SMS Remains The Hot Storage Ticket
Integration and automation, along with VAR know-how, will drive integrator profits in the storage software market.
The two words that define the trend occurring in storage software are integration and automation. That's what we hear from Bob Davis, VP of BrightStor solutions at Computer Associates International (CA) (Islandia, NY). CA has been pushing the concept of on-demand computing, which is really more about management than computing. In the storage arena, that boils down to integration and automation. "We are seeing a trend toward tight integration among the various point solutions that exist in the storage management market," says Davis. "Customers need solutions for SRM [storage resource management], SAN [storage area network] management, backup and restore, workflow, event monitoring, and more. We believe the biggest trend in storage is customers wanting to integrate all of those solutions."
In the last few years, the market has seen greater interoperability among SANs. As the cost of SANs has dropped and their traction has increased in the market, Davis believes the element managers that are shipped with the hardware are no longer good enough because they are too narrow. "Customers and integrators are demanding that solutions work together," he says. "They also have to be automated. Customers do not want applications to lose performance or to go down because of the lack of storage. They do not want to have to worry about that. They want to tie the applications back to a workflow policy that automates routine tasks. If there is a best practice they rely on, they want the various point solutions to provide the management. To do that, the solutions, the applications, and the software all need to be integrated."
What Are You Helping Your Customer Do?
Erna Arnesen, VP of worldwide channels for Fujitsu Softek (Sunnyvale, CA), is spending a lot of time with resellers focusing on the need to understand the storage environment from a storage assessment or discovery point of view. "VARs need a good tool for gathering data and getting a snapshot of what the whole storage infrastructure is," she says. "To help their customers, VARs need to know what files are where, when they were last accessed, how often they are accessed, etc." Arnesen believes a storage assessment is always necessary before doing migration or starting storage consolidation projects.
Unfortunately, customers simply do not understand how much data they are storing, the composition of the files, or how often they are being accessed. They simply have no view of their storage files. With a quick assessment, most clients will see an immediate return on that investment. A simple storage assessment could help customers remove hundreds of GBs of MPEG (moving picture experts group) files that would otherwise just be sitting out there taking up valuable storage space.
Another hot trend is storage lifestyle management. This is little different from information lifestyle management, which is a cradle-to-grave, life-of-the-data type of concept. "We are recommending VARs get more specific about storage management," says Arnesen. "VARs need to talk to customers and help them rationalize everything from their demand for storage and the use of storage through provisioning their storage arrays, operations and maintenance, and backup and disaster recovery. This helps integrators understand the requirements of the customer and where their life cycle needs lie."
Manage Storage From The Application Level
Paula Dellabetta, director of marketing for CreekPath Systems (Longmont, CO), believes management of the storage environment has to happen at a higher level than the components and the server. It has to happen at the application level. "Customers do not care about storage for the sake of storage," she states. "They care about it because of the applications they support. We also believe as network storage becomes more pervasive, there have to be automatic provisioning and automatic management that occur. The environment will be too complex for users to continue to do it manually, which is the way many are doing it today."
To manage these network storage environments, especially if the customer wants the flexibility to plug and play any hardware vendor underneath it, heterogeneous management is needed. Dellabetta believes management has to come from independent software vendors, since they will have no stake in the hardware customers are using.
Of course, the concern for many resellers is margins. The margins in hardware have gone to zero. As storage gets cheaper and cheaper, the value VARs can provide to end users is really in the management of that storage and how it is managed across multiple applications. Customers need the right storage solutions to meet their needs without having significant overhead and over-provisioning to make sure they meet service level objectives.
"If VARs are moving from pushing boxes to pitching solutions, the solutions they need to be selling are holistic management applications," says Dellabetta. "If a customer does not currently have a complex SAN, it soon will. Most large enterprises will have to move to a complex SAN because they need efficiency in server and storage consolidations. The need for those efficiencies will automatically lead to a complex SAN. The customer will then need the holistic management tool to do automatic discovery and provisioning."
Vendor Consolidation From Both End Users And VARs
Michael Sotnick, VP of partner sales at VERITAS Software (Mountain View, CA), also likes the synergy he sees occurring between resellers and end users. "CIOs and senior IT execs are telling us they are aligning with fewer and fewer vendors," he says. "Companies are finding they invested in many disparate companies and technologies and are now trying to condense the number of vendors they are doing business with. We have seen server consolidations, data consolidations, and storage consolidations. Those projects are extremely prevalent in our business, and one of the results of the consolidations is a lowering of the number of vendors that make up the end user environment."
But why consolidate vendors? Sotnick believes end users have too many scars. Vendors often will align with application service providers. If there is an economic crunch and the outsource provider goes belly up, the vendor is left holding the bag on that portion of the business. Customers will find themselves in the same position. Many invested in outsourced service providers for specific applications and brought in vendors to fulfill a niche in the drive toward Web-enabling their business. When the economic crunch hit and companies went out of business, it left a lot of scars. Customers do not want that kind of pain again. Many will now more closely analyze the companies they do business with.
There is also a strong desire to eliminate a lot of the complexity and overlap that has occurred in managing an enterprise. "Customers have found themselves in situations where they are doing similar processes on different platforms and incurring excessive labor costs as a result," says Sotnick. "IT budgets were not the culprit in the technology downturn. CIOs were simply not spending their budgets. They are now rewarded for spending less than their allotted budget, and so they are focusing on fewer vendors to spend that on and asking more of each one."
This trend translates directly to resellers and solutions providers, who look at the vendor community a little differently than end users. VARs want to know where to invest their most expensive assets - their technical resources - in the pursuit of a viable business model. VARs are also aligning with fewer and fewer vendors but getting deeper with those vendors.