As an unapologetic technologist, I typically tell people to cut through the sales speak, ignore the glossies, and pay attention to the technology that's being pushed -- not who's pushing it or how.

Lately, I've been having second thoughts about that advice.

Storage isn't quite a commodity market, but it's getting there. Any of the top five primary storage vendors today can deliver perfectly capable products to meet your organisation's requirements. Often, the biggest factors in your buying choice hinge on considerations that have more to do with the vendor's policies or character than with the technology itself.

So before you buy, by all means check the specs of competing systems, but make sure you answer the following five basic questions as well:

1. Are they pushing product or offering solutions?

When you invite sales reps into your office, the ball is in their court to collect the information needed to provide you with an accurate quote. If they start talking about what you should buy before you even tell them what you have or what you're planning down the road, how can you trust that the solution will serve you well?

They may well have the best overall product, but the chances you're going to receive it in a configuration that addresses your needs is pretty much nil unless they understand your infrastructure almost better than you do.

2. What is the vendor's real-world reputation?

You did ask for references, right? Hopefully they were offered and you didn't have to twist anyone's arm. But what sort of references is the key question. Make sure you contact at least one or two long-standing customers that have actually used the vendor's support and are willing to talk frankly about that experience.

You can learn a lot more about what a vendor is like to work with when you speak to someone who has used several generations of their hardware -- and of course, the closer the reference's requirements are to yours, the better.

It goes without saying that references are almost always handpicked, so it never hurts to do your own research. You'll find horror stories about every major storage vendor out there, and some of those are worth taking into account.

3. How much will it cost you to scale up?

The data explosion is all about dealing with continuous expansion. But with most storage vendors, the best deal you'll ever get from them is the first one.

Down the road, when they know you are stuck with them, it can be a different story, so ask about add-on costs before you buy. Chances are you're probably buying at least one or two different kinds of disk for your storage solution, so have them give you quotes for various add-on options now. Nobody will really guarantee future pricing, but having the conversation up front will help keep them honest later -- and you'll find it easier to compare the costs of the solutions you're reviewing.