When Good Enough Is Better Than The Best
Sometimes a solution that is good enough can be better than the one that is the best - especially when it saves the customer a lot of cash.
A trend is taking place in the RAID (redundant array of independent disks) market, and Craig Lyons, product marketing manager for Promise Technology (Milpitas, CA), believes Serial ATA (advanced technology attachment) is at the tip of the trend. "The trend is that 'good enough' can now win over 'best,'" he says. "This has not been the case with storage in the past, although it has been that way with servers, platforms, and CPUs [central processing units]. Despite arguments from SCSI [small computer system interface]-centric companies that it is not good enough, Serial ATA will do very well because it's 1/2 to 1/3 the price of SCSI."
Technology decisions always come down to what problem the customer is trying to solve. If they just need a huge amount of capacity with 'good enough' performance and protection, Serial ATA drives will be the right choice. Lyons believes VARs have the opportunity to sell huge quantities of the technology over the next few years. Currently, Serial ATA drives make up about 2% of total drive sales. In the next few years that will increase to between 30% and 70%, depending on whose estimates you believe.
"Now that storage is making up a much larger percentage of computer expenditures, customers are looking for ways to cut down on the cost," says Lyons. "They now realize that every single application they are running does not need to be on a million-dollar SAN [storage area network]. If it is not a million-dollar problem, you should not spend a million dollars to solve it. Customers will only spend for an application what the application is worth to them."
Add to the equation the facts that everything is digital now and no one wants to throw anything away, as well as a few government regulations, and it adds up to a huge amount of data. This makes Serial ATA a great fit for data that has to be stored but does not have to be accessed quickly or often. This is where good enough wins out over best.
Higher Capacities At A Much Lower Cost
Thomas Bayens, director of marketing for Infortrend Corp. (Santa Clara, CA), agrees that Serial ATA is definitely one of the biggest trends in the RAID market. "We are absolutely seeing a lot of demand for it," he says. "The reason is the larger capacities compared to SCSI and Fibre Channel. The higher capacities also come at a much lower cost. In a weak economy, there is always a strong demand for lower-cost solutions compared to the tier-one storage solutions with Fibre Channel. We are also seeing drive manufacturers improving the overall reliability of Serial ATA drives. They are still not as good as Fibre Channel or SCSI, but they are certainly good enough for the offline or near-line applications most customers are using them for."
One application in which Serial ATA is gaining a lot of traction is digital content creation, mainly pre- and post-production broadcast. Bayens notes he is seeing a lot of sales to companies in that vertical market because Serial ATA is able to provide ample performance for the sustained bandwidth requirements needed to stream video. "It is a great fit for applications that are not assigned mission-critical status," he says. "If customers know they can accept a slightly lower level of reliability but need the capacity and lower cost, Serial ATA is a great fit."
There are some challenges with Serial ATA drives, one being that they are not as expandable as Fibre Channel drives. Bayens believes these problems will be worked out in future generations of the product. But even with this being the first generation, the drives still have advantages over ATA drives, such as having more of a hot-swap capability.
Bulk Storage, Higher Performance, Or Workhorse Engine? You Decide What's Necessary
Cooper Cowart, VP of marketing for Chaparral Network Storage (Longmont, CO), has seen a segmentation of the reseller base on the types of solutions their customers are requesting. "There are a lot of VARs selling solutions to customers who are looking for a good-value solution," he says. "The good-value solutions offer acceptable performance for an application at a given price. They are also easy to buy, install, configure, and manage, and there is no research or investigation required. This is a day-in, day-out workhorse engine customers use for their general applications. We are seeing a lot of sales of these solutions because customers keep needing to do more and more things."
Bulk storage is another type of solution customers desire, and this is where Serial ATA comes in. It allows users to store more data, or more copies of the data, in an online, random access solution. "Instead of storing the data on tape or optical and then having to retrieve the data from that source, customers are storing the data online longer or making more copies," says Cowart. "Consumers are demanding more of the businesses they deal with and putting additional pressures on those businesses. For example, a consumer may want online access to credit card statements and want to pay their bills online as well. So, they need to have access to statements from the last couple of months. This was the advent of ATA-based technology. Businesses do not need high-speed access all the time, but they need random access more of the time."
For VARs to truly capitalize on the Serial ATA market, they need to understand the benefit a particular class of service can give the end user and the end user's customers. Cowart recommends VARs understand how the particular classes of service fit, so as to advise customers on when they need a higher spin-rate drive or a dual-port Serial ATA drive. If the decision comes down to just price versus capacity, the customer may get more storage for their money but not get the class of service they need to support their end user customers.
Serial ATA also offers VARs a way to compete with the big boys. You can give customers more value and still attain increased margins. Customers need more storage, and the advent of these new technologies is bringing the cost down. This will open up new markets as customers that were not using RAID will now begin to do so.