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“In the next three to five years, hybrid systems will be completely replaced by native solid-state storage,” says Jason Boxall, Tech Data vice president, vendors and alliances, advanced solutions Europe. He predicts this will increase the need to re-architect the networking and computing tiers and take advantage of the low latency, parallel-access storage. Clients will increasingly look to store “cold” data and archive/back up data into the cloud “to maximise the benefits of pricey – but ultimately ultrafast – on-premise flash storage systems”.
He suggests that many clients will seek to use hyper-converged systems “to provide an integrated, well-designed, balanced system, as well as cloud-like consumption of IT. This is a very effective way of removing the need for system upgrades and the complexity this brings. HCI – coupled with hybrid cloud – has the potential to become the preferred way of deploying IT with SME customers”.
Chris Adams, president and COO at Park Place Technologies, agrees that interest in hybrid arrays will wane as all-flash arrays become more popular and there will be “few compelling arguments for complicating systems with HDDs”. He argues that “no one who has installed SSDs is regretting the decision, and there is good reason to believe materials shortages are abating. Costs will start to fall again, leaving few barriers to installing flash for performance and OPEX savings reasons”.
NVMe SSDs will also gain traction, he adds, because they deliver two to three times the performance and about half the latency while only adding 10% to the purchase price of a storage system. “Customers are getting ready to dive in,” Adams claims. “That being said, NVMe is also likely to show up in most product lineups, so it won’t be a significant brand differentiator.”
He concurs that hyperconverged infrastructure will also prove attractive: “The software-centric approach and almost Lego-like scaling is a good fit for many data centers. HCI with all-flash is an obvious choice.” Storage class memory (SCM) is another potential growth area although the price point “may keep a lid on demand for now”. But with much faster read/write speed than flash, higher IOPS, comparable throughput and granular data access at the bit or word level, it could tempt some enterprises. “SCM may be more of a 2019-and-beyond concern, but the channel should begin preparing now,” Adams adds.
And while traditional manufacturers such as DellEMC, HPE, IBM and NetApp still have a place, all-flash “has opened the doors to newer entrants, such as Pure Storage, and HCI is propelling sales upwards for the likes of Nutanix and others”.
Peter Yarwood, EMEA storage channel sales director at Dell EMC, expects “to see a huge interest in multi-cloud environments, we’re really only at the tip of the iceberg now”. With IoT and sensors, there will be lots and lots of data coming into a central system. “By looking at how we can have data at the edge of the IoT environment, moving to the core and then into the cloud we have software that can allow this data to move through multiple clouds and stretch the storage pool,” he says. This delivers the best economic value, security and protection, “by developing multiple gold copies of the data across a variety of clouds, any of which can be disconnected without affecting the others or creating data-heavy back-ups”.
NVMe and storage class memory devices will be required to support this environment. “As the realities of IoT sensors becomes real, the channel is going to have to provide customers with a different type of device to deliver this distributed storage across the edge and at the centre,” Yarwood adds.
Michael Cade, global technologist at Veeam, predicts that “many customers will still want to see simplicity, efficiency and performance as they continue to purchase their storage into the short term future”. He argues that storage vendors are starting to realise “the hardware storage play is not going to be their strength in years to come and as a result are branching into software and cloud-based storage offerings. Versatility will be a string to the bow of the storage vendor to these customers”. Like Boxall and Adams, he thinks hyper-convergence will continue to grow “because it brings a simple approach to on-premises hardware”.
Cloud data management will also be an important consideration, according to Martin Brown, director WEUR at Rubrik. “In today’s digital world, the demand for cloud data management is only increasing,” he claims. “The channel must work to meet this demand with supply, not only so that they can sell solutions and maintain higher margins, but also so that they can align with their customers’ needs and remain relevant within the market.”
Vendors will need to help partners understand how to make the change from appliance sale to cloud and shared services models. “It’s very much in the interest of vendors to ensure that their partners are fully enabled,” he adds.
Florian Malecki, international product marketing director at StorageCraft, says the services model is important. “To succeed moving forward, the channel will need to move away from selling backup and storage; and replace it with fully integrated solutions and services that deliver business continuity and disaster recovery,” he warns. “Channel partners need to offer intelligence to data management and back up, plus instant and guaranteed data recovery in the event of failure – regardless of where the failure happens and where the data is, or was, located.”
How prepared are channel partners to deliver, implement and support those storage technologies going forward?
Boxall at Tech Data warns that channel partners will not be able to meet future customer demands simply by reselling IT products and will need to improve their knowledge moving forward. “With converged and hyper-converged solutions, planning, interoperability testing and deployment service opportunities are going away,” he notes. Channel partners need to understand their customers’ business needs better and to consult and advise on the best ways to run business applications accordingly.”
They will also need to be able “to help clients navigate multi-cloud environments and provide services to run and control on-premise operations, as well as monitor cloud usage and optimisation for their clients. This especially applies to SMEs which have only a very small dedicated IT department but still a strong need to run on-premise IT”.
Jason Daly, business development manager at Hammer, says there will be a convergence of data protection features alongside hardware convergence, with further developments of artificially intelligent metadata-based data protection and management solutions. But he acknowledges that, “in the main, channel partners aren’t ready to deliver, implement and support these forthcoming technologies yet; our job as a value-add distributor is to help enable them to do this”.
Yarwood at Dell EMC says partners “are about to face an exponential leap” in terms of the technology available to handle the new streams of data coming in, while still having to support existing legacy technologies that may not be so adept at handling larger data volumes. “It will be important for partners to keep their lights on and their businesses running, while still looking to the future and being able to advise their customers as to the best route to use the new technologies available,” he states.
There’s a balancing act, according to Eran Brown, EMEA CTO of INFINIDAT, between the need to offer next-generation solutions and the need to be profitable. Partners that “find the time and budget to invest in training their employees on how to plan, design and integrate multi-layered infrastructure to support their customers will be successful”.
Douglas Soltesz, director production solutions, SME at Storage Made Easy, is worried that partners aren’t doing enough. “When I first started in IT, partners and consultants were focusing in storage, networking and databases,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, today I still see a lot of this specialist focus. As a result, some channel partners aren't able to grasp the big picture to serve enterprise clients.”
He points to the rapid evolution in IT with the emergence of technologies such as Docker, AWS, Erasure Coding, that are disrupting the status quo. “We have seen a number of traditional enterprise storage vendors disrupted in revenue recently,” he adds, “and the channel needs to see this as a sign to start taking new or smaller players in storage seriously.”
Adams at Park Place Technologies argues that with storage becoming more performance-driven and the ecosystem of OEMs becoming more diverse, partners face “a number of challenges” in delivering, implementing and supporting the storage technologies customers want now and in the future. With much of the storage growth shifting to new market entrants in specific areas, there are more brands and more products partners need to be aware of.
“This makes it harder for a channel partner, especially one tied strongly to one or two major OEMs, to offer and support a sufficiently enticing variety of technologies to keep customers at the trough, rather than shopping elsewhere for those proficient with various emerging best-of-breed manufacturers,” he warns.
And that’s not all. There’s also a shift in some areas from unified to specialised storage that adds to the complexity while, on the other side, the mixing of compute and storage in HCI could “necessitate a generalist’s knowledge to address certain troubleshooting tasks. Add in software-defined storage and AI-based workload optimisation and channel partners will need to leverage hardware and software understanding to deliver the performance and support customers expect”.
Storage may well be hot, but if partners don’t get it right, they could face a cold future.