Feature

Your worst nightmares ... and how to avoid them

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The American Academy of Family Physicians says nightmares are a common phenomenon affecting both children and adults. Frequent nightmares in adults, however, are considered abnormal, except in the cases of persons who possess thin boundary personalities, take certain drugs or manage enterprise storage for a living. Storage managers commonly manifest stress levels that are at least on par with those of dentists, Middle East peace negotiators or sleep-deprived parents of newborn children. An unscientific poll of IT professionals and their confidants in the vendor and reseller/integrator community reveals that their ten most common storage nightmares align fairly closely with the most frequently reported themes of generic nightmares.

Here's my list.

NIGHTMARE 1: chase or attack
Probably the most common nightmare involves being chased or attacked by a shadowy pursuer. Researchers suggest that the pursuer is often a metaphor for a repressed part of the dreamer's personality - a part they are afraid to confront and integrate. Psychobabble aside, storage managers tell real-life tales of how vendors and resellers pursued them relentlessly to sell products, but later refused to help integrate them into their networks.

Mike Linett, CEO of Zerowait, a storage integrator in Newark, DE, says an IT manager once bought a half terabyte of EMC's Symmetrix storage to host SQL and Oracle data. EMC's sales reps were all over the customer,

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pressuring him to ink the $500,000 deal. "When the hardware arrived, however, the EMC engineers refused to set it up because they said it wouldn't work in his 10/100 [Ethernet] backbone network," he says.

Linett says this problem isn't limited to a specific vendor. Another IT manager for a major outsourcing company had a similar problem involving a Network Appliance acquisition. "NetApp sold them the storage platforms," he says, "but wouldn't certify their deployment with the customer's Inrange switches." Network Appliance reportedly resolved its customer's situation, after some hemming and hawing, "by providing the customer with Brocade [Communications Systems] switches," he says.

As we move toward an era of greater storage commoditization, there are still substantial differences between storage products and their support for network or fabric interconnections. Unfortunately, incompatibilities are the rule - rather than the exception. To avoid this storage nightmare, managers need to work with vendors proactively to identify not only the best storage box for the job - but also the system and networking parameters that determine how readily the platform can be implemented once it's delivered.

NIGHTMARES 2 AND 3: falling into an abyss and car out of control
The next two most common nightmares reported to dream researchers involve free-falling into a bottomless chasm and careening down the road in an out-of-control automobile. Researchers explain the two dreams in similar ways.

Free-fall nightmares suggest that the dreamer feels ungrounded or unsafe in some aspect of their waking life; car-out-of-control dreams suggest that the rapid pace of change in the dreamer's life is causing consternation. There are obvious corollaries to these nightmares in the everyday life of storage managers.

According to Howie Evans, business development manager with integrator Dallas Digital Services in Grapevine, TX, many customers are pursuing storage consolidation projects to forestall just such nightmares.

"At one large dot-com company," Evans says, "the IT manager told us that the storage decision-making process was totally decentralized and had gotten out of hand. Each department was buying different products that would never work together."

While it's usually the CIO's responsibility to navigate around these diversity shoals, at this company, out-of-control buying behavior was running rampant because of frequent CIO turnover, Evans says.

One way to exorcise this nightmare is for the buyer to do their homework. First, get the vendors to reveal their product road maps. Next, test the product in your environment before you buy. If you don't have the in-house expertise, hire a consultant; it's less expensive in the long run rather than buying some gear that just won't work as advertised.

This was first published in August 2002

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