Sell Storage Successfully

VARs know everything about partnering with the right technology vendor — or do they? Here's a detailed guide on how to make correct choices when selling a storage solution.

Three constants of the computer industry are: rapidly changing technology, channels of distribution, and an insatiable demand for storage. As a reseller, you are well positioned to capitalize on these constants. Now, more than ever, storage has taken the forefront. As the cost per megabyte plummets and new enabling technologies are delivered, planning storage architectures and capacity is more critical. This creates an opportunity for storage integrators and VARs to serve their customers in a greater value-add role by matching them with the right storage solution.

Imagine yourself as a system administrator in this complex world of gigabit Ethernet, Fibre, and SCSI interconnects, drives of varying rotational speeds, heterogeneous operating systems under one roof, and so on. The need for storage is certainly there. According to DataQuest, the storage market generates approximately $26 billion in revenue and is growing at a compound rate of 16% annually.

Fibre Channel Emerges
Obviously, changes in the technological landscape are to blame for the complexity of the storage market. Fibre Channel is emerging as the interconnector of choice between the servers and storage. Fibre Channel provides an ideal conduit to deliver data over longer distances at a faster rate. Also, Fibre Channel enables the architecture of adding more storage devices off one server or multiple servers. This year, Fibre Channel is forecasted to exceed traditional SCSI (small computer system interface) interconnects as the connection of choice for the host side. Of course, the very large installed base of SCSI devices and interconnections today will not necessarily go away.

The introduction of Fibre Channel is just one of the many storage innovations of the past year. As a consequence, storage comes in an array of sizes and shapes of attachments, interconnects, and types of storage pools. These developments make it possible for information systems managers and administrators to have the type of storage they want. But, the multiplicity of options is causing information overload.

Seven Tips On Selecting Storage For Your Customer
With this complexity, how can the reseller assist in making the correct storage selection? The answer: Package the right solution from end-to-end to suit the specific vertical segment or application need.

Here are key points to ensure customers are on the right track:

  • Determine what your competency is in the vertical segment. Make sure you have an advantage over your nearest competitor.
  • Isolate the critical storage needs for your segment and the factors most critical to your success in delivering storage and service.
  • Review the storage providers that can best serve you. Work with storage specialists that are addressing the latest trends. Make sure they can provide clear direction and can be your partners in solving specific storage problems.
  • With servers and storage becoming separate purchase decisions, select a vendor that is an expert in storage with a range of products for your vertical market segment.
  • Don't give your customers more than they need. Select the solution for the architecture currently in place, as well as the application it is intended to serve.
  • See that the customer is getting the best return on investment with the quickest payback.
  • Prepare your solution plans with your storage partner — one that knows the nuances and can guide you over any potholes.
The Benefits Of An Educated Choice
Your challenge is choosing the appropriate technology with the best return on investment. Design the solution for the most-needed critical business applications. For example, accountants and lawyers have different storage requirements than automobile and graphic designers. The key consideration is the trade-off between the transaction speed and the bandwidth. Select the storage that best addresses the trade-off.

Although mission-critical data security is becoming more important, not everybody needs a storage system that requires RAID (redundant array of independent disks) when JBOD (just a bunch of disks) is fine. Also, a "glass house" — a centralized data center — isn't for everybody. Most environments, particularly departmental settings, are well served using several small storage pools.

Above all, save your customer money. If the data is not mission-critical, or if your customer wants simply to expand capacity, a more costly RAID solution may not be necessary. However, mission-critical data requires the protection of RAID. Beware — not all RAID solutions are equal. Some RAID solutions are optimized to provide greater throughput of data for streaming environments, such as video graphic editing. Others are optimized for transaction processing. Some customers do not want a storage system that ties up the server with excessive number crunching, because it is already taxed by online transaction processing.

Not every customer needs Fibre drives or a Fibre host connection. Smaller companies and departments with moderate traffic do well with traditional SCSI connections. Additionally, moving to a Fibre Channel interconnection doesn't mean you must replace the existing storage system. Existing SCSI-based storage can be retrofitted into a new Fibre architecture by adding a router or bridge. This gains the benefit of new storage architectures like storage area networks (SANs).

Software Says "When"
In practically every situation, you should bet on a system that can be easily expanded and upgraded. "Cheap" can be expensive in the long run if adding capacity isn't easy. Here's a good rule of thumb to consider: Double the capacity you think you need for the next one to one-and-a-half years. Capacity is the lowest cost portion of the system.

Although disk storage is pervasive, few disk storage systems allow customers to capitalize on new technologies, such as upgrading the existing solution to Fibre from SCSI. Flexible and scalable solutions provide the end user with an easy-to-upgrade pathway.

Likewise, not all storage systems are capable of easy expansion through daisy chaining (connecting in a series) to leverage existing investments. Some solutions allow you to configure systems directly on the storage unit itself, as well as through management software provided with the system. It is wise to make sure that the storage partner you've selected provides a robust software tool that allows you or the customer to monitor the storage unit and components. In some cases, the management software can provide hidden opportunities to better service your customers.

Invest In Long-Term Vendor Relationships
As you can see, choosing wisely can bring great rewards. Select a storage specialist that offers a wide array of options for your market. Moreover, select a partner that provides the tools and training necessary. Some storage vendors provide storage configurations that are accessible and take the mystery out of selecting the right solution.

The bottom line is this: Buying storage is a complex business and requires a partnership that delivers all this and more. Certainly, you could select a low-cost provider, but will "Joe" be there on the other end of the line when your customer's system goes down? Partnering with robust products and services will save you money in the long run.

Steve Hammond, nStor Corporation