Drowning in data?

Drowning in data?

As SMBs demand extra storage capacity and storage management, resellers can help address their top priorities: backup and archiving, email management, how to store multimedia files and deal with ERP, human resources and payroll data.

Dealing with information overload and relieving the problem by adding the appropriate storage systems, solutions and services requires the help of a savvy reseller, particularly as industry commentators say storage confusion continues to permeate the market.

Companies in the mid-market space need to consider issues such as keeping data online and consistent data management - but that's just the beginning.

Indeed, storage management has changed substantially within the past year, particularly within the mid-market, according to analysts.

The technology is now being targeted at the mid-market space because many of these companies require the same solutions, and often have the same issues, as their larger enterprise counterparts.

And there was no shortage of opportunities in the mid-market segment, Hitachi Data Systems channel manager, Tim Smith, said.

"There's massive growth in the mid-market," Smith said. "The company has experienced a 60 per cent year-on-year growth in channel sales in storage."

Given the action, Smith said with the right mix of systems, software and services, resellers could pitch a number of solutions to the mid-market and SMB space.

In that vein, he said resellers servicing this space could use a variety of storage management tools to help organisations save money, reduce complexity, mitigate risk, comply with government regulations and better support businesses.

Digging for mid-market loot

Companies at this level were now facing the same information pressures as large enterprises, but don't have the large IT staffs and budgets to deal with the data angst, EMC Australia's general manager of partners and alliances, David Henderson, said.

To help ease the burden, resellers needed to focus on the immediate concerns including backup and recovery, and email management, Henderson said.

"SMBs are concerned about these issues on a day-to-day basis, but also need to consider what new applications are deployed, and how to upgrade and expand the infrastructure."

According to Gartner, 40 per cent of Australian SMBs don't have consistent backup policies in place.

HDS' Smith agreed email management ranks as the number one complaint in the mid-market space.

"Large enterprises have already put in solutions to deal with the demands," he said. "Basic archival functionality is already in place. But the small to mid-sized companies are still struggling."

As such, he said SMBs needed help dealing with the explosive data growth and spiralling costs by more effectively storing, backing up, archiving, and protecting critical application data.

And this call for help fitted in with industry trends, Henderson said. With hardware margins decreasing, the move to solutions and services was a key differentiator.

And while many vendors were providing the majority of services, Henderson said EMC wanted to enable partners to be known as the trusted advisor.

Relationships with resellers in the mid-market tended to be more intimate, Henderson said, given the greater need to outsource IT tasks and the ongoing dependence on partner expertise.

"The relationship is closer and tends to be more intimate in the mid-market space," Henderson said. "In this context, resellers need to act as trusted advisors and help SMBs deliver better ways of doing business. They need to add value instead of just dropping some hardware kit on the floor."

Melbourne-based reseller is doing just that by installing a popular solution catering to the mid-market space, the Clariion AX100, a SAN storage system for mid-tier companies, Perfect COM's technical director, Abie Gelbrat, said.

The reseller is helping SMBs manage their data and IT priorities in order to remain competitive. Data storage needs of SMBs are not far removed from those of larger organisations, Gelbart said.

"While SMEs certainly generate less information than larger organisations, their information is just as critical," he said.

"This means they need the same information management infrastructure in place as larger companies, including efficient storage, disaster recovery and data archiving, just on a smaller scale."

Because storage technology prices had come down and the financial barriers to entry were removed, SMBs could now consider deploying this type of technology, Gelbart said.

SMEs have traditionally employed a hodgepodge of storage solutions, but given the improvements in technology, resellers could now help SMEs consolidate their solutions, Smith said.

"A recent StorageTek survey indicated 83 per cent of organisations are looking to undergo server and storage consolidation within the next 24 months," he said.

Indeed, consolidation made it much easier to manage the data and storage environment, and to move storage capacity around the network, Gelbart said.

In addition to consolidation, ensuring a hearty mix of storage and security was another top reseller function and area of opportunity, Express Data's sales director, Ian Jansen, said.

SMEs also need to consider compliance issues, so all data must be tracked and stored.

"We're not just talking about backup, but the costs of retrieving the information," Jansen said.

In a bid to deal with these and other issues, HP has launched an SMB storage offering to resellers, dubbed StorageWorks, which includes three offerings: a SAN, a NAS, and business protection software.

Growing amounts of data and the uptake of new data-intensive technologies by SMBs had led to an increased need for strategic storage solutios, HP StorageWorks, product marketing manager, Mark Nielsen, said. But SAN and large scale NAS were typically seen as belonging to the enterprise.

The campaign aims to tackle pricing often associated with storage and educate end users and resellers about what's out there. To date, the program has attracted more than 850 resellers.

"The goal is to help SMBs improve business protection, security and manageability," Nielsen said.

The ILM story

Given hardware margins have decreased, many vendors are pitching the whole mix as part of an Information Lifecycle management (ILM) strategy - a key way to boost the bottom line.

ILM offers a multi-tiered platform and categorises the life of the data from cradle to grave.

And while ILM was a positive step, it was still a vision at this stage, particularly for the mid-market segment, EMC's Henderson said. Instead, partners need to deal with a customer's immediate problems which include backup, recovery, archiving and system migration. "Partners need to deal with a customer's immediate concerns, and then escalate the plan to include ILM," Henderson said.

HDS' Smith emphasised the need for partners to focus on email archival, backup and recovery given those were on the immediate wish list. ILM aside, Express Data's Jansen said partners needed to focus on giving mid-market companies an overall storage methodology, which took into account the transactional systems, along with file and general data storage.

"For too long, we've looked at speeds and feeds and ports, but resellers need to be much more holistic when dealing with storage," he said. Helping mid-market customers deploy a storage methodology was critical given SMBs had less cash and a lower pain threshold when making IT decisions, Jansen said.

"SMBs, and the mid-market, don't get an opportunity to make an error with their storage decisions," he said. "They may not get a second bite of the cherry."

Given the cash constraints and lack of IT staff typically found in the SMB space, the services of a reseller were even more essential, HDS' Smith said.

"Partners can help an organisation get a better understanding of what the information looks like, determine how are they doing in terms of backup and recovery, and what kinds of storage management software is in place," he said.

Once the bird's eye view of the storage assessment had taken place, partners could develop the policies and procedures using the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) standards as a guideline, Smith said.

"ITIL is the de facto standard in the area of service management, and offers documentation on the planning, provisioning and support of IT services," he said.

Going on the ITIL best practices, resellers could help an organisation tailor the service management and storage solutions to the size, the internal culture and the requirements of the company, Smith said.

"The final piece of the puzzle is deploying the physical infrastructure component, which integrates the hardware and software based on the policies and procedures," Smith said.

Data profiles, assessments and architecting the appropriate solutions are all part of the mix. A good example was deploying email and backup recovery in a single entity to reduce complexity, he said.

"The integrated functionality came onto the market 18 months ago as a single platform," Smith said.

With advancements in technology, backup time can be reduced from three hours to three minutes, he said.

Despite the hot spots, many partners weren't aware of the opportunities presenting themselves in the mid-market storage arena, Computer Associates, channels manager, Sam Srinivasan, said.

"While storage is a growing opportunity, and awareness in the mid-market is increasing, many resellers aren't prepared to identify the opportunities," he said.

As such, the company is on a major education push to get partners up to speed on different storage technologies, as well as data protection, disaster recovery and business continuity.

"There's a lot more pressure from auditors pushing for disaster recovery and business continuity plans to be in place," Srinivasan said. Partners could help SMBs address the overall storage explosion in a cost-effective manner given the advancements in technology, Cisco product manager, Dylan Morison, said.

The trend was towards iSCSI technology to lower the total cost of ownership, he said.

The iSCSI technology increases the capabilities and performance of storage data transmission. Because of the ubiquity of IP networks, iSCSi can be used to transmit data over LANs, WANs or the Internet.

"The market is continually driving towards iSCSI, which is playing a big part from the SMB space to the mid-market," Morison said. "Customers are starting to feel comfortable with the technology."

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