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Sun 12 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Trouble in storage

Storage vendors are promising ever-more complex solutions — yet customers say they don’t understand their needs or the business issues that need to be resolved

Storage is one of IT’s biggest cash cows these days. With the continuous growth of data volume, coupled with new international mandates for companies to keep data for a certain period of time, it’s hardly surprising to see why the market is booming.

However, while everything looks positive and rosy for vendors, IT managers in the meantime are in a conundrum. Thrown on their shoulders is the heavy burden of balancing the management of swelling storage demand and shrinking IT budgets — and it’s a load they’re struggling to carry.

This problem was highlighted at the recent StorageWorld event where keynote speaker Jon William Toigo, the managing principal and chief executive officer of Toigo Partners International, pointed out the biggest problems in the market today. For one, he said a lot of storage deployments do not effectively address the business issues they are supposed to resolve. He finds that oftentimes, vendor offerings prevail against customer requirements. It’s a problem that both vendors and customers have to be blamed for, he stressed.

Toigo said vendors fail to understand what their customers real storage needs are, while customers are not proactive enough to impose their choice of solutions.

“The reason why storage infrastructure is in such a terrible shape is because customers let them get that way. They didn’t demand of the vendor exactly what they wanted,” Toigo told IT Weekly.

Several customers who attended the show seemed to agree with Toigo. According to Shoukri Yaghi, head of operation section, information systems department at Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the notion that bigger is better is not always the case for them.

“We don’t need to bring [in solutions] bigger than what we need. For instance, when we only need 1Tbytes of storage capacity, a vendor will sell us 10Tbytes, which we don’t need yet,” Yaghi said.

Osman Tantawy admitted that, as senior manager of Vodafone Egypt Telecommunications’ procurement and logistics department, he has had his fair share of vendors pitching solutions he deems are not needed by his company.

“For every supply, you have to have a demand. Yes, there is a push but sometimes also there is a pull. It depends. Vendors are pushing [their products],” Tantawy said. “[And] it’s up to us to absorb, stop, think and then act.”

“Most of the vendors try to sell their ready-made boxes. They are not into certain ideas of change and customisation for the customers. Customers’ needs differ; the needs of the telecom industry are different than others. But why do they sell the same box everywhere?” added Tantawy.

Careful selection is the key. However, that is considered a luxury for most IT managers who tend to have limited manpower. Devoting people for the sole purpose of reviewing every single storage solution available in the market is not just possible, said Fawaz Bassim, manager, technology and product development, Wataniya Telecom. Without enough resources to allocate, customers tend to stick to a select number of IT suppliers — those who they have previously dealt with and who have somehow delivered satisfactory results.

Although this is not an ideal practice — as a vendor can be strong in one area of the industry but not in others — Bassim said he is often left without a choice. “When you make a decision you look at how it’s going to integrate with existing systems, but it’s always a lot easier to buy from the same company because we don’t have enough resources,” Bassim explained. “We don’t have enough R&D facility to check different platforms.”

The issue of deciding between availability and necessity is just the tip of a bigger problem. Standards and interoperability are, unsurprisingly, among customers’ major complaints. There is no proper storage planning in place; the tendency for most customers is to add more disk or tape capacities when the need arises, hence resulting to over-subscription and under- utilisation.

“We need standards. It’s very important, especially for virtualisation. There’s so much talk about it and there’s not a single way of implementing virtualisation,” said Bassim. “I really believe that virtualisation will help us a lot to cut down our operational costs, cut down the way we provision our storage, and cut down the time we take to do our day-to-day activities.”

“However, we have not seen a single approach. I would like to invite all five big vendors right now to come over and tell me how to implement virtualisation in a multi-platform environment,” Bassim added.

“I am an HP company but I also have Sun and Siemens systems. I need to integrate these systems with each other, but how? I don’t know how. I don’t have time to do my homework. They have to tell me how. They have to do it. This is the issue.”

“Deliver on what they are saying. It’s very hard for us to complete an RFQ (request for quote) exactly stating all our needs when there are always a lot of things that are not there. They [vendors] will always tell you, ‘Yes, it’s in my roadmap’ or ‘It’s available later on’ or ‘You have to pay extra for it’,” complained Bassim.

“We would like to make strategic relationship with our suppliers, but they have to realise that they shouldn’t be pushy with the little things they haven’t started yet.”

There are so many things that can go wrong when rolling out and operating complex storage deployments. The need for proper storage strategies is in order. But until integration concerns are addressed, accomplishing the true objectives of a data management platform will all but remain a pipe dream.

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