Integrator Wanted; SAN Expertise Required
Four SAN (storage area network) executives tell why there are opportunities in this market for VARs who have expertise and can answer their customers' questions.
The SAN (storage area network) market is presenting new opportunities for the reseller channel. A technology that a few years ago was exclusively an enterprise-class solution is now getting into midrange companies as well. The continued growth in this technology promises opportunity for those VARs who are well versed in technical aspects of SANs and can explain the technology and its benefits to customers.
Customers Require Consolidation
In our current economy, why does SAN remain such a hot topic? Patrick Courtain, CEO of SANgate Systems, Inc. (Southborough, MA), believes the major force behind the growth of SANs is storage consolidation. "When companies have money to spend, they keep investing in new hardware," says Courtain. "However, when you get an economy like the one we are currently in, companies no longer have the money to spend. Then they begin to realize they need to better manage all of the storage hardware they purchased in the past. A storage network is what allows companies to better manage their storage."
Managing resources can be an expensive process and requires companies to gain control of their applications and storage. Part of that process requires end users to determine what information should be residing on the servers, the fabric of the network, and the storage. That is just one of the areas where end users require support from their VARs.
"The real strength for VARs is in adding value," says Courtain. "Some VARs try to make money simply on the margin they receive from reselling hardware. The real value they should be giving end users lies in being able to consult them on their storage needs." Courtain believes IT administrators and CIOs need all the help they can get. They need VARs who will assist them in taking an inventory of the storage resources they have and, if the customer needs a SAN, help them decide what type of SAN infrastructure they need. "Customers know they need to consolidate their storage, but they don't know what they need or how to do it," he adds. "Today's storage VAR needs to be a consultant, advisor, integrator, and probably services provider as well."
Customers Need Your SAN Expertise
Zophar Sante, VP of market development at SANRAD, Inc. (Alameda, CA), agrees that gaining SAN knowledge and experience should be a high priority for every storage VAR. Sante has spent a lot of time talking to end users about SANs. "We are seeing strong interest from midrange and department-level network administrators," he says. "These administrators are not storage experts. They are typically IT professionals who are on the networking side of the business. Administrators in departments, workgroups, and midrange companies simply do not have a high degree of storage expertise."
With strong growth predicted for SANs over the next several years, Sante believes the lack of knowledge on the part of IT administrators will be an opportunity for VARs who possess SAN expertise. "VARs and systems integrators should always focus on learning those technologies that network administrators are weak on," he says. "VARs need to fully understand SANs to be able to explain them to customers in a way the customer can understand. Network administrators know what a SAN is, but they don't know how to build, operate, and manage one. A knowledgeable reseller can take them through that process. VARs can show their customers how to build a SAN and explain what components they need to invest in to make a SAN a reality for their company."
Unfortunately, thus far Sante has seen a lack of knowledge on the part of many VARs. "When I am with a customer that expresses an interest in SAN, I always ask why they are not working more closely with their reseller," he says. "The answer is they do not feel their VAR is knowledgeable enough in the technology. VARs must overcome that perception and convince customers they understand the technology and can provide the needed expertise."
SAN Tools Make Your Job Easier
A few years ago interoperability problems plagued the industry. Many VARs installing a SAN would make all of the necessary connections and then cross their fingers and hope the solution worked. SAN remains a complicated technology, but there are now tools available to make the VAR's job a little easier. "To gain the trust of end users, VARs need to install interoperable solutions," says Jeff Tetzlaff, VP of marketing and business development for I-TECH Corp. (Eden Prairie, MN). "VARs need to ensure a solution works before they install it at a customer site. VARs also need to be able to flood the SAN with data flowing at wire speed to see where bottlenecks occur and how the components will react."
Tetzlaff notes there is now hardware on the market that will allow VARs to test SAN solutions before installing them. "This type of solution allows a VAR to tell their customer, with certainty, that a solution will or will not work," says Tetzlaff. "To be seen as a storage expert, a VAR needs to be able to tell a customer that a solution will not only operate, but also stand up to the rigorous demands of a customer. Trial and error just doesn't cut it anymore. Telling a customer something should work is the same as saying you don't know. That is not the way to instill confidence in your customers."
SNIA Helps Advance The Technology
Of course, the best situation for VARs will emerge when interoperability problems are nonexistent - a goal of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA). For networking, software, storage, and management functions to work together, there first had to be a coming together of the industry vendors. Many interoperability problems have been eliminated, and vendors are now putting a greater focus on increasing the capability of SANs. SNIA is helping to ensure that happens.
"Initially the main focus for SAN vendors was on raw connectivity," says Brad Stamas, chair emeritus of the SNIA board of directors. "Vendors and end users used to be concerned about port counts, cost, and what could be connected with what. The big debate seemed to be over whose switch was bigger, faster, cheaper, and more reliable."
However, Stamas states there is a lot more complexity to all of the connectivity. Customers now have multiple types of storage systems, and the software and software management functions are becoming more complex. "The big trend in the industry is being able to add more value to the SAN," he says. "We have moved from looking at how components connect to how products connect and how the SAN will affect business applications. The biggest concern for VARs and vendors is how software will operate across the network that a VAR has built and enable multiple vendors to play together in that environment."
The changes taking place with SANs are certainly good news for VARs. Integrators now have SAN parts that work well together. With a greater vendor focus on solutions and systems, VARs will have a more complete and interoperable solution to present to customers.