Make sure your IT house is in order before making purchasing decisions

The idea that cheapest is best has been with us for a long time. And for almost as long, there has been a realization that cheaper goods and services often come up short when it comes to providing lasting value.

Most of us look at an opportunity to reduce operational expenses as a chance to make day-to-day storage management more efficient. Sometimes however, what appears to be a chance to build in efficiencies is not at all what it seems to be.

For instance, several companies now offer consolidated management consoles as a way to centralize storage management. In fact, these offer good potential for streamlining management by consolidating several different management tools within a single display. Using such a console we can, for example, manage storage from Dot Hill, EMC, and IBM from a single point.

Potential value is not the same as real value, however. We must never forget that storage management is frequently as much a qualitative issue as it is quantitative. Simply throwing new hardware at a problem isn't a cure-all; neither is just the act of adding software.

To be more than superficially useful, new products must not merely manage; they must manage well. Ask yourself how useful can it be to centralize the management of poorly thought-out management policies? Consolidating poor management still leaves you with ... poor management.

Consider one important step before you invest in any more management software. Step back, take a brief timeout, and reassess your storage management policies.

These days, policies are for the most part driven by the service-level agreements (SLA) to which you are answerable. A formal approach to defining these policies - and the strategy on which they are based - will offer you an objective way to judge the usefulness of new software tools.

After that, bring in software that conforms to the best practices you have defined for your site. Purchasing decisions can become answers to the question "will this help me to respond more effectively to my SLAs?"

How curious that many sites today rarely undertake this opportunity for self-examination before a purchase is made. Planning like this might go a long way to helping your site make sure the IT doesn't hit the fan.

Mike Karp is senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, focusing on storage, storage management and the methodology that brings these issues into the marketplace. He has spent more than 20 years in storage, systems management and telecommunications. Mike can be reached via e-mail.

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