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Selling flash to SMEs

Flash has seen its appeal widen massively in recent times and is now a firm channel play for the SME market

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Recent research by Persistence Market Research (PMR) suggests the SME segment of the flash-based array market is projected to increase at a CAGR of 22.3% from 2016-2024. If SMEs are becoming more open to flash, what opportunities will it create for channel partners? Which vendors are best placed to sell flash to SMEs? And what can channel partners do to make sure they are ready to exploit the opportunities that present themselves?

Laurence James, NetApp product, alliances and solutions manager, says the trend identified in PMR’s research was confirmed in a recent survey the vendor conducted which found over half of smaller businesses were using flash and another one in five were planning to adopt it in the foreseeable future.

Asked why SMEs were becoming more interested in flash, he responds that with the cost of flash storage coming down and the arrival of new hybrid flash systems optimised for SMEs, it’s a trend that “the channel needs to embrace”.

Andy Brown, technical director for Azlan + Technology Solutions, agrees that “there is no better time for the channel to capitalise on the opportunity to sell flash storage to SMEs”. He says SMEs are starting to look on flash “as the next thing in storage technology and already are asking about the reliability and availability it provides”.

Paul Silver, Tegile Systems EMEA vice president, puts it bluntly: “Flash is no longer just for large scale enterprises. The cost of flash-based systems is now on a par with, if not actually less than, disk-based arrays,” he claims. It’s no longer viable for SMEs to maintain separate SAN and NAS infrastructures so they are attracted by the idea of single systems that can cope with performance-hungry applications and support virtualised environments.

He believes the “flood gates are open for wide-scale flash adoption” for the channel. With the price point, availability and flexibility becoming more attractive to SMEs, “the overall market for flash is set to grow exponentially - together with the opportunity for channel partners”.

Sarah Shields, Dell EMC UK&I channel vice president and general manager, claims there is a great opportunity for the channel to “upsell higher margin flash hardware by either recommending an early technology refresh if customers are experiencing performance bottlenecks or by selling in lifecycle flash upgrades for existing hardware”.

The consensus appears to be that flash represents a big opportunity for resellers in the SME space, but how do they make sure they can take advantage of it? Brown says the best way for resellers to maximise their opportunities “is to be aware of the different vendor strategies and initiatives for flash as a long-term solution”. For example, vendors are promoting the savings to be made in terms of maintenance and total cost of ownership (TCO). With the price per gigabyte of flash storage tumbling, “it is becoming affordable to organisations of all sizes, and presents a real revenue opportunity for the channel”.

Channel partners also need to prepare for a change in refresh cycles from the traditional 3-4 years to as much as 7-8 years with flash. “A new approach is required, including moving the conversation onto what is the bigger picture for the customer going forward and, in doing so, opening up the opportunity for a larger deal,” Brown remarks.

Dell EMC’s Shields argues that, as with any performance IT, “the key to unlocking the opportunity lies in understanding what customers might want to do with it”. Why would an SME need high IOPs and disk performance from its infrastructure? “That’s where the channel opportunity comes in,” she states. A channel partner should know if a customer needs higher Exchange performance for email, or has a particularly demanding analytics application, or is trying to encode video or encrypt files or any other IO intensive process as part of its day-to-day operations.

“Many partners believe they can help customers by understanding what IT they have or what they’ve bought in the past,” Shields notes. “However, what’s key is understanding how and where you can help address their operational pain points, through the introduction of high performance hardware.”

James at NetApp believes SMEs should be demonstrating the ongoing business benefits of flash storage “in a world of increasing digitisation”. Technologies such as data mining, predictive analytics and machine learning are “data-driven technologies best run on flash storage. Channel partners that can help advise and guide customers on the changing path to digitisation stand to gain the most from this growing market, and vendors will have to work as key partners in this knowledge-sharing process”.

Silver at Tegile Systems claims the key for channel partners “is to ensure that they are up-to-speed on all storage vendors and are familiar with the technologies available on the market”. This helps partners to align themselves with the vendors that provide the broadest range of capabilities with the greatest simplicity.

Ben Service, Dell Enterprise Business Manager at Exertis, stresses that distributors like Exertis can work closely with resellers using sizing tools and pre-sales expertise “to offer the best solution for their customers. Our professional services, which can be white labelled by our resellers, provide a range of post-sales support for their customers. We also provide technical training for resellers to take advantage of market opportunities”.

Brown is convinced partners that “invest time and resources in up-skilling will reap the financial rewards and strengthen customer loyalty by talking flash to their customers”. He argues the technology “is becoming easier to sell than classic storage solutions” but warns that “cloud storage is waiting in the wings”.

It is “vital” that partners understand the strengths and weaknesses of the different options. “The best way to do this is to speak to distributors,” he says, “who can provide easy access to the different vendors in this area, including Dell EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, HPE, IBM, NetApp and Nimble. In addition, distribution has the expertise to help design the right solution to meet a customer’s business needs.”

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