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5 Simple Rules for picking a storage vendor

June 29, 2010

I’m a big fan of simplicity.  Most everyone is, except storage vendors (with a few exceptions on the low end – players like Iomega (EMC for small biz) and Data Robotics (DROBO)).  If you need a storage solution with enough spindles to get some serious IOPS: either out of SATA, SAS, or FC (I know iSCSI and FCoE are the rage but FC still has some uses, especially in businesses where obtaining 10GBPS hardware isn’t a real option and you need every last IOP of performance) drives.  After 3+ months of looking at vendors, I’ve come up with a few simple rules.

1 ->  Look outside the box (from your ‘usual’ systems vendor).
If you’re like most SMB IT shops, you probably get most of your IT purchases from a single company – be it Dell, HP, IBM, CDW, or whomever.  For the most part, you need to be willing to look at least a little outside the box.  If you’re a Dell customer call up NetApp and Compellent.  If you’re a HP customer call up Dell and IBM.  While it’s an easy path, your vendor isn’t always going to meet your needs exactly every time.  While most everyone has a converged storage solution, is it the right one?  It may seem like I’m being un-simple here – but trust me – I am.  Calling up a vendor and getting some information doesn’t hurt.  They get turned down every day.  You might be surprised as to what you find just by taking a look outside the box.

2 -> Does the storage fit your growth plans?
If you’re like me, your entire IT system is dependent on virtualization to keep costs low.  Pulling up new vmware systems has a marginal cost of 0 – especially in my world where we run lots of projects on Linux (thanks CentOS!).   How does your storage vendor fit into this?  If you’re a Hyper-V shop – the same goes for you.  You need to make sure your vendors story fits in.  Is there onboard management – provisioning in vSphere client for example – of course EMC has it – they own 70%+ of vmware.  NetApp/IBM N-series has it.  I don’t know if HP does, but a quick search says no.  These tools save time (see rule #5).  But not only that – you need to understand how the system grows, and how this will affect future costs.  You do not want to be stuck doing a forklift upgrade because you hit an arbitrary limit on disk count 15 months into use.

3 -> TCO.  Oh boy.
Storage isn’t cheap.  Never has been.  It’s cheaper than it was in the past – SATA and SAS are cheaper than FC and SCSI. Make sure you understand fully where you’re going.  Don’t assume the sales guy isn’t lying to you.  If you’ve got crazy bucks and you’re buying an EqualLogic box – know you’re buying another one once that one is full.  I can add trays to my AX4-5i or my FAS2020.  Not on that EqualLogic (but on the Dell MD3020i/3000i).

4 -> Convergence = where it’s at
We have NAS today.  That NAS box sucks.  I mean sucks.  I pray for the day when I have converged storage appliances with support so I can pull the plug out, and do what these guys did to their old Symmetrix.  In SMB, in my opinion, it is much more likely to see a large storage initiative take flight when NAS value can be assigned – users understand unstructured files, and making easy service of those is value non-technical management – the ones with your purse strings – can understand.  Do they care about iSCSI or FC support? Not likely.  Do they like to have their files accessible easily?  Of course.   Will SAN-only machines stick around?  Of course.  Dell is selling EqualLogic left and right.  But one look at EMC’s unified storage love-fest (and 20% guarantee) indicates that even the biggest SAN player sees the writing on the wall.

5 -> Management overhead
My first line stands true – I’m a big fan of simplicity.  For all my ragging on Dell’s EqualLogic being an expensive one trick pony – that one trick pony has a good side.  It’s easy to manage.  Snapshotting is easy.  It doesn’t take a lot of work to get something going quickly.  It’s not painful.  You don’t have to be a dedicated storage administrator to make it work.  But other vendors are catching up.  NetApp’s tools, especially in vmware, make provisioning storage easy.  It’s not rocket science to get a FAS or V series filer working, even on the ONTAP command line.

After all my ranting, I just want to leave you with one final thought – whatever you do, do your homework.  I almost broke this rule on a project.  I’m glad that it took 3 times as long to get budget as I planned, because that time let me find something that provided more bang for not many more bucks by looking down a different path.

Update:  I hate the phrase IT solutions.  Sounds like marketing drivel.  Replaced it.

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