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Do you use RFP's when buying storage?

During my time in the storage industry I've seen four common ways people buy storage:

1) They call their favorite vendor and ask for a quote

2) They call their favorite vendor's competitor and ask for a better price

3) They call 3 vendors (to make the boss happy?) and ask them all to bid the same configuration

4) They do a formal RFP process and open it to all bidders

I've seen options 1-3 used much more than #4, I guess because storage buyers believe they know exactly what they want and who they want it from, and the only thing that might change their mind is a rock-bottom price.

How do you purchase your storage?  Do RFP's make sense?  Are they too much work?  Too subjective?

I'm interested to know if you fall into any of the above categories, or if you buy storage some other way-

Thanks,

Larry

Re: Do you use RFP's when buying storage?

Hi Larry,

We don't have a choose: because we are (indirect) founded by government money, we must always do public tenders (so option 4). This is new for us, because the European law is changed recently. In the past, we had just to follow our internal procedures (and this was always a combination of 1, 2 or 3).

Public tenders (RFP) is a game (very interesting but it cost a lot of time and sometimes (like playing poker) you loose). It works better when you have 1 very specific project (example 1 exchange project for 15000 users) than when you want a storage solution for all your applications for the next 3 years.

It's not more objective than an other purchase way: you always try to get your favorite vendor. For a PC, this works. Because there is no difference between all the PC's of all the big PC vendors. But with storage is this complete difference. A disk is not a disk. For storage systems, and let's assume that I want NetApp, I'll put a lot of points on: snapshots, disk to disk backup, dedup, multi protocol, DP, very large volumes, ...

The nightmare of RFP's is that it's very difficult to measure what's really important. It's very easy to ask what the price/TB is, but that is not what you want to know. You want to know what your TCO is for the next 3 years. You want to calculate how efficient the storage systems are (special for you, I'll give dedup as an example), but you can't calculate this upfront so it's very difficult to make qualify the answers of each vendor. It's very hard to include experiences of the past, of other costumers, ... in the past to see how good a system is.

So, we have divide our last RFP in 3 parts:

  1. Price: we give an real problem and they have to give a solution for it. It includes also snapshots local, DR and backup solution. The real problem was also a multiprotocol problem (cifs, nfs and iscsi). This was for 30% of the points
  2. Technology: we had 18 questions what the storage system must could do. It includes snapshots (more than 200) without performance impact, dedup, backup to disk, multi protocol in one box, 2 parity disks for each raid group, ... This was for 40% of the points
  3. Service and support: Very important but no big difference between all the vendors. Just to indicate that this is very important to us. (30% of the points).

We choose for the public tender with negotiation. So, you have 2 rounds: first one is just very general and we choose than at least 3 candidates. In the second round, there is a "mini competition" where it's allowed to negotiate about the configurations, the licence model, the price, the support formulas. The RFP becomes than back scenario 3.

Greetings,

Reinoud

Re: Do you use RFP's when buying storage?

Hi Reinoud, good comments.  Yes I agree that RFP's can be cumbersome, but as organizations start using them eventually they develop a standard process and things get streamlined.  One very important point you bring out is the scoring system.  I am not sure the vendors need to know which areas have the most weight, but the requestor should always know how they are going to score before they send out the RFP.  I've seen the scoring done a couple different ways - some, like you described, have a weight for each section while others actually score each question (say from 1-5) then they factor in a multiplier for the most important questions - sort of like giving those questions a higher degree of difficulty to use a sports analogy,

I wonder what other types of RFP scoring systems people use?

Larry

Re: Do you use RFP's when buying storage?

Having done a number of RFP's recently from my past, in my current organization I had to introduce the RFP and scorecard to the group.  This lead to some interesting observations

1.  Understand the business needs first.  What are the reasons for getting the storage?  Sometimes it is just capacity/performance, but other times it has to do with a solution for DR, Test Development, Archival of data, etc.

2.  Understand the applications that run on the storage and criticality.  In this case it was 90% VMware environment, with MS (General Windows, SQL Server, Exchange, etc), in other instances it was Oracle.

3.  Quantify in IOP's first before capacity.  IOP's is always hard to quantify, but if it can be done it gives you a good baseline.  Also quantifying the iop's based on read and write ratio's also helps the vendor to simulate a workload if you cannot do a POC.  In a bake off that was recently done one compay produced simulation based on the vmware environment.  Unfortunately NetApp could not do this simulation when asked which points were deducted from them.

4.  Things that are always overlooked GUI front ends, RBAC, Performance/Capacity Monitoring, ease of snapshot backup and recover for applications (Oracle, VMWare, Exchange, SQL Server, etc), Cost of support over x years, administration of the system.

I have dealt with many NetApp sales reps and they dont' seem to understand how to craft the above into a proposal and I believe a number of sales people need to understand building a formal RFP process.   Frankly if it was not for my understanding of the NetApp portfolio the company would have gone with a different vendor.

Right now I am trying to explain to my storage representative the need for large amounts of storage for media, and the need for it to be near line and at a cost efficent price point ie a business issue that is trying to be solved.   It's a small amount of storage a little bit under 50TB, yet NetApp can't even come close to other vendors prices for that type of storage with out adding the "storage intelligence" cost.   Therefore NetApp won't make the list.

So for me using a RFP have always been good; however, before the RFP there is an initial selection criteria of who makes that RFP list, which for most private companies is subjective.   So for the first go around NetApp made the list and the RFP was submitted to them.  The second go round NetApp will not be on the list and it's a shame since I used to use an R200 for archival data and it was a great price point

Re: Do you use RFP's when buying storage?

Hi larry,

With a public tender, we need to explain our scoring system upfront, in all his details. So all the vendors know exactly how we'll evaluate the tender. In the official report, we also have to report the points of every vendor and we have to explain why vendor A has  higher points than vendor B for 1 topic. A lot of work but also very tricky, because every vendor can go to court afterwards and discuss the result. For that raison, our legal department is always nervous when we try to take a short cut.

Reinoud

Re: Do you use RFP's when buying storage?

Hello -

Thanks for the detailed post - your observations are right on.  I'd like to add some comments from my experience, referencing your observation numbers below:

Item 3 regarding Performance criteria in RFPs - if performance criteria are to be included, fundamentally it's critical to clarify where (and possibly even how) the performance is to be measured.  Typically the storage vendor doesn't have control of the "links in the chain" upstream, including platform, network, DB, etc. and it's true that some vendors play games as mentioned regarding cached IOPS and MB/s totals based on the number of front end connections for an entire array.

So when documenting performance criteria, the best case scenario would be to have details about the nature of the IO as you mentioned, including block size and read/write ratios, as well as measurement attributes (e.g. "as measured using the vendor array's native management software under simulated IO characteristics and load").  Of course a product like SANscreen can provide critical end-to-end insight, which would also have some bearing on the RFP's verbiage (if the client has an SRM tool in place) or on the RFP response (if the vendor needs to provide such a tool to meet the criteria).

I do have a question/comment on your point in the paragraph beginning "Right now..." - if NetApp is having trouble reaching the initial purchase price for your media storage, what about the "TCO over time" analysis in which the up front cost of storage efficiencies get amortized against the cost avoidance benefits of having to buy less storage as you grow?  Do you expect this media store to have a high compound annual growth rate (CAGR)?

Thanks for the continued discussion.