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Beware of square-peg salesmen with hammers

This article was originally published on Technology.Info.
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Open any IT magazine, read a technology news website, or subscribe to any data storage mailing list and, before long, you’ll probably be fed up to the back teeth with headlines that make such bold statements as 'How to use SSDs in your business' or 'Why hard disk drives are dead'. Whilst most tech-savvy readers will have the sense to take over-dramatised headlines with a pinch of salt, there are many still falling for the hype.

All marketing noise aside, there’s a concerning trend emerging here. That’s the over-use of vendors flogging storage components (be it in the form of flash, SSDs, hard drives or cardboard boxes), rather than selling business solutions. “Customers don’t buy storage, they buy solutions,” is an old clichéd saying amongst sales teams, however, people in the storage industry seem to have suddenly forgotten this.

Looking back at some customer projects that I’ve recently been involved in, the opening lines from IT departments have included phrases such as:

  • Our SAP system is running slow and we think the storage layer might be an issue
  • Our system performance drops when we’re around 85 per cent full
  • We spend way too much operational time escorting service engineers in the building

With all of these, the customer was leading with a business challenge that may require differing toolsets to solve the underlying technical issue. Would running in to their building shouting, “Hey, swap all your HDDs for SSDs,” solve their problems? Whilst there’s always a chance someone could get lucky, they may well find that this is just a short-term solution, that they’ve shifted the bottleneck elsewhere in the stack, or even that they’ve just dramatically increased the risk of system failure.
What we’re seeing is a dramatic increase in the number of single-technology vendors, particularly all-flash-array sellers trying to argue that their technology is the only tool for the job and therefore that flash is the saviour of all storage woes. To coin a commonly used analogy, this is a great example of a salesman that only sells square pegs trying to convince you that his product is a perfect fit for a round hole (and he’ll give you a free hammer if you buy them). Of course, the answer is to buy the right-shaped peg for the appropriate hole, but of course he’ll have a go at convincing you that the hammer option is much simpler and will save you time.
Flash is undoubtedly a great innovation for the storage industry, however it’s a tool, rather than a solution. The better way to look at all these new storage approaches is to first look at the challenges your organisation faces and then, when it comes to building out a solution, see what toolsets can help you solve those challenges in the most efficient manner.
I doubt that the most efficient approach will involve a hammer.
Image credit: Flickr (casa.pokayoke)