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Purchasing storage can be an infuriating business. Once you wade through the vendor promises and navigate a tortuous route through the dire straits of interoperability, you still have those hefty price tags to deal with. So how can you get into the driver's seat on storage purchasing? By properly utilizing the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.
Some companies make the mistake of favoring a Request for Information (RFI), so let's first clarify the difference. According to Bill Peldzus, director of storage architecture at storage consultancy GlassHouse Technologies, an RFI is fine when making a decision about the best technology. It can only really deal with higher-level pricing and is based upon your business drivers and requirements. An RFI is best used, for example, to define technology buying standards for national and multinational corporations. Most of the time, however, he favors the use of an RFP.
"An RFP results in the best overall purchasing decision and gives you a chance to find out the best price a vendor can offer," said Peldzus. "However, it is important to realize that an RFP should be based upon a storage reference architecture and is usually for larger purchases, not for expansion of disks in an existing array."
Far from being a pleasant event for one and all, an RFP should have vendors sweating. After all, they are attempting to gain your business, so the RFP charts the rules of the game and the way you want to play it.
Therefore, an RFP must provide details on the current state of the storage network, including the use of current and proposed performance metrics. It should also provide details on your proposed future state (i.e., your reference architecture). By details here, we mean the fabric design or network design (depending on whether you choose Fibre Channel or IP storage), servers, HBAs, storage arrays, tape libraries and drives, software being used and version details, database information, OSes utilized and more.
If you plan on getting into disaster recovery (DR), be sure that the RFP takes into account key DR metrics such as: a) Recovery Time Objective (RTO) — the maximum length of time that a business process can be unavailable; and b) Recovery Point Objective (RPO) — how much work in progress can be lost. In addition, it is important that the RFP covers future SLAs and delineates any restrictions such as legacy equipment or applications that must be retained.