Dealing with data storage resellers: Top 10 tips

Data storage resellers can range from box shifters to vendor-specific accredited partners. These top 10 tips will help you get what you need from the storage reseller relationship.

Data storage resellers vary hugely in their skills and specialisms. Some just shift product while others offer accredited vendor-specific expertise. Your needs as an organisation also vary, and different storage resellers can fulfil those needs differently.

We asked Hamish Macarthur, founder of analyst organisation Macarthur Stroud International, to provide these top 10 tips for you to keep in mind when selecting and managing a data storage reseller partner.

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1. Decide what type of business partnership you need with the storage reseller. Determine whether they can advise you on all aspects of storage or only respond to questions.

Do you want a reseller through which you just place orders for products, hardware and software, or would you prefer a more comprehensive business partnership? After all, IT is a significant element of how we all do business, so consider how your reseller can support your organisation as a business partner.

Can the data storage reseller offer suggestions and guidance about appropriate solutions and how your systems and business could benefit from investments in IT or do they simply respond to your defined request?

Retain a sense of realism. You might need different reseller partners with various skills to address diverse parts of the IT infrastructure. How your reseller partners can work in partnership with one another will be a consideration.

2. Assess the skills and specialisation of a storage reseller. Ask telling questions that address what you want and point to the next step.

Assessing the skill levels of a potential business partner can be a challenge. Usually you want more than just a fulfilment partner that responds to a pre-defined set of requirements. Even if the reseller presents a vision, how it can be realised is equally important. How these relate to your business needs are key proof points in selecting business partners.

3. Consider how responsive the storage reseller is when making a proposal and how clear the offer is.

When you receive a proposal, are you getting just the price of the pieces you are buying? Any proposal should have a context: why you need the components; how they fit into your system environment; when they will be delivered; who will install them; how will they be configured and provisioned; plus the cost of the products, implementation and maintenance.

4. Find out whether the data storage reseller offers a range of solutions from different suppliers.

Resellers usually offer a number of different vendors' products and solutions. There are various business reasons for this, including being able to offer different price points. This could offer you a basis from which to compare alternative solutions from your preferred reseller.

5. Determine whether the reseller is an accredited partner for the products being offered.

Being an accredited reseller of vendor products is an indicator of skills and specialisation. The preferred solutions for the business will often require access to a range of specific vendor products and skills, and it is preferable in the longer term to have a reseller partner that is committed to delivering these products and skills as part of their main offer.

6. Find out what references the storage reseller can provide.

References or introductions to customers that have implemented similar systems is always a sound approach to verifying how a partner performs.

But there is another dimension to such references. Talking and connecting with other organizations -- including those that are not customers of the prospective reseller-- that have similar systems and operate in similar businesses can help in decision making processes.

Reference to user groups, whether organised by the reseller or associated with vendors, is a good way to share experiences.

7. Assess the ability of the reseller to help you plan ahead.

Looking forward so you can meet changing business needs and realise benefits from new technologies, systems and solutions is always a challenge. This is a vital aspect for the CIO/IT director to ensure his/her organisation is operating effectively.

Data storage resellers should have an interest in helping their customers plan and go forward. Set up a regular quarterly or half-yearly meeting to review new product developments. Resellers will see this as a business opportunity, while users can take advantage of this chance to evaluate how to develop the services offered to the business and whether they can be delivered more cost-effectively.

8. Find out whether the storage reseller can help you with financing.

Financing systems and implementation is not always straightforward. Effective resellers will be able to guide their customers to alternative and specialist financing organisations.

9. Ask yourself if you need a storage reseller that can offer support with managed services.

It is always difficult to maintain a mix of skills within the IT department to address all needs. Support for users and the business might be exposed if staff with specific skills leave.

If such a scenario exists, look to the reseller to provide additional support. Good partners will support their customers with additional -- managed or outsourced -- services or be willing to introduce you to those who can provide it.

10. Ensure the contract specifies service levels and response times.

Look to establish service levels with your storage reseller partners. This can be at various levels, for example:

  • Delivery of solutions
  • Responsiveness to support requests
  • Managing elements of the system
  • Ensuring system performance levels

Set up regular review dates to monitor progress in these areas.

In the end, responsibility is shared. Ensure that project managers from the business partner and the buying organisation are clearly identified.

Hamish Macarthur is founder of Macarthur Stroud International. His experience encompasses the computer and telecommunications markets in Europe and the United States. Assignments completed include strategic market issues through to implementation of business plans, and the preparation of investment schedules for a wide range of supplier and user organisations. He has worked with many of the major vendors in the IT industry, including IBM, Eastman Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Brocade, Storage Technology and Sony.

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