The case for high-end arrays


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Serviceability and manageability
Serviceability and manageability are the two categories that may be the hardest for an organization to measure quantitatively in comparison to the first six categories, but it's the easiest for users to experience qualitatively. While arguments about who has the best performance will always rage and vendors will leapfrog each other from quarter to quarter in certain key benchmarks, it's when something goes wrong that businesses want someone onsite now.

Here's where an edge goes to some of the major players in the storage arena. EMC, Hewlett-Packard Co., HDS, IBM, StorageTek and Sun each have trained engineers in the field to support almost any kind of problem with their storage arrays that minimize interruption to the enterprise. As HDS' Claus Mikkelsen points out, when a major financial institution calls and reports a problem that involves your storage array, you have to be there, no questions asked.

Those players without an extensive network of trained engineers in the field will likely need to establish some level of relationships with the larger players who do. 3PAR, a new entrant in the field, already has a support agreement with IBM's Global Services. Another new entrant, Dot Hill Systems Corp., has established an OEM agreement with Sun to resell and support their storage arrays. LSI Logic Corp., in Milpitas, CA, has built relationships with both IBM

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and StorageTek to resell and support their arrays while capitalizing on the support structures of those organizations. Network Appliance also established a relationship with HDS to break into new markets with their products using HDS' existing marketing and support structure.

EMC uses a paired service support model to complement its support in the field. Under this model, EMC places an engineer at the customer site while their customer receives a resource in EMC's lab dedicated to testing customer configurations in their labs. This relationship gives EMC the ability to understand their customer's environment and respond to any issues should they arise. Conversely, it gives their customers an inside track to EMC's labs should they have issues as well as giving them a greater voice in the next generation design of EMC's products and a higher level of support when troubleshooting any issues with their storage arrays.

The final issue of manageability gives a preliminary edge to the existing storage hardware players, but they will have to work hard to keep that edge. Most are heading down a path of open standards on their own arrays and revamping their own software to manage their competitor's storage arrays. Yet while progress is being made in these areas, much work remains to be done. The biggest challenges they face are getting their software to perform advanced functions such as point-in-time copies and performance tuning on storage arrays from their competitors.

The gap between midrange and high-end storage arrays has narrowed, enough so that the decision on which storage array to buy is less of a technical decision and more of a business one. With decreasing price points, more competition and the commoditization of certain features within the arrays themselves, users will need to become more educated about their own environment in order to purchase the storage array that best suits their needs, or pay a premium for their ignorance.

This was first published in September 2003

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