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Shopping for storage: One vendor or more?

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Some shops opt for multiple vendors, others stick with just one. Which approach will help you trim storage costs?

EFFECTIVELY BUYING STORAGE TODAY IS LIKE TRYING TO pull off a hat trick in hockey: Get the best acquisition price, the lowest long-term total cost of ownership (TCO) and avoid vendor lock-in. But scoring on all three counts is far from easy.

Yet IT managers increasingly find themselves under pressure to accomplish this trick repeatedly. "There's a constant battle in every organization over the cost of storage," says Richard Villars, vice president, storage systems at IDC, Framingham, MA. "If it's a commodity situation, the focus is on getting the lowest price. If there's a lot of complexity, then it becomes strategic. It's like a swinging pendulum."

Although there's no simple solution, IT managers aren't without some leverage. Some have sharpened their negotiation skills to get the best price; others play multiple vendors off each other, while still others have opted for building a close relationship with a single vendor willing to bend over backwards for them. In addition, new technology approaches, such as information lifecycle management (ILM), tiered storage and cross-platform storage management, promise to help managers lower their acquisition and usage costs.

"What I've learned is that storage has different characteristics and data has different qualities. Spreadsheets don't need the same storage

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characteristics as X-rays," says John Halamka, chief information officer at both Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. By using a tiered storage and lifecycle management approach and committing to a single storage provider, "my total cost of storage is less today than when we were negotiating with multiple vendors," he reports.

Preliminary data from a recent study by TheInfoPro Inc., a New York City research network, suggests that a growing number of companies are opting for Halamka's single-vendor approach. "We're finding that almost 70% of respondents now want one storage vendor," says Ken Male, founder and chief executive officer at TheInfoPro. The reason, the InfoPro study suggests, is vendor accountability. "If there's a problem, the company wants one throat to choke," notes Male.

This was first published in February 2006

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