Five steps to selecting a storage solution provider

Bits & Bytes: Data consolidation expert Joel Lovell offers these five steps to help you make an informed decision on a storage solution provider.

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If you need to make an informed decision on a solution provider based on a ton of information from the sales and marketing firehoses, refer to this five point checklist. This is something that I found very nicely done by someone in a previous SearchStorage.com discussion. I've added to/modified it, and it may prove useful:

1. Collect all the information you can get on the storage and systems currently implemented in your company.

This includes hardware (server and storage), operating systems, applications, amount of storage used now, amount of storage needed in 12 months, any special problems or wishes concerning storage and backup/restore functionalities, as well as how many and how much of everything is out there.

Try to find out how high your storage costs are, including hardware, software, backup/restore and amount of time spent managing storage.

Keep in mind that there may be additional licenses you will have to buy (and pay to maintain!) for different features.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much are you willing to pay per gigabyte of centralized, managed storage?

  • How good are the disaster-recovery processes for all applications?

  • Is there anything needed that could be resolved with new storage features?

  • Are you experiencing performance problems regarding storage?

  • Are there any problems concerning backup windows?

  • Could you consolidate servers if you had more centralized storage?

  • How reliable are your storage systems at the moment? Are you having any downtime due to storage (upgrades, migrations, fall outs)?
  • How high are your expectations on availability?

  • Would you like to remote boot certain systems, and if yes, which ones?

  • Do you have central system-management software, and which one is it?

  • Have you centralized backup yet, and if yes, which product are you using?

  • Do you fully understand the key differences between SAN, NAS and virtualization?

    And so forth. The more you know, the more you learn about what is really important.

    2. Classify your requirements

  • Availability: Fault tolerant is not necessarily expensive, but additional redundancy to get to that point could add up. Ask if the configuration you are considering is fault tolerant. Will firmware updates, expansion or global host spare replacements affect performance or production access of the data?

  • Connectivity: how many different operating systems do you want to connect to the system? How many hosts (servers) do you plan on utilizing the storage? How many LUNs or volumes will each require? Will the firmware allow you to create enough LUNs for your environment?

  • Interoperability: is there a problem putting other storage vendors technology on the SAN? Is it certified with the backup and system-management products you use?

  • Features needed/wanted: remote boot, snapshot, clone, remote mirroring, call out modem, RAID 0, 1 to 5, 10, 50

  • Performance: do you want Fibre to the disk or just SCSI? Or, ATA RAID with Fibre on the front end?

  • Management: monitoring, problem recognition, daily use.

  • Service and support: 24x7? Is there technical help and/or project management during implementation?
  • 3. Write a request for proposal (RFP) and send it to all the companies you're interested in.

    Ask them as many questions as you can and need, but ask them in a way that you can compare the answers (e.g. do you support remote boot? Yes or no?). Make tables with the questions above and things like:

  • Do you support the following operating systems: NT, IRIX, Solaris, Windows 2000, Linux, HP-UX, AIX, etc.

  • Do you support the following server hardware: Origin 3000, Dell, Sun, IBM, Compaq Proliant 4500, etc.

  • Give them a task to do. Ask how would they solve a specific problem.

  • Ask them for technical information/collateral: data sheets, white papers, case studies, etc. Use your matrix, but at least have the collateral on hand to see if the information jives with what is put on your questionnaire.

  • How do they implement remote mirroring, snapshots, etc.

  • What is their history in storage and their roadmap for the future?

  • What alliances and partners do they have?

  • Get customer references! TALK to these people, see if you can visit them and see how they are using the technology.

  • It might be difficult comparing the answers but at least you get hold of some information you need.

    IMPORTANT! When you ask them for a technical presentation get your decision makers, application support people and networking people to participate. Narrow things down to two or three vendors and look at it as an educational process. Don't ask about other vendors solutions. In fact, forbid anything that might be FUD. If they can't win on their own merits at least don't let them cloud your ability to objectively compare other solutions that might be better/lower in cost.

    If you use a "standardized" question sheet, force them to use it also. It's hard enough trying to compare the systems without them sending you tons of shiny sales sheets.

    4. Make a "decision matrix"

    Take all the questions and answers from the bid and compare them as best you can. Make a matrix for hardware and software. Ask about maximum number of terabytes, links, FC ports, LUNs per controller, LUNs per port, maximum cache, cache mirroring and software remote mirroring. Does it use remote copy, HARC, Nanocopy, SRDF, PPRC or switched fabric or all components? What HBAs do they recommend? Which switch or director? How do they monitor the system? Do they support attached platforms and applications? How do licensing costs change for different features (i.e. Is it capacity-based or host-CPU-based licenses? Will it cost more as your capacity increases?)

    Collect all information on management software: what is field/end user serviceable/changeable and what will the manufacturer have to perform?

    5. Prioritize

    What is absolutely necessary for you (price, availability, connectivity, performance, ease of use)?

    What is nice to have?

    Have fun!


    About the author: Joel Lovell is a SearchStorage.com expert and strategic storage networking specialist for Sistina Software with more than 14 years of IT industry experience. His areas of expertise include high performance, business continuity and massively scalable storage solutions for the enterprise. Ask him your data management and consolidation questions today.

    This was first published in April 2003

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