Storage Roundtable: Cloud options and channel challenges

In the second part of MicroScope's recent Storage Roundtable, our expert panel discussed new approaches to cloud-based storage, and assessed how the changing tech landscape is affecting resellers.

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.

In the second part of our recent Storage Roundtable, our panel discussed new approaches to cloud-based storage, and assessed how the changing tech landscape is affecting resellers.

The cloud option

Interest in the cloud is growing, but the figures from TechTarget indicate that customers are maintaining a cautionary approach to putting data in the cloud. That raises the question about whether it is really possible to sell a cloud storage solution right now.

Jon Brooks: "Code42 with CrashPlan is an enterprise SaaS [software as a service] and cloud-centric business and we're seeing a lot of interest in the storage business from a backup perspective as its mandatory to protect data, but complex and hard. People just want it to go away. This is what we do."

Adam Dagnell: "Cloud means different things to different people. We offer online backup and private cloud, which is an instance of our cloud running on-site. The level of involvement you get from us depends on the deployment. Backup is a sticky application. There is an appetite to move away from tape, but the reality is that tape is still the most cost-effective medium out there. Offsiting data offers great benefits that you just can't do with tape. Cloud offers an alternative, and a lot of organisations are driving to do something with the cloud, whether that's primary storage running in the cloud or their infrastructure running in the cloud or their secondary storage running in the cloud."

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

Nigel Houghton: "What about private storage and the cloud? We are constantly asked by customers how much storage they have in the cloud, so we are seeing a huge swing to people taking a hybrid approach, with data on-premise and in the cloud. At the moment it's mainly at
the testing and development stage, but we are seeing people wanting to push more out there. What they are trying to do internally is streamline and find out how they compare to external providers with the delivery of the application."

Thueland: "You have asked if people are comfortable putting their data in the cloud, but there is production data and copies of production data, and the latter is what we would move to the cloud. So the customer has full control of the production data and we take care of the copies."

Jason Wildt: "I don't think customers have slowed their spend [while they try to work out how much storage they need], but they have tried to hold their breath for a while and they have a certain amount of buffer onsite and they haven't done too much to stop disk building up on-site. At a certain point they have to buy more capacity and there is still the high value at the top end where they are spending more money per gigabyte because the benefits are down at the software layer. You will see a shift in investment where cheaper disk gets bigger and bigger, but they are going to move that high-end disk more towards flash. Things will happen around that second copy of production data, and how we handle that is going to change as we go forward."

Conidaris: "For the reseller, one of the challenges with cloud is working out where they add their own value."

David Thompson: "Half the resellers have their own cloud and the other half don't want to sell it because they are scared of losing it."

Brooks: "It is focused on file and human-created data and the acceleration of this is massive. It's an issue that is not going away, particularly in the enterprise. It is not just a backup challenge either, it's more about productivity, compliance, e-discovery and migrations before you move to new devices. This is where resellers can really help to spread the word.

Thueland: "We are finding that the service providers offering backup often struggle to be profitable because of the current hugely complex set-up of these tools. They lose profitability so they are not promoting it enough or growing it enough."

Van Achterberg: "Imagine being a reseller wanting to build a cloud. It is massively complex with an old stack and building a new stack and you just don't get the scales of economy."

Martin: "Optimise your cloud backup strategy and you need to make sure you know what looks good before you make a decision."

Thompson: "It is not just the elements of cloud but the prospects of it playing out in primary storage, general storage or backup. It is going to be interesting."

A helping hand

Are vendors aware of the impact that the changing landscape, both technology-wise and in terms of sales approaches, is having on their partners and just what sort of support is being offered?

Conidaris: "The biggest value that any vendor can offer its reseller base is training. The vendors need to take that responsibility on board and react to changes and retrain and help resellers learn new ways. It is a continual training exercise that has to happen. The resellers that will be successful are the ones that invest in the training."

Thueland: "I think it's always been like that, but more so now than before."

Conidaris: "All the people who were on the storage side are now on the virtualisation side, which is interesting because they are virtualising their servers at the moment and not their storage."

Van Achterberg: "At a time when this was meant to make things easier it has become more complicated. Especially in cloud. Who is going to look after the customer's applications and who will back up each application and who will keep it running and who will monitor it?"

Conidaris: "Who takes ownership of the risk is the real issue."

Thueland: "There is a huge potential for resellers to educate the market on the current debate and innovations as a replacement to legacy systems as companies downscale their footprints and architecture to save money and make their storage much less complex."

Brooks: "We are working out what the channel means for us and what sort of partner we want to work with. We are focused on endpoint devices and there is a lot of corporate data and IP sat out there today which is ever increasing. The more mobile and remote we become, the bigger the problem of data access and risk of data loss. Putting the emphasis on the user to back up and protect corporate data really doesn't work. Businesses need to take control  and understand what data is stored where in the mobile world, this is the unknown and where CrashPlan works."

Paul Chandler: "It highlights the instability in the IT market at the moment because no one really knows what is best, whether it be tape, disk, flash or wherever we are going next. The users are sitting on the fence waiting to be told where to go next, and if that's the case then where do we train the channel partners and what do we train them in? Which bit is the best bit to go for? We need the best thing for the user."

Joseph Lynn: "How does this particular media work with your objectives, be it tape, disk or SSDs? In our opinion it is about more than the media. Take a look at the data and the application and then apply the media to what is required. That's why we take a data-centric approach because the data should be defining the storage infrastructure."

Wildt: "Many of us come from smaller vendors in the market that are trying to be disruptive and change things, and customers do seem more willing to not go with the big guys any more. There has also been an evolution in channel partners going to a consultative sale that is enabling that. Flash having all of that hype and so many vendors in that space helped establish that there is a new thing out there. Larger vendors are slow to follow and customers had no choice but to go to the smaller vendors and they found it worked. We will see some fragmentation over the next three to five years, then we will see consolidation on the way."

Van Achterberg: "The channel partners who get it and are not just jumping on the bandwagon are starting to see the value and are doing things smart as opposed to getting customers to throw more media at it."

Cumberworth: "Our background has always been desktop, but we are getting a more software-defined storage play and to work with some of the established resellers and educate them and tell them that selling on the basis of what the user has asked for is coming to an end and there is a real drive towards innovation. How do we collectively harness this energy and new wave? In our world it's software-defined storage, so how do we take this message out there? From a user perspective there is more understanding about how this works, and we need to make sure that our channel partners are educated and have training."

Mackey: "The vast amount of growth we see is around content. It is coming out of media and broadcast and research and the big internet companies. One thing the channel will be able to do in terms of trying to identify opportunities is to delve more into these vertical markets to try to understand where IT can be applied to solve problems. Quite often customers that havethese rapidly growing, large datasets don't know how to deal with it."

McLaughlin: "There is confusion in the market about tools and solutions, there are a lot of vendors in the market, and you have a lot of people trying to put square pegs into round holes. That is when you see things like tape versus disk versus solid state. The time is coming back for the channel to add value and they have a chance to be consultative. It really is a good time for the resellers that come back selling solutions. They have to be more consultative as it is a different way of selling.

Conidaris: "The market is changing and there are more opportunities for resellers. Corporates are saying that they just can't keep paying the same money for the same thing and they have to find efficiencies -- and that is the change."

Nigel Edwards: "We very much believe it is a complementary storage business -- people are going to buy their SSD, tape and disk and it will all coexist together."

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