Easing The Pain Of SANs
Precertified SAN (storage area network) solutions reduce headaches for VARs and lower costs for end users.
Just a few years ago, SANs (storage area networks) were reaching only the largest enterprise companies, but now they're getting to the midmarket - and hitting the channel in a big way. The SAN market continues to grow and VARs that previously could not get a piece of the action will soon be actively selling and installing them.
To make the VARs' job easier, several vendors have gone the extra step of banding together to create precertified SAN solutions. These solutions, which are guaranteed to interoperate, will no doubt ease integration pains for VARs while lowering the cost for end users. We spoke with four companies that have created a precertified product, the E-Z SAN, to get the lowdown on this new type of SAN solution.
The Emergence Of SANs In The Midmarket
Phil Roussey, EVP of enterprise storage for distributor Bell Microproducts (San Jose, CA), believes businesses are converting to SANs because they bring the customer an immediate return on investment. "SANs solve a real problem the IT community has had to deal with for years," he said. "The last decade saw server proliferation. Companies were installing multiple servers with multiple operating systems. Servers had their own internal storage, and a server in one location might not be using all of its storage while another server might be using all of its capacity and actually need more. If all of those servers are connected to a SAN, which is managed by software, end users can use storage that would otherwise not be accessible. That saves the customer money."
SANs faced two barriers to entry into the midmarket - the cost of Fibre Channel and lack of interoperability among vendor products. The initial high cost of Fibre Channel meant that only the largest, enterprise-level corporations could afford it. That scenario effectively locked most VARs out of the market. In terms of interoperability problems, vendors realized they needed to simplify SANs. "Our channel partners kept telling us that SANs were complicated and difficult to put together," said Claude Lorenson, director of product marketing for Vixel Corp. (Bothell, WA). "We felt simplicity of installation and operation would be the key driving force for SANs in the midmarket. VARs never knew if a SAN was going to work in an environment with mixed operating systems."
Of the two aforementioned obstacles, the cost of Fibre Channel was the easiest to overcome - the price simply came down. The decrease in price meant SANs could proliferate down from enterprise companies into midsized companies - and into the hands of VARs. The admittance of VARs into the SAN reseller market compelled vendors to create precertified SAN solutions to overcome the second issue of integration.
Precertified = Interoperable
The requirement for a precertified SAN solution became clear to vendors as well as VARs. Lorenson added that other SAN bundles on the market had been hardware focused. "Products like E-Z SAN take that concept a step further to make sure the software offered has also been tested and is interoperable," he said. "The end user gets all of the software they might need on a trial basis and can then decide what best addresses their specific needs."
In addition to the simplicity that comes from buying a certified solution, there is also the added convenience of one-stop service and support. "Precertified SAN solutions come with one number to call if anything breaks down," said Lorenson. "There is no finger pointing between vendors, which had been a problem in the past."
Some Expertise Is Still Required
Although the precertified SAN solutions will ease the installation complexity for VARs, a certain amount of expertise will still be necessary to integrate the SAN into the customer's existing network. The VAR will also need to determine software requirements. "Depending on the level of complexity of the environment the SAN is going into, the VAR can add the appropriate software components," said Mike Johnson, director of product management at BakBone Software (San Diego). "The plug and play aspect of deploying the SAN is much easier, but once it is installed, the VAR will still be faced with all of the traditional issues of managing a network and all of the data and resources within that SAN."
Selling The Solution
There are a few things VARs will need to know to sell the solution. "Total cost of ownership will be important to the customer, as will ease of installation and ease of management," said Johnson. "The VAR should tell the customer not only that it can be easily plugged in and brought online, but also how they can really take advantage of it. Customers will have different options for managing the SAN and using all the storage resources they just added to their existing architecture. VARs must have the ability to demonstrate to customers how the SAN will seamlessly integrate into their storage management framework."
Taking A Complete Solution To The Market
The E-Z SAN is one of the first precertified SAN solutions to hit the channel. "We spent a lot of time deciding who our partners would be," said Duran Alabi, director of strategic marketing for JMR Electronics, Inc. (Chatsworth, CA). "That required a careful evaluation of the market. The partnership was not open to everyone. Companies needed to have the right product, but also the right business model. We wanted partners with similar goals and did not want to partner with a company that would be out of business in three months."
Right now, the big SAN players such as Compaq and EMC dominate the market. "They had the first SAN products to hit the market, and a lot of companies bought them," said Alabi. "Now those customers are seeing the problems associated with making these SANs interoperate with devices from other vendors." Alabi believes that companies currently looking into a SAN will purchase the E-Z SAN solution. In fact, he expects E-Z SAN to capture 70% to 80% of new SAN business. "SANs are growing and customers will require them to be scalable," he said. "We listened to those customers and we believe we came out with the solution that addresses their needs."
Alabi closed with some advice for VARs: "We brought together 12 vendors," he said, "with the goal of making your job easier. Our goal is for you to sell as many SANs as you can this year and make a believer out of the skeptics who say that SAN is expensive, difficult, and not easily supported."