concerts

Other events in the not-so-expensive category:

  • Tickets to baseball games (many can be bought in volume for under $10 each)
  • Kart racing (fast go-karts)
  • Lunch and games at a large entertainment venue such as Dave & Busters

What else have you seen?   Anything outrageous?

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