Whether you are replacing aging hardware or adding capacity, buying new storage hardware systems can be a stressful process. As IT pros, our spending always seems to receive a high degree of scrutiny, so it is important to make good purchasing decisions. Typically, this means purchasing hardware with the right specifications, and at the right price. However, there are at least five other qualities that you should consider while shopping.
The first of the five considerations when buying storage hardware systems is longevity. What is the hardware’s anticipated lifespan? I will be the first to admit that this one can be tough to predict, but most manufacturers will provide you with a duty cycle rating or a mean time between failure value if you ask for it.
Of course, predicting hardware longevity is about more than just looking at statistics that may or may not be accurate. It’s about choosing a product from a manufacturer that is known to produce good quality hardware and to stand behind its warranty.
A second consideration when shopping for hardware is supportability. My cardinal rule for production workloads is that you should never use any sort of hardware, software or hardware/software combination that is not officially supported.
I will be the first to admit that there are plenty of situations in which a piece of hardware is not listed on an operating system’s hardware compatibility list, but it works any way. The problem is that you may be denied technical support if you decide to hardware storage systems that are not officially supported. It sounds far-fetched, but I have actually had it happen.
As if that were not enough of a reason to stick to using only hardware that is officially supported, there is another reason that is perhaps even more compelling: You never want to have to explain to your boss that your mission-critical workloads are running on unsupported hardware storage systems. That’s a recipe for being fired.
Keep in mind that ensuring supportability is really just the first step. It is equally important to know exactly what kind of support is available for the hardware that you are thinking about buying. Are you going to have to purchase an annual support contract? Does the vendor charge a pay per incident fee? Is support available after hours?
Finally, does the vendor have a reputation for providing good-quality support and for resolving issues quickly? Believe me when I say that over the years I have had some very eye-opening support calls. Not every vendor’s tech support staffers are as knowledgeable as you might expect them to be.
A third consideration to take into account when shopping for storage hardware is scalability. Remember, storage hardware is a big investment, so you need to make sure that it is going to meet your needs both today and tomorrow.
Scalability is about more than just capacity planning. It’s about having a plan for what comes next. Imagine for a moment that you are purchasing a storage array. What happens when you outgrow that array? Can you replace the disks with larger ones? Can you daisy chain another appliance to the existing array? Or are you at a dead end? Scalability planning is all about knowing up front what options will be available to you when you eventually outgrow your new storage hardware.
The fourth consideration for new hardware purchases is compatibility. I already briefly mentioned compatibility in an earlier section when I talked about supportability. However, there are other issues that need to be considered. The thing about technology is that it is constantly evolving. That being the case, it is important to try to hedge your bets by taking steps to ensure that your new hardware will work with tomorrow’s technology.
Obviously, it is impossible to know for sure what the future holds, much less whether the hardware you buy today will work with the technology of tomorrow. Even so, you can improve your odds by avoiding proprietary connectors and protocols, and making sure that your hardware adheres to all of the relevant industry standards.
The fifth consideration is manageability. Once you deploy your new hardware, how are you going to manage it? Does it require proprietary management tools, or will it work with your existing tools? Is the hardware going to require your admins to get special training, or can they manage it in the same way that they manage similar hardware in your datacenter? In my experience, manageability is one of those things that is easy to overlook until it’s too late, so it is a good idea to plan for manageability from the beginning.
Each of these considerations on its own is important; considered together, they will help you make effective, informed hardware buying decisions.