Whether it be the rise of upcoming industry players, increased vendor consolidation or new technology advancements, the traditional storage market is shaking to its foundations.
With data now King among organisations of all sizes and stature, storage spending continues to rise, as Australian companies react to the influences of Cloud, Big Data and the Internet of Things.
Such a shakeup demands a new partner power play however, as IT decision makers look to the channel to map out effective storage strategies in this ever-changing technological world.
But is simply knowing the ins and outs of storage technology enough for partners?
Research analyst firms remain united in the belief that across the industry, there is no shortage in trends that disrupt the enterprise storage systems market.
Many of these trends are driven by the proliferation of the 3rd Platform, which not only causes growth of new applications and data but also pushes enterprises to adapt to new IT requirements.
According to recent IDC findings, Cloud, flash, software-defined storage, hyperconverged systems, and open standards are the most significant components enabling adoption of storage infrastructures to these requirements."
“As a nation Australia adopted virtualisation and Cloud much faster than any other parts of the world so when we’re talking to our customers, they know what they’re looking for,” Veritas Technologies managing director, Louis Tague, said.
“When it comes to flexibility and adopting new technologies, we’re ahead of the curve. If you look at how many of the large storage vendors have come into the country, they are all here but not all in the Asia Pacific region which shows our maturity as a market.
“But what customers want from vendors and partners is changing, the focus is shifting to as-a-service storage offerings around Cloud and elements of flash technology.”
Looking ahead, Gartner predicts that the total storage software market is forecast to achieve about six percent compound annual growth from 2014 through 2019 in constant currency, driven by massive data growth and efficient data management.
As explained by the analyst firm, the higher-growth segments include archiving, backup and recovery, and file analysis.
“Every market is evolving but in storage, the rate is picking up,” IBM director of storage Asia Pacific, Craig McKenna, said. “We’ve always been adopters of new technologies but now customers expect technology to be delivered as-a-service, they no longer want to pay CAPEX just like Cloud, but they also want it on premise.
“Australian customers are demanding that and because we’re ahead of other markets, there’s an urgency to meet these needs through new and inventive ways.”
As summarised by Oracle storage product director, Sam Voukenas, the local market is becoming “hotly contested”, driven by IT and digital business transformation initiatives, coupled with the rise of new industry players.
“Innovation happens very quickly on these shores because our customers demand to be at the cutting edge of technology,” he observed. “We’re seeing application deployments accelerate as the focus shifts away from the underlying infrastructure.
“As vendors, we have to be aware of this change and ensure our partners are equipped to assist customers with this ongoing transformation.”
As alluded to by both Tague and Voukenas, emerging storage vendors are entering the Australian channel at an unrelenting rate, creating new levels of competition, and crucially choice, for businesses across all industry segments.
Armed with new technologies and buoyed by increasing demand, storage startups are contributing to the emergence of cost-effective storage technologies that can be scaled as per the requirements of the businesses, causing disruption to established legacy storage vendors.
“Customers are looking to procure storage in an OPEX or consumption model which represents new challenges for the more established vendors,” Nimble Storage managing director, Bede Hackney, said.
“Through the new generation of storage technologies, customers are realising it’s not just the next iteration of the same thing they’ve been doing for the past 10 years. Instead they are realising that moving away from a legacy to a next generation storage platform can deliver increased performance that’s capable of driving real change for a business.”
As Hackney explained, customers in Australia are more open to innovation in storage, as the market continues to demonstrate the new levels of business outcomes that can be achieved through next generation technologies.
Through the eyes of the partner, as data becomes King across enterprise, the ongoing thirst for information is creating a complicated channel, made more complex through increased technological innovation.
“The market has changed and confusion is certainly rife,” ISI senior account manager, Phil Morris, said.
In alluding to a recent tender process, Morris said organisations remain flummoxed by differing storage defined and Cloud requirements, struggling to outline requirements for the channel to address.
“They weren’t able to clearly define what they wanted during the questions period so after a lot of work and spinning a lot of cycles, we pulled out because of the confusion,” he recalled.
“They just couldn’t tie it down and it becomes incredibly disruptive for customers putting out very high cost tenders, and then also the same applies for the partner responding, so naturally the market is changing.
“Customers are trying to mix requirements and do everything at once because they’ve heard it in the market, but they’re not necessarily getting it right as to what they definitely want.”
Speaking from the side of distribution in the Australian channel, NEXTGEN general manager, Lisa Youlden, acknowledged that of the tenders that come out to the market, they don’t always identify the challenges and how a partner can meet those requirements.
“There’s a lot of confusion because different vendors have different strategies and value propositions can be different,” Youlden said. “Incumbent vendors usually have big environments with big maintenance contracts and customers are not just looking for innovation around storage, but also introducing maintenance costs.
“On occasions there’s still a blocker to moving to more innovative vendors with partners reaching a stage in a commercial discussion which doesn’t always lend itself to bringing in new technology to the market.”
But while customers are beginning to realise they can innovate with storage technology, questions still remain as to whether they are educated enough to make such demands.
“We’ve seen a lot of tenders come through which we have walked away from also,” Global Storage senior account director, Gavin Hoffmann, explained. “Someone at the boardroom level decides they have to have Cloud, but by the time you work through the complexities and move the data to the Cloud, what happens if you need to pull it back out again?
“During this particular tender the customer selected a large Cloud vendor but by the time they completed the analysis, they’d chewed through a three-year budget in 12 months. There’s lots of uncertainty in Cloud storage.”
For Solista head of sales and strategy, Noel Allnutt, customers are certain when it comes to outlining future business outcomes, yet remain bound by uncertainty as to how to instigate change.
“Customers see what they want to achieve in the future, but it’s the uncertainty of the path they’re going to have to take to get there,” he said.
“Most customers want to have Cloud economics but they still want to be able to look and feel the technology. We’re seeing more collaboration between the infrastructure and the applications team, which represents a big shift in the industry.
“We’re starting off with a storage conversation but the application team is straight in also, working alongside because if customers are going to buy technology, and it’s going to come out of everyone’s budget, then they want to know why.”
Allnutt said that specific to the channel, the changing conversation signals new opportunity for partners, as organisations seek business conversations focused on utilising storage in different ways.
“There’s so much emphasis on the data,” he added.
But as Andersen IT managing director, Mark Andersen, outlined, the channel hasn’t been associated with the value of data for a “long time”, creating a new dynamic in the market.