Anyone who works in IT knows that product simplicity and usability is important today, and becoming even more important going forward.
We at EMC spend a lot of time on this topic. And, when it comes to usability, there's always room for improvement.
But, unfortunately, there are no generally accepted standards for usability. Sure, we can count mouse clicks for commonly performed tasks, but we all know there's far more to the story than that. Worse yet, it all can devolve into a marketing shouting match, with very useful information for users of products to objectively evaluate. Not a good thing.
As a result, we've now started to turn to third party firms to evaluate our products' usability. Tell us the good, tell us the bad -- but, most importantly, tell us where we need to get better.
And, in the spirit of transparency, I'd like to share the methodology and the results with you.
In case you haven't been watching closely, the mid-tier storage market has evolved into a pitched battle between EMC and NetApp. Sure, the server vendors sell a fair share of mid-tier storage bundled with their servers, but if you're in the market for an independent storage solution, it's basically us two and a cast of smaller players.
Indeed, the fracas can get quite heated at times :)
Over the past years, the debates have gone back and forth on things like performance, functionality, availability, pricing, efficiency, use of flash and much, much more.
All important topics to any user of mid-tier storage devices, but over the last few years, the key battleground has emerged: usability and simplicity.
Why? There's not enough time in the day for IT people to do everything that's being asked of them.
If you followed EMC's recent launch of VNX and VNXe, you'll probably recall we made a *huge* investment around Unisphere, our next-gen storage management suite.
For many of us, it makes us smile when we hear from customers and partners just how much they like it -- not only compared to previous EMC storage management products, but compared to anything else they've seen or used.
Sure, it's nice to hear all that, but that really doesn't help the engineers figure out what to go work on next, does it?
Enter Strategic Focus
Lots of companies can do this sort of evaluation, but Strategic Focus has some interesting credentials in not only looking at storage, but at all manner of enterprise IT technologies.
We paid them to put our target competitor (NetApp FAS) side by side with VNX, and give us a detailed evaluation on areas that we did better, areas that they did better, and -- of course -- areas where neither vendor did particularly well :)
Yes, we came out surprisingly well. No, we didn't win in every category -- there's still work to do.
What I found interesting was (a) the areas they chose to evaluate, (b) the detailed pros and cons of each approach, and (c) clear recommendations back to the EMC team around areas to go work on.
Even more interesting -- when I asked the marketing team if I could share the results (even though they weren't the most glamorous), the answer was "go for it". We've come a long way on this transparency thing :)
So -- have at it, folks. Here it is.
Like anything else, feel free to draw your own conclusions about what's important, and what's not.
But here's where we really need input --
If you agree with me that usability for these sorts of products is increasingly important, what should we as vendors be doing to clinically understand usability, make improvements, and ultimately report back on our progress?
Even though the work done by Strategic Focus on our behalf is very insightful and clearly better than the usual breathless marketing stuff, I am left feeling that a better approach might be possible.
I just don't know what that might be.
However, there are some pretty darn smart people out there who might have an opnion or two ...