Storage status: Getting to the heart of customer storage problems

Begin analyzing a storage setup by asking customers standard questions that can help you uncover unrealized storage problems and identify ongoing business needs.

Randy Kerns

If a customer is throwing more capacity at a problem, is the problem really that simple – just running out of storage capacity? There are some basic questions to ask that can lead to further discussions about the storage situation.

Asking these questions will help you prompt a more effective discussion to uncover true customer needs and determine what solutions or services you may be able to offer to meet those needs. Undoubtedly you'll be able to generate many more questions to add to this list as you go.

 Checklist: Questions to size up a storage setup
Do you have a storage strategy?
Having a storage strategy that establishes how requirements are going to be addressed is a big step. Developing a storage strategy is a business process that serves as a guide in implementing plans to meet the needs. The strategy must cover future storage needs and anticipate how business needs will be addressed with solutions and new technology. A tactical plan will cover the next two years but a strategy will provide a roadmap for three to five years. (Read more about what should go into a good storage strategy in this tip.)
Where are your current storage problems?
Certainly this is a leading question, but it starts an important discussion. The next question is really based on the response. A customer may have many storage problems, and typically an overriding one is brought up first. In fact the problem noted might be a consequence of the actual, bigger problem.
Some additional questions this primary question may lead to include:
    a. Are you running out of capacity?
    b. Do you have applications that are not completing in time?
    c. Do you believe storage is a bottleneck?
    d. Are your data protection solutions, such as backup, not completing at all or within the allotted time?
    e. Is there a new requirement that cannot be accommodated with the current environment?
What is your capacity consumption?
How fast is storage being consumed? What is causing the consumption? There may be many reasons for over consumption: growing business, new applications, keeping more data online due to regulatory requirements with no archive solution, etc. Understanding the needs and why can help in determining what must be considered in providing a solution.
What are your budgetary requirements or limitations?
A customer may have major issues with operational expenses and budget limitations. You must identify where they may be able to reduce administrative costs in some way.
Are you able to deploy storage in the required time?
Time to deploy storage is a business issue. If it requires hardware installation or changes, operating system changes and rebooting, or different levels of management approval, that may be an impediment to meeting the business need. A new solution that accelerates the time to deployment may be easily justified based purely on business economics.

The bigger issue is to understand the customer environment and all of its needs -- both current and future. The customer must also have confidence that you really do understand his challenges and are able to address them. Asking these questions is the starting point.

Randy Kerns
Randy Kerns is an independent storage consultant and author of the book Planning a Storage Strategy. In the past, he served as vice president of strategy and planning for storage at Sun Microsystems Inc., and covers storage and storage management software including SAN and NAS analysis. Ask Randy a question pertaining to your storage projects in our Ask the Expert area.
Copyright 2006 TechTarget

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