Comparing UK and US storage managers' buying behaviour

The buying behaviour of UK storage managers reveals that they're more loyal to vendors already providing technology to their data centre and are greener than their US counterparts.

We found many differences in the buying behaviour of UK and US storage managers. Most US respondents to our purchasing intentions survey buy information technology products on the basis of their features and functions, while UK storage procurement is far more dependent on whether the vendor already provides technology to a storage manager's data centre. Network-attached storage (NAS) is more embedded in UK data centres, while green storage is a far higher priority for UK storage managers than their US counterparts.

US storage buyers also added substantially more disk capacity than their UK counterparts in 2008 and are more dependent on Fibre Channel storage-area networks (FC SANs). In addition, vendor preferences differ significantly between the UK and US: While storage giant EMC tops the list of vendor preferences for disk systems in the US, it manages to place only fourth in the UK.

Those are some of the highlights of the first SearchStorage.co.UK purchasing intentions survey. Our US sister site, SearchStorage.com, has been questioning users for seven years on these topics and there are some interesting comparisons to be made.

The average company size was the same in both countries at £1.1bn, although there were fewer respondents to the UK (435) survey than the US (720). Average UK storage budgets were smaller at £1.1m vs. the US figure of £1.9m. In addition, US users reported an increase in budget of 3.2% in 2008, while UK respondents had a rise of only 1.5%.

However, the country comparisons lined up when it came to breaking down those budgets. In the UK, disk hardware spending accounts for 39% of the budget (42% in the US). Staff costs comprise 13% of UK budgets (12% in the US). Spending on storage media is also higher on this side of the Atlantic (12% vs. 7% for the US), but maintenance costs take up a smaller chunk (8% in the UK vs. 12% in the US). The percentage of the data centre budget spent on storage networking hardware, storage software and professional services was about the same in both countries.

US companies added significantly more disk capacity in 2008 (39 TB) than UK users (27 TB), and are far more dependent on FC SANs than UK users. Nearly two-thirds of US respondents reported having Fibre Channel SANs deployed vs. 36% in the UK. NAS usage is more common in the UK (67%) than in the US (59%).

Possible reasons for the preponderance of FC SAN among US users and the preference for NAS among UK storage managers include openness to new technology in a more mature market and constraints on purchasing habits that are specific to each country, said Clive Longbottom, service director for business processes facilitation at analyst group Quocirca.

"The US went very strongly for SANs when they first came out, with the UK sticking with DAS [direct-attached storage] for far longer and then looking to standard Ethernet NAS for much of their storage needs," said Longbottom. "In the US, IT spend tends to come from a central fund, whereas in the UK a lot of IT spend is either project or department based."

That means that departments in the UK often have to fund all of the items needed to create the IT environment for projects. So if the IT department provides a quote where the storage would be the first implementation of a SAN, the cost could push it over the project's limits. To get prices down, the department could opt for DAS or NAS

"In the US, SAN spend would tend to be seen far more strategically," said Longbottom, "and it would be funded by the organisation, rather than any one part of it."

iSCSI deployment is reported by 31% of US respondents, a figure just ahead of the UK (27%). For file storage, DAS is still the top choice by far in the UK, with 45% of storage managers declaring it the target of choice vs. 30% in the US.

Disk system vendors favoured by UK respondents varied dramatically from those of US storage managers. The US top 10 was headed by EMC, HP, Dell, NetApp and IBM. In the UK, however, HP, Dell and IBM were head and shoulders above their rivals, while EMC placed fourth. NetApp shared the fifth spot with Adaptec and Fujitsu, while Compellent didn't make the top 10 in the UK.

The buying behaviour of UK storage managers differed dramatically from their US counterparts. While features and functions are the major consideration for 31% of US storage professionals, it's the key purchasing intentions factor for only 17% of UK users. For UK storage buyers, a vendor already providing technology to their data centre is critical for 29% of those surveyed, which is far ahead of the 18% of US users who place it as their chief criterion.

Such a result may simply come down to answering the question in a different way on either side of the Atlantic.

"I haven't seen heterogeneity of important storage in the US; it doesn't make business or technical sense," Longbottom said. "The US likes to see itself as IT savvy, and will therefore always look to speeds and feeds before buying. They will then go to the incumbent and say that they have carried out the 'research' and can the incumbent match the needs? The incumbent, of course, will always say 'Yes,' and the customer gets something close enough to their perceptions of need."

On the other hand, it could be the result of preferred supplier lists in the UK, Longbottom said. "The reason why the UK tends to go for the incumbent is our wonderful way of using centralised purchasing. Once a vendor is on the list, it will be a preferred vendor, and woe betide anyone who tries to introduce something new."

Good technical support was cited as the most important consideration by approximately 20% of storage managers on both sides of the Atlantic. Price was marginally more important for UK users, with 20% declaring it the key purchasing factor in vendor selection vs. 16% in the US.

Green storage has apparently gained more traction in the UK than the US, with 47% of UK storage managers stating that energy efficiency is a major factor in selecting disk arrays vs. 35% of US respondents.

iSCSI deployment is slower off the blocks in the UK than the US. Forty percent of US users have implemented it; in the UK, that figure is 31%. Of those surveyed, 69% of UK users had no plans to deploy iSCSI vs. 60% in the US.

Reasons for not deploying iSCSI differed dramatically between the UK and the US. While approximately 20% of users in both countries stated that their local-area network (LAN) couldn't support iSCSI, more than four times as many (16%) US respondents vs. UK users (3%) cited concerns over performance. In addition, 14% of US users had concerns over reliability while that was an issue for only 7% of UK users.

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