Storage Roundtable: Talking virtualisation, market trends and tape

Storage vendors discussed channel approaches to virtualisation, tape, disk, flash and other market trends at a recent roundtable event hosted by MicroScope

The storage world has a mixture of emerging technology and a few old favourites, with some users hanging on to their tape solutions for years while others rush towards the cloud. That makes it an interesting time for the channel, as vendors try to figure out what they should be asking partners to do on their behalf and what support they need to offer those partners to ensure things run smoothly. 

As elsewhere in the market, there might be budget, but most channel partners are finding that customers are not spending unnecessarily and have to be given a very good reason to part with their money. 

Disk is still the biggest spend for most customers, consuming between one-third and three-quarters of every pound spent on hardware. But that situation cannot last forever, and cost-conscious customers are already taking a closer look at the way they spend on storage. 

Meet the panel

  • Paul Martin, regional sales manager, financial services EMEA, Virtual Instruments
  • Dave Thompson, UK sales manager, Dot Hill
  • Ann Karolin Thueland, director of marketing EMEA, Actifio
  • Jon Brooks, UK director of sales, Code42
  • Paul Chandler, channel storage sales account manager, Dell
  • Joseph Lynn, vice president of marketing, Tarmin
  • Adam Dagnell, systems engineer, Code42
  • Jason Wildt, director partner networks, Violin Memory
  • Jacco van Achterberg, sales director for EMEA, Nexenta Systems
  • David Cumberworth, vice president sales Northern Europe, Atlantis Computing
  • Steve Mackey, vice president international, Spectra Logic
  • Gavin McLaughlin, solutions development director international, X-IO
  • Christo Conidaris, UK regional sales director, Quantum
  • Nigel Houghton, regional sales manager, Aptare
  • Nigel Edwards, vice president EMEA sales and channel marketing, HGST

To try to find out how the storage industry plans to react to the changes in the market, MicroScope gathered together vendor representatives from across the market to discuss the current and future landscape. The roundtable participants represented various technologies, providing viewpoints that covered the tape, disk and flash segments. 


One area that is meant to have taken off is virtualisation, but recent TechTarget research indicates that many businesses are still not virtualising their environments despite the attraction of using it to help control runaway capacity problems. 

Gavin McLaughlin: “We are seeing a lot of hesitation because many see that functionality going into the server layer. They want to see which way the market goes before they jump in.” 

Christo Conidaris: “A lot of customers are still going through the process of server virtualisation, and at the back of their minds the next big thing they are going to do is storage
virtualisation. The reality is they haven’t quite got there yet. They are waiting because people thought server virtualisation would give them higher levels of protection from a disaster recovery perspective, but what actually happens is you become even more reliant on the servers you have virtualised than you were before because they are doing more than one thing. So you are actually at a higher risk. That message is only getting down now.” 

McLaughlin: “I am starting to hear from new partners that they are starting to take virtualisation products on as the market is breaking down into more vendors and that’s where it has an opportunity.” 

David Cumberworth: “We are seeing a new generation of partners focused on solutions that are aligned to customer requirements rather than being aligned to traditional storage vendor imperatives. Their projected value is bringing innovation to this space and those are the partners Atlantis Computing is working with to drive the business.”

Jacco van Achterberg: “We want to educate the market, but for now we are still making money [the traditional way] so why would we not want to keep making money out of it?” 

Changing landscape

McLaughlin: “Some of our new partners are the big guys who have previously sold just one vendor and we have seen some of those open up and say that they are prepared to look at the whole portfolio. Startups have always been open because they have to have an edge, but there are moves by established partners to accept change at long last.” 

Van Achterberg: “We have just had a conversation with one of the largest resellers in Europe for a major vendor that is looking at how it can make money both now and in the future. So it has started an innovation centre to make sure it can get the best of both worlds. We get some investment and dedication from this partner and it can start to be more innovative.” 

McLaughlin: “We have picked up a few resellers recently that have never done storage. Part of that is because the margins in networking have dropped to such a point that they need something else to supplement that networking business. Storage is the last bastion of margin.” 

Conidaris: “If you look at it from a corporate perspective, CIOs are being forced to save as much money as they can, so the old ways are not necessarily the right ways in the eyes of the CIO. They are looking for different ways. There is almost a bit of convergence with some of the resellers that had been relying on some of the bigger vendors to sell for them because they invested in corporate sales people to assist them, but what has happened is that some of those resellers have been squeezed out of key accounts where they were making lots of money. The only way they can get back into those accounts is by going back to those CIOs to offer something different and become the trusted advisor again. The way into that discussion is by using different technology.”

Paul Martin: “The large resellers that made their margin by shifting tin have had to add value because they can’t go on the shirt tails of vendors – they have to add real value. It is the smaller companies with long-term customer relationships that build the value and the positive view.

"With the channel changing to become more innovative and to carry a broader range of vendor solutions, it does raise a question over the ability of the channel to provide that sort of consultative solution sale."

Conidaris: “The issue I see is that the IT people say ‘we have an IT budget, but 60% of that is going to maintaining the existing infrastructure’, and that is the problem they are trying to sort out because with that much of the budget allocated how can they be innovative? And that’s why the resellers we are talking about are going to take the market by storm because they try to be effective.” 

Ann Karolin Thueland: “Many of these organisations have a lack of skills and have been selling tin for a long time – this requires a completely different mind shift. Also, the selling cycle is different. Some are going through that shift, others say they want to change but don’t have the time or the energy to make that shift.” 

The end of tape?

One of the themes of the market in the past couple of decades has been the idea that tape is dying out. With a lot of talk about innovation, is that customer shift starting to happen? TechTarget research indicates that spending on tape remains fairly static, which suggests the market is not really in a major transition to an alternative technology. 

McLaughlin: “We went through a period talking about tape and disk and talking about the components, then we went through a period talking about the fact that customers don’t buy storage they buy solutions, then all of a sudden the market seems obsessed with the low-level market talking about tape and disk and flash. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter – it’s about the most appropriate tool. The smart resellers have realised that and have a kit bag with flash arrays, hybrid arrays and disk arrays. They look at the project and recommend the correct bit.” 

Steve Mackey: “There have been headlines for many years now about tape being ‘dead’. It is true that in backup the use of tape has been declining. Conversely there is a growing market for storage of very large data sets that are not frequently accessed, but organisations want to keep data for ever longer periods, maybe forever. For long-term, cost-effective data retention or large data sets, tape still has no real rival.

“We have even seen some customers who tried to go tapeless then come back to tape. They had put in deduplication and had an expectation of how it would work out in terms of cost. A retention period of around 30 days on dedupe was found to be economic. It was when they wanted to stretch it out to 60 to 90 days that the model started to break down. There is no cost-effective substitute for tape in the long-term retention of big data.” 

Conidaris: “Corporates are doing a lot of different things, and one I was talking to was doing a lot of training through video, which needed to be backed up. It was using special tools to make sure changes could be traced and they have gone back to tape because they can’t use that technology. We have to get resellers to look at the data customers have and then give them a suite of technology options.” 

Coming in part two

Our expert panel explores the topic of cloud storage options and considers the impact the changing market landscape is having on their channel partners

Mackey: “Tape is cost effective; the strong roadmap for drives and media is giving users ever-increasing storage densities and lower cost per terabyte. The average lifespan for a tape library is also at least three times that of disk as the base hardware can go through multiple technology refreshes. This means return on investment is even further enhanced.”

Conidaris: “The channel has adopted disk-based backup. For every call we have for tape, we get three for disk backup. But months down the line they come and say it’s not working for them and they turn to tape. It is not just a case of disk or tape – all data is different and requires a combination of solutions to solve the problem.” 

Van Achterberg: “We see some of the channel developing a cloud as an alternative to tape because they know that the hardware they sold might not be ideal for them to store backups for their customers.” 

Read more on Data Storage Hardware