If you can't get it to work as expected, each of the six or more vendors involved is likely to point fingers at the others. If you're not sure what you're doing, it's easy to get SATA drives that really shouldn't be used in a RAID array, for instance. And optimizing performance is not necessarily a simple thing -- buying a complete system gives you components designed to work together.
The systems we tested are not direct competitors; they are all aimed at different parts of the storage market. In addition, each vendor offers a wide range of configurations that can produce systems from basic and inexpensive to very high performance and feature rich.
This test demonstrates the wide variety of functionality and performance available. For example, if you're looking for a very low cost iSCSI system, an EqualLogic system can be purchased with eight drives for around $10,000, while a high-end EqualLogic system can run $100,000 or more. The other vendors also offer a similarly wide array of options in the price/performance spectrum.
The rich feature sets are not simply about storage redundancy or high performance -- features such as automatic snapshots and synchronous or asynchronous replication can be used to replace add-on (and expensive) functions in other products, such as VMware or Microsoft's HyperV virtualization software, for instance.
With these midrange SANs, you can easily replicate data from working VMs to a backup location and quickly get the backup site running if a disaster occurs, without a per-server license fee. Similarly, if you're using VMware for prototyping, testing or provisioning large numbers of servers for internal or external users, the ability to clone a VM volume and mount the clone as a new VM in a matter of seconds makes provisioning a snap.
Choosing a storage system is not a simple matter. Requirements have a way of evolving, not only in terms of the amount of storage required, but in terms of additional features for adding more performance, disaster recovery or high availability options to existing applications, or expanding from a test bed to an enterprise-wide system. Thus, it's important to look at not only the requirements you have now, but the ability of the system to grow with your needs.
Harbaugh is a freelance reviewer and IT consultant in Redding, Calif. He has been working in IT for almost 20 years, and has written two books on networking, as well as articles for most of the major computer publications. He can be reached at email@example.com.