It's a big, big test for Sun, the StorageTek Forum customer event, to be held in Washington, November 1st-3rd. This is a world-wide customer meeting. It has been an annual event on StorageTek's calendar for many years and highly valued by StorageTek customers. Instead of meeting their account representatives and local, country, StorageTek management they were able to meet Storage senior staff right up to and including CEO Pat Martin.

They would receive product and service roadmap information in formal sessions. They would hear from other customers what they were doing, and they would have meetings with StorageTek executives at receptions and one-on-one meetings. The Forum provided unrivalled access to StorageTek's upper corporate reaches, enabling customers to express their views plainly and firmly to the right people in StorageTek.

When Sun took over StorageTek the 2005 forum was bound to be the event at which Sun's Data Management Group (DMG) management would show themselves, their strategy and their product and service roadmap to the customers of the business they had bought.

Customer viewpoint
The event is planned with a lot of input from a customer advisory board, a 4-person steering committee. One member is Stewart Gillies, Technology Services Manager for Standard Life in Scotland. He says this particular forum: "is a momentous occasion in the StorageTek story, now that it has been sold to Sun."

For customers he reckons it is an essential event: "It's a must-do event." Here customers should expect to hear details of the short-term and medium-term product roadmaps. They should hear how the Sun and StorageTek product lines will be bought together and combined, also how service and support will develop.

It is the first time that Sun will address the customers of the company it bought en masse. Gillies says customers will want to know if: "Sun will respect the traditions of Forum. Will the Sun Forum take on a new look and feel? Will Sun be honest and upfront with customers?"

Customers who attend will have "the strong benefit of being able to hear directly from the horse's mouth. If you are a StorageTek customer or a prospective one then you can find out what the commitment (to you) is from Sun."

He says that Forum traditionally features StorageTek's most senior managers talking to, talking with, and listening to, its customers both in groups and individually. A customer with particular concerns could mention them to StorageTek's highest manager, Pat Martin himself. Forum provided unrivalled access.

This is a hard act to follow. Is Sun ready to take on the challenge?

Sun's viewpoint
Sun's existing storage customers never had had this kind of access to the management of what was the Network Storage business. But now StorageTek forms the main part of Sun's Data Management Group and the acquisition brings the Forum event with it. StorageTek customers will hope the event continues the fine traditions set in place by StorageTek. Sun storage customers may wonder what new things this event will bring to them.

Sun's DMG is run by executive vice president Mark Canepa. His chief Marketing Officer is James Whitemore and he knows it is an important meeting: "It's the first public showing of the new organisation; DMG and not StorageTek. We're planning to make ourselves as available as Pat Martin in the past."

It is hoped that both Sun and StorageTek customers will attend: "We're targeting Sun and StorageTek customers together. It's relevant to both camps and will be on the Sun corporate calendar moving forward. We absolutely intend to continue it going forward."

"Sun is absolutely determined to continue the same level of Forum (attendance) benefits. Sun customers should expect previously unknown levels of access to Sun storage leaders."

Whitemore is pleased with the interest shown by customers already: "There is a lot of repeat attendance, 40 to 50 percent. The attendance so far is looking good. It's really shaping up well. Some 35 to 45 percent of attendees are from outside the USA. That's a little higher than normal with Forum. The international registrations are key."

Washington, where the event is being held, is the US seat of government. Whitemore says: "There is a slight public sector focus with it being held in Washington. This is a slightly different venue."

Forum themes and format
He described some of the themes of the event: "We'll explain what the merger means, what the expectations will be in terms of account coverage and support. We'll address the roadmap moving forward over the next six to twelve months: virtual tape; tape technologies; Sun's roadmap and so forth. Both product portfolios will be discussed. We'll discuss how we are combining the Sun and StorageTek engineering teams, and how we will keep innovation going."

The format will be: "Less than thirty percent talking from the stage. The main part of it will be smaller interactive sessions. A lot of it is customers talking to customers, customers leading sessions, and sessions with industry analysts," such as Fred Moor, Steve Duplessie and Gartner's Roger Cox. There is a strong theme of how IT and IT Storage can be more responsive to business needs, to become simpler to manage and use, yet be both more efficient and more powerful.

Overall it is not about Sun telling its customers what's going to happen. It's about a dialogue between customers and Sun DMG management and about customers talking to other customers, both StorageTek ones and Sun ones.

The access to DMG management should be good: "All Mark Canepa's direct staff will be there, also members of the engineering team and executives from Sun." Overall: "It will be a very significant event. Customers should expect to be able to feel the pulse of the new DMG better at this event than at any other. Customers should expect to be able to put their concerns (directly) into engineering and Sun management. They have the ability to help shape our future."

Have a look at the agenda here, a partial speaker list here.

This Forum is a major opportunity for customers to evaluate Sun's DMG. How is it shaping up to combine Sun and StorageTek storage engineering strategies and teams? Will it deliver products and services against a storage strategy that is pertinent to its customers' needs? Will it really listen to, and be as responsive to, its customers as StorageTek was?

There is only one way for StorageTek and Sun customers to find out directly, for themselves, and that is to go to the event.