Hand me a screwdriver

In a former life, I was a sales guy. What I sold and who I sold to will remain nameless to protect the innocent -- namely me. Suffice to say, I was in computing sales, and I called on some large IT shops. Some years later, I traded in my flip chart for a keyboard after one of my best customers told me I couldn't sell snowshoes to an Eskimo.

One day, I called on a customer who told me a story I'll never forget. He said that, the day before, he had been given two sales pitches from the same company -- a major mid-range systems supplier whose headquarters was just up the road. The first pitch was for a new, upgraded, platinum-coated maintenance plan that would cover everything the manufacturer made. The second pitch occurred only two hours later and was for the exact opposite: a self-maintenance plan. The vendor proposed to set up a parts depot on the customer's premises and train chosen members of the customer's IT staff on how to troubleshoot and fix some of the most common and easily fixable problems -- for a fee, of course. But the fee represented a big savings over the customer's current maintenance arrangement with the vendor.

Put aside wondering how the same vendor could make two diametrically opposed sales pitches to the same customer on the same day, and ask yourself which plan the customer ultimately chose. Actually, the customer didn't just choose. He jumped at the self-maintenance plan.

To him, it was a no-brainer, and he'd been thinking along similar lines himself. These systems had become more modular over time. He'd watch the vendor's field-service people fix a problem by pulling one board out and pushing a new one in. "I could do that myself," he'd think, and save the time waiting for the service guy who was often stuck in traffic.

I tell this story now because we don't see much of that take-charge, self-maintenance spirit in enterprise storage. That's because vendors have, through various means, dampened the fix-it-myself enthusiasm. But that's about to change. As a natural consequence of modularity, I believe that we will soon see a willingness among enterprise storage vendors to hand over the screwdriver and the spares kit. Do I hear a hallelujah out there?

John Webster is senior analyst and founder of research firm Data Mobility Group

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