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Storage management pricing a headache

Confusing pricing models for storage management software is a major headache for users. ESG senior analyst Nancy Hurley offers some advice and a glimpse of new pricing deals.

Trying to find the storage management product that best meets the needs of an organization is hard enough, and confusing pricing/licensing models only complicate things further. It's difficult to find two vendors selling similar solutions with similar pricing plans, which puts the burden on the end user to try to rationalize the vendors' proposals in order to truly compare costs.

But how does one really discern true costs when Vendor A prices by capacity, Vendor B prices by port and Vendor C prices by server instances?

On the surface, this may not seem like a big issue. But talk to a few users who have recently done storage management evaluations, and you'll realize the impact. Every end user knows that no matter what, cost is going to come into the purchase decision. One vendor's storage management offering may be hands down the best solution for the organization, but if there's a chance that another vendor is going to come in at a much lower price point, the purchase decision may be swayed by that factor. Of course, the opposite could be true: Two vendors might offer products that are extremely close in feature and functionality, and thus the deciding factor should be the true price of the implementation. But how does one really discern true costs when Vendor A prices by capacity, Vendor B prices by port and Vendor C prices by server instances?

Unfortunately, the user currently has to put together elaborate spreadsheets to do actual pricing comparisons. This is extremely cumbersome, yet necessary. One user we interviewed created multiple pages of spreadsheets, and in the end found that of the three SRM vendors under consideration, the one offering server-based pricing ended up being the most cost-effective in the long run. But server-based pricing is not always the best way to go: Some vendors charge by CPU and others by logical partitions. Depending on how the server environment is configured (host with multiple CPUs, blade-based, virtualized processors, etc.), the server-based model could become extremely expensive.

So what is the best answer? From a user perspective, there really isn't one. But users would certainly entertain options that simplified one-to-one comparisons and allowed them to better understand costs as the storage under management increases. Today, a number of vendors propose mixed pricing models, charging by the port for SAN infrastructure management platforms, by server or capacity for SRM (file analysis) modules, and by server for application and performance analysis modules. While users support the per-port model for the base SAN management platform, for the most part they are opposed to capacity-based pricing in principal, but realize that its simplicity may make it the best choice in the end.

While we don't expect this issue will go away this year, we do believe vendors will be proposing new pricing approaches that may ease the pain. Bundling multiple applications together with one common pricing schema would be very beneficial. We would also advocate bundling in maintenance and support, which would help users understand the true cost of implementation. The big question is, what should pricing be based on? Again, while end users are in theory opposed to capacity-based pricing, that may be the most straightforward option. However, it would be interesting if vendors proposed unique models. Sun moved to employee-based pricing for their enterprise management solutions; perhaps that model would be a straightforward alternative. Regardless, something has to change: Storage administrators have enough headaches already.

About the columnist: Nancy Hurley is a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group and a regular columnist for's weekly columns.

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