Capitalize On All Aspects Of Network Performance
From power management to network management, VARs have plenty of sales opportunities helping customers improve network performance.
When someone asks you about network performance, what do you think of? Bandwidth (the rate data is transferred on a network, measured in bits per second) is probably the first thing that comes to mind for most of us. That's certainly a good place to start when assessing a customer's network performance issues. However, there's a lot more than bandwidth that affects the end user computing experience. By knowing all of the peripheral factors that go into network performance, VARs can position themselves to address more of those issues — creating more sales opportunities.
Start With Networking Basics
It's important for VARs to remember that many computer-related performance problems will be blamed on the network — even if the actual problem has nothing to do with the network. So, before you break out the network packet sniffer (hardware or software used to diagnose how data traverses a network) to diagnose network performance problems, you may want to look at some obvious, but often overlooked, computer-related problems. For instance, how clean are your customers' power sources — both in the data center and at the desktops? Are your customers' file servers starved for power? Are their desktops locking up every time someone runs the microwave oven? "If VARs aren't selling UPSs [uninterruptible power supplies] with each new server or desktop, they are doing their customers an injustice, and they may be leaving money on the table," says Pete Miesen, director of business development for CyberPower Systems (USA), Inc., a company that manufactures network power management products. "A UPS provides conditioned power to all types of network hardware. A managed UPS system will allow your customers to remotely manage, monitor, and control all UPSs with a Web browser or using an SNMP [simple network management protocol] management application." Miesen says that it typically costs less than 10% of the computer's price to include a UPS. "If you're not calculating system downtime as a component of network performance, you should be," adds Miesen.
Another simple way to improve 'perceived' network performance also has nothing to do with the actual network. "Disk defragmentation is a big problem with many customers," says Daylen Farkas, VP of channel sales for Diskeeper Corp., maker of Diskeeper defragmentation products. "A fragmented disk [data scattered to different parts of the disk] will slow PC performance — period. Imagine the latency that can occur when both the file servers and the desktop PCs have fragmented disks. In many cases, that will be perceived as a network performance problem."
There's another less-obvious benefit for VARs and MSPs (managed services providers) providing remote or managed services. Performance metrics are key when showing managed services clients the value provided by MSPs. In the case of Diskeeper, the company partners with Level Platforms to provide a single report showing how many fragments are handled and what the net performance gain is for MSP clients. This type of reporting is critical to the success of MSPs and shows the network performance improvements that can be gained with disk defragmentation.
Don't forget another important component when troubleshooting the basic network infrastructure — the Ethernet cabling. VARs are most likely to run into cabling problems in SMBs, where many companies choose to install the cabling themselves. You may not be interested in investing in Ethernet and fiber optic testing equipment or becoming certified to install network cabling. However, you can team with a local certified cabling expert to deliver cabling installation and diagnostic services. The last thing you need is for customers to blame their network problems on your file servers or applications when the real problem is a faulty cabling installation. That type of problem can drive your service contracts into the nonprofitable zone if not controlled.
Virtualization Creates New Sales Opportunities
VARs selling to enterprise customers are going to find different challenges from those at SMBs. Enterprise-focused VARs can direct their sales efforts to solving higher-level challenges within enterprise networks. "Server virtualization is hot," says Richard De Soto, VP of worldwide marketing and sales for Coyote Point Systems, Inc., a manufacturer of application availability and load balancing appliances. "Server virtualization products, such as VMware, allow customers to run many virtual server sessions on a single file server," adds De Soto. "However, the tools for managing virtual servers on networks are scarce." The tools he refers to are network load balancers that can automatically detect if servers are down or overloaded — redirecting user traffic to available servers. This problem has become a bigger issue with the growing popularity of virtualized file servers, which can quickly overload a network segment with data traffic.
Michael Stewart, VP of worldwide channel sales for Zeus Technology, Inc., a software company that develops application traffic management software, says, "Customers are looking for LAN and WAN acceleration. But, the biggest customer need is for virtualization solutions that will help to increase performance. This is a rapidly growing opportunity, especially for VARs selling to xSPs [all types of services providers]. However, application acceleration is beginning to move to the enterprise as well." Zeus differs from Coyote Point because Zeus delivers application and traffic management capabilities via software, giving VARs another choice for delivering application and traffic management solutions.
Once VARs get customers' networks under control, the next step is to actively monitor and manage those networks to prevent network bottlenecks and downtime. "The hottest trend in network management is retrospective network analysis," explains Charles Thompson, manager of sales engineering for Network Instruments, LLC, a company that makes distributed network analysis tools. "Retrospective analysis is like a TiVo for data networks." Retrospective analysis is more than just keeping a log of what happens on a segment of the network; it also keeps a snapshot of the actual data. That allows network administrators to return to a point in time and reproduce the network event using the actual data. In the past, network analysis was performed in a reactive manner, using a packet sniffer or some other type of network analysis tool.
Whether you are a VAR servicing SMB clients or an integrator or xSP servicing enterprise customers, it's important to remember that network performance is more than just providing maximum bandwidth — it's the customers' perceptions of how their networks are performing. Maximize your sales opportunities by using your peripheral vision to see all of the components that are part of your customers' networks.