Choose Your Storage Software Opportunity
Disk-to-disk backup, e-mail archiving, and storage provisioning will present opportunities for VARs in the storage management software space.
There are many opportunities for VARs in the storage management software space. We spoke with four executives in this space who each had a slightly different take on where the market is heading and what VARs should be doing to take advantage of the opportunities.
"The biggest trend I see is in the area of network backups," says Morgan Edwards, president of UltraBac (Bellevue, WA). "Specifically, I think the best opportunities for VARs is in disk-to-disk backup. Disk has gotten cheap again. I can remember back when a 250 MB tape drive for doing backup cost $35,000. There has been an evolution from disk to tape for doing backup because of the decreasing cost per MB and the flexibility of being able to store multiple copies of a backup. A lot of companies used to make three copies of a backup. Now there are companies that never write over a tape. They use a new tape for every backup. If they ever have to reconstitute data, they have the last seven years of backup tape to restore from."
Tape And Disk: A Great Combination
Now, of course, there is a strong interest in the market in doing quick backups to some type of a network storage device because they are inexpensive. Networks with Gigabit Ethernet cards are getting to the point where they can support multiple concurrent backups to a big storage device. If at some point during the backup process you move those files to tape, then users have the best of both worlds. They have fast backups and multiple concurrent backups going on simultaneously and still get the reliability and shelf life of going to tape.
VARs showing the strongest interest in disk backup are those specializing in RAID (redundant array of independent disks) solutions. "Backup is a value-added solution to a piece of hardware," says Edwards. "VARs are adding value for someone who buys RAID. Disk backup allows VARs to guarantee a customer can restore an operating system partition to a failed machine in 15 minutes or less. One disaster recovery operation could literally pay for the hardware and software investment."
More Backups With Less Staff
Don Kleinschnitz, CTO and VP of storage solutions at Powerquest (Orem, UT), also likes the opportunities he sees in disk-to-disk backup. "I see a number of things converging that will make disk-to-disk backup a viable product set in the next one to three years," he says. "There are companies now with disk imaging technology, which is the ability to copy the bits on a disk off into a single file, thereby representing your entire hard drive, either on a server or desktop, as a single file. This allows for a very fast restore. In the enterprise, we see ATA [advanced technology attachment] disk as a cost barrier breaker. It will soon be cost-effective for people to store large amounts of images of their systems and/or replicate their systems."
Most backup technologies require a lot of effort to get data off tape and back onto the desktop. That also means substantial IT administrator costs are involved. Disk-to-disk allows complete restores or file-level restores that are simple enough to be done by the users themselves, resulting in substantial savings in administrative time. "I think you will find companies that do not have adequate disaster recovery or backup schemes simply because they cannot afford the software or the IT staff to manage it," says Kleinschnitz. "We think disk-to-disk will break the cost barrier.
"We see disk imaging technology breaking into the disaster recovery and backup space because we now have the ability to do this in a very high-performance way. It reduces the cost of administrators and is simpler to do than more complex backup processes. The storage requirements to do this, mainly the drives, will also be much cheaper in the future. This technology has come of age. It is not replacing tape backup but is another level of hierarchy in the whole scheme of data protection."
Provisioning Gets More Complex
With the downturn in the economy and budgets being as tight as they are, resources are limited. Scott Hansbury, VP of marketing at Creekpath Systems, Inc. (Longmont, CO), thinks there is a real pain point around provisioning storage within IT shops. "Provisioning storage in a shop today has become unbelievably complex," he states. "The skills needed to do it are also few and far between. We have found in many shops that there are two or three people in the whole organization that can actually go through and accomplish that whole provisioning process. That leads to a skills mismatch for what needs to be accomplished."
A couple of things make the process so complex. Many companies are moving to a storage network environment, and the whole introduction of SANs (storage area networks) brought some of the complexity to it. "We are also seeing a lot of companies that have been primarily associated with a single vendor moving toward a tiered level of service," says Hansbury. "They are starting to multi-vendor and multi-tier the types of technologies they are using to try to get the economies of scale. What this has caused is even more complexity within their environments that they have to manage, which is further driving the skill set mismatches."
There are a couple of ways VARs can help customers with this process. VARs can roll up their sleeves and figure out what the needs of the company are. In doing so, VARs can build scripts to help customers do certain pieces of it. There are also applications getting into this space. A VAR can take those platforms as the underlying infrastructure, and their role is then defining with the customer what their best practices are. VARs can build services around those applications and let the platform implement them.
Assist With E-Mail Archiving
Finally, Marty Ward, director of product marketing at VERITAS Software (Mountain View, CA), believes VARs should not forget about e-mail and e-mail management. "E-mail archiving has become incredibly important," he says. "People are trying to figure out better ways to accomplish it." There are several ways for VARs and the channel to assist customers. One would be selling them a solution that does e-mail archiving in conjunction with Exchange, Lotus, or whatever the customer is using. Another would be a VAR acting as a service provider for the customer. The VAR will do the archiving for the customer as a service. "That is incredibly hot right now," says Ward. "We are hearing that from our customer base and we have been hearing it from analysts as well."
The right approach for VARs will depend on the size of the customer. Larger customers will want to buy e-mail archiving tools and do the work themselves. Smaller and medium-sized businesses do not have the ability or the equipment to do all of the archiving themselves and will not mind paying for a service that will do the archiving for them. This is especially true if they are in a business that requires retention of data due to regulation.