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Something's wrong when storage vendors pitch speeds and feeds

I’m surprised to hear from IT people that storage vendors are still using “speeds and feeds” in their sales pitches. Salesmen for these companies talk about how fast and how big the storage systems could be.

When I asked what specific details were being emphasized, the list included:

  • Bandwidth – The maximum total bandwidth the system could support was presented.
  • IOPS – The aggregate number of a fully configured system was given without information regarding the response time.
  • Type of processor, clock rate of processor, and number of processor cores for the controller.

Maybe the presentations included more about the function and value of the storage system being, but this was the information relayed by customers.

I thought storage sales had moved beyond that.  Most customers are looking to solve specific problems or address some complex workload needs.  The most basic for traditional IT environments include:

  • Capacity growth. There is a need for more storage but not at the sacrifice of getting the same relative amount of work completed.  This means not just adding capacity, but having the same ability to access the capacity.  This is usually measured as accessed density, which is the number of I/O’s possible divided by the capacity.
  • Workload requirements. Some workloads need improvement.  Most commonly cited needs are improving transaction processing, increasing the virtual machine density (number of VMs per physical server), and the number of virtual desktops supported per physical server and storage system.  These have performance needs but are much more complex than speeds and feeds numbers presented.  Necessary improvements include the latency per I/O to allow write-dependent transactions to move ahead.  Using an aggregate number of IOPS can be a very misleading number in this case.
  • Consolidation of storage with a technology upgrade. This is usually a generational change for storage that can be caused by the end of the financial life of the storage system (usually dictated by increased cost of maintenance) or perceived technical obsolescence.  The expectation is the new system will provide greater capacity and performance to allow consolidation of multiple older storage systems.  This brings improvements in the amount of power, cooling, and physical space required.  Consolidation is really a workload discussion as well.

The simple speeds and feeds sales approach is a throwback.  Most sales have moved beyond this, recognizing the sale is all about solving a problem or meeting a need for the customer.  In solving a problem or meeting a need, the salesmen must understand the customer and not just present the speeds and feeds attributes. Proposing a product with a focus on those attributes can only short-circuit that understanding.  It pushes the responsibility for finding the correct solution onto the customer.

This brings to mind the recent Super Bowl commercial from Radio Shack with stars from the 1980’s and the message “The 80’s called.  They want their store back.”  Within days after airing, Radio Shack announced the closing of 500 stores.  Maybe this should be a hint about the speeds and feeds sales approach.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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