Are You Getting the Right Support for Your Data Storage?

By Daniel Slabodar for Beyond The Blocks - Friday, April 14, 2017

Data is your company’s lifeblood. Learn what's the  right support for it.

Of the various problems that IT organizations face, I can quickly identify two closely-related important issues. The first  is purchasing new equipment and being able to use it within a relatively short period of time. The second one is building up the knowledge and expertise needed to  manage the equipment, and having this information accessible at any given time, and especially, during a major crisis.

The impact of storage malfunction

As an organization, you may not think much about the level of support that you might need in the future when things are going smoothly. -But I can definitely name dozens of companies that would require immediate support where storage is concerned, when disaster strikes.

Anything can happen at any given time and data loss can occur for various reasons–equipment can break down, power outages can go on for hours, and a natural calamity could suddenly take place. Weekends, nights, and national holidays may also pose serious problems due to the lack of qualified and knowledgeable personnel during these times.

So what do you do at times when the single person of knowledge or technical expert  in your organization happens to be away, got fired, or is simply not available, and your data storage is not working as it should? Getting storage equipment back up to speed should be a top priority because every second the storage is down translates to a significant loss of opportunity and money for your company.

Challenges in storage administration

Managing storage and ensuring constant data availability can be challenging, and this is because most storage products are difficult to administer.

Storage administrators need to have both storage and networking knowledge, and I’m not talking about just the basic skills. It’s not simply accessing the GUI or CLI, or performing basic configuration tasks for the router or switch. I’m referring to specialized knowledge that is hard to pass on–even between engineers and system admins. A lot depends on the sophistication level of the product, and the networking and storage topology of the IT organization.

Enterprise-class support for enterprise class storage

When you need an external USB drive, you go to a general electronics store, get yourself a 2TB USB external hard drive, attach it to your MAC or PC, and there you go. In just a matter of minutes, you can move your files in and out. This type of storage product is very straightforward to use, and just in case it doesn’t work, you can easily go back to the store for a refund or replacement. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Buying enterprise-grade storage on the other hand, is an entirely different story. When your organization purchases a product that costs over $20K, what should you be entitled to? Should you expect exceptional support? Maybe a comprehensive solution that is still easy to use? Or perhaps, guaranteed quick resolution of technical issues?

The answer is: you need all of these and more!

If you’re not assured of getting this level of service from the supplier, then explore the option of finding a product with a lower level of sophistication. However, if you’re already using or even just seriously considering a particular company and/or storage product, make sure that you will be getting the following support services at the very least:

  • 24/7 access to  tech support staff, including phone support;
  • 24/7 online access to a team of engineers who can answer questions and get issues resolved as soon as possible; and
  • An online proactive monitoring solution.

The first two support services are the minimum you should expect, even though sometimes you could still get an unpleasant surprise when you call a helpdesk and don’t get answers fast enough (Ahem Ahem HPE).

Now for the last one, let’s first define how proactive monitoring actually works.

Proactive monitoring means that your storage vendor calls you at 5 AM to notify you that they are getting some strange readings on temperature, and that there’s something you need to check out over at the Data Center. Sure enough, you get up, get dressed as fast as possible, drive like crazy, and come in to see that the A/C is not working and the fail-over vents didn’t kick in. Nothing bad happened this time, all thanks to proactive monitoring. But you are sure that if you had learned of the problem a few more hours later, maybe there wouldn’t have been a data center to get to...

Lack of support = More work

Imagine yourself in this situation: you’re a system administrator of a large enterprise with more than 500 users of network and storage equipment. You’re spending the weekend with your family when you get a call from an employee who cannot access the company’s VPN. After some investigation, you find out that the storage holding your virtual machines is down. You take a look at  the virtual infrastructure and see that the storage is down and can no longer be accessed. The storage detected possible data inconsistency and as a method of precaution, it stopped serving I/O.

At this moment, you realize you have no choice but to work that weekend. There goes your Sunday.

You need to show up at the office, restore the data from backup, and bring the system back. It’s a serious headache. What you would usually do next is call your vendor and ask for help. But getting the right assistance at the right time is a challenge.

You go through a long list of contact numbers trying to find one that will not connect you to voicemail or an automatic answering machine. You also check out the support page in their website, scouring through numerous reviews and endless storage administration guides in hopes of finding a possible resolution to your problem. The search for answers could end with you making a high-frequency, high-pitched sound when you find out you don’t have Platinum support.

In other words, things could end up badly.

And in the meantime, the clock is ticking and your storage is still down. All because your vendor is unable to give you the kind of support you need. This would make you think twice, thrice, and many times over the next time you purchase storage infrastructure.

Quick solutions, high efficiency

But what IF–and I ask IF–there are support guys who are proactively monitoring your system at the background 24/7? What if they can anticipate a potential system outage so you can be more prepared for the next major downtime? This would certainly change things for the better.

For one, your weekend family time won’t have to be interrupted by work duties such as replacing hard drives or power supply units, and recovering data. Plus, you can actually get ready for any upcoming downtime,  planning quick solutions for getting the system back up all figured out.

Now you may ask: Is this possible? To which I answer: YES, it can be done.

You can make such a scenario possible by making sure of two things the next time you buy data storage equipment. One, the storage should be simple enough to configure, administer, and use; and two, the tech support offered should be comprehensive. And by comprehensive, I mean the works: 24/7 monitoring of your system, availability of fast phone support, and if necessary, access to a technical engineer who can efficiently resolve your problem.

Do you know of a company that does all that?

Daniel Slabodar

Written by Daniel Slabodar

15 years of professional experience in testing software, and hardware products. Specialize in testing Linux, Unix OS infrastructure and kernel drivers, covering networking, storage and security products. Hands-on experience with embedded systems (Linux, VxWorks), familiarity with versatile networking setups in addition to deep understanding of distributed network and storage systems.

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