Hardware is becoming a commodity with plummeting margins. Find out how storage integrator More Solutions Inc. doubled its yearly revenue by adding value to the hardware it sells.
Selling hardware, or "iron" as some people call it, is the easiest part of an enterprise storage solution, according to Tom Gelson, president of More Solutions Inc. (Lakeville, MA). The only problem is margin. The amount of margin a provider makes on hardware, anywhere from 5% to 10% margin, is great business when you're selling a huge volume or combining it with parts of the storage solution equation. More Solutions, a 25-employee company with $10 million in sales for 1999, has found a way to increase profitability while providing storage solutions to its 3,500 customers through the Enterprise Storage Pak.
Many companies have both AS/400 proprietary systems and open systems in the same data center. More Solutions found its niche by providing a way to make open and proprietary storage systems communicate with each other. Companies can have one storage brain keeping track of data all the way across the enterprise.
More Solutions resells hardware, like high-end Exabyte tape libraries, and also manufactures its own hardware, called Multi-Host Feature. This feature allows one tape drive to be connected to multiple systems. It enables a proprietary system like AS/400 to share storage with an open system.
"When I go on a sales call," said Gelson, "I most likely will see a couple of AS/400s but also multiple open systems. The customer doesn't realize that the tape storage device on AS/400 can be shared with the open system. We can configure the storage hardware to share between multiple heterogeneous platforms. People call our feature a SCSI (small computer systems interface) bridge. It uses a standard SCSI ‘hold and release' command to allow multiple systems to access a single tape subsystem. If the AS/400 is using the tape drive and the NT tries to use it, Multi-Host says it's busy and tells it to try again later. It's like a traffic cop."
The Enterprise Storage Pak, developed by More Solutions, provides an organized, step-by-step plan to provide customers with enterprise storage. Gelson explained the six-step process.
Step One: Enterprise Storage Management Audit
"More Solutions sends an account manager and a storage engineer to the prospective customer's site," said Gelson. "We do an in-depth analysis of the customer's computing environment from the perspective of their information assets. For example, at the Archdiocese of Boston, we went step-by-step through everything the Archdiocese did from the hardware, software, and network standpoint.
"In step one, we ask them what they want to do with their information and how they want to protect it. Along with the validation of the current program, we validate their storage methodology. We concentrate on discovery of genuine need, and we try to solve a business need - not just throw technology at them," he added.
"We strongly encourage them to contemplate how they are going to get a ‘return on their information,' rather than ‘return on their investment,'" stressed Gelson. "Once we have come up with a detailed recommendation, we create a paper audit, which we deliver to the customer about two weeks later. We emphasize that it is an independent audit. It doesn't tie into any particular hardware or software. We recommend what we'd like to do in steps two through four, but we don't actually put dollars to it."
If the customer accepts the audit, More Solutions adds to the audit and turns it into a 10-page proposal. The proposal lists the appropriate hardware and software; but more importantly, it illustrates the value that More Solutions will add to the products.
Step Two: Tape Management Software
The second step of the Enterprise Storage Pak is to select and configure the best storage management software for the customer's environment. This decision is based on the findings during the enterprise storage management audit.
"We configure the customer's tape management software, their high-availability software, if needed, and disaster recovery software," explained Gelson. "It could be software the company already has installed. We may suggest an upgrade, or we might leave it alone."
Step Three: Backup Servers And Disk Array
During the third step, More Solutions selects and configures the appropriate backup servers and disk array, based on the customer's goals, objectives, and requirements. "We find a vendor for the customer if they don't already have a system vendor. We only want to be involved in storage. If we think there's a need for more disk capacity, we personally get involved in that," said Gelson.
Step Four: Tape Library And Drive Hardware
Based on the customer's needs, More Solutions then selects and configures tape drive and library hardware along with the Multi-Host Feature, if necessary. Often, the tape drive selected will be an Exabyte library, like the X200. Gelson feels strongly about Exabyte's products. "Tim Studebaker, vice president of Exabyte, designs bulletproof libraries and automation. We've put in dozens of high-end Exabyte libraries and haven't had one service call yet. Studebaker over-engineers them."
Step Five: On-Site Installation, Implementation, And Knowledge Transfer
A More Solutions technician fully implements the hardware and software for the customer. "We train the operations staff on the new environment, the new way of thinking," said Gelson.
More Solutions offers conversion services, too. "We can convert all the old media into new media," noted Gelson. " If the customer has 500 MB tapes and upgrades to a tape drive that holds 50 GB, we figure data from 10 old tapes will fit on to one new tape. Sometimes, even 20 old tapes of data fits on one new tape."
Step Six: Post-Sale Support
"Many companies back up data at night, so it's important that we're always available," said Gelson. "The customer calls us first, because we provide 24/7 support. If the customer signed up for IBM Global Service, we can dial into our account and dispatch a CE (customer engineer) through the Web."
More Solutions offers the Enterprise Storage Pak to help customers protect their most important asset - information. In doing so, the integrator has been able to maintain a healthy profit margin.