Courting Storage Chaos

Opinion: Let's face it: Companies aren't very good at storage planning. So, shouldn't vendors work together to make it easier to add as they go?

I was sitting next to eWEEKs Chris Preimesberger in a meeting room in Los Angeles before we were set to present our thoughts at a wrap-up panel at the Ziff Davis Enterprise Storage Summit in Los Angeles on Oct. 10. Because were serious journalists, Chris and I avoided talking about the things that youd expect (beer, for example) and instead stayed focused on storage.

I told Chris that it seemed to me from the products Id seen at the Storage Summit, as well as from the products Ive been reviewing lately, that a lot of companies were buying storage in reaction to their business needs. It seemed to me, I said, that if companies actually planned for their storage needs rather than reacting in haste once they found out they had a problem, their business might benefit.

Chris suggested that we make this a question when we presented our panel. So I asked the question of the audience: "How many of you," I asked, "planned your existing storage solution so that what you have now reflects your planning?" One hand was raised.

"How many of you sort of found yourselves with the storage you have now, but arent really sure how you got there?" I asked next. I noticed puzzled looks from many in the audience. "I mean, how many of you can honestly say your current storage environment just grew into its current state?" I continued. Nearly every hand in the room went up.

Despite all of the emphasis we put on storage planning--on elegantly designed storage networks that reduce latency, improve efficiency and save energy--it seems that the storage systems at most companies arent planned at all or perhaps are planned around the existing network and existing storage. They are, in other words, solutions that were chosen to meet an immediate need at a cost that could be made to fit this years budget.

This is, of course, no surprise. Many companies are so constrained by inadequate budgets that the IT staff has no choice but to be reactive. Then IT is further hobbled by corporate leadership more notable for its focus on quarterly reports than long-term efficiency. But thats a story weve all heard before. The question now is what to do about it.

Most vendors seem to have a way in which a company can start small and expand its storage network to support more users or greater demand. But these same vendors seem to require that if the expansion takes place, it must be with their products--and, in some cases, a specific line of their products. Start out with one vendor on your storage network and then try to add a solution from another vendor, and youre courting chaos.

Even worse, try to create a multivendor solution, and youre unlikely to find support anywhere. You can imagine what it would be like to explain to your chief financial officer (the one who needs a secretary to read his e-mail) why you chose different solutions. Hes not going to care that you did it to meet the efficiency or compliance demands he placed on you. Hes just going to be interested in the cost of the maintenance agreements.


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So heres the question: Shouldnt there be a way for storage network components to at least coexist peacefully without having to incur the expense of an integrator? Admittedly, the basic infrastructure of storage networks wont work together, but, even so, shouldnt the basic operation of the network be able to be integrated?

I know it sounds crazy, but the Ethernet community did this years ago. As long as they use the same physical infrastructure at some point, those networks can handle each others traffic transparently. Doing that with storage networks might even cause those networks to grow and be more widely adopted, and help prevent the Balkanized storage solutions that float around the edges of many of todays networks.

It wont make companies more likely to plan than they ever were, but it would acknowledge the inability to plan--and make the consequences less costly.

eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Wayne Rash is a longtime technology writer and journalist based in Washington, D.C. Hes the author of four books related to technology. He can be reached at


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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...