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.
Another important point is to properly define internal review personnel at an early stage. "Each of these individuals must also be addressed to ensure buy-in from all involved," said Peldzus. "Your team should include legal and purchasing people as well as a C-level exec if possible."
It is advisable to have one primary contact at each responding vendor and also to arrange vendor pre-meetings to ensure they understand the objectives and anticipated timeline. Further, you have to set the communication rules, such as email only, phone only, etc. These calls or emails should be directed at one person only within the company to avoid confusion, or vendor attempts to call in old favors. You have to be aware of the political climate within the organization, which may favor one vendor over another for various reasons. Such relationships are not always in the best interests of your company objectives.
When dealing with the response format, it is probably best to stick to line item pricing, and to demand short concise answers to key questions. Peldzus recommends specific questions such as, "Does your product support CIM/SMI-S?" rather than vague statements such as, "Discuss how your product conforms to management standards."
You must also make it very clear what features and functions are considered optional and which are considered essential.
Prior to receiving responses, you should be ready with a pre-set rating/scoring system. Each question should be weighted in terms of importance so that it is easy to tally up the scores and compare products objectively. And don't forget to check and grade references, gravitating toward companies similar to yours if at all possible.
Don't be afraid to ask touchy questions about company financials, pending litigation, recent layoffs, and executive turnover.
"Such questions are even more important for start-ups," said Peldzus.
He cautions, however, to be wary of vendor roadmaps. Why? In reality, this is a vague concept of where the vendor thinks it is going, and things can change rapidly and dictate a completely new direction.
Where the process has proven difficult to manage internally, it may be wise to bring in a third party to administer the RPF process and negotiate the best deals.
"A third party can provide a layer of isolation between the vendor and the customer," concludes Peldzus. "For the largest purchases, C-level executives often dictate some type of independent auditor/expert in the process."
Article courtesy of Enterprise IT Planet