Why do I keep wondering why companies don’t maintain their infrastructure. It looks to be more of an exception than a rule to come along software and firmware which is newer than 6 months old. True, I admit, it’s a beefy task to keep this all lined up but then again you know this in advance so why isn’t there any plan to get this sorted every 6 months or even more frequent.

In my day-to-day job I see a lot of information from many customers around the world. Sometimes during implementation phases there is a lot of focus on interoperability and software certification stacks. Does Server A with HBA B work with switch Y on storage platform Z? This is very often a rubber stamping methodology which goes out the door with the project team. The moment a project has been done and dusted this very important piece is very often neglected due to many reasons. Most of them are time constraints, risk aversion, change freezes, fear something goes wrong etc. However when you look at the risk businesses take by taking chances not properly maintaining their software is like walking on a tightrope over the Grand Canyon with wind-gusts over 10 Beaufort. You might get a long way but sooner or later you will fall.

Vendors do actually fix things although some people might think otherwise. Remember in a storage array are around 800.000 pieces of hardware and a couple of million lines of software which make this thing run and store data for you. If you compare that to a car and would run the same maintenance schedule you’re requiring the car to run for 120 years non-stop without changing oil, filters, tyres, exhaust etc.etc. So would you trust your children in such a car after 2 years or even after 6 months. I don’t, but still businesses do seem to take the chances.

So is it fair for vendors to ask (or demand) you to maintain your storage environment. I think it is. Back in the days when I had my feet wet in the data-centers (figuratively speaking that is) once I managed a storage environment of around 250 servers, 18 FC switches and 12 arrays so a pretty beefy environment in those days. I’d set myself a threshold for firmware and drivers not to exceed a 4 month lifetime. That meant that if newer code came out from a particular vendor it was impossible that code was not implemented before those 4 months were over.
I spent around two days every quarter to generate the paperwork with change requests, vendor engineers appointments etc and 2 two days to get it all implemented. VoilĂ  done.The more experience you become in this process the better and faster it will be done.

Another problem is with storage service providers, or service providers in general. They also are depending on their customers to get all the approvals stamped, signed and delivered which is very often seen a huge burden so they just let it go and eat the risk of something going wrong. The problem is that during RFP/RFI processes the customers do not ask for this, the sales people are not interested since this might become a show-stopper for them and as such nothing around the ongoing infrastructure maintenance is documented or contractually written in delivery or sales documents.

As a storage or service provider I would turn this “obligation” in my advantage and say: Dear Mr, customer, this is how we maintain our infrastructure environment so we, and you, are assured of immediate and accurate vendor support, have up-to-date infrastructure to minimize the risk of anything going downhill at some point in time.”

I’ve seen it happen were high severity issues with massive outages were logged with vendors where those vendors came back and say “Oh yes Sir, we know of this problem and we have fixed that a year ago but you haven’t implemented this level of firmware, it is far outdated”.

How would that look if you’re a storage/service provider to your customers or a bank who’s online banking system had some coverage in the newspapers??

Anyway, the moral is “Keep it working by maintaining your environment”.

BTW, at SNWUSA Spring 2011 I wrote a SNIA tutorial “Get Ready for Support” which outlines some of the steps you need to take before contacting your vendors’ support organisation. Just log on to It will be posted there after the event.

Erwin van Londen

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