Ann All spoke with Bill Peldzus, director of storage architecture at GlassHouse Technologies, a provider of independent storage consulting services. He has led multiple Webinars on storage networking issues for SearchStorage and eWEEK.
All: What are some of the essential elements of a good RFP?
Peldzus: You should understand the differences between an RFI and an RFP. An RFI is what you use when you are just gathering information and haven't yet made a technology decision. If you're not sure whether you're going to go with iSCSI or Fibre Channel, you shouldn't be doing an RFP. To be effective, you should weight the consideration you give to responses. Otherwise, you are just going to end up asking a whole lot of questions that you don't even know why you are asking. For instance, if my data center is packed to overflowing, the physical footprint of a storage solution is going to be very important to me; if I have plenty of room, then it's just a nice-to-know.
Tell the vendor you want everything broken out into line-item pricing. If you don't ask, they won't offer. With some of my RFPs, I've even given the vendors a sample spreadsheet and told them they'll be removed from consideration if they don't use that format. Line-item pricing will help you understand where you can go in and try to get more from the vendor, and it's the only way you'll truly know what everything costs.
Make your questions as short and concise as possible. Don't ask, "Tell me how you do replication?" You'll get back six pages of marketing material. Instead you might ask, "What products do you use to perform asynchronous replication from site to site?" Asking those kinds of questions makes it easier to compare solutions, and it reduces the opportunity for the vendor to pontificate.
All: Why is a reference architecture so important, and what should one keep in mind when creating one?
Peldzus: A reference architecture is a graphical representation of where you are today and where you want to go. A lot of times, I will bring vendors in for a pre-meeting when I am creating my reference architecture. That way, I can ensure that I don't forget anything and save myself the time and trouble of having to deal with additional questions and answers later. It helps kickstart the process. If I am buying storage, my reference architecture is probably also going to show my network, my servers, my databases and key applications. It will help avoid the potential for confusion and help get me down to the level of detail I want.
All: You encourage CIOs to use the fact that they are making a big purchase as leverage. Suppose your budget limits that kind of leverage. Are there any other factors that can provide leverage in the negotiation/purchase process?
Peldzus: It's not all about price and budget. You can negotiate services in as well. You can talk about things like maintenance and trying to get three years instead of one on a maintenance contract. Or try to get more staff training and longer on-site support. Maybe the vendor isn't going to go anywhere on price, but you can get them to help you install and configure everything. These are items that aren't going to cost the vendor a heck of a lot to give - but they'll be a great help to you. You may be able to get them to factor in buyback of equipment you won't be using anymore; this works especially well if they are trying to displace a particular vendor. Never come up with an immediate winner; always have two finalists. When those vendors know they have a 50/50 shot at getting your business, they're going to do everything they possibly can to improve their chances. They can get very, very creative.