NT storage: opportunity or illusion?

NT storage: opportunity or illusion?

There's no question that the Windows NT server and storage markets have higher CAGRs than the corresponding Unix markets. However, looking just at CAGRs can paint a misleading picture.

As unit and revenue numbers from International Data Corp (IDC) show, the Unix market is starting from a bigger base than NT's, so despite a lower growth rate, Unix remains the larger of the two markets. That said, the NT server and storage markets are certain to become more important to the future of SIs. Customers are buying new NT applications in droves - and not just for file and print services. This application growth alone is enough to drive increased demand for NT storage. But customers also find that NT applications often require even more storage capacity than equivalent Unix apps because of NT's relative lack of maturity and robustness. As NT matures as an operating system, the demand for storage will not diminish.

In fact, it will increase as customers convert more mission-critical data to NT. NT's elevation to enterprise-level deployment - where heterogeneous environments are common - also drives NT storage-market growth. Heterogeneous environments rely on open storage solutions, which act as the glue for data from disparate systems. Integrators will have plenty of opportunity to sell storage solutions that support interoperability, as well as server consolidation.

Integrators have a pivotal role to play in the NT market for two main reasons: the value-added services they provide and their perceived neutrality. As the channel migrates away from simple product fulfilment and toward a more complete solutions-provider role, its credibility with customers increases.

Midrange vendors, of course, are part of this evolution. It's reflected in their increased emphasis on the indirect model, their intense competition to recruit the most skilled channel partners, and the growing share of their sales that go through the channel. So despite the transition of certain low-end NT solutions to a direct model, the channel opportunity for value-added solutions is alive and well for storage, especially in the midrange and high-end markets.

IDC research shows the trend in the NT server market toward a direct model. The breakpoint of direct versus indirect sales is at about the $US25,000 level. Direct sales in this case means Internet or telesales, not the traditional manufacturers' direct sales force. Storage for this class of servers - certainly internal storage and, to a lesser extent, external attached storage - will be delivered through the same direct model. Customer familiarity with selecting and configuring commodity NT systems will allow the direct model to flourish, but integrators should not feel threatened by this development. Sales of larger storage systems, even those at the top of the low-end market, will be slower to migrate to a direct model than server sales have.

Less familiar

Most buyers of these large systems aren't as familiar with storage as they are with servers, preserving the consultative role that SIs can play in the sale. Of course, some integrators may need additional expertise to capitalise on this customer need, but investments along these lines are likely to pay back quickly. As more applications are ported to NT for more than just file and print functions, the need for more storage and value-added services - including configuration and implementation - increases. This is a trademark role for the channel and solutions integrators.

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