Should You Build A RAID System?
VARs can increase margins and integration fees by building RAID systems for their customers. However, vendors disagree on whether VARs should be doing it.
Very few issues are black and white. However, VARs selling RAID (redundant array of independent disks) systems have two choices. One option is for a VAR to order a RAID system from a manufacturer. The system arrives on-site and ready to be installed. The second choice is for a VAR to order the components of a RAID system. The VAR integrates the components to create a RAID system, which is then installed. Which choice is right? It depends upon whom you ask.
Building Or Buying A RAID System
"VARs can find any number of vendors on the Internet that will sell them a RAID system and it will arrive within a couple of days," says Dr. Tomlinson Rauscher, president of Digi-Data Corporation. "The drawback to this approach is that VARs will have to pay the vendor for integrating the components that make up a system." He says that VARs who know how to do PC and network integration could be building their own RAID systems. "It's not black magic. The cost of RAID components is cheaper then the cost of an integrated RAID system. Additionally, VARs can charge for the integration," comments Rauscher. His company has 12 employees and is located in Jessup, MD. It was founded in 1960. Digi-Data manufactures and sells the controllers that constitute the heart of a RAID system.
Building a RAID system is not that easy, contends Eric Wendel, RAIDION Systems Division, PTG, Inc. The Minneapolis-based PTG has 35 employees and manufactures and distributes RAIDION-brand disk array systems. "If you are building clone PCs and servers, you will likely build hundreds or thousands of them throughout a year. The repetition allows you to learn all the components and to develop expertise. Most resellers will never build that many RAID systems, so you can't develop the expertise that a manufacturer has," states Wendel. "RAID is a mission-critical element. If VARs want to build their own arrays, they need to understand the risks, and they'll need some luck."
Advantages Of Component-Based RAID
A RAID system is composed of four basic components, according to Rauscher. Building a RAID system requires a host adapter for a PC or workstation, a RAID controller, disks, and enclosure (including fans, power supply and other fault-tolerant features). Rauscher says component-based RAID offers VARs two main advantages.
- The cost of integrating a RAID system can be passed along to the end user. "I know what some VARs charge end users for integrating a RAID system. It is definitely the more profitable approach to selling the technology," says Rauscher.
VARs can choose the components that best meet the needs of their customer. "Sometimes the RAID system is placed under a table and sometimes it is in a highly-visible area. When you are building a RAID system, you can offer customers a choice of enclosures and other custom features," comments Rauscher.
Buying A RAID System
Wendel admits that VARs can save money by integrating RAID systems. However, he says VARs should be aware of two factors before doing custom integration. According to Wendel, a component-based RAID system can lead to technical support problems, while system RAID is supported by the manufacturer. "With build-your-own-RAID, there is no single vendor contact for support. The classic scenario has component manufacturers blaming each other or the VAR," says Wendel. "It is a precarious situation."
Secondly, Wendel disagrees with Rauscher on the ease of integrating a RAID system. "I would not suggest that any VAR start ordering RAID components out of a catalog without being prepared to invest a lot of time in a trial and error process," says Wendel. He says most VARs see the need to concentrate resources on their core technology services, and sell and support those. "If assembling disk array subsystems from a component level is a core competency, then a VAR should explore integrating RAID systems. Otherwise, integration should be done by the manufacturer," says Wendel.
Is It Right For Your Company?
Should you be integrating your own RAID solutions? Different vendors have different opinions on that question. Rauscher offers a guideline for VARs interested in component-based RAID. "If you are only selling one or two systems per year, then I would suggest buying a packaged RAID system," explains Rauscher. "If you are selling three or more RAID systems each year, you should definitely consider component-based RAID." Wendel says VARs chasing RAID integration dollars will likely be rewarded with a headache. "I have seen VARs with a great deal of experience and using quality components, have trouble integrating a RAID system," states Wendel. "With packaged RAID systems, you take it out of the box and set it up in 20 minutes. It is the best option for most VARs."
However, Rauscher disagrees with that opinion.