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A few months ago, I received an email from a reader in Australia, Iain Anderson, who took issue with my article Purchasing Professional Storage Services, Part 1. Here is what Iain had to say:
An important aspect which I believe may be missing from your paper is IT practices, which your storage vendor should be engaged with. Increasingly, as components within the storage model commoditize and data is still poorly understood and managed, the PS organization of choice needs to include competencies such as:
- Information management — to understand why the storage components are used
- Strategic development — to set information management strategies
- Enterprise architecture — to maintain the infrastructure standards to ensure reuse, consistency and economies of scale are realized.
After thinking about this, I agreed. Iain is correct: Storage architecture is all about knowing and determining the requirements, or making your best educated guess when you can't know for sure. In my article, I had made the implicit assumption that customers know their requirements, but as Iain pointed out, more often than not that is not the case. Iain, who works for EMC as a national practice manager for consulting, went on to list other competency requirements:
- Business Continuity Planning Process (BCP) /Disaster Recovery (DR) — so that technical recovery strategies are tightly coupled to the business continuity objectives, and hence enterprise risk management
- Record keeping and archival management — so that storage solutions are optimized against a long-term view of information management
- Operations management (ITIL, or IT Infrastructure Library), including SLA frameworks — because research shows that a significant portion of the TCO comes from the execution of the storage solutions.
Most vendors have moved away (in spirit at least!) from box dropping and living off their technical prowess. Certification standards and ever-growing channels show there is an army of talented folks bearing screwdrivers and UNIX manuals.
Whether Iain's last comment is correct could be debated, and could depend on where you live, what vendors you deal with and even the people the vendors have working with you. However, his comments about competency requirements for professional storage services are completely and totally accurate. It would be nice if all vendors had the same level of knowledge and understanding of the process as Iain, but as they say, caveat emptor: Buyer beware.
So what should everyone know about the requirements process, and what are good sets of questions to ask vendors to see if they have the skill set to help you solve your problems? I believe Iain is absolutely correct that a vendor cannot help you solve your business objectives unless you know what those objectives are and have at least some understanding of the technologies and costs.
Determining Your Requirements
Sometimes customers have unrealistic expectations. I recently had an experience with a customer that told me that they wanted a highly reliable, fast, scalable, simple backup solution for 6TB for $50,000. I told them that they should increase their budget by about 2 1/2 to 3 times that amount in order to meet their business requirements. They responded, "We only budgeted for $50,000 and no vendor can meet our requirements. Can you help?" I told them no, and said they needed to increase their budget significantly.
Before you call a vendor, you should have a good understanding of your requirements, or as a first step you need to have someone help you gather those business requirements. Whatever you do, some simple questions need to be answered before you hire someone to help you or begin the requirements analysis process yourself.