The guidance here is simpler. These are established segments of storage, and the companies in this category are improving what is there and now set the pace of innovation in these markets. While testing is still important, the need to go very slow and start very small isn't as pronounced. Most of these companies will have customers, some are even publicly traded, and they are all survivors. When trying to improve an existing segment, it's more difficult to capture market share and, as a result, survival is a key requirement. Being a survivor requires a reliable product and strong business skills.
In our experience with the three factors, the third is the least risky; the second (companies that are doing something that no one else is), while it has risk, typically has the most substantial payoffs; and the first (companies that save you money but don't do anything particularly unique), has the highest chance of failure with the least amount of payoff.
In any case, be prepared to invest in these companies. I'm not advocating a stock purchase, but when you are confident in the solution, introduce them to your peers both within your organization and to those at other companies. Your new partner's success is in your best interest. I once heard that if a customer likes a product or service, they will on average tell two people, but if they dislike it, they will tell 12! These new companies need your help to be successful. Balance that statistic and tell 12 other people about successful IT solutions.
George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.