What really drives storage innovation

Ongoing waves of consolidation remind me of what really drives storage innovation – companies willing to experiment. Startups can only succeed when their products can engage the marketplace.

Startups risk everything to develop technology an innovation or two that can change the world. But what they ultimately discover, what they truly need is some large and/or small company’s willingness to experiment with new and untried technology. Such market engagement is essential to understand their technology’s rough edges, customer requirements, and distribution options.

Recently, I was informed that some large companies prefer to work with startups because they can better control any emerging technology direction. Also, their problems are big enough that typically no one solution can solve them. Startups allow them to cobble together (multiple) solutions that ultimately can solve their problem.

From the small company’s perspective the question becomes how to attract and begin the dialogue with innovative customers willing to invest time and money in startups. But, the real problem is knowing enough about a customer’s environment to know if suitable prospects for their technology exist. Armed with this knowledge, targeted marketing approaches can be applied to ultimately get a hearing with the customer.

However, what’s missing is a forum for large and small companies to describe their environment and more importantly, their serious, chronic problems. Mostly, this has been done informally or on an ad hoc basis in the past, but some formality around this could really benefit storage innovation at least from startups.

I see many possibilities to solve this, ways that companies could provide information on their environment and identify problems needing solutions. Such possibilities include:

  • an electronic forum something like Innocentive.com where companies could post problems and solicit solutions
  • an award to solve a particularly pressing problem like Xprize.org where a group of companies, perhaps in one vertical combine together to offer a significant award to help solve a particular nasty storage/IT problem
  • an organization of sorts like SNIA end user council that could provide anonymous information on IT environments and problems needing solutions.
  • a Small Business Innovation Research-like (see SBIR.gov) that could provide a list of problems soliciting solutions

The problem with SNIA end user council and SBIR-like approaches is the lack of anonyminity, the problems with an Xprize-like award is the inability for any one organization to fund the award. All of which is why I prefer an innocentive.com-like approach, maybe better targeted to IT issues and less targeted on basic and materials science. Finally, perhaps another, unforeseen approach that might even work better – comments?

Why big storage vendors can’t be enticed to work on something like this is another conundrum and probably subject for a future post.