How to Shop for a SAN

Courtesy of Byte and Switch Buying a SAN is rarely easy or cheap, but University of Pennsylvania IT senior director Donna Manley gave an Ivy Leaguer's take on making it shorter and less painful financially. Manley says her university started the internal process of planning for a SAN in September 2005, purchased the SAN Dec. 31, and had it installed in June in what she termed an "aggressive" timeframe. "Implementing a SAN is not a small time or small money investment," says Manley, who worked in banking for most of her career. "It's an interesting process for me, coming from the corporate side to the non-profit sector." Despite any financial constraints imposed by the university, Manley and her team decided to stay out of the discount bin. "You have to decide, are you going to shop at Nordstrom, or are you going to shop at Wal-Mart," she says. "We made a conscious choice to go with the top three vendors." She didn't name the vendors, but did let slip that one was IBM. She also offered some tips in her SNW session that could help any organization work with any storage vendor. "You're holding the keys, but it's all during the negotiation process." Some of Manley's tips: Know how much you want to spend –- but don't tell the vendor. "Keep it intraorganizational. Don't lay any cards on the table until negotiations begin." Spend money to make money. "Recoup costs by charging for this [storage] service." For instance, tie your SAN purchase into your organization's disaster recovery. This can help get extra money for the project, and you can sell DR services once it is implemented. Get bean counters involved early. "Purchasing usually comes in last. We got them in at the beginning. This way they can understand the technology, and can offer valuable feedback." Have a vendor point-person. "We had one contact that took all vendor calls. Once vendors know you're in play to buy a SAN, your phone rings off the hook. It saves you a lot of time if you have one contact. Also, there's one consistent message." Know your vendors' business as well as their technology. It's no secret vendors will discount late in a quarter, especially at the end of the fiscal year. But not all vendors' quarters or fiscal years end at the same time. "That's the reason we bought that SAN on the 31st of December," says Manley, noting that was her vendor's end of year. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. "There's a price in the RFP document. That's just a tease as far as I'm concerned. Everything's up for negotiation. That's actually my favorite part in a sick kind of way." Push the right levers. "There are levers you can use to reduce a price." For example, ask the vendor to throw in training or reduce software maintenance, or perhaps a multiyear maintenance deal will lower prices. Also, ask for credits for older equipment you can trade in. And negotiate future buys while you're making this deal. "I know I'm going to add storage in three years -- what kind of discount are you going to give me on that? That goes into the contract now." Find strength in numbers. "We negotiated with two vendors," Manley says, noting this helps get the best technology as well as price. "We had virtualization in the RFP. One already had virtualization in place. I won't name the vendor, but the product was SVC. [Editor's note: That would be IBM's SAN Volume Controller.] The other said it was in R&D, going to be here soon. [Editor again: We'll take a wild guess that was EMC's Invista.] How quickly did we want that in place?" Extend the relationship. Don't end them when the contract is signed. "Managing a vendor is not a passive process. We meet with our vendor monthly. I put that in the contract. For those meetings, they need a list of problems we've had." Dave Raffo is senior editor of Byte and Switch.