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Usability of Weapons

A minor blog/twitter-skirmish Dimitris and Chuck with regards to a survey comissioned by EMC into the relative simplicity/usability of  their respective storage administration tools brings up the historically parlous state of Storage Management tools.

Storage Management tools have generally been pretty poor and I have gone on record a number of times castigating vendors and especially EMC about the usefulness of their tools. I do believe that the situation has got better, especially with regards to the tools which are used to administer individual arrays. And more interestingly, what we have seen especially in the administration areas has flipped the relative positions of the vendors round a bit.

IBM for example with their XIV purchase have come to realised that usability is actually a feature which will sell an array; for all the mud and FUD that can be thrown at XIV, one thing which all of their competitors have acknowledged is that the user interface pushed the envelope as what users should expect.

So IBM have pushed that interface to both the DS8000 and the SVC/V7000 range, providing a common look and feel across their own block storage range; it cannot be long before SONAS falls into into line and gets a similar make-over.

IBM were starting from a pretty poor base-line and hence the improvement has been pretty startling.

EMC, have made major strides in the simplicity of the Clariion/Celerra interface and the latest versions of UniSphere are much simpler; the VNX has benefited from this especially and it is arguable that this is probably the most visible advantage to many customers. A Unified interface across the mid-range. Unfortunately, EMC have an number of additional storage products which are not part of this common administration tool.

EMC’s improvements are not as dramatic as IBM’s and they still have some way to go to get to the clarity of  IBM’s UI. The VNXe interface is close but actually at the expense of hiding functionality from the customer. Still, I think EMC have benefited massively from their Iomega purchase in understanding how to make something really simple to configure and manage; you will fail in this space if it isn’t.

And this brings me onto NetApp; when I started blogging, I would have argued that NetApp were very much the front runner. I managed without any training or documentation to configure their simulator and start configuring the simulated Filers; I also managed to cluster them and fail them over. This was all done from their Web GUI but I suspect that previous storage and Unix experience somewhat helped.

But the Web GUI is now looking very dated and it feels that many features are hidden in less than intuitive places. I am not sure that a storage novice could get it configured as quickly as easily as either IBM’s or EMC’s devices these days. I think NetApp are more than aware of this and their first attempt to address t his was the initial release of the NetApp System Manager; a Windows Management Console plug-in, a good first attempt but it lacks features and there is much you can’t do. And it is Windows only, which is not going to earn brownie points with many.

NetApp System Manager 2.0 has gone into beta and this looks more promising and it is both Windows and Linux; (why no Mac version??).  NetApp also have to work out how to integrate E-Series into their configuration tools.

HP have a multitude of products as well; many of the interfaces are ageing when compared to their competitors but they have 3Par; which is an awesome interface, not as pretty as the new IBM interfaces but simple to use and feature packed. My recommendation to them is to take that interface and work out how to make all of their interfaces similar.

So things are getting better on the usability front; certainly from the administration point of view, even if the large-scale storage management tools are still not there in my opinion (I’ll address that in a later blog). As interfaces get better, they are becoming differentiators between arrays and vendors but….

Do not confuse simplicity with usability and effectiveness. You can configure a very simple interface but if I can’t configure a feature I need to use; it is not an effective interface.  I do not want to be told that to configure a particular feature that I need to use the CLI…I do not want to be told that to turn on a particular flag, that I must use the CLI…this happens all too often, especially with the newest features which the vendors are most proud of.

It seems that UI is still very much an after thought;   it’s not, it’s what allows me to make effective use of your products. We don’t have time these days to work out the arcane syntax that your propeller-headed engineers thought cool! And I might tolerate it for a particularly unique feature/capability but I won’t love your product and I’ll be plotting on how to put it on the pavement once everyone else catches up.

One Comment

  1. Hi Martin.

    Great blog post.

    I was promoting the IBM efforts in my post:

    So its nice to see that vendor independent minds are noticing the improvement. #;-)

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