Do You Understand SMBs' Storage Needs?
The SMB market is primed for networked and virtual storage solutions.
One of the hottest markets that many IT vendors have been focusing on for the past couple of years is the SMB market, which represents millions of businesses throughout North America. Like their enterprise counterparts, SMBs are turning to the latest information technology to give them an advantage over their competitors. Storage is one of those technologies. For this article, four storage vendors offer their expertise on the specific needs of SMBs as well the types of storage solutions VARs should sell to this market.
Before selling anything to SMBs, it's first important to distinguish how this market is different from an enterprise business. The most obvious difference is the number of employees. "An enterprise is typically defined as a business with more than 1,000 employees, and when it comes to storage requirements, an enterprise typically manages multiple TBs of data," says Desa Zraick, senior director of global channel development and operations at Seagate. "SMBs, on the other hand, have fewer than 1,000 employees and typically manage between 100 GB and 3 TB of data." Small businesses can be further differentiated from midsize companies, in that small businesses typically have fewer than 350 employees, and they're more likely to be using direct attached storage, which entails saving data to a PC.
Help Small Businesses See The Value Of Networked Storage
Unlike their enterprise counterparts, SMBs often have no internal IT support, or for companies with more than 100 employees, they'll often have one IT generalist who is responsible for PCs, the network, application licensing management, and a host of other IT and non-IT-related tasks. "Most small businesses have no storage strategy; they're just focused on the immediate tasks of running the business," says Zraick. "VARs need to show these business owners the value of being able to share information within the company. For instance, perhaps the business uses a sales contact management program like GoldMine. A NAS [network attached storage] device allows the data from this application to be stored in a centralized location and accessed by everyone who needs it, such as salespeople, customer service reps, marketing, and accounting personnel." Another tactic Zraick suggests VARs take with small businesses is helping them realize the damage caused when employees keep all of their client contact info on their computers and take that data with them when they terminate employment. By storing data in a centralized location, the company has a better chance of retaining its data.
Zraick says she sees the most successful VARs bundling home storage solutions with small business storage solutions. "The digital content explosion is occurring in the home more than the office," she says. "By bundling shared business storage solutions with home storage solutions, a VAR may have the biggest impact on a small business customer."
Show Midsize Companies The Value Of Storage, Server Virtualization
For companies with more than 100 employees and 1 or 2 IT employees, you're much more likely to see some kind of networked storage solution in place. According to Daylen Farkas, director of channel sales at disk defragmentation company Diskeeper Corp., and Andrew Meyer, product marketing manager at storage vendor NetApp, there are still plenty of storage sales opportunities for VARs selling to larger SMBs. "The hottest trend in the SMB market right now is virtualization, primarily due to its green computing and power consumption benefits," says Farkas. Virtualization is the pooling of physical storage from multiple network storage devices into what appears to be a single storage device that is managed from a central console. According to Meyer, "SMBs are interested in server and desktop virtualization, and they're buying storage with that thought in mind. In fact, our customers have surprised us by adopting iSCSI [Internet small computer system interface] SANs [storage area networks], not for specific Windows applications like SQL and Exchange, but for VMware, Citrix XenServer, and Virtual Iron virtualization software." Meyer shares an example of an SMB customer that recently migrated its business to a virtual server and storage environment with the help of a storage VAR. "Ahearn-Jasco, a 35-person accounting firm in Florida, created a VMware environment to simplify its server management," he says. "The firm used a NetApp S500 server to host virtual PCs and CIFS [common Internet file system] shares and to replace Windows file servers. The reseller helped the firm upgrade its network, plus the VAR earned additional revenue by providing a disaster recovery solution."
Prepare For Virtualization's New Challenges
One of the benefits of server virtualization is hardware consolidation, which is a desirable outcome for SMBs with understaffed IT departments. "But, remember, if you consolidate three or four physical servers into one, that disk drive is going to suffer three to four times the level of network traffic," warns Farkas. "Because of this, it's even more important that VARs perform regular disk defragmentation and other maintenance practices." Kim Tchang, VP of marketing at storage virtualization vendor SANRAD, also has advice for VARs regarding selling virtualization solutions. "To maximize ROI, server and storage virtualization should complement one another," she says. "For example, dynamic virtual machine failover, a key benefit of server virtualization solutions, can facilitate disaster recovery. However, the solution may not be complete without dynamic storage failover, a storage virtualization feature. Ensuring high availability at the server application level is not enough. If the data in the storage environment is not equally protected in an integrated virtualization solution, the servers may recover but will not have access to the data they need."
If you want to learn more about virtualization, SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) offers a wealth of information on its Web site, www.snia.org. SNIA also offers storage training and certification programs. For examples of different virtualization options, check out Storage Editor Chris Loringer's article "Storage Virtualization Provides New VAR Opportunities," at BSMinfo.com/jp/2483.