In the IT industry, there’s a term for devices or software that report back to their manufacturer. This behavior is commonly referred to as the “phone home” feature. Depending on the context, this term can carry a negative connotation. Perhaps a bit of software sends information back to the parent company that contains sensitive information the user would prefer not to be shared. However, in recent years, the capability to phone home has been increasingly appreciated and accepted (so long as the data is appropriately scrubbed and/or anonymized). Where sending data back to the vendor used to be generally frowned upon, the way that vendors are able to take advantage of that information today has changed the game.
Historically, the phone home capability had more to do with counter-piracy and ensuring that customers were properly licensing the product. It also could have had to do with providing data to the sales team on when license renewals were coming so that they could extract the largest possible renewal fee out of the customer. These days, though, many vendors have figured out how to leverage the data their product can send back to the mothership to tangibly help the customer. With the data they can collect, hardware and software manufacturers are able to proactively support their customers in a way that has customers practically begging to send the vendor their data. With current big data analysis tools, the value of allowing a product to phone home is greater than ever. What is this all about?
Customer Support and Proactive Issue Correction
One of the largest advantages a customer who is sending data back to the vendor has over a customer who does not send the data is a streamlined support experience. A typical support engagement where the customer and vendor do not share data involves a painstaking back-and-forth of information and log files and screenshots, often before any real troubleshooting even begins. When the log files needed are already in the vendor’s database because they were shared in the last overnight upload, support can begin immediately and often without any effort on the part of the customer.
Now imagine that because of the information being sent by the day (or by the hour or minute) to the vendor, they can spot an issue before it happens. What if, rather than encountering a problem and opening a support case, the customer received and e-mail from the vendor stating that they had seen the problem in the log files and had gone ahead and fixed the issue. All is well and an outage was averted. Wouldn’t that be worth choosing the vendor who can provide that service over one who cannot?
This is perhaps the least visible of the advantages being covered, but it is important nonetheless. If a vendor could see that 70 percent of their customer base was frequently experiencing the same issue, wouldn’t it make sense for them to fix it? Of course. This information is hard to come by without the capability to phone home, however. If the device or software isn’t reporting back, the vendor is relying on the customer to report their struggles. If the vendor’s product is automatically sharing that information with them, they can immediately see trends that impact their customers and make improvements to the product overall. In the end, a product will generally be far more stable and advanced as time goes on if the manufacturer has “phone home” level insight into what the product is doing.
The Benefits of Big Data
Finally, the aggregations of all data points across a vendors entire customer base can provide extremely valuable insights. Without the product sending many data points back for comparison, this wouldn’t be possible. When there’s a large data set to work with, however, trends and patterns can be identified. The product can then be improved more accurately, especially in regard to bug fixes. And the proactive support team can stay one step ahead of issues. As an example, this analytical approach could identify that all customers running a certain firmware version experience instability with the network interface driver is updated to a certain version. That pattern could be identified slowly with the traditional support model, but it can be identified quickly by crunching this huge data set.
In the Storage World
Interestingly, when ActualTech Media performed the 2016 State of Storage in Virtualization survey, the resulting report shows that a mere 17.1 percent of respondents stated that the array(s) in use in their organization have Cloud Monitoring and Array Analytics functionality. While this is great for those 17 percent, this means that a full 4 out of 5 IT organizations represented by the survey respondents are not taking advantage of the proactive support, higher product quality, and decreased downtime and stress that the cloud monitoring and analytics capabilities of some arrays can provide.
As mentioned earlier, vendors collecting this data take care to properly scrub the data of any proprietary or sensitive information, and most also go to great lengths to anonymize the data as well. This way, even if sensitive information wound up in the data, an intruder would have no idea who in the world (literally) the data belongs to. It’s more or less meaningless without the supporting information that the vendor keeps in a separate location. In many industries like finance and healthcare, there are compliance requirements dictating where and how data must be stored. Most vendors requesting phone home data also comply with these rules. So with so little to lose and so much to gain, why not look for this great advantage in your next storage array?
Learn more Download the free 2016 State of Storage in Virtualization report conducted by ActualTech Media.