In the last few years, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of innovations in storage – from innovations in the hardware to software-defined storage technologies and hyper-converged solutions. All these storage innovations leave companies puzzled on what enterprise storage solution will satisfy their needs the best. And as data volumes grow exponentially, use cases multiply and new storage technologies appear – the complex storage domain is becoming even more complex.
So let’s shed some light on how to find the best enterprise data storage solution for those of you who are on the market for a new storage system and what questions you should ask along the way. Here are the 5 questions to ask before you choose your new enterprise storage system (and enterprise storage vendor).
1. What enterprise storage solution do I really need?
Before you start contacting vendors/resellers you need to do your homework – create a list of your requirements. A hint here: do not insist on how you want things done. Instead, focus on what the job at hand is – who will be the user of your new storage system? What applications will use it? What protocols are must have, what are nice to have? How much performance in terms of IOPS and MB/s will you need? How much capacity? How will your new enterprise data storage system grow over time? What is your budget? What is your time frame?
By focusing on your needs, instead of insisting on the technology (e.g. “I need an all-SSD array”), you give space to the vendors to propose a solution that might be an order of magnitude better than what you currently have. New software-defined storage technologies allow things to be done in a “faster, better, cheaper” way. However, this usually means new architectures and design, new software features, new ways of doing things and a new mindset.
Knowing your requirements is key, yet hard to do since there are many points to cover internally. Sometimes you’ll go through this phase but will still have just a vague idea of what you need. And that is OK – some cases are just more complex. A good vendor or reseller will help you specify your requirements and will propose a solution that fits best. Also, they’ll help you to clarify your needs in the first place. This is why we developed a small form to help our customers describe their “what”, on a high enough level, so they do not get fixed over the technology. Feel free to use it.
2. Do you have a solution for my use case/requirement?
This question is a tricky one – while some vendors will automatically say “but of course”, others will ask you follow-up questions and only after they really understand your case will give you a thought-out response. Big vendors have wider portfolio covering most use cases, however in many cases, their products are generic and considerably better alternatives are now available from emerging vendors.
Asking the vendor whether they have the solution to your case helps you learn more about what it is like to work with this vendor – are they candid, how responsive they are. For example, our product is an outstanding solution when it comes to high-performance block storage. We do not cover object storage and do not focus as much on archiving and we are really upfront about it. It’s a matter of company culture and integrity rather than something else.
3. What is the actual cost of your new enterprise storage system?
Many vendors quote prices per GB. Unfortunately, this does not tell you much anymore. Is it GB raw, is it GB usable or is it GB logical? If it is GB usable – what does “GB usable” stand for? Many vendors announce a price per “GB usable” which includes significant hypothetical gains from software features such as deduplication, snapshots or erasure coding. The truth is, however, that the benefits of any feature depend heavily on the use case. If your particular case fits well with this feature – then yes, you’ll gain significantly. But sometimes it is just not the case. In practice, we’ve seen 10% actual gain, where a storage vendor claimed 800% gain! Also, there is no free lunch – any feature adds a specific benefit, but on the flip side it makes the system inapt for another case. For example erasure coded systems (think RAID 5/6) save space but are slow; deduplicated systems reduce data footprint at the expense of considerable CPU and RAM usage.
4. What is the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of your new storage system?
Many customers do not realize that the new software-defined solutions help optimize the whole IT stack and thus reduce cost across the stack. It is not about storage anymore. If you are still thinking in silos – compute, storage, network – you may want to reconsider your thinking. A “future proof” enterprise storage solution should help you simplify your IT stack, reduce cost and increase performance, all while satisfying your storage needs. Let me give an example here – the best of a breed of distributed storage system allow you to run storage on your compute nodes in a converged / hyper-converged fashion. This means your IT stack will consist of compute nodes, which double as storage and network only. Simple. You do not need to spend money on dedicated SAN or all-flash array anymore. No more expensive Fibre Channel connects, all become standard Ethernet. Less obviously, though you will need less space in the data center, less cooling, and power, etc. Your set-up will become simpler and easier to manage. All these things have a positive impact on your whole IT stack, not just on storage level.
5. How will you migrate my data?
There are some companies that start a new line of business/service from scratch. In these cases, the new storage system can be designed without any constraints. But in most cases, your new storage system will be part of a stack that is already existing. How you integrate the new solution, migrate data, educate personnel is key to the success of your project. And the right time to consider this is at the early stage of your project. Describe your current state and ask your vendor if they see issues with compatibility and data migration. Will they help in doing the migration and at what cost? How will your new storage system be supported? Is there some license incompatibility across the stack?
In resume: storage requirements are becoming increasingly diverse and even more complex. A new enterprise storage system can solve your problems and make your business more agile. It can make your life easier. However you need a proper research and the right partner – asking the right questions will help you clarify how well the selected solution fits your needs as much as how qualified your solution provider is. In the end it is not all TBs, IOPS, KPIs and Excel files. Choosing the right storage “partner” for you is equally important – like in any relationship – you want someone who is candid, responsive, professional and nice to communicate with.
If you have any questions feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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