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Storage: the final frontier

Storage: the final frontier

Space, if you believe Star Trek, is the final frontier. Businesses can never really have enough, yet what they do have is difficult to manage and places limits on what else can be achieved.

According to IDC, businesses are on a mission to make better use of storage space and are increasingly looking to storage services as a solution. The analyst group claims services centred on data backup, archiving and replication, are becoming more appealing to businesses.

Storage capacity, IDC said, is expanding at about 60 per cent each year - forcing IT managers to work harder at finding the best way to store company data at a time when rents and power bills are rising. And as a subset of that trend towards service-based delivery, value-added storage services will increasingly free themselves from storage infrastructure.

The mission

Hitachi Data Systems marketing manager, Tim Smith, said the company had moved to offer a range of storage services targeting specific market segments over the last 6-12 months.

"Storage-as-a-service, for instance, is an annuity project: $1 per gigabyte per month for things such as backup, recovery or business continuity," he said. Smith said Hitachi Data Systems saw two distinct requirements in the marketplace. The first is with IT departments within large corporations that are starting to offer storage-as-a-service back to users. Vendors are working with those departments to create services based around delivering particular service levels to specific applications, such as Oracle or SharePoint. "Then we charge a particular rate per month to manage that service level," Smith said. "That represents an opportunity for the channel around consulting to organizations with 1000+ staff, of which there are 300-400 in Australia."

IT departments are starting to see a need to build in a particular performance level, Smith said. If, for example, an application shut down or couldn't cope at a time of high usage, the customer needed to adopt a more dynamic platform that could address that.

Hitachi is using its own business consulting group and transferring the required knowledge to partners. "Worldwide, we've got more than 7000 organisations leveraging storage virtualisation," Smith said. The second main area of opportunity, Smith said, is fast-growing companies in the mid-market and SMB space. They normally lacked in-house specialized storage skills but are increasingly struggling to manage data, he claimed.

Five years ago, 90 per cent of Hitachi sales were through hardware. Software and services accounted for five per cent each. Now, 55 per cent of Hitachi sales are through hardware, 20 per cent software and 25 per cent services. "As you can see, Hitachi's services focus has increased dramatically," Smith said.

Network Appliance (NetApp) partner and public sector sales manager, Scott Morris, said the vendor is also exploring new worlds as product margins have dropped across the board. Because services are a low-margin product for NetApp, it made more sense to offer them through skilled and certified resellers who could use them to boost revenue, Morris said.

NetApp recently introduced new partner roles, such as the Technical Partner Authorisation, to help bring pre- and post-sales skills as well as additional technical proficiency into the core NetApp engineer community. It has also hired a technical partner services manager to assist resellers.

"We've also put a massive amount of intellectual property into a shared storage framework. It's almost storage-on-demand," Morris said. "Planning and operations often can't keep up with internal requests for storage ... so we built the shared storage framework and we're making that available to our partner community."

Morris said professional services, backup and recovery optimisation and VMware are good skills for partners to have.

"Three or four years ago, we were doing less than five per cent of our business through the channel - now it's 40-45 per cent. We can't expect to keep growing without leveraging the channel in services and product," Morris said.

Expanding needs

Dimension Data datacentre solutions general manager, Ronnie Altit, said space issues, coupled with infrastructure needs such as power and cooling, were putting the squeeze on customers.

"People are looking at alternative options [to buying more space]. They're saying, 'what's the best way to administer our datacentre and manage it', especially from a storage-related items perspective," he said.

Smaller and mid-tier customers in particular, Altit said, sought storage assistance that could be provided as a service. For larger companies, it was more a case of offering storage services that augmented, or helped them augment, their in-house skills.

"They're doing more with less, having more people performing more functions - and specialised skills are required," he said.

DiData is fortunate to have 30-40 staff boasting several hundred certifications that can be leveraged into the storage services market. It has also worked hard to train and retain staff in these times of skills shortages. The market for DiData's storage services has grown - at around 15-20 per cent a year locally - and there is still plenty of elbow room, Altit suggested.

"We're finding services around managing SAN and the backup environment are really the sweet spot," he said.

Harbour MSP is a Sydney-based managed storage provider of high-redundancy NetApp-based solutions. CEO, John Howl, said many customers who were against shared storage had now changed their views. "Customers now take large amounts of space of 1TB-10TB instead of 100GB, and we don't sell less than 0.5TB," Howl said. "A growing need is virtualization servers that need the image attached."


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