The storage maintenance conundrum

Any manager can tell you that whenever we acquire asset - be it storage hardware, software or humanware - the initial purchase price is just the beginning. People require training, and have certain expectations regarding what should happen at the end of each pay period. Hardware and software require maintenance in the form of upgrades, patches and so forth. And so it goes on.

Many organizations contract with third parties to provide specialized staff training, but how many of us seriously consider going to third parties for our storage hardware and software maintenance? Anyone who hasn't considered this may be absorbing more cost for maintenance than is really justified.

How, you might ask, can a third party supplier offer you maintenance at a price that competes with what the product vendor charges? The vendors already know the answer to this: maintenance is a very high margin business for them, so any third party that can either live with lower margins or has a more streamlined operation can offer you pricing that may well be worth a second and even a third look.

What should you be on the lookout for when someone comes in and offers an opportunity to supplant your vendor-supplied support mechanism with one of their own? Look for an opportunity to make a good business decision. The first step of course is to understand your own costs. All of them.

Consider where your greatest storage maintenance-related costs are at present (big hint: if you are a large shop and have maintenance contracts with a number of vendors, stop by the purchasing and accounting departments and find two things - how many maintenance contracts exist, and how much time the bean counters estimate is being spent in renegotiating and managing those multiple contracts).

Managing multiple contracts can be both time-consuming and downright annoying. But it has to be done. Unfortunately, not only can this process take up too much time, it can also take up the wrong time.

Consider this: it would be pretty good if you have multiple contracts that all fall due on the anniversary of a product purchase. Vendors know that most purchasing takes place during the last few weeks of a quarter. This phenomenon is often referred to in sales meetings as the "hockey stick", because the curve this produces on sales charts resembles ... a hockey stick. So don't be surprised if you find that rather than tending to business at a quarter's end, you are signing contracts instead.

You don't have to be a manager of course to know that this is only the second most painful point about having multiple maintenance contracts. Next time, the real pain of storage maintenance.

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