The storage market rarely stays still with customers continuing to add capacity and more formats emerging to give them ever greater options. For the channel the challenge is to ensure that they are in a position to offer the products and technologies that are in most demand. Using TechTarget research that revealed just where customers are spending their money on storage we asked some of the leading vendors for their opinions on the market and just what it means for the channel.
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As you would expect there are many opportunities but what might be more surprising is just where some of the vendors think they are and some of the warnings that they sound over areas including SSD, which are set for further change in the medium-term.
Nigel Houghton, regional sales manager EMEA Aptare (NH)
Peter Godden, vice president EMEA Coraid (PG)
Steve Mackey, vice president international Spectra (SM)
Stephen Hanna, EMEA sales manager Coraid (SH)
Nigel Tozer, business development director EMEA Commvault (NT)
Jacco van Achterberg, EMEA sales director Nexenta (JA)
Adam Thew, EMEA channel sales manager StorageWorks division HP (AT)
Alistair Washbourn, channel marketing manager EMEA Quantum (AW)
David Thompson, Dot Hill Systems (DT)
Thomas Pavel, director channel sales LSI (TP)
The value added sale
Q. Are resellers really using your products to be able to offer high margin consultancy services around? Is storage a platform for a solution sale?
NH: From my side on the storage software reporting end we help resellers deliver assessments to their customers and that is something they might lead with. It helps them get new clients and that is very important to them. Some people are charging for that because they feel no payment means no value.
SM: The channel is looking for a chance to sell services but also for the opportunity to differentiate from each other. The popular or common categories of product might not be the ones which are the most profitable for a reseller. We find that by going for areas that are vertical or technologically based and not so common, enable a reseller to increase profitability through expertise and value added services.. High performance computing, media and entertainment and research and life sciences are examples of where VARs are specialising. Our marketing also lines up behind the verticals. If you start going down a vertical strategy then your marketing and products have to line up behind that.
AW: Particularly when you go into the mid-range and the enterprise it becomes more vertical orientated. The professional services segment fits very well with the larger systems (that can be used in broadcasting) because the resellers need those services to deliver those systems.
TP: In emerging technologies, like flash, we see a lot of VARs are specialising around that technology and they can go out with a more consultative approach and with the expertise they are developing can be more successful in the market place. We have bought into those VARs and we are trying to help them to have the knowledge and education to be in a better position for us.
DT: I see professional services as being a driver but probably not one of the main drivers for many of the VARs we work with. Maybe 30% of them want to really make some money out of the professional services aspect and that leaves another 70% of them who are doing just fine with the hardware.
We see NAS storage being the most widely deployed across organisations and the reasons behind that are the variety of vendors and sizes and specialisations of NAS and the entry prices are typically lower. At least 50% of our European audience has a fibre channel SAN and take it seriously. DAS from a storage manager's purview it is lower down.
PG: Do you see DAS growing? We have seen a turnaround with Microsoft talking about DAS and VMware saying that it is going to kill the array using DAS and I can see it growing in some enterprise applications.
JA: It's a massive challenge to shared storage.
TP: We have seen DAS revitalise in the last couple of years. With the direction from Microsoft and VMware and VDI applications and others, there is a huge innovation on DAS area and we see that definitely growing.
AT: Virtualisation has put enormous challenges on traditional storage. With VMware and Microsoft the channel's need for a deep understanding of virtualisation and what it means for storage are really important. The traditional siloes are no longer staying as they were.
PG: That is the other great way for channel partners to differentiate themselves because they can go in and talk about DAS, or virtual DAS in their environments, and offer a cheaper solution. The deeper understanding of virtualisation is the key.
JA: Customers can read the PDFs about products so the resellers need to be able to tell someone how they can use the product and where it will work and that is the real differentiation.
TP: When you look at the availability pipeline, what DAS didn't have in the past is high availability but with Windows Server 2012 there are clustered DAS applications that provide high availability. That helps bring some of the feature sets of SAN into a DAS solution.
PG: We will see a lot more of this virtual DAS and DAS technology. But resellers need to have a deeper understanding of the virtual environment and can you use it to offer a cheaper alternative? But to do that you have to know about virtualisation.
AT: When you look at the established SAN and NAS that was developed before server virtualisation and those pools now are really under challenge and if we are to understand that virtualised environment, whether primary or backup. We have been doing a lot of education with SMB resellers on virtualisation. A lot of mid-market companies are now adopting virtualisation in the way a lot of tier one enterprise companies are and you can't go in offering storage. You have to understand the environment and you can differentiate yourself because those traditional technologies can be very expensive and often poor in performance and you can be a real trusted advisor if you understand that.
The total volume of data stored on disks continues to climb with more than before falling into the petabytes of data category. There is growth expected with most customers indicating they will be adding more this year.
JA: We are talking to customers who are talking about exabytes and seriously planning for how we can scale them to exabytes. There is one organisation in the US that would like to monitor everything.
Q. Almost 40% of the European audience we surveyed are using at least one SSD drive and 15% are deploying this year. This is clearly a growing market.
DT: Auto tiering technology has emerged which allows you to combine SSD with standard disks to ensure that the ‘hot’ data sets are automatically moved up to the SSD tier, but for this to make sense it must work in real-time. With a real-time solution you can really squeeze the maximum benefit out of a mixed SSD solution.
TP: There are different architectures today. From a pure I/O perspective SSDs are relatively cheap, and when used for tiering and caching, users can fully benefit from the features that SSDs have to offer.
DT: There is technology around that allows you to use SSD and normal disks.
AT: Those channel partners that get the knowledge earlier will have an advantage because this can be used in different ways.
JA: The legacy vendors have taken time to get support for SSD in their portfolios.
SH: SSD technology is great if you have the business need and the budget but why would you replicate between sites? You wouldn't because it takes away from performance. I don't see all the metrics being right.
TP: We see SSD coming on the server side, this brings your data closer to the application. Putting 10-15% cache capacity in front of your SAN will help you to significantly accelerate your application and is a pretty good way of improving performance.
SSD channel play
AT: Things like client virtualisation are driving a lot of SSD adoption. But it comes down to the right solution. That's what out channel needs to understand, that positioning of it. A lot of people say SSD is the answer but what was the question. You have to know where to pitch the solution. One of the things we say is if you tier it properly you can save and don't have to buy a SSD array. The partners that are winning are the ones who are getting it.
TP: It has to be designed into the application; you can’t simply say that if you have a performance problem use SSD. The answer has to be to design the SSD around the application.
SH: The life expectancy of an SSD drive is also a concern, because they don't last as long as spinning drives. So if you can complement SATA with SSD you can then replace the SSD and keep using the SATA drives. You have to put a lot more thought into it than before because the customers are more knowledgeable about it.
DT: A lot of resellers are still getting up to speed. It's not an emerging technology but they haven't been used to selling it.
PG: It's about building the reference architecture and one of the key drivers for our channel is to understand it and then take it out to the market. We are trying to educate our partners about what each set does and delivers for them.
Q. There are a lot of vendors still out in the market, particularly in the SSD market, do you see consolidation coming?
PG: In the SSD market there are about 40 different vendors out there, including start-ups. As SSD vendors start going to the wall that will become an issue going forward and customers will be looking at financial stability.
TP: It happened in the disk world and now there are just two to three there and in a couple of years there is going to be consolidation of the SSD suppliers.
JA: If you take an SSD device from a factory and out some software on it is the same world over and over again.
AT: It is now a technology that is making its way into the I/Os and the arrays but it is not a standalone technology.