SANity Prevails

So Tim Wilson at NWC wrote in the current issue about how to negotiate with vendors. And I also noted the article from Don MacVittie about SAN Switches. At ACME we just got finished with a grueling few months of...

December 15, 2004

4 Min Read
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So Tim Wilson at NWC wrote in the current issue about how to negotiate with vendors. And I also noted the article from Don MacVittie about SAN Switches. At ACME we just got finished with a grueling few months of back-and-forth negotiations with SAN vendors. We started our quest for "real" storage months ago. ACME had been idling by with a few NAS devices but even they were not enterprise quality, athough they worked pretty well (credit here to Iomega). Our Network Manager, Dirk Packet, and our top Network Engineer, Eugene Wright, started things moving. The research began with what we know, what our folks have used at other firms, and what we heard from our peers. Things pretty much settled on one firm. We also consulted analyst info since we subscribe to such services. All fingers pointed to one solution source. In order to not give up the name we settled on as to the SAN brand I will use the fake name MCsquared.

Most vendors will call you and hustle you about "end of month" deals they want to make since their management is pushing them. There is the obligatory offer of some discount, sometimes worthwhile but often not. You will get that pitch again next month if you don't buy this month. Then you get the "end of quarter" pitch next, usually with a more heartfelt pitch. Then if you really drag your feet long enough you will get the "end of year" pitch.

A new one I have been hearing is the "marketing dollars" pitch where the manufacturer or the reseller has some supposed funds to use to offset your costs. Well when you really finally nail down all the bids apples-vs-apples you see some pricing similarities among at least a few of the vendors and they both didn't claim to have marketing dollars.

Our problem was that maybe we started talking to vendors too early. We hadn't settled on what we wanted, or needed. And there was much research to do to figure out what really needed to be on the bids. From the vendor perspective I think they must have thought we were playing hardball since the prices kept going down. But Eugene was really making us crazy with trying to figure out which bells-and-whistles he wanted and which bells worked with which whistles was confusing. We finally worked with some of the smarter vendors to figure out what we really wanted, the ones with more true knowledge of the MCsquared products.

The lords of procurement policy required that the ACME IT department issue a request for proposal (RFP), and we complied as we are experts in such administrative crud. We have to post such notices on our website too and you of course get some scary inquiries. Does some vendor with a hotmail email address really think we are going to seriously consider their bid?We received quite a few emails from "SAN in a Can" vendors, those that will build you a SAN out of spare parts they work together. While I am sure that some of those solutions work just fine we didn't want to incur that much risk at ACME and so our RFP was really strict with requirements. Most lower-end bidders were promptly scared off once they read the RFP.

Bids were received from just a few vendors, trusted names mostly. Some of the bidders were large vendors you would typically associate with PC sales that are now getting into SANs although reselling the MCsquared product. We looked closely at who was actually to provide support for the SAN since we didn't want a vendor to install some solution only to toss the support to another totally different firm.

The review of the bids had us settle on a good firm we knew from other purchases. We are now in the midst of receiving the equipment onsite for the install to take place. With the work we put into this purchase I think we have properly mitigated much of the risk and guesswork. Keep us in your thoughts that this all works out just fine.

Wow, that was a long blog entry. Bet many of you have "been there and done that" in terms of a similar procurement. See you next time, Hunter.

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