Quora Answer: How to Choose A Storage Vendor?

[Note: This was a question posted to Quora. I thought I’d reproduce my answer here.]

All five major storage vendors carry all flash arrays today. How do these compare with solutions from newer players like Pure Storage, Violin Memory and Nimbus?

Wow. So much packed into one question!

What should go in here?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this (excellent) question. I can understand the frustration in trying to get a good, clear view of “which one is best,” and as much as I would really like to simply say that, “X vendor with Y solution is the one you should go for,” it’s just not possible.

Every solution has a “sweet spot.” That is, the data sheets and the marketing material will narrow the field of view to whatever that special circumstance is that they do best, and they put in “hero numbers” to validate their claims. Everyone does this.

The cheat here is that they assume you know what you need, and that you already have identified the scope of what you’re looking for so that, if they are in the running, you must have already made your decision criteria. No one, unfortunately, actually expects that people really do that, so it’s kind of the unfortunate reality in storage.

Here’s what you need to understand in order to get to the answer you seek:

Understand Your Environment

What applications are you planning on running? Are you concerned about performance, scale, or manageability? How many nodes are in your environment? What is your anticipated growth rate? Are you planning on using an array as primary or secondary storage? What are your RPOs and RTOs? What are your application IOPs requirements? What’s your oversubscription rate and fan-in ratio?

Know your environment

Do any of these questions leave you scratching your head? Then perhaps you may need to take a step back and get a bit more familiar with some of the basics. Do you know what the difference is between a SAN and a NAS is? What about an appliance versus an array? You’ve identified some manufacturers here that can fall into multiple categories, and even manufacturers (Violin) that have skirted bankruptcy. Company longevity has its merits, after all.

Do Your Research

It is extremely unwise to impulse-buy storage. Just because you read an interesting article on the Internet or an in-flight magazine does not mean that it’s the best solution for your needs.

Do Your Homework

Learn where reliable resources are that cover the technologies. I recommend StorageIO, Deep Storage, and Demartek as excellent starting points for places that publish good, reliable, and fair storage assessments. If you’re looking for vendor-neutral technology, I’ve put together an extensive bibliography of work that I’ve done over the past couple of years on how the various technologies work.

(Shameless plug – A couple of weeks ago I created a Patreon page where I can hopefully get some interest in developing even more content outside the scope of my day job, but there is more than enough content to learn the basics for free. You can see that most people prefer the free stuff… oh well. 😉 ).

Learn To Ask The Right Questions

Not all storage devices are created equal. Not all storage architectures are created equal. One may have 3M IOPS, one may have 95M IOPS. 95 > 3, right? Well, not if it fails, it isn’t.

You need to hold the vendors’ feet to the fire. You need to know:

  • High Availability strategy and capabilities
  • Backup and Restoration capabilities
  • Performance degradation during rebuilds
  • How many disks can fail before loss of data
  • What storage networks are supported?
  • What security safeguards are in place, options are available, etc.?
  • How does their storage API get integrated into virtualization or orchestration software (if at all)?

All of these – and many more – are critical in choosing solutions. Most customers do a “proof of concept” where they bring in various vendors’ boxes and beat the hell out of them. They pull plugs, cables, even drives. They hammer the box with I/O and then do all of the above.

Which one to pull?

Consider An Integrator

Integrators can connect the pieces for you

Many companies prefer to use a VAR (Value-Added Reseller) to do much of this heavy lifting. If you have a need for storage and don’t have the time to learn all of this stuff yourself, look into getting a Systems Integrator/VAR to manage it for you. Companies like WWT and Presidio come to me off the top of my head (because I’ve worked with them and know they have very, very good storage people).

Finally…

Quora is a great place to get opinions from people who have used some (probably not all) the solutions you list – and more.

Take it with a salt-lick, however. I’ve found that people tend to get very passionate about their solutions – both pro and con. Those emotions can get in the way of your attempt to assess whether or not a solution is right for you. You can never be sure if someone’s love or hate for a particular product is due to perfect match (or mismatch) of needs that may or may not be the exact same as yours (yeah, right), a great deal that they got on the equipment, or user proficiency (or error).

I know that this did not give you a direct side-by-side comparison for different products, but hopefully this will help you understand how to evaluate comparisons moving forward.

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