It's Not Easy Being a Customer

Tuesday Jun 25th 2002 by Leslie Wood

Buying storage products should be an easy task, but with so many vendors, products, standards and technologies, making the right purchasing decisions is often not as simple as it should be.

In today's evolving business environment, organizations face increasingly complex and demanding enterprise storage challenges including disaster recovery, backup and restore, data migration, high availability, and scalability. So, what are the most common problems facing customers when they decide to implement a storage solution? We talked to several industry experts and storage customers to find out what they thought.

Education as a key issue
As companies continue to look for inexpensive, high-performance storage solutions, they will need to educate themselves about these new technologies before they can readily accept them. Many industry experts agree that most vendors do not spend enough time educating their customers on their products and services thereby customers do not fully understand how these new technologies can help their businesses. In addition, because the exponential growth of data safekeeping requirements prompts the need for rapid solution implementation and choice making, Scott Kennedy, president of strategic business development at Softek, agrees that the most common problem facing customers in deciding on a new storage solution for their business is lack of knowledge about the product or service. "The knowledge of your existing staff in understanding new technologies is a very key issue facing storage customers today," says Kennedy. Kennedy believes that as more and more organizations realize that implementation requires more time and is more difficult than they originally thought, they need to accept the need to not only educate themselves, but to be able to accept implementation assistance through professional services integration.

Todd Viegut, vice president of marketing at Storage Computer Corporation, agrees that education as well as the proper scoping of an organization's specific requirements is vital to implementing a successful storage solution. This is easily seen because storage made available at the departmental level for expanded desktop space is significantly different than storage required for financial transactional management versus that for archiving and disaster recovery. He believes that many IT managers tend to get caught up in the latest craze, when they should be educating themselves on their company's specific needs and how best to fulfill those needs. "Quite often we see customer prospects asking for features and functions that will never be implemented within the application they are acquiring storage for," he concluded.

Compatibility is critical
Being able to make critical decisions concerning the future of your companys network storage needs seems to be another challenge facing customers. According to Vince Kistler, vice president of operations for Storage Access, most of his customers have difficulty trying to integrate various generations of incompatible hardware and software from different vendors.

Steven Toole, vice president of marketing at Precise WQuinn agrees. "One of the most common problems we see is the lack of standards and compatibility," says Toole. For example, says Toole, some SRM products use a proprietary database to maintain storage polices, which not only reinvents the wheel but can also create compatibility problems. Toole says that SRM solutions that use standard technologies such as Microsoft Active Directory not only leverage proven technology but also enhance the overall usability of the technology already in place. "I'd caution anyone considering non-standard technology that's not only unproven but also redundant and unnecessary as this is where incompatibility issues are born," says Toole.

Kistler also cautions that while mid-sized organizations are faced with the high cost of installing infrastructure that will meet their immediate needs and yet scale with the growth of their company, larger enterprises often have various departments and multiple locations that require all encompassing solutions, both of these challenges depend on compatibility.

Many of the common problems that arise when implementing storage solutions happen when an organization deploys certain server/HBA/Switch/OS/storage from different manufacturers. Again, this is a compatibility issue. According to Softek's Tabellion, customers must be aware of the incompatibilities that exist in this complex matrix. "The storage management software layer uses a common console for the management of these heterogeneous solutions, reducing the complexity of the underlying solutions," says Tabellion. "As new components are added to the storage solution, whether they be hardware, OS, or even a new protocol (Infiniband, iSCSI, etc.) more complexity is added to the compatibility matrix and customers often do not realize this," he continued.

Managing and storing large amounts of data
Although the network is now the primary source for business communication and information distribution, the process of managing and storing large amounts of data is complicated by the decentralized infrastructure of networks. And, the increasing volume of data and the growing demands for data usage are driving businesses to consider new and innovative ways to manage storage.

For example: A distributor of IT products and services with approximately 120 employees and over $100-million in annual sales was having difficulty backing up crucial files in a secure and complete manner. The files being backed-up were devouring capacity by taking up to 13 hours to complete. The company was in desperate need of a backup solution that provided full data protection while maximizing the efficiency of their LAN, and also providing full reporting and administrative functions. Prior solutions had resulted in a hit-or-miss restore rate that was unacceptable to system administrators.

"The customer needed to optimize their storage environment without hiring additional in-house storage expertise," says Storage Access's Kistler. The challenge facing the customer was finding a solution that would manage their storage, keep up with the growing demands for data usage, and lessen the time spent on storage administration, not increase it. Kistler said that Storage Access solved the problem by implementing his company's turnkey ASAP Data Protection (backup and restore) solution, which was completely managed by Storage Access and delivered to the customer on a subscription basis. "Following the integration of our ASAP Data Protection, the customer received guaranteed backups and file restores, and shortened the window for completing back-ups by more than 75 percent," says Kistler. In addition, the amount of data being stored off-site grew to 100 percent of designated files from 25 percent. And, says Kistler, the labor cost of backing up data per a three-year contract was reduced from $100,000 to approximately $10,000.

And, as far as DataPeer's technical research leader Alan Koifman is concerned, the biggest problem facing organizations (no matter what the size) when it comes to implementing a storage solution can be summed up in three words: management, management, management.

Sachs, Sax and Klein, P.A., a Florida based firm that offers its clients comprehensive legal and business solutions ran into its own share of issues. According to Michael D. Karsch, chairman of the business group at Sachs, Sax & Klein, the most common problems his firm faced when deciding on a storage solution was implementation. "We spoke with several companies over the phone and were surprised that they could not ensure us that they would be able to manage our current network and operating systems into a viable solution on a cost-effective basis," says Karsch. "We needed immediate solutions that provided back-ups and capacity for our client's confidential data." The company said they decided to use the services offered by Storage Access because the company provided them with off-site back up in another state and a restore solution within days of their request.

As a medium sized business, Karsch says that another issue for his firm was budget and compatibility. "As a mid-sized business I see budget and compatibility as two of the key issues when looking for a storage solution," he says. Businesses need to be assured that whatever storage solution they choose, that the vendor will spend the time testing and re-testing the compatibility of existing infrastructure before implementing an effective solution. "To future proof our storage solution, we wanted to use a vendor that could come up with a solution that would expand our growth over the long term without a large capital overlay," he continued. "Storage Access tested the compatibility of our networks and came up with the right solution at a fixed cost per month," says Karsch.

And the answer is..........
The storage resources on a company's network are one of the most costly components and a critical service for its clients. Because, having the ability to preserve a company's network storage performance is critical to the survival of its business. As businesses across the globe become more and more dependent on computer data to be accessible over networks, requirements for reliability, availability, and scalability of storage solutions continues to increase. IDC expects the SANs market to grown tenfold by the end of this year and DataQuest expects NAS to grow from $1.4 billion in 2000 to $7.4 billion in 2004, simply because the demand for network storage solutions is rising at an incredible rate.

The one critical piece that all storage customers are looking for (no matter what the size of their business is) is a storage solution that will reduce their total cost of ownership and increase their return on investment. However for storage solutions to be truly effective, vendors must ensure software and hardware compatibility and provide a standard for network protocols. And, the one major issue that all of the storage companies we talked to agreed on is that storage customers must be positive that before implementing a storage solution that the product or service that they are implementing is easily integrated into their existing infrastructure and easily deployed as this is what will provide them with the greatest leverage and return on their investment.

» See All Articles by Columnist Leslie Wood

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