Become A Storage Area Network Consultant

VARs can exploit SAN (storage area network) opportunities by developing their skills as SAN consultants.

The best way for storage VARs to make money is to simplify storage area networks for IT managers. That's the opinion of Nancy Kuehn, director of channel marketing for Ancor Communications, Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN). Ancor manufactures Fibre Channel switches for SANs. "VARs need to become consultants," she said. "They need to know how to conduct the integration, the installation, and some of the service and support. Once they master those skills, they'll be in a better position to educate IT managers."

Guiding IT Managers
"IT managers are depending on VARs for guidance and education," she continued. "No one is in a better position to provide those services than VARs. Therefore, VARs that can act as consultants will play larger roles in the decision-making process and ultimately will make the big margins."

Speaking of playing a large role in the decision-making process, Kuehn cited some numbers from DataQuest. She said that approximately 70% of product selection decisions made by Fortune 1000 companies are strongly influenced, or actually made, by consultants and integrators. "That number is up from 50% last year," she said. "The influence of VARs is clearly growing." Kuehn believes that, in order to become SAN consultants, VARs need to participate in education programs offered by storage vendors. "There are also trade associations VARs can join," she said. "This includes the Fibre Channel Industry Association and the Storage Networking Industry Association."

Be A Hero
Rick Luttrall agrees. Luttrall is director of product marketing and program management for Crossroads Systems (Austin, TX). Crossroads makes Fibre Channel routers for SANs. "SANs offer VARs the opportunity to be heroes to their customers," said Luttrall. "Those end users are looking for solutions that make storage easier to deploy, manage, and scale. There aren't a lot of SAN experts out there today. So VARs need to step into those roles." VARs can become SAN experts by understanding the phases of the customer buying process. Typically, a customer goes through consulting, deployment, maintenance, and sustaining. VARs can assist in each of those phases. However, the process ultimately begins with the consulting abilities of the VAR. "VARs need to be able to analyze any environment and determine what SAN implementation works for any particular customer," said Luttrall.

Becoming Storage-Certified
Luttrall said that all of the major storage suppliers recognize SANs as a new and emerging marketplace. As a result, they are offering storage certification programs. "You can become a Compaq-certified engineer or an IBM-certified engineer," he said. "Vendors have storage-specific programs that train employees to become storage experts."

In closing, Luttrall said that the key to this equation is the lack of storage experts in the customer's environment. "Customers are going to have to find that expertise somewhere," he said. "They can train their own IT personnel or depend on another organization to do it for them."

But, clearly, the trend is against bringing fixed costs in-house. Most businesses would rather employ a storage consultant on an "as needed" basis. This situation represents a perfect opportunity for VARs to move into the role of SAN consultants.

Mike Downing, contributing editor