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A bill of rights for storage consumers?

Think you're not getting enough information from your vendor about a product? Storage guru Jon W. Toigo presents his ideas for a storage consumer's bill of rights.

A signature trait of a mature industry is the manifestation among its vendors of what I like to call the Three...

Primal Fears. First, vendors fear each other -- that's a given in a competitive environment, of course. They want to make sure that no product that is being introduced to the market by a competitor threatens their market share. They want to make sure that the same (or similar) gizmos offered by their competitor are on their wares. That way, nobody gets ahead in the game.

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The second primal fear is standardization or commoditization. In a mature industry, the players still want to have some means for differentiating their products from each other. Standards have a commoditizing impact on their value proposition: If every product adheres to the same set of standards and is exactly the same, then price becomes the only measure that the consumer needs to decide in favor of product x over product y. Price wars ensue that take money out of all the vendors' bottom line profitability.

The automotive industry is an example of a mature industry; the storage industry is not. While both automobile manufacturers and storage vendors have the first two primal fears in common, they part company on a third primal fear … fear of the consumer.

In the automotive industry, performance data, estimated fuel efficiency and a minivan full of other information about products is disclosed both by the vendor and by industry watchdogs. You even know the estimated resale value of a product over time, thanks to Kelly's Blue Book. Most importantly, you have any number of consumer Web sites where owners of the car can rant or rave about their experience with the product and the service organization supporting it.

This didn't happen overnight, of course. It took time and pain and lawsuits. Eventually, however, the automotive industry matured and now the consumer, in most cases, is king. They can vote with their wallets about which products are best after digesting a lot of detail and weighing price/performance rationally.

I'm not saying that consumers always make the best choice or the right choice -- only that they have a lot of sources of information on which to base an informed choice. This, however, is not the case in the storage industry.

For a variety of reasons, storage consumers are treated like proverbial mushrooms by many storage vendors, including name brands. They have little information on which to base a product selection except for what the vendor provides them. They have little or no information on how the products will perform under their workload, no truly objective performance data of any kind and there is a dearth of reliable qualitative data about the value of the product because vendors put gag orders on their customers with respect to speaking publicly about product performance. If you do, you risk losing your license to software on the box or your warranty or some other important aspect of the purchase arrangement.

To introduce the healthy fear of the consumer, buyers need to act. They need to, in one voice, demand their "rights" from the vendors. Here is a bill of rights being promulgated by an open source storage management initiative at that might stimulate some discussion in this area. If buyers selectively purchase only the gear of vendors that subscribe to this bill of rights, the world will be a better place -- in terms of storage value at least.

"A storage consumer's bill of rights"

Be it resolved that we, the customers of the storage industry, by virtue of the financial investment we are making in commercial products represented by storage vendors as "solutions" to our data provisioning and protection requirements, have a rightful basis for making the following demands of our vendors and their products:

  1. Clear and unfettered visibility into the disposition of resources in any storage platform we buy.
  2. Basic management reporting tools supplied with every product and facilitation by the vendor of our access to key information about the performance, allocation and utilization of the resources that we have purchased.
  3. Full and factual disclosure of baseline platform performance data collected by the vendor itself, preferably in accordance with a common procedure or methodology for performance data collection administered by a qualified independent third party.
  4. Sufficient access to the internal operation of the array to enable the performance of such tests and measurements that will help us to ascertain the suitability of the platform to specific application workload requirements that are present in our environments.
  5. Full disclosure of "value add" functionality provided via software on the vendor array, of the array resources that the software consumes and the capability to turn off those "value add" functions that do not deliver value in our operational environment.

  6. Licensing models should also reflect and accommodate consumer decisions: We should not have to pay for features that we do not use.
  7. Software license transfer rights that enable us to re-sell used hardware that may still have serviceable life, even if the customer has determined the product to be beyond its useful life in their setting.
  8. Ethical vendor conduct in product purchase negotiations that minimizes the potential for the sale of inappropriate technology to our organization predicated upon factors other than the suitability of the product to specified application requirements.
  9. Shared responsibility for legal, regulatory or financial issues that arise from erroneous representations about product capabilities.
  10. Elimination of all legal, license-based, warranty-based or otherwise enforceable restrictions on the free and unfettered communication of product reports, whether based on quantitative performance data or qualitative impressions, between current customers and those considering any storage product.

With the widespread adoption of such a bill of rights, many of the problems associated with storage technology would simply disappear.

About the author: Jon William Toigo is a Managing Partner for Toigo Productions. Jon has over 20 years of experience in IT and storage.

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