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Users talk straight on vendors

A group of users opened up about the evolving relationship between IT and business, as well as the secrets and lies that vendors get away with.

PHOENIX – During a panel at Storage Networking World, Steve Duplessie led a lively discussion with five users about IT/business relationships, peppered with some honest talk on how vendors can do better.

After members of the panel had described their respective storage environments and management tools, Duplessie raised the issue of thedisconnect that often exists between business and IT.

Bob Logan, vice president of enterprise infrastructure services at Science Applications International Corp., runs a diverse "Noah's Ark" data center with 23 monitoring tools "being used by more people than I can count," he said.

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Logan said that the hard part isn't implementing tools – it's using the tools to gauge the business value of the data. "If we don't do that, then we're just IT people fixing things and chasing our tails."

When asked how IT managers can get business to understand IT as an asset, Bob Shinn, principal at State Street Global Advisors, said IT needs to look in the mirror. "Don't think of storage first and how that affects business, think of how business applications come to storage," Shinn said.

University of Utah Hospital's IT department took a proactive approach to aligning business and technology, inviting department directors and managers to take part in a mock disaster recovery.

"We asked them to choose which files and applications they would keep if a disaster took place. It was an eye-opener for them," said John Fagg, manager of storage and server infrastructure at the hospital, who recommended including business people in IT testing as much as you can.

Vendors not on the level

Halfway through the panel, Duplessie decided to switch gears by declaring, "OK, I'm bored. Let's trash some vendors."

State Street's Shinn, who manages 250 terabytes of disk storage using EMC Corp., Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) and Storage Technology Corp. gear, said that no specific vendor is dropping the ball, but all are guilty of lying about how much they want to support heterogeneous storage. "They don't want to be heterogeneous, and the user community is not enforcing heterogeneity as much as we should," said Shinn.

To avoid vendor lock-in, Shinn recommended viewing your storage architecture as one big solution and not as incremental technologies. "You need to buy a whole solution, and don't pay until you know the whole thing works together." He said that this will mean more time and effort with your RFP, but that it's worth it.

Sonja Erickson, vice president of technical operations at Kodak EasyShare Gallery (formerly Ofoto), an online digital photo developing service, recently purchased Isilon System Inc.'s IQ clustered storage system to manage one petabyte of customer images. She said many users are afraid to make a change. "You have to think about what makes economic sense for your business. If you're fed up with a vendor, look at some smaller companies," she said.

But Shinn added that you shouldn't penny pinch. "If a vendor is good and you can save $10 on another one, don't do it."

Duplessie commented that users would benefit if some vendors would bury the hatchet. As an example, he mentioned the NetApp V-Series, which has proven to work with EMC's Clariion, but EMC refuses to support it.

Tim Cronin, application support manager at JNA Distribution, agreed, saying that even vendors who are interoperable, don't always follow through on that promise.

Cronin said he had to arrange a meeting between two vendors (he wouldn't say which ones) that claimed to support each other because things kept breaking. "Vendors may say they support each other, but they don't always fix problems before their products get to the customer."

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