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“Doc Lock-in” May not be the Villain at EMC World

The main theme at this year’s EMC World is “Lead the Transformation” that EMC is illustrating through the use of superhero characters. The superheroes are represented as end users who come up with solutions to manage today’s complex storage environment while the villain is pictured as “Doc Lock-in” who requires our superheroes to “lock-in” on a single vendor to mitigate this complexity. Yet for those users who think strategically about their storage acquisitions, Doc Lock-in may not be the full-fledged villain that EMC World portrays him to be.

EMC World 2013 has already provided some interesting insight into the underlying psyche that must currently prevail within the EMC culture. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry, one of EMC’s objectives at EMC World was to once again make the topics of storage virtualization and, to a certain degree, storage resource management (SRM), palatable to end-users. To accomplish that, it coined the term “Software-defined Storage” to promote these two concepts without bringing along the emotional baggage that users often associate with them.

But by creating the Doc Lock-in character, EMC also inadvertently tipped its hand that it is sometimes (maybe often?) viewed by end-users as fulfilling the Doc Lock-in role. This likely motivated it to introduce ViPR, its software-defined storage solution. Through it, users can theoretically manage any vendor’s storage and EMC may cast itself on the side of the hero as opposed to playing the role of the villain.

But is “lock-in” really bad and should EMC be classified as “evil”? A group of us analysts were discussing this “lock-in is evil” mindset over dinner last night and we quickly came to the following conclusion: Vendor lock-in is a choice, not a decision any vendor requires any company to make.

Granted, some companies fail to fully comprehend the gravity of choices made and their consequences so they end up in a predicament where they feel “locked-in” to a particular vendor’s solution. Yet I do not blame that on the vendor – that is on the end-user.

Further, even when they are in state where they feel “locked-in” to a particular vendor’s solution, one is never truly “locked-in” as they are not out of choices. Rather they are simply out of pleasant choices with “pleasant choices” being defined as “the freedom to pick any solution at a discount without having to spend weeks or months implementing it .” 

Even then one should not be so quick to dismiss the benefits of being “locked-in.” It takes a lot of end-user time – and I mean a lot of time – to investigate different vendor solutions, examine their benefits, choose one, test it and then bring it in-house and implement it. The amount of time it takes to accomplish this is what prompted DCIG to develop and release its Buyer’s Guides to help buyers quickly assess what products are available in a particular space and identify the most appropriate one for them.

Conversely, consider the benefits, if you will, of being “locked-in” to a particular vendor. Yes, you may pay more for the technology but all of the time spent evaluating different solutions goes away. Instead, you can more quickly and simply pick that vendor’s technology that matches the requirements of the job, implement it and then focus on leveraging that technology to address the issue.

Further, this mindset is certainly in line with what I hear from end-users. They want simpler environments. They want to better leverage and optimize the technology they already have. They want one throat to choke. You probably only get that by having “Doc Lock-in” on your side of the field. Realize that if you do, you are probably going to pay up to have him there with the upside being that you will have more time to focus on doing what your business does best.

Even take EMC which is promoting no vendor lock-in with ViPR. C’mon. Really? If EMC was really promoting no vendor lock-in, then its keynote speakers should be onstage encouraging users to go out and buy as much HDS, IBM, NetApp, Dell, HP, Imation/Nexsan or whatever other brand of storage as they want and then use ViPR to manage it. I did not hear that message at all. EMC wants you to buy more VMAX, VNX, Isilon, Atmos and Data Domain and then use ViPR to manage it – pure and simple.

Locking in on a specific vendor’s technology is a choice and it may be the only choice that some users feel they can make. But lock-in does have its upsides and users should not be so quick to dismiss them. Granted, they are times when Doc Lock-in may feel like and even be the villain. But having too many choices can have just as many downsides as feeling like Doc Lock-in is your only choice.


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