What you need most when it comes to storage management depends on your site, your staffing, and the service levels and types of support our users demand. What you can actually buy depends, more than anything else, on your budget.
Efficiently mapping storage buys to storage needs is clearly a first priority. Most IT purchases are the result of several sets of accommodations, the most important of which is this balancing act between what you need and what you can afford.
It follows then that a good early step in efficient IT investment is a rational buying process. For me it makes sense to work from lists, not only because I can check things off and feel at least a minor sense of accomplishment but because, even on days when my brain has turned to mush, they are good reminders of what I am supposed to be doing. When it comes to buying storage resource management (SRM) software for example, they can be particularly useful. One possible approach might be to line up all the storage needs in one column, and then try to match those requirements with products that can address the needs without being budget busters.
Another way might be to make a list of SRM categories. Such a list might have any number of educational side benefits. For example, if in the course of listing the categories you find you are unsure about the meaning of a term, this is a good opportunity to do a bit of research. Before the vendors start coming through the doors.
It makes good sense to break out the "needs" or "categories" column as rationally as possible of course. When it comes SRM, here is one way to do a categorization.
Generally speaking there are about a dozen categories of functionality in SRM. A complete SRM answer should include solutions for each of the following: discovery, topology mapping, reporting, event management, path management, dependency analysis, capacity management, organizational knowledge, performance management, security management, trend analysis, and automation. A more granular list would include support for specific applications and business needs (such as chargeback capability).
A hint: when you do a categories-based list, it makes good sense to use a very wide sheet of paper. Why? Because even though you have identified the various SRM categories, it is realistic to expect that every item on the list will be defined somewhat differently by each vendor you talk to. That is all right of course, but a nice wide list, with a column for each vendor's definition of each category, is likely to provide a handy high-level understanding of whom you should spend the most time with. Vendors are entitled to define things any way they want, but using this list as a reference point will help make sure that the solutions they offer address your needs as you have defined them.
If you only need - or can only afford - a solution for specific problems, a prioritized list ought to be a good indicator of what you need now and what can be saved for next year's Christmas wish list. A list broken out this way will offer good guidance, particularly if your resources are limited but you suspect your needs are not.
This is a simple tool, and obviously this has been a very simplistic representation of the buying process - a more accurate model would of course take into account interoperability, pre-existing relationships with vendors, and the political issues that frequently accompany any large purchase. But building this small list as a front end to your evaluation exercise costs nothing, provides a near-effortless correlation point for ideas and information and, each time you refer to it, will certainly help maintain your focus.
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.