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OK, given that I made the bold statement earlier that each of these groups could be best given the situation, what are the areas that need to be considered before determining what group will be best suited to the task? The areas that I believe need to be considered are:
- What are the hardware and software components, and from whom are you buying them?
- What skills do your current staff have, how capable are they in learning new things, and what is their availability?
- Is the hardware and software heterogeneous (composed of solutions from multiple vendors) or homogenous (single vendor)?
This set of questions is really just the tip of the iceberg, but with answers to these questions, the task of choosing a PS vendor or set of vendors should be made much easier.
The Selling Organization
Knowing your selling organization is critical to success. I believe organizations fall into three categories:
- Fully integrated
- Partially integrated
- Support PS
- No PS
A fully integrated selling organization can integrate all the hardware and software that they sell. For example, if you buy a solution from the likes of IBM, HP, Sun, and others, and all components are made or sold by that organization, they are highly likely to be able to put the solution together for standard configurations. In some cases storage vendors such as EMC provide integrated services similar to the large integrated vendors and can even offer servers from some of the vendors.
Most vendors have standard configurations they sell that combine hardware and software. In general, these vendors are vertically integrated, so the PS groups know the hardware and software end-to-end. Problems generally arise only when configurations include non-standard hardware and software or when something new is added that wasn’t configured in the standard configuration. In many cases, because of the vast number of ways to configure software, this tends to be the area that can get the fully integrated PS organizations into trouble.
In a fully integrated organization you’ll typically have a chief architect assigned to you for the project. This person is responsible for the architecture and making sure it meets your requirements.
A good example of partially integrated PS organizations is the myriad of smaller Linux vendors selling clusters. These vendors buy hardware and software from a variety to sources, and if you purchase a cluster and PS contract from one of them, you may end up with multiple PS organizations for supporting the RAID, switches, file systems, and other software components. In some cases you might get an architect, but most often you do not.
My definition of support PS is a dedicated group that installs the hardware and/or software, but leaves the architecture to someone else. For example, a storage vendor might set up and configure the RAID LUNs with no knowledge of the applications and file system. The LUNs are configured and will likely be configured optimally for total performance, but the real question is will they be optimal for your file system and applications? (Not likely.)
Some organizations just sell hardware and/or software and maintain no real PS organization. You can usually get a very good price on the hardware and software, but for complex configurations you have no assurances and will have to rely on your own staff or another contracted PS organization to ensure it all works together the way you expect – and need – it to work.