How to make smarter storage purchasing decisions

When do storage buyers have the most leverage? What's the most important factor when deciding on a data deduplication solution? How do you avoid storage stovepipes? Storage Decisions speakers can help you make smarter storage purchasing decisions.

Speakers at Storage Decisions this week told storage administrators how to gain the upper hand when negotiating with storage vendors to buy new storage equipment.

Curtis Preston, GlassHouse Technologies vice president of data services, tackled a technology high on the storage priorities list in his session, "Dedupe and disk backups -- What you need to know before taking the plunge." In a recent SearchStorage.com and Storage magazine purchasing survey, 45% of the respondents said they would increase spending on data deduplication this year.

"This stuff works, at least some of it does," Preston said of deduplication products. "It's your job to determine what works and what doesn't work, hopefully before you spend money on it."

The inline vs. post-processing debate gets the most attention in conversation about buying data deduplication products. Inline deduplication carries out the dedupe process during the backup and requires no disk for staging. Post-processing dedupe moves data to a disk cache where it is examined for redundancies and then sent to disk after the backup is completed.

Preston said that inline data deduplication is simpler to use and may require faster processors and disk, while post-process deduplication is more flexible but requires disk for staging.

Nevertheless, the key purchasing factor for data deduplication is not inline vs. post-processing but rather "how big, how fast and how much it costs," Preston said. "How you get there, I don't care," he said. Price should be also low on your list of priorities. "Don't eliminate [a product] on cost until you find out how well it dedupes."

Preston expects dedupe ratios of anywhere from 10:1 to 400:1, depending on the type of data being reduced. The only way to really know what data deduplication ratio you'll get is by testing," he said. "If you're getting less than 10:1, you're probably wasting your money with dedupe."

Another way to waste money, is if you're trying to dedupe data created automatically by the computer, such as pictures and audio files, medical imaging and seismic data, Preston said.

You have the power before you write the check, not after. It's a good thing to make those vendors jump through hoops.
Bill Peldzus,
vice president of data center servicesGlassHouse Technologies
Administrators should test everything relevant before buying a data dedupe device. That includes the dedupe ratios on your data with your retention settings. Preston also recommended testing aggregate and single-stream performance, replication, dedupe speed (if using post-process) and how it handles problems, such as the need for a drive rebuild and loss of power.

Use your buying power while you have it

In his session "Buying storage -- What the vendors don't want you to know," Bill Peldzus, GlassHouse vice president of data center services, focused on writing a request for proposal (RFP) and negotiating price for large storage purchases.

Peldzus told administrators that they have the power "before you write the check, not after." Once the purchase is made, the balance of power shifts back to the vendor. So before that happens, he said, "it's a good thing to make those vendors jump through hoops."

He strongly recommended sending a request for information (RFI) before an RFP if you don't know specifically what type of technology you're looking for. "The worst thing you can do is go to a vendor and say, 'What do you have?' You want to say, 'I need this specifically.' If you don't know what you want and just do an RFP and get a bunch of responses, you don't know how to compare and contrast the answers you get back."

The RFP should include details on your current environment with current and proposed metrics, software and operating system versions, and servers, storage, switches and host bus adapters (HBA) in use. "Get vendor commitment in writing that they'll support everything you have," Peldzus said. Buyers should insist on line item pricing for each separate hardware device and software application, he added.

Peldzus said you are more likely to get a good deal if you time your purchases at the end of the vendor's quarter or fiscal year. "They'll do silly things to make their quarterly numbers," he said.

It never hurts to ask for extras, such as free maintenance and support, onsite tech support for the first month or help with data migration to the new system, Peldzus said. The more money you spend, the more likely the vendors will throw in extras. "Ask for these things before you cut a check."

Other "creative" tactics include:

  • pay as you grow pricing -- paying for 75% of what you receive up front and paying for the other 25% when you use it;
  • not-to-exceed future pricing -- price will not exceed a specific number for the next two or three years; and
  • automatic tech refreshes -- you have the option to install a product upgrade that comes out within a certain period after purchase.
Ask, or the vendors won't tell

In his keynote speech, "Managing the four Cs -- Cost, compliance, continuity and carbon footprint," consultant Jon Toigo of Toigo Partners International advised administrators to question vendors on things like why their storage arrays cost many times the price of the disk in the arrays. He said to resist vendors selling "stovepipe storage" – separate tools for email, databases, user files and so on, each with a proprietary file system that requires services.

Toigo said the vendors should have to fit the users' systems. "Find a management system that works for you, and ask the vendor if they support the system you're using". "If not, tell them you won't buy their storage," he said.

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