As the server market becomes more storage-centric and resellers more agile, the world of the white box could experience a renaissance of a different kind. Analysts believe, as Tamara Plakalo discovers, that all you need to do now is say . . .
Hands up, this is RAID!
Anyone who understands that our world is entangled in an intricate web of information concepts and dependencies, also knows that not having access to information spells out "disaster" in most languages spoken in the industrialised part of the globe. Whether in business or private matters, one information-related question seems to permeate all the protective evolutionary mechanisms that human beings have developed over time. And, like many other questions we've had to confront, this one too probes our readiness for survival, even if it does so in a slightly unexpected way. It asks: "How long can you survive without your data?"
Most business analysts agree that the only way to answer the above question is by fearfully uttering "not long". Despite the fact that data and system management is largely perceived to be a business analyst's only raison d'etre, you should trust them on this one.
As a white box server reseller, you might also want to say thank you, because, as long as there are files, applications or plain data to store and protect, your business is likely to continue to swell, creating more opportunities to sell and upsell servers and their major "add-on" - storage solutions.
Make a note, though! Graham Penn, IDC Asia/Pacific's research manager for the Storage Program, suggests you should reverse the order of things in the above proposition and instead of locking yourself into the server market/storage add-on rationale, you should start thinking about the storage market/server add-on combination. For according to analysts, the server market is undergoing a significant change.
"Today, storage represents 50 to 70 per cent of server shipments and gets more frequently upgraded than ever," Penn says. The phenomenon, he adds, is largely driven by "data proliferation".
David Neevhen, Australia and New Zealand sales manager at Sydney-based Storagetek, sees the white box market in similar terms. "One of the trends that has been gaining momentum quite rapidly in the low and middle end of the server market is that people are turning to buying their storage and attaching the server box to it," Neevhen observes. "So, the market is becoming storage-centred."
For a reseller in the white box game, the shifting roles in the server market is excellent news, for, as Penn proposes, "storage is where the value is.
"Even though it [the storage market] is specialist stuff, there are tremendous growth opportunities in it for those who can handle its technical complexity and special skills requirements," he says.
It is hard to disagree with Penn, since it is hardly a secret that the value of the white box server market in itself is relatively low. According to IDC's PC server analyst, Bernie Esner, only a fraction of the 31,000 servers shipped in Australia last year were "white boxes" (in other words, they were not brand names).
Industry players point to several reasons for the disparity.
"Servers are now a commodity and people prefer to go and buy a known brand name when they're buying commodities," Neevhen said.
"In such market circumstances, resellers who sell boxes need to get educated so that they can better understand the business requirements of their clients and add value by offering business solutions that their market demands. Storage is one of those solutions."
Kym Perry, Asia-Pacific manager of RAID storage specialist Distributed Processing Technology, agrees with Neevhen's analysis. "Smaller companies are in a position to go out and challenge traditional server manufacturers, as they are quite capable of making as good a machine as Compaq," Perry asserts. "But that is not the issue, because they will not make big money on selling a machine."
Instead, Perry suggests, you should offer your client solutions that will reduce their system's downtime, making them an integral part of your service and support package.
"Every hard disk that has ever been manufactured is going to fail sooner or later and the customer is going to ring you and say - YOUR computer doesn't work," he says to illustrate the point. "Adding RAID to a system is a low-cost solution to that problem and the way to win not only more business, but also your customer's trust."
Indeed, according to IDC's Penn, RAID seems to be the buzzword of both server and storage markets. Hence, if you like to base your business plans on industry predictions, you should seriously think about this option.
"More and more people become dependent on their storage being available 24 hours a day and they want self-protecting storage systems that will ensure their business-critical applications are always up and running," StorageTek's Neevhen said.
Chris Dimmock, director of sales and marketing at Sydney-based white box specialist and RAID solutions reseller Genitech, sees the great fault tolerance of the RAID systems and their ability to write, copy and recover data fast and without upsetting "networkers" with the dreaded "server not found" message, as the qualities that could turn RAID into the preferred solution to that need.
"Resellers count on the ability to provide their customers with a system that allows them to keep a huge amount of storage online and RAID does that," Dimmock claims. "They also want to be able to change RAID levels quickly and online, and an American Megatrends RAID server, for example, allows the change without disturbing the business process."
Dimmock believes that the availability of such technology in the market where "servers are often sold just as appliances" opens up a whole new level of upsell opportunities for white box resellers.
That is, as long as RAID delivers the performance that minimises the downtime and saves end users money.
Neevhen agrees: "As self-reliant, resilient and scalable systems, RAID offers a huge opportunity for resellers to tap into what is probably the fastest growing market in dollar terms in the industry."
And where there is growth, there has to be better margins too. In the case of RAID solutions, both Dimmock and Neevhen claim resellers can stretch their margins to anywhere between 20 and 30 per cent, which is a lot higher than in most IT market segments. But in order to take advantage of the anticipated RAID-craze, they first need to rid their practices of what Bernie Esner dubs "the McDonald's mentality".
"What most resellers tend to forget to do is to look at their existing client base for opportunities," Esner laments. "When you think about it, they are the most valuable market resellers have." So, is it logical to assume that, while many corporate buyers might not even consider the white box an option, those who already bought in the white box market are likely to be back for more? Well, yes and no.
"Some people will only buy one name, some will only go to one reseller or dealer," DPT's Perry replies, offering an insight into the IT purchaser psyche. "The reasons they would want to come back will be the same reasons they came to you in the first place.
"For example, white box resellers can 'kill' big manufacturers in terms of price and time-to-market factors. A custom-made machine by a reseller will often be cheaper and outperform that of a large manufacturer, because smaller manufacturers can react immediately to technology changes."
Now, think about it: well over 80 per cent of the server market is held by the big guys for the big guys. Yet, in a market as dynamic as IT, huge volume manufacturers cannot offer the consistency in the latest technology and sufficient support at the lowest cost.
"Most multinationals just don't do that," Dimmocks claims, "and the flexibility in our local assembly market is such that VARs only have to decide how much value they want to add."
Furthermore, Intel Australia's national sales manager, Archie Wilson, thinks a cost-effective turnkey solution will win you business, no matter which market segment you focus on.
"Let's face it, white box is more cost- effective because more technology can be put into these custom-built solutions for far less money, resulting in the increase in service opportunities."
But opportunity, even in the server market, is not a lengthy visitor. So, if you want to capitalise, now is the time to get out there and say: "Hands up, this is RAID!"
Applications determine RAID choice
RAID Array Type
Mirrored RAID Level 1
High read performance, both for transaction and large files applications. Minor write penalty compared to individual disks.
Mission-critical applications such as system disks, root master files, database journals.
RAID Array Type
Parallel Access RAID Level 3
High large-file performance. Low-transaction performance.
High volume data collection, such as seismic or telemetric. Processing of large images. Batch processing of large files.
RAID Array Type
Independent Access RAID Level 5
High transaction performance for read-mostly I/O loads. Fairly high performance in reading large files. Low performance in any application that predominantly writes data.
Interactive transaction processing, multi-user file services. Generally, office environment applications.
Source: International data Corp
What's new from . . . Distributed Processing TechnologyDPT's new SmartRAID V family of intelligent RAID, SCSI and Fibre Channel controllers all feature new ASIC design, advanced software architecture and high-performance Intel processors. They support Windows NT, SCO/SCO OpenServer, NetWare, Unix, UnixWare, Windows 95 and 98 and are I2O compliant.
SMARTRAID MILLENNIUM PM3755F
Application: High-performance RAID controllerHighlightsIntel i960 processor External Fibre Channel connector (HSSDC)Support for up to 256MB of hardware cacheHost interface - 64-bit PCI 2.1 @ 264MBps data transfers (maximum), 33MHzExpansion module adds one Fibre Channel Arbitrated LoopIntegrated hardware RAID 0, 1, 5. 0+1 and 0+5Up to 30 metres (copper) or 10kms (optical) fibre channel cable length with the maximum transfer rate of 100MBpsStorage management softwareBIOS-based Fibre Channel device and RAID configuration utilitySMARTRAID V CENTURY PM2554U2Application: Mid-range performance entry-level RAID controllerHighlightsIntel i960 RP processorPCI host interface -32-bit PCI 2.1 @ 132MBps maximum transfer rateSCSI Interface - 16-bit Ultra 2 SCSI-3 @ 80MBps maximum transfer rate, 68-pinUp to 12 metres SCSI cable lengthUpgrade to RAID 5, 0+5 and up to 64MB of cache with optional RA4050 moduleExpansion modules add one or two additional Ultra2SCSI channels or one Fibre Channel Arbitrated LoopDPT Tel (02) 6248 9732Distributor: LAN1Tel (02) 9319 6411What's new from . . . genitechWhite box manufacturer Genitech makes custom-built PC products for a wide range of reseller needs. The company is also a distributor of American Megatrends MegaRAID products. Its products are built around AMI and Intel components.
Application: Workgroup server
Single or Dual Pentium III 450MHz
PCI 2.1 compliant
Intel 440GX chipset
AMI RAID technology
Up to 1GB of ECC memory
6 PCI slots, 4 primary 32-bit, 2 secondary 64-bit and 1 ISA slot (shared)Embedded I/O, floppy disk controller, etcUltra2 SCSI controllers10/100BaseT network interfaceSix hot-swap drive bays and dual redundant hot-swap power suppliesAMERICAN MEGATRENDS MEGARAID SERIES 438Application: Three-channel low-voltage differential SCSI PCI disk array controllerHighlightsAMI's low-voltage differential SCSIPCI disk array controllerIntel i960RD 32-bit RISC processor @ 66MHzPCI 2.1 compliant @ 132MBps data transfer rateUp to 128MB cache, 72-pinUltra 2 speeds of 80MBpsSCSI cable lengths of up to 25 metres/12 metres with LVDS drivesdifferential or single-ended SCSI Bus with ActiveTerminationHot swapping of new drives without bringing the system downGenitechTel (02) 9476 4277What's new from . . . intelIntel has standardised a whole lot of the features for Intel-based white box servers it offers to resellers. In addition, their Web site provides resellers with "solution briefs" and a "cookbook" that gives detailed technical information on the hardware and software components of the application, where to get them, and how to configure them for a successful solution.
INTEL SC450NX SERVER PLATFORM
Typical usage: The platform has been designed to power critical business applications with minimal down time.
SC450NX is based on Intel's Pentium II Xeon processor technologyProcessing speeds starting at 400MHz512KB to 2MB full speed L2 cacheSupports from one to four Pentium II Xeon processorsHot-swap redundant power systemSix hot-swap LVD SCSI hard drive baysRack or pedestal configuration with single chassis (conversion is as simple as changing the covers)Service Mode with separate power control for drive bay and electronics baySCSI - two integrated LVD Ultra2 channels @80MBps on two channelsTwo 32-bit Peer PCI channels, sic PCI and one shared PCI/ISA slotsEmergency Management Port (EMP) provides remote access through a modemIntel Server Control (ISC) management software allows management of server temperatures and voltages, chassis security, baseboard inventory, etc IntelTel 1300 363 018What's new from . . . storagetekStorageTek's OPENstorage Disk Subsystems family allow RAID levels 0, 1, 1/0, 3 and 5 within a single chassis. Its small computer systems interface (SCSI) supports HP/UX, Solaris, AIX, NCR UNIX, Windows NT, OS/2, Novell, DEC Alpha, Sequent and Pyramid. All systems have dual active-storage processors, global hot spare, battery back-up mirrored write cache and auto failover software.
Typical application: Entry-level disk subsystem for departments and workgroups in UNIX, Windows NT and NOS computing environments.
Host interface - 16-bit SCSI-2 fast and narrow and fast and wide (differential) @ 20MB/sec, 68 pinRack mountable, enterprise cabinet or deskside cabinet4.2 and 8.8GB drive capacity3.8 to 15.5MBps buffer to/from media transfer ratemaximum 10MBps host to/from buffer transfer ratedimensions of deskside array 63cm x 26cm x 76.2cmOPENSTORAGE 9135Typical application: Online storage for UNIX and PC server environments with modest storage demands.
Host interface - 16-bit SCSI-2 fast and narrow and fast and wide (differential) @20 MB/sec, 68 pin Drive interface - Two 8-bit SCSI-2 @ 10MB/sec (single ended)4.2 and 8.8GB drive capacity3.8 to 14.2MBps buffer to/from media transfer ratemaximum 20MBps host to/from buffer transfer rateRack mount or deskside cabinetDimensions of deskside array 44.5cm X 17.8cm X 45.7cmOPENSTORAGE 9137Typical application: A high capacity/performance system for mission- critical corporate applications in open systems environments.
Host interface - 16-bit SCSI-2 fast and narrow and fast and wide differential @ 20MBps, 68 pin. Fibre channel attachment @ 100MBps. Five 8-bit SCSI-2 @ 10MBps.
Rack mountable, enterprise cabinet or deskside cabinet4.2 and 8.8GB drive capacity3.8 to 15MBps buffer to/from media transfer ratemaximum 10MBps host to/from buffer transfer rate7.5 to 9.5ms average seek timedimensions 63cm x 35.6cm x 76.2cmStorageTekTel (02) 9433 1700