It’s a journey not a final destination
Most marketing literature for technical products inevitably touches on the concept of ease of use. The phrase is approachable and non-technical, which is precisely the reason that you find it used so often. Consumers and enterprises want the latest and greatest technology (hardware, software, cloud service, etc) to be powerful, more performant, and at the same time very simple to use. If only every appliance or application could be reduced down to the simplicity level of an easy button!
As consumers, we’ve become accustomed to a level of ease of use like our iPhones, where intuition drives the UX. In contrast, enterprise level systems are much more complex and have more rigorous requirements behind the scenes.
Always on my mind
As the nature of data, the evolution of workflows/workloads, and the functions and capabilities of applications become more sophisticated, achieving ease of use becomes difficult to achieve in practice. But let’s be clear: it’s not impossible. In our discipline of product management, ease of use should always be top of mind and should factor into every requirement related to onboarding new customers, solutions deployment, configuration and administration, and daily use of the products we’re bringing to market. At the same time, we must also keep in mind that it’s a subjective concept that has no final completion state. The real benefit of a focus on ease of use comes from always being mindful of it, always striving to simplify and to streamline just a little more than prior iterations, and always rethinking what you’ve already implemented to see if you can make it even more intuitive. It takes openmindedness and the desire and ability to see things from other perspectives. Ease of use is a constant state of becoming instead of being.
OpenDrives was conceived as a vendor of high-performance NAS storage solutions within the media and entertainment industry, directly competing against industry mainstays leveraging complex SAN architectures and technologies. NAS solutions have always existed as the easier, more user-friendly, more architecturally streamlined, and more operationally approachable option for enterprise shared storage. SAN, for all its reputational performant characteristics, takes on additional complexities at the transport and topological layers. Therefore, we started our corporate journey from the outset with a focus on simplicity, flexibility, and ease of use by the nature of our architecture. However, through the years we’ve never lost sight of ease of use as a design and engineering principle, and the user experience as a factor as important as any other characteristic.
Of course, we’re well aware of the fact that data storage actually involves two types of users and therefore two types of ease of use: 1) IT professionals who deploy, configure, manage, and maintain the data environment, and 2) end users who generate, use, store, and access enterprise data in the course of their various roles. So as our team goes about managing the evolution of our products and solutions, we keep in mind the needs of these distinct communities. What’s easy for a highly experienced system administrator and what’s easy for an assistant editor are two very different things. As product managers, we have to be mindful of both stakeholders.
IT professionals by the nature of their roles are tech savvy and “power users” of the tools and applications they administer. They need operational efficiencies, reductions in the number of steps to accomplish a task or operation, and powerful automation to remove the need for actual people to be involved in the mundane and repetitive routines that can often surround data storage operations. They want to deploy and maintain more technologies within the IT environment with fewer staff and even less ongoing training. IT professionals want peace of mind knowing they made the right choice in their storage vendor to ensure they are not required for its maintenance 24/7.
Enterprise end users don’t think about storage, their focus is gaining rapid access to the data they need to get their jobs done. They want their data to be made available to them in ways that are intuitive and fast. These are the people within organizations who are running the workflows and workloads to get core business done, so they need to collaborate with each other without topological obstacles or data silos, to access and store data with an easy-to-understand hierarchy that works seamlessly with their enterprise applications. Their goal is to accomplish the task at hand quickly and effortlessly, then move on to the next task or process.
More than just ease of operational usage
Our product management team thinks broadly about ease of use not only as the user experience post-deployment but also as the quality of experience during onboarding itself. Ease of use during the planning and deployment phase of a solution is equally important, because competing solutions can take weeks or even months to put in place and become operational. In many cases, we’ve actually pared that process down to hours. That’s some serious time savings.
Once our solutions are up and running, we want our customers to accomplish tasks quickly with the fewest steps possible. As a guiding rule, we try to think of the least number of clicks or inputs necessary to carry out a task. For example, our snapshot capability is incredibly easy to configure and use, with a guided process to help configure and run snapshots effortlessly. Snapshots are critical to helping to recover data and can even play a part in a larger ransomware recovery strategy. Speed is always of the essence where data recovery is concerned, and ease of use increases that velocity.
Ease of use also encompasses how we represent data so that users can understand and act on the information they see. We redesigned our dashboard to make sure that representative system health data simply and clearly indicates whether our solution is functioning within expected parameters or not. And finally, wherever we can we want to make sure that end users are able to work with their shared storage without even knowing about the complexities “underneath the hood” which are a necessary part of sophisticated enterprise data storage.
Business outcomes are the actual goal
To us, ease of use is more than just a marketing phrase. We enable tangible business outcomes that our customers can achieve more readily with a storage solution that’s intuitive and easy to deploy and use. Easier to operate and maintain, more performant with workflows and workloads, and more intuitive, flexible, and scalable—these characteristics have a direct and very positive impact on an organization’s bottom line. Ease of use increases ROI, reduces TCO, and creates happy and productive system administrators and end users.
Want to understand how our ongoing efforts to simplify and streamline our products and solutions can make a real difference in your data ecosystem? Why not reach out to us for an initial chat at email@example.com? It’s probably the easiest way to start the journey toward more performant and highly usable enterprise data storage.