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Crowd-sourced Metrics and Automated Support Should Be Key Features In Your Next Storage Array – It’s Good For The Business

Crowd-sourced Metrics and Automated Support Should Be Key Features In Your Next Storage Array – It’s Good For The Business

Most of today’s enterprise arrays – particularly those that are shipping from relatively young companies such as Nimble Storage and Tegile – have built-in comprehensive phone home capabilities. What I mean by that is this: on a regular basis, these arrays send to the corporate mother ship – the storage array vendor – a plethora of statistics around storage environment usage, performance, and health characteristics. In many cases, such systems are sending hundreds or thousands of data points to centralized vendor databases on an ongoing basis. The title of this post calls this “crowd-sourced” but in reality, it’s not quite that, but it does share the spirit of improvement by cooperation that makes many crowd-sourced services work.

At first glance, these kinds of systems might appear to be ways to just streamline the support experience, but their use has far more benefits.

Customer Support and Proactive Issue Correction

Yes – these systems are absolutely used to make the customer support experience far better than the traditional support methodology that usually goes something like this eight step process:

  1. Customer (or worse, an end user) notices a problem
  2. Customer determines that the storage array has a problem or is running slowly
  3. Customer calls vendor and provides them with case details
  4. Customer hangs up and waits for a call back
  5. Vendor calls back and requests log files to be sent and tells customer they will call back after analysis
  6. Customer sends log files to vendor
  7. Vendor analyzes log files
  8. Vendor calls back to help customer correct whatever issue was being experienced

What if, instead, the support process looked like this for the majority of issues?

  1. Vendor fixes problem or vendor notifies customer that storage capacity is running low and needs to be upgraded.

With automated support systems that report stats back to the vendor on a regular basis, this one step process is actually achievable. Of course, there will remain instances in which the first support paradigm still needs to be followed, but these can become the exception rather than the norm. When a vendor sees a problem even before the customer and can easily fix the problem, the customer has the ability to focus their efforts very differently… and in a good way.

This support improvement goes beyond just the vendor, though. It can be a critical enabler when it comes to improving the relationship between a VAR and a customer, as long as that VAR is able to access the statistics.

Issue Avoidance

Support is great, but it’s a reactive service. Support happens when some event takes place that requires the support call. What if whatever issue that might result in a support call can actually be avoided? When an array vendor has the ability to match your array’s performance, health, and application characteristics against thousands of other customers, there are analytics opportunities that make issue avoidance a reality. As customers grow, they can be proactively notified about things like unacceptable cache miss ratios, which would imply that flash or cache storage needs to be increased. These systems can also begin to understand individual application performance characteristics in order to improve the experience for other customers that might be likely to encounter similar issues.

Product Development

Just as important, with billions of actionable data points at their disposal, vendors can use their massive customer-provided data statistics as a part of their ongoing product development plans. For example, for a hybrid vendor, are customer environments beginning to demonstrate that the time is right to introduce an all-flash system? While that’s a very general example, it does demonstrate how data can be used for product development.

Or, for example, is the vendor seeing particular challenges for organizations running 2,500 Exchange mailboxes? They can take product development steps to address such challenges and further improve the ability to address the market they serve.

The CIO Picture

I don’t want to hire storage admins. I really don’t. As people, I really like them, but they’re expensive and they’re overhead in an environment that really wants more business focus. I want to hire more business analysts with those funds instead as they can be revenue enablers. The more storage functionality that I can offload to a vendor, the better. Let my internal technology-focused people do other things.

If the vendor can proactively address my storage issues before I even know they exist, all the better. Obviously, there’s a lot more to the story than just improving the support experience and there will need to be at least some level of storage knowledge in-house, but not needing a dedicated storage person or team can go a long way toward IT becoming more business-focused.

Comments

  1. Scott, it’s good to see someone seeing the advantages of automated telemetry but there’s still a great deal of fundamental hardware issues that occur on site, especially with vendors still using consumer grade SATA HDD and MLC SSDs out there.

    You’re right, the vendor should be able to fix the problem but with margin pressures, way too many storage vendors are compromising and using cheaper components which require hardware intervention.

    More vendors need to build “self healing” capabilities into their arrays. Right now there’s only a very small number doing this and certainly not the ones you’ve name-checked. It is possible for arrays to sort themselves out and then dial back to the mothership to inform both the vendor and customer what’s happned but it’s rare.

    As you said, more and more businesses don’t want the overhead of dedicated storage admins and that includes walking an engineer through the data center and taking the unnecessary risk of hardware intervention.

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