Lack of skilled sales staff could hinder NAS and SAN growth

Even though huge growth is predicted in the storage area network (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS) markets this year, it...

Even though huge growth is predicted in the storage area network (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS) markets this year, it could potentially be hindered by an acute shortage of skilled salespeople in those arenas.

A number of distributors believe the enterprise storage market presents a real opportunity for enormous growth, but if the skills shortage is not addressed, SAN and NAS manufacturers might bypass the channel and go direct.Mark Walker, enterprise solutions director at Ideal Hardware, said the distributor was seeking to more than double its enterprise business in 2002. "In 2001 we saw a sizeable increase in business compared with 2000, but next year we will see a quantum leap in the level of demand," he insisted.

Walker believed there was definitely a sales skills shortage among resellers, but distributors, including Ideal, were increasingly partnering with resellers which are able to call on the services and expertise they are lacking.

"The channel adds value but the worst case scenario [if the skills shortages are not resolved] would be that manufacturers may go direct," he said.

The number of skilled dealers in this space totals fewer than 20, according to Rick Terry, general manager of enterprise storage networking solutions at Avnet.

"It is a great opportunity for these companies to grow enormously. Those which do not get in on the act will become casualties," he said.

Terry suggested it was a sales skills shortage rather than a technical skills shortage. "The problem is that salespeople do not really understand the problems and how SAN and NAS can bring benefits to businesses. This year, we will be spending time training dealers, introducing them to vendors which can explain the benefits and advantages of the products and help dealers to understand their role," he said.

Hamish MacArthur, an analyst at MacArthur Stroud, said: "This year, we expected the market to double. That is not going to happen, though we are looking at around 70 to 80 per cent [growth]. But this is nothing like the dire projections coming out of the US."

MacAuthur agreed there was a shortage of skilled sales staff, but added it went further than that - system integrators still did not really understand it either because they were looking at it from an applications and database viewpoint.

The skills shortage in NAS is not as acute as essentially it is plug and play, commented Ray Rice, director of product marketing at CMS Peripherals. "For SAN, I would agree there is a sales skills shortage, but a lot of distributors and vendors are making their services available to the reseller base," he said.

Rice predicted that if the situation was not resolved, demand would still be there. "But what may happen is that the number of resellers playing in that space may well shrink," he added.

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