Storage vendor Cold War - part 1

Thanks to Snig for allowing me some blog space on his great blog site. Something I read recently on another blog got me thinking about some stuff in the storage world that used to annoy me, and to some extent still does.

It was one of Tony Asaro's blogs titled "More Than Boxes" ( where half way down the blog he talks about how documentation usually stinks. Well I must admit to having had the same thoughts on more than one occasion.

A little bit of background first. I don’t think I’m much different to most "young" people in IT these days... I started out fiddling with PCs, then got my first real job where I basically reset passwords and changed DLT tapes in between getting the coffee in for the more senior team members. Then I progressed slowly up the food chain and got my hands on other cooler stuff like Linux/UNIX and some IP networking and then eventually the wondrous world of storage networking. On a side note, although I refer to the stuff I do now as "cooler" than changing backup tapes and getting in the coffees, there are too many times where I would happily go back to the good old days of changing tapes and thinking that computers where great Wink Unfortunately it doesn’t pay enough and I now have responsibilities such as a family etc... oh well!

Anyway I’m digressing a little so back to making my point. Back when I was learning Windows, Unix and IP networking I was aided by the mountains of good technical resources available and often basked in the sheer amount of information that was freely available in the public domain. I remember being more and more impressed with company websites, as they matured along with the internet, that provided technical articles for bug fixes and optimizations etc. At times I even found myself overwhelmed by the amount of good information available that sometimes I didn’t know where to start.

I could go on all day, but to cut a long story short..... this is a far cry from what I find in the storage world. In fact I’ve often compared many facets of the storage world to the Cold War. An example of this being - On one occasion I was involved in the implementation of HP/Compaq EVA with the assistance of an external consultant from one of those platinum type HP/Compaq partners. I noticed that the consultant often referred to nice 300 odd page PDF document that I quickly decided my professional career could not survive without. Upon asking the consultant if I could have a copy, his face seemed to almost immediately lose all colour and I could almost hear the juke box scratch in the background. After a bit of stammering from him I eventually got the message that this document was for authorised eyes only (which obviously didn’t include me). However, during the process of the installation we got to know each other quite well and of course I eventually acquired the "top secret" document, which was quite good but not quite the fountain of all EVA related knowledge that I had hoped!

Anyway, this is by no means the only time I’ve wanted to get my paws on a document that would be of benefit to me (and, I believe, the storage industry as a whole) and have been told that "its for internal use only". Sometimes I have succeeded to get a hold of these documents and sometimes I’ve not. So my question is - Why is it that some vendors seem so afraid of their documentation getting in the open? Is it because they're afraid of exposing all of their technical secrets, or is it because they are embarrassed of the quality of their product documentation? Personally I think its a mixture of both.

A definite downside of this lack of good documentation etc, is that I’ve worked with so many so called "storage professionals" who know about as much about the architecture and "ins and outs" of the kit they manage as my wife does (that’s not a great deal). And I cant help but wonder if this is a contributing factor to why I see so many badly designed and managed storage environments. I can see how this might assist the vendors etc as they can charge high fees for their people to go in and do the work, but on the other hand SAN storage often gets a bad rep because "the SAN has gone down again and we have to get the vendor in..."

I know tons of Unix and networking guys who are true gurus at what they do but could count on one hand how many storage guys I know who have comparable in depth knowledge. Of course this can sometimes be good because it makes good storage guys hard to find and therefore drives up rates (chi-ching ££,$, €€....). But I’m one of those people who wants to know everything about what I work with but just find it so damn hard in the storage world. I’ve recently done quite a bit of work on HDS storage, which I am generally very impressed with from a technical point of view, but have really struggled to get good documentation. I’ve attended courses to try and up my skill level and come away with a courseware booklets and presentations that are littered with corrections we have been told by the instructor... Then when I have managed to get some documentation it has been written in what the HDS guys call Jenglish/Jinglish which is a mixture of Japanese and English. Some of the text looks like its been thrown directly into one of those online translators and translated from its original, into Italian, Swahili, Finnish and then to English... basically the final product is often not worth the effort of attempting to read.

HP and SUN are not much better either with their high end stuff, which is rebadged HITACHI, as they often just take the HITACHI documentation and change the title, headers and footers and add a bit of corporate branding.

On the other hand is IBM. I’ve recently done some DS8x00 implementations and have found their Red Books and other documentation to be an excellent source of information and "head and shoulders above" the HDS/HP/SUN stuff that I’ve come across. Shame that the best thing about the IBM storage is its documentation, the actual storage is crap compared to the HITACHI stuff Wink Typical, HITACHI storage is great and the documentation is crap. IBM storage is poor but their documentation is the business! So, here is my take........ HDS and everyone else out there, stop being so secretive and closed with your products, times are changing! Get your websites and documentation up to scratch so that those of us who implement and support your stuff can do a great job and give your kit a good reputation within the many businesses that we work for.

Just take a look Microsoft’s website or throw any Unix question at Google and see how much info there is out there for other areas of IT. If you want to hire someone to help improve your product documentation just drop me an email ;-) I'll do (almost) anything to make storage less of a closed environment and more friendly to those of us who love and practice it.

Nigel (mackem)