Truth, Lies and Software Licensing.
Nothing get’s vendors more fired up then calling their baby ugly, especially if their baby is the mainstay of their product. Case in point, there was a recent discussion around the importance, or lack thereof, in regards to automated tiered storage (A-T-S). Jon Toigo jumped into the mix last week with some pretty good points. Jon mentioned that he received positioning statements from a few vendors and twitter was going crazy with comments from all sorts of people weighing in on the subject. Pete Selin over on his blog jumped into it with John Dias of Compellent. So, to say that enough people have voiced their opinion on how, where and when “automated tiered storage” should happen, is an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, StorageTexan is not immune to piling on, but I’m going to refrain. Well, I’m going to try really hard to refrain 🙂
If we take a step back and look at this as just another feature in a storage array we then need to ask “what’s the value” of that feature? In other words, why does a customer choose to go that route? Most of the time features like this are positioned to reduce some sort of costs. Thin Provisioning is positioned to allow you to under purchase storage, and then as you need it purchase the storage later at a reduced cost. The theory is disk drive prices are always going down. In the case of A-T-S it’s to reduce the costs of “Tier 1” storage. Why spend money on storing your stale data on 15k RPM drives when you can move less accessed data down to 10k, or even 7.5k RPM spinning “rust” (shout out to Toigo). At least that’s how I’m seeing this positioned in accounts. Again on paper both of these 2 solutions make perfect sense. If all things were equal, it is cheaper to purchase drives down the road (when prices drop) or purchase 7.5k over 15k disk drives. The great equalizer is the cost to license these features. Not just the costs, but software maintenance that goes along with them as well. It would be easy to debate these features on their cost savings model if they would just charge you a onetime fee for this feature. Unfortunately in most cases it’s a little more difficult. Typically these types of features are licensed by capacity (Per TB charge), or in other case it’s licensed by disk drives or BOTH :). So, when you add more capacity or more spindles, you licensed those drives or capacity for those features. You are always hit with a moving target. When weighing the pros and cons it’s really important that you don’t get focused (by the vendor) in only one direction. In the Thin Provisioning example, the cost savings of not having to purchase more storage then you need might be outweighed by the fact that the license isn’t free, or that you have the potential of getting locked into that vendor for all future storage purchases. In the case of A-T-S, not having to purchase 15k drives is offset by the software licenses needed to support that feature. You might find that running everything in Tier 1 (or even Tier 2) vs. the licensing costs (Maintenance included)of automated tiered storage is a wash.
My advice, do your homework. As I’ve discussed in prior blogs, don’t focus on the easy stuff. Cost per RAW TB is not a good way to measure value. Fully understanding vendor’s storage utilization best practice is important as well. Understanding how their features are licensed and the software maintenance associated with those features are just as important. I always like to ask my prospects, when comparing vendors, to not just get the upfront storage purchase price, but also ask for a quote to add 20% more capacity (spindles, bays, licenses and maintenance). This isn’t the perfect way to keep vendors honest, but it does give you a good indication of what sort of cost savings you may, or may not see in future purchases. Lest any vendor try to low ball on the initial purchase and then jack up the costs on the next one!! Xiotech has a whitepaper called “Strategies for Measuring and Optimizing the Value of Your Storage Investments” that goes into some other thoughts on measuring the value of your storage purchase. It’s worth a look.
Again, at the end of the day, do your homework and ask a lot of questions.