Storage Users Speak Out
A year ago, Laurence Whittaker of Hudson's Bay Company sat in the audience at an End User Town Hall Meeting at Storage Networking World.
Users voiced their concerns and frustrations over implementing storage technologies in their organizations. The technologies themselves were not the main concern; rather, users sought help with issues such as communicating needs and business issues to senior management, and getting company constituencies to understand the changes that would occur when policy-based methods were introduced.
Whittaker, newly elected vice chair of the Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA) End User Council (EUC), saw an opportunity for the EUC to help IT managers identify the kinds of issues they were facing, and collaborate as peers to prioritize, educate management, and be educated on meeting these challenges.
Whitaker and EUC chair Rick Bauer of The Hill School led the charge, incorporating Town Hall meeting feedback into a comprehensive survey of their membership. Titled the "Top Ten Pain Points Survey," it first collected demographic statistics and information on a company's progress in adopting storage networking technology. The second part of the survey asked respondents for their opinions on issues, challenges and needs in their storage and networking environments. Computerworld extended the reach of the survey with an online version targeted at Storage Networking World Spring 2004 attendees.
Respondents were spread over a wide variety of industries, including financial, government, media/entertainment, and education. Most were IT managers or executive staff, with a number dedicated to storage management. Company revenue ranged from less than $1 million to more than $10 billion, with the majority between $1 million and $100 million.
The Top Ten Pain Points
The survey findings were somewhat expected, but also enlightening and a bit troubling. Bauer was impressed by how forthcoming users were in "telling the world what keeps us up at night." Both the EUC membership and SNW attendees' willingness to share, he felt, "laid a tremendous foundation to communicate our issues to storage and networking manufacturers and industry associations."
The survey found that end users' most significant pain points continue to revolve around basic storage management issues. Storage costs too much to purchase, too much to run and is too hard to manage. The most identified storage challenge was managing growth and meeting capacity needs, while the most important corporate issue to be addressed was cost containment.
Indeed, cost was identified as the top user pain point. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they had delayed storage network purchases because of cost. Hindered by cost, a number of respondents were starting small and attempting to grow one or more storage area networks, all while managing business growth and meeting capacity needs (Pain Point #2). Cost and growth management issues were resulting in multiple SAN islands, multiple management domains and numerous tool sets, leading to difficulty in managing storage assets and infrastructure (Pain Point #3), a lack of integrated and interoperable solutions (Pain Point #4), and an increasingly complex storage infrastructure (Pain Point #5).
Rounding out the top ten pain points were: poor service, support, and ill-informed or poorly educated marketing channels; lack of desired functions and features; finding the right solutions and justifying expenditures; undelivered promises; and lack of robust automation for provisioning.
The EUC concluded that the root of many of these points was a fundamental lack of understanding of how to architect, provision and scale storage networking technology solutions.
Whittaker, now chair of the EUC, saw the results as a call to action to the storage networking community to address the most significant pain points.
Three recommendations were put forth: 1) simplify the technology with architectural standards to help reduce the cost and complexity and address negative perceptions regarding SANs; 2) accelerate education and certification of storage administrators, while simultaneously accelerating the adoption of standards and best practices, and 3) identify and promote common best practices that can be broadly applied to multiple business applications.