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Are Storage Vendors Learning At Your Expense?

I was on a call the other day with a vendor who made a statement recalling their Solid State Disk (SSD) rollout that almost made me spray Mountain Dew all over my computer screen. They said, "We learned a lot about SSD when our customers started using them in our systems." Does that strike you as wrong? Shouldn't they know? What else are storage vendors learning at your expense?

In fairness, I don't expect any technology vendor to know everything about a platform when the technology first comes out, but there are some basic limitations that they should, and probably do, know about. Those should be documented, and that documentation should be given to the customer. In most cases, the vendor knows about issues but that information does not get disseminated. As a result, the storage engineers who are helping install a system are learning about it at the same time we are. Sometimes on the job training is fine as long as we know about it in advance. Most of the time, however, the fact that this is the engineer's first install of that particular technology is never relayed to the customer. There is an implied level of expertise that simply doesn't exist.

Two recent examples are from vendors rolling out SSD and power managed drives in their systems. It both cases, I asked "Do you have a best practices guide for your customers?". The answer was that they won't need one because their engineers would be doing the install. I then asked "Is there an install guide for your engineers?". The answer was no, but they were working on it. The product was shipping the next week. I didn't think those engineers were going to be ready, and according to the statement that followed months later, they weren't.

SSD is not new. There was plenty of expertise that this company could go hire if they really didn't have it internally. A few SSD clues: you want these drives running at near capacity and only housing the very most active data in your environment, but not all data qualifies, as we discuss in our Visualizing SSD article. Also they are very fast. (Really.) In many cases, they can saturate the shelf and storage controller bandwidth of traditional systems. SSD is a significantly different technology than mechanical drives, and this company and others were not prepared for it. Meanwhile companies that have been in the SSD market for years did not suffer the problems that the larger vendors did as they entered it.

As for the other example about power managed drives: for power managed drives to work, they need to not be accessed for a period of time. If you put a bunch of data on it and don't provide guidance how to layout your storage, they will either never spin down, or worse, they will spin down and then spin right back up. Again, in this rollout there was no guidance to this effect what so ever.

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