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Every few months at Enterprise Storage Forum, we meet to discuss story ideas. One that comes up often is how much vendors use fear to sell their products they would have you believe that without their product, your data center will collapse under its own weight.
Using fear to sell products is nothing new in any industry, of course, but for storage users, there are questions you need to ask to ensure that you are buying hardware and software that meet your business objectives at a fair price, and even more importantly, that you're not buying a dead-end product, which will raise your costs in the long run.
Here's an example involving Fibre Channel switches.
A few years ago I was doing an evaluation for a customer and was asked to speak with a vendor who had the next great idea. The vendor is no longer in business, I should note. The product was a semi-intelligent Fibre Channel switch that did things like replication of ports, quality of service and a number of other functions. During the evaluation, we had a number of conference calls and visits from the vendor, and each time the meeting would degrade into a discussion about why this product would keep the customer from pending disaster. The vendor gave a number of examples of disasters and ways their product would prevent them. Since the customer point person was responsible for ensuring the continuing operation of the environment, they were getting scared. When you are solely responsible for something, playing to your worst fears is a pretty effective sales tactic.
File virtualization is the latest craze in the storage marketplace, causing everyone who's anyone to jump in. From what I can tell, the concept of file virtualization was on the front burner soon after LUN virtualization failed to become the market force some industry pundits said it would. Both of these technologies are designed to make your life easier by reducing the overhead of managing your environment, allowing your systems to become more highly available, and providing a method to replicate your data in the event of a disaster. All of this is motherhood and apple pie for someone in charge of a data center, but again, it's another technology you should look long and hard at to make sure it's right for you.
So what are the telltale signs that your paranoia is getting the best of you? I should note that I probably fit into the paranoid category myself, since I have four copies of my data for my home PC (RAID-1, external USB hard drive, external USB hard drive in a safe deposit box, and internet backup). Likely unnecessary, but I sure have peace of mind. The difference is I am spending a few hundred dollars, not hundreds of thousands or millions.
I think there are a few things to consider. A warning sign in these areas should cause you to think twice about making a storage purchase.
Is It Standards-Based?
One of the first things I think about when looking at new products is whether they are standards-based. I cannot name one product that that become a worldwide hit that at least did not have a standard already in progress. Take the content-aware storage (CAS) market no single vendor has created a worldwide market for content aware storage, though I believe the concept of content aware storage is needed, and standards are needed to make that happen. Take the other side of the coin and look at Fibre Channel RAID technology. This technology is ubiquitous throughout the world; no data center of any size today is running without Fibre Channel RAID storage thanks to standards.
So Rule # 1 is to make sure that the product you are considering is standards-based or based on a draft standard. Products that are not based on a standard might turn out to be a dead end or lock you into a single-vendor solution.
Beware the 'Me-Toos'
A whole lot of people out there just have to have the latest cool stuff. Are you the type of trendy person who has all the cool new gadgets, or are you like me and still listening to Barry White and KC and the Sunshine Band? If you or your management are "me too" types of people, then the likelihood is higher that you will be in awe of some new storage product and just have to have it, since it will make your life so much easier.
I have seen on more than one occasion a vendor say, "Well, your competitor has my product," although perhaps not in so many words. That gets you thinking that you are missing something and you do not want to be left behind. From what I have seen, often your competitor did not buy the product but has a free trial. The goal, of course, is to get you think that your competitor bought it and that you might be left behind if you don't buy it too.
That leads us to Rule # 2: Before recommending any product for your environment, ask not where is it installed, but ask the vendor where they have sold the product.
The Sky Is Falling
I know that losing data is bad, and having the system unavailable is just as bad (I call this yucky bad), but just like car salespeople who want you to buy the undercoating for your new car, storage salespeople often try to sell you things you don't need. I believe this technique developed in the 1990s when storage was a mystery to most people, yet they were finding they needed lots of it. Everyone knows the old saying that ignorance is bliss, but I don't think that's the case when buying storage products. If you are ignorant about the technical details, you'll be buying the storage equivalent of undercoating.
And that's where Rule # 3 comes in: Education is your key to success.
As Franklin Roosevelt said, we have "nothing to fear but fear itself." Some storage vendors sell their products by playing on your fears. This is no different than tactics used by salespeople in many other industries. There are things to be afraid of and there are things you shouldn't worry about. Deciding which is which depends on your hardware and software environment, your risk tolerance, and lots of other factors. You can't blame vendors for selling based on fear, since this is human nature. Heck, they have a job to do too.
What you can do is educate yourself and those you work with on the hardware and software technologies that might be a good fit for your environment. As Sir Francis Bacon said, "Knowledge is power." Knowledge leads to rational decisions and eliminates fear. I hope that this column and others on Enterprise Storage Forum help reduce your fear as you gain more storage knowledge.
Henry Newman, a regular Enterprise Storage Forum contributor, is an industry consultant with 27 years experience in high-performance computing and storage.
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