Opportunities Soar For Storage VARs
Thanks to lower costs, greater broadband penetration, tighter software integration, and specialized solutions for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), demand for high-end storage solutions is up at companies of all sizes.
The storage market has changed in the past two years. Prices of storage and storage technologies continue to drop. Buyers are better educated about storage technologies and their own storage and disaster recovery needs. And vendors are adapting to meet changing user needs. To hear vendors tell it, this is a very good time to be a VAR offering data protection and preservation solutions at both the enterprise and small to midsize business (SMB) levels.
"Our activity is extremely high and our resellers have all been posting pretty phenomenal sales numbers," says Kevin Schoonover, director of engineering for Arrow Enterprise Storage Solutions (Chanhassen, MN). "We came through a very dry period overall for IT, and now the projects that had been put on hold are moving ahead." If there is a benefit to the dry period, according to Schoonover, it's that customers are better informed about storage. "Resellers and end users are educated as to the technologies they need and the things they're trying to implement," he says.
Gary Doan, founder and CEO of startup storage software producer Intradyn (Minneapolis), agrees. "People have a better understanding of archiving now. Previously, people thought archiving was just saving your backups, and saving them for a short period of time. Today, companies are actually running them as two separate processes, with the backup as something that is high speed and local. And archiving is something that you keep off-site for long-term storage or disaster recovery."
Lower Prices, Higher Performance Jumpstart Demand For Storage
Fibre Channel storage area networks (SANs) are emerging as a viable option for both enterprises and SMBs. Experts estimate that implementing a Fibre Channel SAN now costs 1/3 to 2/3 less than it did just two years ago, thanks to innovations in switches, host bus adapters, and other components.
While lower cost is one factor pushing Fibre Channel adoption, performance is another. Newly released 4 Gb/s Fibre Channel doubles SAN performance speed while maintaining backward-compatibility with the 2 Gb/s systems typically running today's SANs, all at a comparative price. In essence, you can double Fibre Channel SAN capacity without increasing costs. Fibre Channel SANs also reduce complexity by enabling storage consolidation and reducing downtime. By some estimates, customers can save more than 70% over direct attached storage (DAS) configurations. As a result of these developments, market research firm Dell'Oro Group is projecting the Fibre Channel SAN market will double from $1.8 billion this year to $3.6 billion in 2008.
Elsewhere on the SAN side, iSCSI (Internet small computer system interface) is taking hold, driven by Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003 and its iSCSI initiator. Because iSCSI sits on top of an Ethernet network and transports block-level storage data across standard TCP/IP (an open computer communications language) networks, it's much less costly than Fibre Channel. It also enables a SAN to be deployed in LAN, WAN (wide area network), or even metropolitan area network (MAN) environments. However, unlike Fibre Channel, which has a fairly solid track record for database- and transaction-intensive applications, iSCSI is viewed by many as a platform more suitable for running less business-critical applications, such as Microsoft Exchange or SQL Server.
It's not an either-or proposition between Fibre Channel and iSCSI, says Schoonover. "Companies are beginning to discover iSCSI as a possible solution to linking remote servers and departmental servers into the corporate SAN," he says. "For instance, it can be used to link departmental SANs to the corporate SAN. Or, iSCSI can support wide area networking or remote disaster recovery of SANs through an IP [Internet Protocol] connection. The trick is that you still have to pick the right host, applications, and solutions in order to attain the same level of failover load balancing that works in a Fibre Channel world. You can make iSCSI a viable storage solution for your customers if you do your homework."
SMB Market Is Ripe For Storage Solutions
Intradyn's Doan views the SMB market as especially ripe. The Yankee Group, a market research firm, recently estimated that as many as 87% of SMBs still rely on DAS configurations. Doan founded his company specifically to penetrate the lucrative SMB market. "It's the hottest market right now, and it has been underserved for a long time," says Doan. "We see it growing at about 40%-plus per year for the next several years."
Doan points to rapid data proliferation by SMBs and their past dependency on manual storage systems as important drivers. But the biggest consumer of SMBs' storage space these days, says Doan, is e-mail. "E-mail is just gobbling up storage space, and because of compliance issues, SMBs are becoming overwhelmed," he says.
To address the e-mail problems, SMBs are flocking to Microsoft Small Business Server Edition with Exchange. "It's an upgrade over what they have, but SMBs still want to be able to back up live rather than have to shut down the system for backups," explains Doan. "They also are looking at backup and restore at the mailbox level, and, in some cases, at the message level. So, those are great opportunities for VARs to help SMBs manage this e-mail problem."
Overall, Doan says that disk-space storage is the hottest trend among SMBs right now. "Previously, most storage was directly attached. The customer had a server, they put a lot of disks into it, they may have had a RAID [redundant array of independent disks] hanging off it, but it was directly attached. Now, SMBs are buying a lot of automated NAS (network attached storage) devices for archiving e-mail and writing it to nonalterable media. For the backup and archiving side, they're using disk-to-disk so they can get rapid restore. They're also using libraries for their tapes, rather than manual solutions," he says.
Storage appliances that combine open-standards-based hardware and software in a single unit are gaining steam, too. Explains Doan, "VARs are buying into the appliance model. There's no administration to be performed. The appliances accommodate unlimited numbers of users. There are no technology conflicts. And, obsolescence is not an issue. Also with bandwidth cheaper today, there are opportunities for VARs to maintain the data off-site, creating an ongoing revenue stream for them."
New Storage Solutions For Remote, Multiple Sites
Another longstanding problem has been holistic file storage management for multiple remote sites. Tacit Networks (South Plainfield, NJ) is looking at wide area file services (WAFS) to provide the solution. Says Noah Breslow, VP of marketing for Tacit Networks, "As much as 75% of an organization's data lives on the edge of its corporate data center at remote sites or with mobile workers. When companies try to centralize this edge data and allow branch offices to access it over a WAN, they run into a host of performance, reliability, and interface issues."
Increasing bandwidth generally doesn't help. And the other alternative - replicating data at each branch, then synchronizing and backing it up at night - is painstaking, not to mention fraught with error. "Although storage is getting cheaper, the issue becomes not how much does it cost to put another 100 GB in my location, but what does it really cost me over a period of time to manage that 100 GB," says Breslow. "You still have to back it up, protect it, and ensure the enterprise is in regulatory compliance. A WAFS solution can simplify that entire process."
With a WAFS system in place, customers can eliminate branch office-level backups, with all the associated hardware, storage, and support needs, because all data is held centrally and can therefore be backed up centrally. WAFS provide bidirectional (read/write) file access to multiple remote sites over the WAN with LAN-like performance, while managing file storage centrally to ensure it is adequately protected. WAFS products come with encryption and other security features, which can act as adjuncts to a company's own hardware-based security. And, they avoid the major hiccups in performance and complications that happen with some file-sharing protocols.
The WAFS architecture is fairly straightforward. At the corporate data center, a WAFS central server appliance is attached to a NAS or SAN. The central server is connected over the corporate WAN to a device called an edge file gateway at each branch office. The central server maintains responsibility for all permissions, access controls, data integrity, file management, and data protection at the remote locations. At each branch office, users see the data they need on their LAN, apparently stored on the edge file gateway, just as if it were a local file server. Performance-wise, the data is available at LAN-like speeds. "WAFS can be installed by VARs with storage experience. They are nonintrusive and take about half an hour to install," says Breslow.