A year ago, Laurence Whittaker of Hudson's Bay Company sat in the audience at an End User Town Hall Meeting at Storage Networking World.
Users voiced their concerns and frustrations over implementing storage technologies in their organizations. The technologies themselves were not the main concern; rather, users sought help with issues such as communicating needs and business issues to senior management, and getting company constituencies to understand the changes that would occur when policy-based methods were introduced.
Whittaker, newly elected vice chair of the Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA) End User Council(EUC), saw an opportunity for the EUC to help IT managers identify the kinds of issues they were facing, and collaborate as peers to prioritize, educate management, and be educated on meeting these challenges.
Whitaker and EUC chair Rick Bauer of The Hill School led the charge, incorporating Town Hall meeting feedback into a comprehensive survey of their membership. Titled the "Top Ten Pain Points Survey," it first collected demographic statistics and information on a company's progress in adopting storage networking technology. The second part of the survey asked respondents for their opinions on issues, challenges and needs in their storage and networking environments. Computerworld extended the reach of the survey with an online version targeted at Storage Networking World Spring 2004 attendees.
Respondents were spread over a wide variety of industries, including financial, government, media/entertainment, and education. Most were IT managers or executive staff, with a number dedicated to storage management. Company revenue ranged from less than $1 million to more than $10 billion, with the majority between $1 million and $100 million.
The Top Ten Pain Points
The survey findings were somewhat expected, but also enlightening and a bit troubling. Bauer was impressed by how forthcoming users were in "telling the world what keeps us up at night." Both the EUC membership and SNW attendees' willingness to share, he felt, "laid a tremendous foundation to communicate our issues to storage and networking manufacturers and industry associations."
The survey found that end users' most significant pain points continue to revolve around basic storage management issues. Storage costs too much to purchase, too much to run and is too hard to manage. The most identified storage challenge was managing growth and meeting capacity needs, while the most important corporate issue to be addressed was cost containment.
Indeed, cost was identified as the top user pain point. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they had delayed storage network purchases because of cost. Hindered by cost, a number of respondents were starting small and attempting to grow one or more storage area networks, all while managing business growth and meeting capacity needs (Pain Point #2). Cost and growth management issues were resulting in multiple SAN islands, multiple management domains and numerous tool sets, leading to difficulty in managing storage assets and infrastructure (Pain Point #3), a lack of integrated and interoperable solutions (Pain Point #4), and an increasingly complex storage infrastructure (Pain Point #5).
Rounding out the top ten pain points were: poor service, support, and ill-informed or poorly educated marketing channels; lack of desired functions and features; finding the right solutions and justifying expenditures; undelivered promises; and lack of robust automation for provisioning.
The EUC concluded that the root of many of these points was a fundamental lack of understanding of how to architect, provision and scale storage networking technology solutions.
Whittaker, now chair of the EUC, saw the results as a call to action to the storage networking community to address the most significant pain points.
Three recommendations were put forth: 1) simplify the technology with architectural standards to help reduce the cost and complexity and address negative perceptions regarding SANs; 2) accelerate education and certification of storage administrators, while simultaneously accelerating the adoption of standards and best practices, and 3) identify and promote common best practices that can be broadly applied to multiple business applications.
Alleviating the Pain
SNIA groups were among the first to answer the call with initatives and programs to alleviate the pain.
SNIA's Storage Management Forum(SMF) incorporated pain point feedback and engaged IT end user participation in establishing requirements for the Storage Management Initiative Standard (SMI-S). SMF chair Ray Dunn said the current version of SMI-S (v. 1.0.2) "delivers a reliable interface allowing storage management systems to identify, classify, monitor and control physical and logical storage resources."
According to Dunn, more than 100 storage products conform to SMIS-S v. 1.0.2. Now for the first time, he said, "end users and integrators can ask for vendor products that conform to a functionally rich, open, secure and extensible storage management interface standard."
SNIA's Education Continuumfocused on expanding educational opportunities and options available to end users and the IT industry. New and expanded technical certification and qualification courses have been developed to help IT professionals, product managers and developers to better expand and deploy storage products through improved understanding of practices, technologies and standards.
Randy Kerns, senior partner at the Evaluator Group, said the Education Continuum offers a way for end users to make more informed purchasing decisions and be better equipped to get the most out of their storage infrastructure.
SNIA's Data Management Forum (DMF) is focusing on solutions to pain points that revolve around the difficulty of matching technology capabilities to prioritized business requirements of an organization. DMF work includes developing business practices and policies that can be practiced by general management and used to give clear guidance to the IT professionals that must support the business objectives, and giving the IT professionals the tools, methodologies and standards that enable them to meet stated business needs. Survey feedback has been used to craft an information lifecycle management (ILM) initiative that defines a unifying vision of what ILM will become and its impact on the data center. DMF chair Sheila Childs expects these efforts to make the DMF more "customer-centric and better connected to our partnership with the EUC and the information technology community."New Challenges
EUC discussions with their constituencies and attendees at October's Storage Networking World conference found that their first survey had an impact: the pain points were real, and the call to action points rang true.
Survey respondents' requests for simpler and more effective SAN management, improved storage management capability, reliability and availability, and business continuity continue to rank at the top of IT managers' wish list. The old ways of CIO/IT departments making decisions in isolation have been set aside in a movement to understand the total lifecycle of hardware and software investments throughout the organization, along with a renewed focus on total cost of ownership (TCO). Return on investment (ROI) needed to be tied to reducing TCO or linked to providing new and improved services with business-related benefits.
IT managers spoke of decision makers changing functions in their organizations and new titles being added to the mix. They emphasized the shortage of qualified or certified storage networking professionals in their organizations. Better tools and methods to manage personnel and projects, and metrics to report management success to corporate executives, were called for regardless of the size of the organization.
Interoperability issues, cited in Pain Points 3, 4 and 5, were a common complaint. More diagnostic and debug tools for SANs were requested.
These user issues and concerns have been captured into a second survey for EUC members and the IT professional community titled, "Storage Management: Where Are We Now?" According to Norman Owens, EUC governing board member and survey committee chair, "We're expanding on the Top Ten Pain Points survey and focusing more directly on challenges users said gave them the biggest headaches." These challenges include expansion and consolidation in corporate operations; data growth and complexity; faster, more intelligent networks; and technical innovations in user interfaces and storage. Owens also expects the survey to identify challenges that are expected to emerge in 2005. The survey will be online by the Spring Storage Networking World conference in April 2005. More information on EUC surveys is available at http://advisorygroups.SNIA.org.
Are you a storage end user professional? Do you agree with the list of top ten pain points? Send us your feedbackand let us know what keeps you up at night, and what you're doing about it!