Matching provisioning tool to customer for greater efficiency

Improving your customers' storage efficiency will bring benefits to both you and them. Find out how you can benefit, as well as how to match customers with the right provisioning tools.

In a recent article for SearchStorage.com, Carol Sliwa provided an in-depth explanation of new provisioning tools and how they might make IT organizations more efficient. Here, we'll detail the value proposition to your customers and, more importantly, the value to you of greater efficiency. And, we'll help you navigate among the myriad choices in the provisioning marketplace.

When you talk to a customer about efficiency, it's important to paint a picture of the end goal: An IT organization that is agile can respond to the needs of the business with optimal use of resources and a minimal capital outlay, and predict problems long before they happen -- all with a significantly better-than-average admin-to-server or admin-to-storage-device ratio.

That's how customers will benefit from being more efficient. But what about you? As we'll detail in our upcoming talk for SearchStorageChannel.com in New York in September, it's definitely in your interest to make your customers more efficient, for three main reasons.

First, efficient customers are more likely to have their IT situation under control; instead of being buried fixing problems and servicing user requests, they have the time and ability to focus on new projects that help make IT more responsive to business needs -- projects that you can suggest.

And, if your customer has a sense of calm and control, then so will you as you approach the account. If you're constantly worried about how to get them out of this problem or that problem, you're probably giving away professional services and feeling like your life is about putting out fires. Not good for you or your company.

Finally, the process of making the customer more efficient consists of a profitable series of projects -- which brings us back around to Carol Sliwa's report on provisioning tools. In fact, the article should provide you with a clue to what customers face as they drive toward an efficient model: Everybody claims to be able to make customers more efficient, yet they are increasingly inefficient because any gains in efficiency are quickly wiped out by the massive increase in storage. Storage systems need to increase user efficiency at a pace that is faster than the growth of storage.

Carol lists 13 technologies and three major storage protocol choices that are available. With that many choices, how are you as a reseller supposed to help your customer whittle down the selection set?

To start, it is advisable that you have more than one solution in your portfolio. Each customer situation is unique, and a single solution can't solve all problems. For example, some customers will want to repurpose and virtualize their current storage hardware even though it might be from multiple vendors. While Carol lists several systems that will do this, I'd suggest that after the obvious process of confirming that the price and quality of the solutions are viable for your market, you should then look for truly storage-agnostic solutions. DataCore and FalconStor should be top considerations by a solution provider trying to help a customer that wants to repurpose their existing storage.

Second, there will be more customers that want the thin provisioning and other efficiency benefits of storage virtualization but don't want to mix or use existing storage offerings. They may want to start fresh and have a single-vendor strategy or may want a specific support or performance model. You too may not be comfortable mixing storage suppliers. For these customers or for yourself, consider Compellent, Xiotech and 3Par.

Greater efficiency is critical right now for your customers, and it will continue to be important in the future economy. Knowing which provisioning tools can get them there the fastest will simplify your efforts toward making IT more responsive to business needs and improving your company's bottom line

Here's Carol Sliwa's report on provisioning tools:

Growing data storage infrastructure may require new provisioning tools

How storage administrators provision data storage is changing in response to never-ending data growth and the popularity of money-saving technologies such as virtualization and tiered storage.

The rise in popularity of virtual machines, and the speed at which they can multiply, means the storage team often has to figure out how to automate a provisioning process that in many shops is still a manual process.

At the same time, many organizations tier storage and have different types of drives, and that means storage administrators need to carefully plan and assess performance metrics and capacity when deciding which storage will work best with which applications.

SAN storage provisioning is more than simply formatting a drive, carving out a storage volume and assigning it an address, or logical unit numbers (LUNs). Other steps include mapping and masking the LUNs to enable the host to access them, zoning to specify which adapters can talk to which storage ports and configuring path management. Decision points include the RAID level, the LUN size and an application's performance needs.

"Brian Garrett, technical director of the Enterprise Strategy Group Lab, said that although fully automated end-to-end storage provisioning might sound great, getting there isn't so simple.

"First, it was a lot more complicated than we thought. There's a lot more heterogeneity that's needed," Garrett said. "But mostly, people didn't embrace it because there's workflow involved in large organizations. The DBAs, the server guys, the storage guys and the networking guys all have protocols and handoffs that they need to make along that process. They're not comfortable with a machine just automating and assigning these expensive resources and possibly introducing a risk of doing something wrong."

Virtualization demands automation

Daniel Iacono, a SAN engineer at Philadelphia Insurance Companies (acquired last year by Tokio Marine Holdings), is looking to automate some aspects of the storage provisioning process through the scripting capabilities in his firm's Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) arrays. Even a simple script that would allow him to replace the host name and the LUNs, rather than going through the full rudimentary point-and-click process, could save some time when dealing with the company's growing virtual server environment.

Read the rest of the story on improving efficiency via provisioning tools.

About the author

George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the United States, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, George was chief technology officer at one of the nation's largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.

This was first published in May 2009

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