This is Part 2 of this blog series. Read Part 1 here.
This is the second in a series about considerations for IT in changing storage vendors and storage systems. Changing storage vendors is a decision that is not taken without careful consideration by IT professionals. This series examines the different aspects to evaluate in making a decision.
Part 1 dealt with reasons for changing storage vendors. This part will explain how to evaluate a storage vendor, determining which vendor qualifies for the further product consideration. Details for the storage system evaluation follow later.
There are several things to look at when evaluating a storage vendor. But first, why do an evaluation should be revisited.
The business relationship for storage solutions lasts a long time. The lifespan for flash storage is now expected to be 10 years and most organizations are planning to have systems in operation for at least 7 years. Selecting a vendor when that amount of time for a system is expected is an obvious reason to choose wisely based on the evaluation. Over that period of time, the vendor representatives, either local or with the corporate organization, are likely to continue the relationship, meeting with them on a regular basis. There are staffing changes that occur but, sudden changes are really the exception. The selection of the vendor is not only about the corporate entity as a supplier. The evaluation of a vendor includes the people that will be part of a working relationship. If they are not good to work with initially, it is unlikely to improve.
This leads to the specifics of what to look for regarding a vendor selection:
One common thought in considering a vendor is “How long have they been in the storage business” but that is too simplistic. Certainly, looking at a storage vendor, as with many areas, is whether they have experience in delivering and supporting storage systems. There is not a specific number accepted for the amount of “experience” time but limited experience should be seen as greater potential for support issues and even technical issues.
The other longevity aspect is understanding, based on several inputs, whether the vendor will still be around (a going, operational concern) in 10 years. This is a critical consideration for most organizations in an evaluation. If the proposed vendor is unlikely to be in business in 10 years, selection of that vendor would have to be considered high risk. One input can come from the vendor successes in growing their business in profit and number of customers. Another may come from analysts such as Evaluator Group that review the track record of the executive team, funding, successes in the market, and general outlook. Recommendations from peer organizations can also be a useful input.
A concern to mention is if the vendor is acquired (or looking to be acquired) by a larger company. Acquisitions rarely turn out well for their customers for a long list of reasons that could be the source of a lengthy article. Analysts such as Evaluator Group can give some guidance on the prospects regarding acquisitions but there are no guarantees.
There are few vendors that have burdensome processes for doing business. These processes come from either practices that have not evolved and only become more complex over time or from vendor executives who do not recognize the value of simplicity in business dealings (at least to point of making changes). The ease of doing business becomes evident at an early stage and are best discovered by discussions with peer organizations. Vendors that are difficult to do business with are relatively well known and will be clearly called out by their customers when asked “off the record.”
There are two different considerations for offerings: product and financial. For product offerings, purchase of best-in-class storage solutions in different areas such as block storage, NAS, and object from a single vendor may be simpler for some organizations. Additional functionality such as data protection, data migration, etc. may also have advantages coming from the same vendor, at least being an option is desirable.
Financial offerings are another area of increasing importance as many organizations deal with transitions to an operating expense model and staff limitations. Consumption models for acquiring storage are attractive to some and the availability and competitiveness is an important part of a vendor evaluation. Another area that is being seen as important is whether the vendor offers managed services with the storage solution. Dealing with staffing issues has become a constant challenge and managed services is an attractive answer for some organizations. In considering a vendor to select, the financial offerings may weigh heavily in a decision.
While this is generally measured by how much the vendor is investing into research and development for storage, it is an indicator as to whether the vendor will continue to lead and deliver new technology on a timescale that is competitive with other vendors. Smaller investments in R & D usually lead to the vendor falling behind competitors and, when it comes time to evaluate the next purchase, the easy route of continuing with the incumbent vendor and storage system means that the most advanced technology and functions may not be available. Technology advances mean greater value – faster access to data, more data stored, etc.
Understanding who will be involved over the length of time and whether the vendor (and local team) is committed to maintaining relationships is another vendor selection consideration. If there is no commitment; if the vendor does not view that continuity is important, there is greater risk of issues that will escalate and a lack of confidence in resolving them. The vendor (and local team) continuity is very important and should also be included in the vendor evaluation.
Part 3 in this series will look at the considerations in selecting a product. While many criteria are specific to an organization’s needs, there are commonalities on what to evaluate and how to determine the best solution.