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Storage compatibility: Be sure your equipment works together

Ensuring compatibility between storage products can be tricky. This tip outlines eight things you need to consider when integrating a new storage product into your environment.

What you will learn from this tip: Ensuring compatibility between storage products can be tricky. This tip outlines eight things you need to consider when integrating a new storage product into your environment.

Compatibility between storage equipment has gotten progressively better over the last several years -- so much so that storage administrators tend to assume that everything will work together without a hitch. Unfortunately, that's still a dangerous assumption.

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Before making a major investment in storage equipment, it's wise to do a little homework. How much homework depends on how much you're investing and how critical compatibility is to your business. Here are some steps to take before making a major purchase.

  • Check on it.
    When considering a new storage product or technology, the first stop is the vendor's Web site, particularly any application notes and troubleshooting tips. Look to see if any of them refer to your combination of storage hardware and software, or similar setups.
  • Ask about it.
    "You'll never know unless you ask" is particularly true of compatibility questions. So ask. Ask the vendor, ask third parties and browse online forums.

    Remember, where vendors are concerned, they will seldom tell you no, but you have to listen very carefully to how they say "yes." In other words, concentrate on the qualifications they attach to their answer.

  • Require it.
    Make compatibility -- to specified levels -- a requirement in your request for proposal (RFP). In other words, require not merely that the product interoperate, but that it is able to meet certain performance levels, such as throughput.
  • Get it in writing.
    Whether you use the RFP process or not, this is one area where you shouldn't trust the salesman's assurances. Get written confirmation from the vendor that the product will interoperate as promised.
  • How compatible is it?
    In theory, just about anything can be made to work with anything -- given enough money and low enough performance standards. Make sure you understand just what is involved in getting compatibility.
  • Look for third-party tests and plugfests.
    Plugfests have become a way of life in the storage area network (SAN) business and vendors bring their equipment together to make sure it interoperates.
  • Does everyone agree it is compatible?
    Third parties are one of the most fertile sources of accurate information. For example, if you want to integrate a new controller into an existing SAN, ask the manufacturers of your existing hardware and software if they are aware of any compatibility issues. The vendor isn't going to give you any guarantees. But, you can expect an honest answer from the field engineers -- assuming they know.
  • Test it.
    The final step is to test the equipment in your environment. Check it out using your data sets at your performance levels, but do it on a test bed, rather than using your production equipment.
  • Do you know …

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    About the author: Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80 K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last 20 years, he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.

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