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5 Things Storage Vendors Won't Tell You

  • Storage is currently the most expensive and most complex piece of the data center, and an integral part of any cloud service -- be it public, private or hybrid. Unfortunately, IT customers usually do not have enough information when buying storage solutions and are often deceived by sales tactics and marketing propaganda. Terms like "software-defined storage," "storage virtualization," "server SAN" and many others claim to be the cure for any storage problem.

    This article is intended for business and IT leaders of any company who are involved in the process of buying data storage solutions. It gives practical advice on what to look for and what caveats to avoid.

    We'll also explain in simple terms some of the jargon and practices in the storage industry, in an attempt to demystify magic marketing statements and help the buyer to make a wise and educated choice.

    What are the 5 major things storage vendors are not telling you when you're shopping for storage solutions? Find out in the next few slides.

    Learn more about the changing storage landscape in the Storage Track at Interop Las Vegas this spring. Don't miss out! Register now for Interop, May 2-6, and receive $200 off.

    (Image: Hailshadow/iStockphoto)

  • You might get a huge discount

    Traditional storage vendors do anything for you to sign an initial contract. For a "first time deal," customers might get 30-50% off the list price of a storage array. If you are a hard negotiator or own a strategic account, then discounts might go as high as 80%. Also keep in mind that price reductions usually include hardware only.

    A legacy storage vendor (think two and three letter vendors) would rarely give you a discount on the support or the software packages. And it is the services and software that deliver vital functionality and turn a piece of iron into something that actually delivers fast and reliable storage. In cases where there is a discount on support or storage software, you can expect it to be much lower. Additionally, professional services that are always needed in order to design, evaluate and deploy a storage system are not included and may add a significant amount to the total bill.

    Beware. Тhis is a tactic called "getting the foot in the door."

    Source: StorPool competitive intelligence.

  • But there is no "free lunch"

    Getting that storage array at a solid discount might initially sound like a good deal. But it rarely is. When renewal time comes, or when you need to expand the storage solution, you will pay the price -- and expect no discount then. This is, of course, a form of vendor lock-in. You will always be dependent to some extent on your vendor or technology of choice. However, some vendors lock you in much more than others. It is much easier to change a storage solution that consists of software and hardware provided by two separate vendors. You can decouple and change them independently. And it is much easier to change a piece of standard hardware than a piece of specialized vendor-specific hardware.

    Do not base your business case or ROI calculations on the initial discounts you get from your hardware storage vendor. They might give you a discount next time too, but it is not very likely. And even if they do -- it will be much lower than the first time.

    (Image: cherezoff/iStockphoto)

  • The margin is built into the drive, not the box

    Hardware storage vendors use the well-known freebie or "razor and blades" pricing model. That means the margin is wrapped into the drive price, not the chassis. So the big box comes at similar cost, but the drives you need are vendor-specific and typically cost 3 to 15 times more than similar or alternative drives bought from a standard vendor.

    The fact is, there are only three companies in the world producing hard disks today, regardless of what the logo sticker on top of the drive says! These companies are Seagate, Toshiba and WD. And while all disks come from the three original vendors, the drives you buy from your storage vendor contain flashed firmware and cannot work in another array (or a standard server). Also, the storage box from a particular vendor will work only with that vendor's drives, so you cannot buy a standard drive and put it in the storage array either. That leaves you buying drives that are 3-15 times more expensive.

    In addition, the price you pay for a drive when you buy it in the box is different from the price of an additional, upgraded drive. And you guessed it -- the latter is much higher. In the second example above, taken from an EMC price list, you'll notice that upgrade drives (denoted with UPG) costs exactly 40% more.

    (Data sources: Dell, EMC, NetApp, EMC Florida, Newegg, Intel)

    * no list price for 1TB 7.2k NetApp drive. Estimated as average of $/TB of the 2TB and 3TB drives. Prices as of 12 Nov 2014.

  • Price does not tell you enough anymore

    Storage is already complex and is getting more and more complicated. The new software features work magic. One can dramatically change the behavior of a storage system with every new technology and feature added. As with anything in life, there is a trade-off, though. It is getting tougher to estimate the actual behavior of a storage system.

    The typical way of buying storage used to be straightforward: "Give me a solution that can deliver 20 TB of raw capacity and 20,000 IOPS of performance." Not anymore. With software features like thin provisioning, caching, tiering, and snapshots and clones, one can considerably change the output parameters of the storage system. Furthermore, the impact of each feature will depend on the customer's use case, including the type of data and pattern of their workload. It is getting progressively challenging to predict the impact of a feature on the actual results a storage system will deliver. Now you need to run a proof of concept or a pre-deployment test just to get a good estimate of what your solution will actually deliver.

    In addition, big vendors like to push a particular buzzwords or a feature as the solution to every problem. Perhaps the most over-used term we come across is "deduplication." While this is a great feature, it has been portrayed as the solution for reducing the physical storage footprint of your data. However, there are a number of other features that achieve the same goal, some of which have much bigger impact -- for example, thin provisioning, snapshots and compression.

    Educated customers should make decisions based on the actual benefit they require and should not insist on a particular technology to deliver these results. As we stated above – the data and use case have significant impact on which technology can deliver the most benefits. Customers do not need features; they need solutions to real business problems.

    (Image: visual7/iStockphoto)

  • There is nothing special about that storage box

    We see many customers who believe that a storage array is something special. This is not true. A storage box is just a regular server on the inside, with a very special cover design and a logo on the outside. And it is not an exceptionally powerful server, either. Besides the custom box and design, inside the box you find all the components of a standard server – CPU, RAM, disk controllers, network interfaces, and, of course, drives. Nothing special.

    Let's look at the specifications of an EMC VNX 5100 storage array versus a standard server, shown above. The components in the EMC box are well combined and tested together, but this is not something that is particularly special or hard to do. In contrast, all software-defined storage vendors provide reference configurations or preselected commodity servers that can be used. These configurations can then be used as a standard building block of a scalable storage system.