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How to diagnose and solve customers' storage performance problems

While it may seem counterintuitive in a difficult economy, many customers are willing to spend money to solve storage performance problems. Find out how to diagnose and solve those problems with a combination of monitoring tools, SSD and automated storage tiering systems.

When the economy turns south, too often resellers and suppliers go into the default mode of designing solutions that save customers money. As a result, solving storage performance problems is often overlooked by VARs and systems integrators, and customers end up engaging suppliers directly to solve those problems. If you're too focused on saving money, you may be ignoring other potential projects.

Over the past year or so, we've seen the decrease in costs that we've come to expect in a downturn; suppliers are more desperate to get their share of an ever-shrinking pie and are sacrificing margin to get it. We have also seen a rash of new technology that can compress, deduplicate or in some other way allow a customer to put more storage in the same space. When customers absolutely need to buy more capacity, they are typically looking to solve it at the cheapest price possible.

And while decreasing costs and more efficient storage are great, they do nothing to help customers that have storage I/O performance problems. While many customers can operate just fine with traditional storage solutions, there are some -- more than you might think -- that have specific storage performance problems that they need to solve.

When a customer has a performance problem, it usually affects its ability to create revenue. Customers looking to solve storage performance problems do care about price, but they care about increased revenue more. And since the solution that you will implement to solve that problem can be tied to a lost revenue dollar, it's easier for the customer to cost-justify your solution.

Storage performance problem solvers

Your first step in solving the storage performance problem is to make sure there actually is one. You can use Windows' built-in tools that we describe in our article "Visualizing SSD Readiness" or one of the more advanced tools like those from Tek-Tools, Confio Software or LogicMonitor. Confirming that there is a performance problem is critical prior to adding any hardware to the environment. Sometimes storage gets blamed for an environment's performance problems when in fact the problem is that the application isn't well-optimized.

Once you've confirmed that there is a storage performance problem, the next step is to solve that problem with higher-performing storage hardware. This is an ideal use case for solid state drives (SSD). (Among 659 respondents to the Fall 2009 Purchasing Intentions survey fielded by Storage magazine, 11% were either already using SSD or were planning to implement it this year, while a full 35% were evaluating it.)

The automated storage tiering systems that are now coming on the market from companies like Storspeed, Avere and Dataram are also worth exploring for customers with storage performance problems. These systems leverage a cache-like process to make sure that the most active data is always being accessed from the fastest-possible tier; they will also work with existing storage platforms.

Standalone SSD or automated storage tiering systems are appealing because they are added to existing storage and don't require a wholesale change-out of hardware. They can provide a way for you to tell your customer they can get another few years out of their storage system while still meeting the organization's increased performance demands.

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.

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