Research firm Gartner Inc. recently named its five favorite Cool Vendors in Storage Technologies for 2016. The selections represent companies with innovative technology that also have a reasonable chance to execute their visions, experts from the Stamford, Conn.-based company said.

“The most compelling technology and/or idea does not necessarily win,” Garter vice president Dave Russell wrote in an email interview. “In fact, marketing and awareness (‘mindshare’) and routes to market are often just as, if not more, important than the cool technology itself,” he stated.

Gartner’s picks are Datrium, which focuses on storage management for server-based solid-state drives; Hedvig, which has a software-only distributed storage platform; Minio, which builds open-source object storage; Peaxy, which aggregates disparate data sources; and Rubrik, which makes a backup and search appliance.

We wanted to know more. The following is a transcript of Russell’s responses to our questions.

TechRepublic: Which of these five companies do you feel has the best chance at mainstream storage impact?

Dave Russell: Not trying to dodge the question, but this is a difficult one to answer. Part of the challenge is that we intentionally pick a broad range of providers, even though this report focuses on the storage domain. While it would be easy to say that a vendor like Rubrik could make the most impact because they focus very specifically on backup and recovery, which is a universal pain point for most organizations, it could be that if the market shifts to adopt better data management, new storage deployment and packaging options, etc., that the other providers are just as likely to make a significant impact.

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TechRepublic: Did you find anything surprising when doing your research for this report?

Dave Russell: One that surprised me was the plethora of vendors that we had to deliberate over. A domain like storage is often referred to as a commodity, and submarkets (e.g., primary storage arrays, backup and recovery, etc.) are typically dominated by the top four or five vendors owning 75 percent or more of the market. That said, the number of emerging providers, and the broad range of what and how they attempt to tackle storage pain points is quite amazing. Clearly the venture capital community believes that storage could produce returns, but our end user discussions indicate that worldwide, there is a broadening consideration of new technologies, providers, and packaging and consumption models.

TechRepublic: Which one or two of the companies do you feel has the most novel approach / most innovative technology?

Dave Russell: I think that answering this could result in several packages with a ticking sound emanating from them being sent to my office. 🙂 That said, I’ll answer. 😉 We really do feel that all are novel and innovative in their own ways, and we used that as the criteria for inclusion (and therefore excluding dozens of other considered vendors). But I’ll choose Delphix (profiled in 2013) as they really come out with a very differentiated approach. As for the five new vendors, arguments could be made for each of them, but while a daunting task to get attention, the broad area of improved data management make Peaxy very novel.

TechRepublic: Other than “disrupting the status quo,” do you see any major theme/trend among these five companies?

Dave Russell:Perhaps expanding on the status quo disruption is the notion of needing to find a better way. Cost, capability, and/or complexity, and ways to address these “3 C’s” are a common theme. Essentially the value proposition is “Here’s how to do your storage-related task better, easier overall and cheaper.”

TechRepublic: Other than the usual “beware startups” caveat, what should IT buyers/sysadmins keep in mind before using these products/services as applicable to traditional storage infrastructures?

Dave Russell: Caveat emptor definitely applies, but to nuance that more, don’t buy on roadmaps, consider the vendor and product for what it can deliver today. Handicap the risk and reward according to your greatest storage pain points plotted against where you have the most risk aversion.