Tape vendors are working with VARs to offer increasingly "open" solutions.
In today's tape market, it's all about choice," said Jim Watson, CEO of Breece Hill Technologies in Boulder, CO. "The VAR that can offer the widest variety of choices to the most customers is going to succeed."
Bill Marriner, president of Exabyte Corp. of Boulder, CO, agrees with Watson. "End users want the ability to customize," said Marriner. "They want solutions that are tailored to their needs."
According to both gentlemen, the secret to offering choices to customers lies in open systems. For its part, Breece Hill is designing generic library boxes that enable VARs to further customize tape libraries. "For example," said Watson, "we have one type of box designed for linear tape, such as DLT, LTO, and Benchmark. We also offer generic boxes for helical scan tape, such as Ecrix, AIT, and Mammoth. This model allows a VAR to mix and match drives in order to tailor specific solutions."
Watson said the benefit of the generic box is that it spreads a vendor's development costs across a much broader product line. It also minimizes R&D. This combination helps to increase margins for the VAR.
"Let's face it, these boxes don't have a personality until you put the drives in them," he said. "Therefore, this business model enables our VARs to share in a greater portion of the value-add. Plus, in addition to adding value at the drive level, VARs can also add software."
Watson said Breece Hill is taking a "building block approach" to the development of its libraries. "We want to give VARs the ability to combine blocks. Thus, VARs can work with best-of-breed providers to build best-of-breed products. They don't have to accept preconfigured products from the vendor. When vendors make individual blocks available, any VAR can use those blocks to build a solution that is tailored to the customer's needs."
Exabyte's strategy is similar. "We have been designing families of libraries with a common architecture," said Marriner. "But all of the libraries will support the leading drive technologies."
Marriner said Exabyte realizes that the channel is not well served by a vendor that ships proprietary library technology. "Customers want open architectures," he said. "Therefore, we design our libraries to handle DLT, Mammoth-2, or LTO. For the VAR, there are some advantages. First, open architecture allows one-stop shopping. Second, VARs don't have to find three separate manufacturers: one to provide for their Mammoth needs, one to provide for their DLT needs, and one to provide for their LTO needs."
Furthermore, Marriner said that vendors are developing management protocols based on open standards. "For example, some libraries can be configured with a built-in e-mail server. If there is a problem, the server can e-mail administrators or send a message to their pagers or cell phones. Some units can be configured with a Web server, so the library can be managed through a Web browser. These are the types of customized features that customers are demanding."
Marriner also said that, aside from narrowing the number of vendors with which a VAR deals, there is a total cost of ownership savings with the open model. One set of spare parts supports all three technologies. "There is also the commonality of training for both sales and service. We think there's a lot of benefit to both the end user and the reseller in this common architectural approach. We also know that by handling multiple technologies VARs will be able to cover 95% of the mid-range market."