Who should do your assessment?

Agency officials seeking a better grip on storage can perform their own assessments or hire an outsider to do them.

The first choice is mostly an option for an organization with ample storage expertise. Scientific and technical computing centers, for example, tend to have specialists who can take stock of existing storage capabilities and explore new architectures.

"They have a significant amount of expertise in-house," said Laura Shepard, product line manager for SGI InfiniteStorage at Silicon Graphics Inc. "They generally have a good idea of how they want to approach it."

But agencies lacking such resources may be better off retaining a storage consultant to do the job. Industry executives argue that storage is not a core competency for the typical government entity.

Agencies have quite a few options. A number of systems integrators operate storage practices and offer storage-assessment services. GTSI Corp.'s enterprise storage technology team, for example, offers a needs assessment service. Forsythe Technology Inc. offers a storage-

assessment service that focuses on data-

optimization planning, data-migration

strategy and storage security, among others.

Some integrators, such as Sanz Inc.,

make storage consulting and integration their core business. Sanz offers storage assessment and audit services.

The integrators' assessment methodologies may vary, but for the most part, they follow a similar pattern: Discover the business context, examine the as-is

environment, define the to-be environment, determine requirements and make

recommendations.

In addition to integrators, storage vendors, such as EMC Corp. and SGI, offer assessment services. Some integrators question the objectivity of such assessments,

particularly when it comes to recommending technology.

But some organizations perform a preliminary assessment on their own and then call in a vendor for fine-tuning. The Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center followed this course. Center officials conducted an assessment to determine basic requirements, said Doug Wenger, senior systems engineer at the center. They were looking to upgrade the

supercomputer facility, including the storage

architecture.

Wenger described the initial assessment as the "first rough pass." Next, center officials

conducted a procurement, asking bidders to help develop a detailed solution. The Navy

eventually selected SGI, which took the center's basic requirements and developed a storage

architecture.

This approach let center officials gain insight into SGI's existing product line as well as future technology directions. "We knew we

didn't understand [vendor-specific] hardware/

software capabilities as well as they did," Wenger said.

The center deployed a Fibre Channel storage-area network, using SGI's InfiniteStorage TP9400 and TP9500 arrays as well as an EMC Clariion array. The center uses Brocade Communications Systems Inc.'s SilkWorm switches, which are organized into a matrix to provide redundancy and multiple data paths.

Shepard said larger customers like the center benefit from a vendor's knowledge of product offerings and experience in solving problems for similar enterprises.

Jon Wehse, business continuity practice manager for the federal division at EMC,

said customers call on EMC to get more out

of previously installed products. Such

customers "really haven't deployed the full

extent of the technology," he said, adding

that they might want to do replication or off-line tape backup.

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