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ZIPpadee doo dah

ZIPpadee doo dah

Highly competitive removable storage may just be a godsend for a reseller looking for a bit of extra margin on that PC sale.

And one thing you can be sure of - you won't be firing blanks.

So, what don't you know about hard disks? They keep getting bigger. They keep getting cheaper. And customers can't have enough of them. Customers probably can't find enough slots to install them in their servers either. And nobody told you that only the seriously expensive RAID systems allow you to just add another drive. If you've tried to find somewhere to park 20GB of data while you grow a RAID system with just one more disk, you know the problem. Good luck convincing them that a 30GB DLT drive is just what they need. Those suckers are not cheap.

And thanks to the clever chaps in New Zealand, now retired to the poolside-bar, Symantec's Ghost software makes it a tad easier to upgrade a workstation to the next biggest hard drive. It even works with a lot of servers, although I haven't tried it on a RAID stack yet. Not many people seem inclined to let me test stuff on their RAID. I mean, RAID is supposed to be fault tolerant, so what are they worried about?

Wait a minute. You're a reseller. You are supposed to sell things, not give yourself a headache. OK, we know you're going to have to deal with the above situations, and you probably already know where to get all the big-time storage you need. Let's look at a nice little earner that quite a few resellers are onto. Removable storage. Yes, those darned Zip drives and their competition. I like these little guys a lot. You can actually sell them without feeling guilty.

After all, they don't cost much, but there is good margin in there. And you know your customers will just keep coming back to buy more of those blank cartridges, margin included. Makes you understand why gun shops are always busy. Everybody needs more ammo. Although, apparently, they get through a lot more ammo in the US. But you can avoid the pangs of guilt while you make a buck, safe in the knowledge that it isn't Zip drives that kill people.

Those keen marketers at Iomega, where they make the Zip drives, paid IDC to find out what is happening to their precious drives after they wave goodbye to them at the factory door. The results were nothing short of astounding, and resellers should pay attention as it seems it would be harder to not sell a Zip drive than it would be to just give in and let the customer have one. The beasties sell themselves, and dare I say, any reseller who isn't selling a Zip with almost every PC shipped, is missing out on an extra $200 per machine. According to the IDC study, a whopping 95 per cent of users want a Zip drive in their next PC. And 93 per cent of them said they would recommend that their friends get one too. Why wouldn't you be selling these things? I'm thinking of opening a shop that sells nothing but Zip drives!

Of course, if you've been a reseller for some time, you know that it wasn't Iomega that invented this concept, but another company called SyQuest - RIP. Mind you, if you've been around even longer, you'd know that Iomega spent literally years bleating about its superior technology Bernoulli removable disk system. This probably superior technology didn't actually do a lot for Iomega's fame and fortune, but they just kept hammering the point until someone in marketing pointed out that nobody succeeds because they have the best mousetrap. You need the loudest, most visible mousetrap. It doesn't really matter if it catches mice at all. Iomega learnt the lesson and marketed us all to death with a very useful product that does indeed work pretty well. SyQuest forgot all the lessons it ever learnt and ended up dead.

Users want them

There are more reasons to sell Zip drives than the simple fact that the users want them. You might have to deal with a budget-conscious IT manager who just isn't going to spring an extra $200 for all the users in the building. Well, you can deal with him too. Explain gently that all his users are getting more e-mail every week than he can possibly allow them to store on his servers. And they will expect to keep that e-mail. And he won't want to back the stuff up onto his expensive tape systems. Then you can make your pitch for the really humungous RAID system with the dual DLT drives. You might get lucky - he might buy it. Worst case scenario - you'll sell a truckload of Zip drives, and you'll be supplying a monthly swag of cartridges from now until eternity. Almost as good as those mobile phone contracts.

Another argument to persuade the corporate types is the fact that they know that users keep important stuff on their PCs. They pretend that this is not the case. They will insist that all important stuff is on the servers, which are backed up religiously. But they know users are keeping work in progress and new proposals locally - they also know it's damn near impossible to effectively back up local PCs. Many have tried but few have succeeded. A Zip drive turns backup of locally important stuff into an SEP. For those who haven't read the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, an SEP is "Someone Else's Problem". It is a well-known fact that once something becomes an SEP it is no longer visible to anyone other than the person directly affected. This appeals to all IT managers. They'll probably pay for the Zip drive themselves on their personal Amex.

The IDC survey also showed that staff take their work home with them more often if they can do it easily. And then the boss gets free hours. Gotta be happy about that. Almost worth buying them all a Zip for use at home. Bosses will also like the survey findings that these removable drives have virtually no negative impact on the total cost of ownership. In other words, they're easy to use and they don't screw up very often. Beyond that, the survey also found that removable drives could help with network bandwidth. That is, if they've got a Zip drive, they'll use it when working on collaborative projects instead of choking the server and the network with multiple drafts of large presentations. They'll also stop trying to use e-mail as a way to send the presentation around the building. Knowing this can make it even easier to sell the drive everyone wants anyway.

To avoid the accusation that this is just a giant plug for Iomega, I'll tell you about some other removables. The most obvious is Imation's SuperDisk. These guys have made the Betamax of cartridge drives. The drives are smarter, faster and slightly larger in capacity than the standard Zip, and they also read and write a standard floppy disk. This is an idea that is just too sensible to fail - but that hasn't stopped others in the past. Imation doesn't seem to be making a dent in Iomega's sales, except in one crucial market - notebook PCs. Since the idea of a notebook is to be small and lightweight, it sort of defeats the purpose when you have to lug an external Zip drive and cables around with you. The Imation SuperDisk can be installed internally into a notebook by the manufacturer, without needing an extra hole for the floppy-drive.

Of course, if enough notebooks start appearing with SuperDisks pre-installed, then users are going to be asking for one in their desktop machines as well. Iomega has upped the ante recently with a 250MB drive that looks and feels like the original Zip. This battle isn't over yet. Just a few years ago anyone would have thought that SyQuest had an unassailable lead in the removable storage marketplace. Stay tuned for more fireworks in this arena, but don't stop selling drives in the meantime.

When 100MB isn't enough storage, and 250MB is still not enough, you need a 2GB drive. Iomega sells the Jaz drive for those who need to move seriously large chunks of data around in their pockets. The drives sell for about $650 tax paid, and the blanks cost about $175 each. Ouch! Those prices have left room for the competition to get well and truly set. Castelwood is a company made up primarily of ex-SyQuest clever-dicks, and it uses a different technology in its ORB removable cartridge drives. What these dudes have done is take current magneto-resistive hard disk technology and make it removable.

Because they use a modified version of the hard disks we all use, ORB drives are speedy and affordable. The ORB drives move data at 12MBps, which is 33 per cent faster than a Jaz. They also sell for about $400 inc tax and the blanks cost $79 each. A lot of you already know about this technology, but for those who just stumbled across it now, contact the local distributor, Business Bits, at www.bbits.com.au for all the details. There is an internal EIDE drive, an external parallel port version, a SCSI model for the iMac and real soon now, USB and FireWire models. The ORB drives picked up an award for "Best Multimedia Product" at the recent PC IT 99 trade show.

There are several other removable technologies around, including recordable CDs and magneto-optical disks, but few of these offerings provide the simple setup and no-brainer operation that is the main attraction of the Zip drive and its close competitors. If you need a serious amount of storage that you can take away with you, HP builds a juke-box using its MO drives with a whopping 320GB capacity. A snip at only $40K, the blanks will cost you $140 each - and you'll need 24 disks to fill the thing. Still, if you need serious storage, you spend serious money. But don't expect too much speed with MO drives. The drives are a combination of hard disk and CD technologies and they have performance that shows their heritage.

Removable storage is a good way to make money while making customers happy. It's a shame nobody is yet building PCs with a similar philosophy.

StorageTek trumpets storage outsourcing planby Deni ConnorInstead of selling storage solutions to customers, have you thought about leasing them? Storage vendor StorageTek did when it announced in July in the US one of the first storage outsourcing programs of its kind.

Dubbed Storage Utility, the program allows customers to pay as little as $US1 per megabyte, per month for the disk or tape storage they use.

With Storage Utility, users can choose from an assortment of disk, tape, backup and restore, and storage-area network (SAN) utility programs.

Musical content supplier RedDotNet is building a large repository of music and other digital content that it will distribute to retail stores. "The amount of storage we need as we start to build this network is in the many terabytes range," says Ray Alford of RedDotNet. "We have projected the amount of storage we will use over time. StorageTek allows that amount to change, depending on demand, and lets us grow on an as-needed basis."

After an on-site analysis, StorageTek installed, configured and now manages the storage resources at RedDotNet. StorageTek will also lease remote storage to customers through partnerships with carriers and ISPs, such as Frontier GlobalCenter, Atrieva and WebVision.

Leasing storage as a utility is a relatively new concept. A startup called Storage Networks has a concept similar to StorageTek's, one that relies on reserves of storage in private storage points of presence. Storage Networks will also provide in-house storage and consulting services on a subscription basis.

"Small-to-medium businesses in particular will benefit from StorageTek's Storage Utility because they don't have the policies and procedures in place to manage their quickly increasing storage requirements," says Dave Hill, an analyst with Aberdeen Group. "StorageTek is focusing on an area that has been neglected before".

The Storage Utility contains:

A Disk Utility, which lets network managers acquire as much disk storage as they want and return extra storage.

Two tape utilities, one that leases tape storage and one that lets customers back up data to a remote tape library that is shared with other companies.

A backup and restore utility, in which StorageTek designs and implements a backup operation, and executes backups and restores regularly.

A SAN Utility, in which StorageTek provides a Fibre Channel switch between the customer and its storage devices, allowing for faster transfer of data and alleviating traffic on the Net.

What's new from . . . Iomega

Iomega has announced an extension to its Zip product line with an upgrade to its original Zip 100MB drive. Touting a capacity of two-and-a-half times the Zip 100MB, the 250MB can also read and write to the old disks. Iomega's Zip drives can be found as a standard or optional feature in PC models from all leading OEMs and most leading notebook manufacturers.

Zip250MB drive highlights

Compatibility with more than 100 million Zip 100MB disks shippedHigher capacity - 175 times more capacity than a floppyFaster performance - up to 56 times faster than a floppyRRP of $399.

Iomega

(02) 9925 7725

http://www.iomega.com

What's new from . . . Imation

Imation has announced an expansion of its line of SuperDisk drives, holding 120MB of storage. SuperDisk diskettes act like two drives in one, working with conventional floppies as well. Internal upgrades are available for most desktop and notebook models. External SuperDisk drives fit every major form factor.

Imation SuperDisk drive highlights

Parallel port drive

Internal drive

USB drive for Macintosh

RRP: Internal - $199; External - $259; Mac - $357.

Imation

(02) 9479 9097


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