Storage Appliance 101: How to Choose the Best Vendor

Storage Appliance 101: How to Choose the Best Vendor

May 4

The criteria for purchasing storage has changed over the past few years. Budgets have tightened and products have become more focused. We also have many choices. Dozens of vendors offer storage appliances today. Many are new companies while others are established but searching for new revenue streams by expanding their product line.

Like many IT products, it wasn’t uncommon to hear, “Source three quotes and go with the lowest price option” when considering storage products. I’m sure that still happens at some companies, but I don’t put all the blame on them. Those who build storage appliances haven’t always done a good job of differentiating their products. With a sea of options to choose from, it’s no wonder many CEOs tell IT to select a vendor based solely on price. It’s human nature to default to price when everything else appears similar.


This week I’d like to share a few tips on how to select the best vendor for your storage appliance needs. Cost is a factor, but it’s just one of many factors you should consider. Before we begin, let’s remember that we are discussing storage appliances not storage servers. The different between the two is that storage appliances provide or manage data without an application context while storage servers do the same but in conjunction with an application or even applications.


Before you begin the process of selecting a storage appliance vendor, you will need to perform a few steps in preparation. If you’re already familiar with your company’s storage needs, this shouldn’t be a difficult task. And honestly, if it becomes too complex then you’re probably not an ideal candidate for a storage appliance. Here is a list of items to consider:

  1. Have a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve.
  2. Have a budget figure in mind before you begin.
  3. Assess your current storage needs. Could you replace a complex storage server with a more manageable appliance?
  4. Make a features list. (backup, redundancy, cloud capable, upgradeability, remote features, etc.)
  5. If you already work with an MSP, have you asked for their advice?

There are many steps that can help before you begin your search, but these are the main ones that come to mind. Don’t overlook #5. If you have a good relationship with your current MSP, it would be wise to bring them into the conversation. Maybe they have a list of vendors they recommend or a few to avoid. This is especially helpful if this is your initial foray into storage appliances.

Once you’ve collected this information you’re ready to create an RFP. At the very least, you should be able to document your needs, budget, required features. When I got to this phase of the project, I liked to pass along my written plans to a couple of trusted associates. I’m not really looking for their input at this stage, but I want to make sure I wasn’t overlooking anything major.

Pre Sales Consulting

I talk to workstation buyers each day who tell me why they selected one company over another. Some companies don’t return emails or phone calls. How does any company justify sending sales inquiries straight to voicemail? I don’t know, but it happens all the time. Maybe you saved a quote with one sales rep, but when you call back to ask questions you’re passed along to someone else. With so many storage appliances on the market, it helps to have a consultant narrow down your choices based on your needs. This requires trust and a willingness for the sales rep to put in some time with you.

Here are a few items I look for in a pre sales consultation:

  1. Can I speak directly to a competent sales person?
  2. Do they listen more than they talk?
  3. Are they familiar with the competition?
  4. Are they concerned with solving your problem or pushing a product?

You should feel good about doing business with a company after discussing your storage appliance needs with their sales rep. Most companies do a good job of making it easy to speak to a sales person either by phone or chat. If you run into a company that makes it difficult to give them your money, look elsewhere. If they aren’t investing in their sales team they sure won’t be there when you need them for support.

Post Sales Support

This piece goes hand-in-hand with pre sales consulting. Storage appliances are generally built with simplicity in mind. But it’s critical that you can reach technical support when you run into issues. And yet it’s not easy to determine the competency and urgency of a company’s support department before the sale. But there are a few ways you can make sure you’ll doing business with a reputable company.

  1. Review the support area of the website before you purchase. How comprehensive is it?
  2. Call the company and ask to be transferred directly to support. Does someone answer or are you sent to voicemail?
  3. Ask for the name and email of the manager of the support department.
  4. Ask your sales rep if they offers multiple tiers of support. It may be worth paying extra for premium service.

One of the main reasons companies purchase storage appliances is to reduce support costs. That still means that support should to be responsive and helpful when you contact them.

Other Considerations

I don’t want to get into the weeds too much, but we should discuss a few more considerations before you move forward. I covered some hardware considerations in more detail in my Best NAS Devices for Small Business and Best Enterprise NAS Products articles. These articles only cover NAS devices, but they give you an idea of some of the best products if your needs skew towards a NAS.

  1. The best hardware won’t matter a lot if the software is difficult to use. Ask for a 30-day trial of any product before you purchase.
  2. Consider a hardware company that partners with a software company to create a joint solution. This ReadyRecover appliance from Netgear is a good example of a company that partnered with StorageCraft to create an elegant backup solution. They also partner with Exablox to offer a reliable storage appliance along with the award-winning ShadowProtect SPX backup software.
  3. Understand the licensing requirement of the product. Some are sold on contract while others require a monthly subscription. Some companies differentiate between physical servers and VMs so pricing can vary widely among vendors.
  4. Performance matters, but not in every instance. Some appliances focus on performing fast, incremental backups throughout the day. Others perform full system backups during off-hours. Understand where it’s worth paying for more performance and where you can save a few dollars.

The amount of data we create each day is mind-boggling so managing all that data becomes the full-time job for a lot of people. I noticed that many companies are turning to storage appliances that are built from the ground up to meet a specific niche.

Without a doubt, the storage market will remain hot because all of us are creating more content at home and at work.