Storage users value interoperability. That was among the highlights of the third annual survey by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) End User Council (EUC). The results were released Wednesday at the Storage Networking World (SNW) conference in San Diego.
The survey, "Storage Interoperability: So What's the Problem," looks at issues such as end users' biggest worries, storage barriers to new technology, interoperability and storage product testing concerns over the past year.
A major focus of the survey dealt with the struggle by users to identify interoperability issues in multivendor storage environments. According to the EUC, 62 percent of survey respondents said they would pay more for an interoperable solution -- an average of 7.6 percent more -- while 23 percent would avoid a product that did not offer interoperability. Another 10 percent were unsure what they would do, and 5 percent didn't care, according to Norman Owens, a member of the EUC governing board.
With interloperability in mind, Vincent Franceschini, chairman of the SNIA board of directors, warned users that they might wind up with multiple vendors in their IT environments as the result of efforts to save money. But any cost advantages could be quickly negated by integration and management woes, he said.
In the future, Franceschini said that the San Francisco-based SNIA may develop best practices in the areas of storage resource management to help guide storage managers and storage administrators through multivendor deployments.
The EUC survey also asked storage users what keeps them up at night, who requires interoperability and what interoperability is worth to them. Users were also asked about the time and cost involved in installing and maintaining components, how often their hardware and storage-area networks (SAN) are upgraded and whether those upgrades successfully solved a problem.
The issue of upgrades was a major point of contention for many attendees at SNW this week. In fact, according to the report, end users worry more about upgrades than integrating new hardware. The survey showed that only half of vendor-recommended fixes correctly solve a problem. And fully a quarter of respondents said that fixes actually make a problem worse.
"Upgrades are challenging if they don't go the way they're planned," said Dot Brunette, network and storage manager at Meijer. "I've seen some that should have had no problem at all, a real no-brainer, and they've been awful. Now, there's more group involvement with upgrades than ever before. You have to engage the VOIP folks, storage, systems, the network. ... It's just a lot more complex than it was 10 to 15 years ago."
While noting that capacity, planning and growth are bigger concerns for him than upgrades, Marcellus Tabor, storage architect a Yahoo, said that storage vendors sometimes offer upgrades to fix a problem that might not actually need such a drastic step.
"A lot of [vendor] recommendations are from a lack of troubleshooting. [Vendors] are lazy with technology, so the fixes are not often accurate," said Tabor. "A fix will say, 'Just upgrade to v7.05,' but maybe they need to analyze deeper because that's not the most practical way for us just to upgrade."
Tabor also noted interoperability can be a deterrent, saying that "it would be nice if Cisco and Brocade could bury the hatchet and work together," and that he would like to see Network Appliance Inc. be better with integration. "They have a ways to go," he said.
Among the barriers to storage cited in the EUC survey were interoperability and integration, heavy reliance on vendor road maps, support between operating system and hardware vendors, significant certification and testing, and vendor/product consolidation. In terms of testing, 30 percent of respondents said that testing occurs if time permits; only 17 percent always test.
Reliance on a vendor road map was a nonissue for Blake Golliher, storage architect at Facebook, which runs a social networking site. Galliher said users should push vendors to improve their products to better meet users' specific needs.
"I'm not new at this," said Golliher. "You know going in what to expect from a vendor. It's a guideline and something you have to deal with. You can influence a vendor road map if you can convince them you'll buy a lot of their storage if they put this feature in [their product]. They'll do it if other users [follow suit]."
Upgrades however, can be a different matter. "Invariably, the flawless, smoothless upgrades users wouldn't notice they do notice, even if it's an online upgrade. You just can't take [a system] down," he said. "I've been burned before."
One key concern for some of those at SNW dealt with staffing problems. A common thread for many users was the dearth of qualified storage job candidates to help drive their department and business.
"Right now, one of my biggest problems is in terms of people who know storage -- I'm forced to look at contractors because I just can't find them," said Brunette, who questioned whether outsourcing may be leading many to abandon potential jobs in IT. "The fact I can't find someone in storage amazes me."