A Storage Software User’s Song: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

How many pieces does it take to build a storage management solution?

Fans of the pop band The Clash may recall the classic question posed in the opening lyric of the song of the same name: “Should I stay or should I go?” The singer wails that the object of his ardor is teasing, teasing, teasing, and has him on his knees. He would gladly go away if she would just let him know if he should stay or he should go.

Call it the storage management software user’s dilemma, and it is currently getting so common that it risks being overplayed. One reader who has written in response to our recent series on trends in the storage management software market is clearly frustrated. He asked not to be named in this column, but gave his permission for his e-mail to be reprinted here. By way of verifying his bona fides, we will offer that “Joe” is a MCSA, MCSE, CCNA, CCA, Security+ certified Network Security Analyst working for a local government organization in the Midwest.

Joe writes:

“A couple of years back, when McAfee announced that it was buying Entercept, I was highly concerned that the product would suffer, and that the quality of the support would go down. I hate when I'm right.

“Once the acquisition was complete, it was a complete nightmare trying to get through to support. When it was just ‘plain old’ Entercept, I had direct phone numbers to the engineers. After McAfee bought them I had to dial the 10-digit number and then push 1, then push 4, then 7, etc., etc., etc. Then I'd end up in the support queue, and then I'd end up having to leave a voice-mail that MIGHT get returned within a day or two.

“Then came the ultimate last straw. The first post-acquisition agent update blue-screened every server I had it installed on, during a week when I was out of town in a class. My mail server looked like a yo-yo the way it went up and down, up and down. Within a day of my return I had convinced the company owner that it was time to put Entercept out to pasture, and within two weeks I had Cisco Security Agent running in its place.

“So what do I think of Symantec, a company I hold in no higher regard now than I held McAfee back then (or still), merging with VERITAS, a company who in my humble opinion was the only company that could adequately back up an SMB Windows environment? I think it's time to look for a new backup solution. Because frankly (in my humble opinion again), Symantec screws up everything they touch, so it's only a matter of time before VERITAS joins Entercept out in that pasture of has-been software.”

Joe’s concerns about post-sales service have been echoed by many readers of this column—not only with respect to the post-Symantec/VERITAS merger handling of their preferred VERITAS products, but also with respect to storage management products generally. One Southern telecommunications company is keeping this column apprised of its findings with respect to enterprise storage-management products.

A few months ago, the company reported that they had purchased EMC’s ECC storage management product as part of a “one-stop-shop” deal with reps from Hopkinton, MA. They discovered to their chagrin that ECC “had more holes in it than Swiss cheese” and that “a lot of functions promised in the brochure simply had not yet been developed or delivered in the software.” Should they wait for the vendor to fill in its potholes, or should they blow, per The Clash lyric?

Being a Southern Boy myself, I knew that their first inclination would be to sit in their rocking chair on the front porch with a shotgun in their lap just a’waitin’ for that EMC sales rep to come a’callin’ again. But, their second thought would be to evaluate alternatives. They put out the word to AppIQ, Computer Associates, VERITAS, and a few others and began performing evaluations of each product within their infrastructure.

AppIQ was found to have none of the problems they observed with ECC.. Instead, the product had an entirely different set of functional holes that made it equally undesirable for use in their environment. CA worked on building the perfect demonstration, but when they gathered everyone in the conference room to show off their results, the program abended. VERITAS only had pieces of functionality that fit their needs, but Richard, the test guy for the Fortune 500 company, put in parentheses: “We will use them for some replication (though I’d rather not).” AtThey also said that they might be using the Creek Path Suite to plug up some of the leaks in ECC.

At last check, they were looking to host IBM at their bake-off to see whether Big Blue had anything the other guys lacked. However, their expectations were “settin’ purty low.” In a telling remark, Richard reported, “All the ones we have tested do things all others do not. But no one has outclassed the other. They all had trouble installing. It’s like, if we could take pieces of each company’s software—the pieces that worked—and combine them together, we’d have a great solution. ”

Unfortunately, that isn’t how storage management software is currently designed. To quote The Clash again, “You don’t even know which clothes fit me.” One could argue that the ISVs, for all their claims of superior engineering and hardware agnosticism in contrast to hardware companies entering the software space, still have not designed their wares for modular deployment so consumers can pick and choose best-of-breed components from different vendors to roll their own solution.

One possible exception is CommVault, with whose marketing and development folks I had an update briefing this week. In the latest generation of their storage management suite, QiNetix, the company says it has focused on modularizing its key application function sets for mix-and-match acquisition by consumers. They are on the right track, and if other vendors follow suit, there might actually be some light at the end of this murky tunnel.

We will be testing CommVault QiNetix in our test labs shortly. I’ll be happy to tell you what we find if you would share your views and findings in storage management software with me. Write to jtoigo@intnet.net

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.