A virtual mid-market move

A virtual mid-market move

Virtualisation is not just for servers or applications - it's also gaining ground in the storage space. HP vice-president of enterprise servers and storage, Jim Wagstaff, was recently in town for the vendor's Partner Sales Academy in Sydney. He discussed HP's mid-market push, virtualisation and the services opportunities opening up for partners.

What's the key message being delivered at the HP Partner Sales Academy?

Jim Wagstaff (JW): We have two announcements around products: one is the EVA4400, which is the new member of the mid-range [enterprise virtual array] storage family; and the MSA2000, which is our new entry-level [modular smart array] product.

These represent a shift in our product family because we're taking a lot of enterprise-class technologies and moving them into a much more accessible price point. Our message to partners is that storage technology is affordable, manageable and much easier to set-up, making it much more accessible to the mid-market customer. A lot of our partners addressing that medium-sized customer are interested not just inselling on price, but also using these products to round out a complete solution. So we've also been spending a lot of time talking about our products and making sure that when you couple storage with the server product, partners are also talking about applications and services.

How big is the mid-market opportunity for HP partners?

JW: There are a lot of large companies in Australia, but by and large mid-market is where the bulk of the volume is. But it's difficult to get at. The mid-market customer has historically been misunderstood - it's not a segment in and of itself. There are financial services companies and media organisations within the mid-market, for example, meaning partners have to figure out how to address all of those discrete segments. What we're trying to help partners do is maximise selling time and shorten sales cycles so they can cover all of those opportunities.

How important is it for partners to focus on verticals within the mid-market?

JW: The primary focus has to be around applications. Mid-market customers are much more likely to start with off-the-shelf applications and then tailor those to their industry. Once partners have expertise in those horizontal applications, they can easily translate those into vertical applications for specific customers.

What market drivers are influencing mid-market server and storage adoption?

JW: One of the key drivers we're seeing is consolidation. It's happening a bit later in mid-market than in the enterprise, which has been looking at storage consolidation for the last 3-4 years. I think we're just starting to hit the peak with the mid-market as customers start to network and pool their storage, get it out of stranded islands and into a computer room or datacentre.

The second driver is business continuity, which is again something the enterprise has been familiar with for years. There's a real pull from mid-market customers to get business continuity into place, even from relatively small organisations. I'm also seeing a need for storage virtualisation in the mid-market. We're at the very beginning of that trend in the mid-market - many customers are starting to get comfortable with applications and server virtualisation and that is driving storage virtualisation. We're seeing asset pooling and simplification of management of data resources.

What challenges do you still face getting customers to accept virtualisation

JW: There's a misunderstanding around what virtualisation means and how you manage that environment. When you go from a physical to a virtual environment, you still have to manage the physical, but you also require a different set of tools and expertise to manage the virtual. To me that's the biggest hurdle - management.

There's a strong consulting opportunity around virtualisation. If a partner can step in and say 'I know you don't understand this, but I get it and I have the tools to address it and manage it', there's new revenue streams to be had.

What things should be on the checklist for partners selling storage and server technologies today?

JW: Having applications expertise to go in and make a recommendation on whether or not a virtual environment would work for a customer is a pre-requisite. The ease of deploying virtualised environments is getting to the point where everything will be virtual - it will just be the way we do business. I think it's imperative for partners to be well versed in the benefits of virtualisation. For example, utilisation of both server processing power and storage and processing capacity is a basic conversation that partners can have. If you translate that into cost savings, you defer the need to buy new storage. The money the customer would have spent on hardware can then be put into consulting or services.

The industry has traditionally treated servers and storage issues separately. Is virtualisation bringing the two together?

JW: It's especially the case in the mid-market, because customers haven't separated the server decision from the storage decision. This works to HP's and its partners' advantage - we can position a complete HP solution with a single point of contact and support.

I think the virtualisation discussion sometimes gets overcomplicated unnecessarily. The concept of virtualisation has been around for a long time with mainframes. Many years ago, time-slicing or virtualising applications in a mainframe was the way it was done. It was expensive and complicated in that environment, but it's the same basic concept in a standard server and a piece of storage.

How important is the green argument to customers?

JW: Australia and New Zealand are perceived as more environmentally friendly and sensitive countries. There's an element of concern in the marketplace that the environmental issue is something that has to be handled very early on. At some point regulatory issues will catch up with the commercial sector. We are already starting to see that in NZ. The opportunity for partners is to go in and talk about designing solutions that are more environmentally friendly, that do reduce power consumption and carbon footprint and quantify that. The training and the tools we are providing to partners do just that. They help them to size solutions based on traditional parameters like processing capability and size of storage, but also on things such as power consumption. We're starting to see that show up in tenders, particularly from government agencies. We want partners to lead that conversation.

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