Standing Out From The Crowd

Understanding how the parts work together can help VARs distinguish themselves while avoiding disaster.

How do storage VARs differentiate themselves from the competition? One method is to drop margins. And, while this might win the deal, it certainly doesn't help a VAR's bottom line. Another method is to deliver mismatched products that burn up. But that's no way to stay in business.

According to Don Naples, VP of sales and marketing at Infortrend (Santa Rosa, CA), and Eric Herzog, VP of Marketing at Mylex (Fremont, CA), there is a better way. Both Naples and Herzog agree that VARs can differentiate themselves by understanding all of the features of the products they sell.

A Nightmare Scenario
As for mismatched products that burn up, that's not an exaggeration. The consequences of not understanding the components can be dire. For example, Naples said, "We recently had an experience with a VAR who combined a number of different components without understanding how those components worked together. The VAR bought a controller and a storage enclosure. When that VAR put the parts together, the whole thing burned up."

It was no accident. Naples said the VAR hadn't designed the subsystem properly. "The VAR hadn't considered such issues as airflow. That's something an engineer would normally pay attention to in designing a complete system. It's important for VARs to understand these things."

Shouldn't VARs Know Better?
But wait a minute. Doesn't the average VAR know enough to match the product to the right application?

"It doesn't really happen that way," said Herzog. "Instead, an enclosure manufacturer has a distribution channel, and the controller manufacturer has a distribution channel. VARs then wind up purchasing what they think is a good product from each of those channels. And, in fact, that may be true. A VAR may purchase two good products. However, those two good products don't always work well together. It's important to make sure that the integration level is complete."

Making The Components Work Together
In addition to avoiding disaster, it's also important for VARs to understand all of the features of a particular product. As an example, Naples mentioned a component called a fault bus. "The fault bus offers a number of safety options. Companies that manufacture RAID controllers will have their own design for a fault bus. None of them are compatible with each other.

"I've seen VARs buy a controller, an enclosure, and disk drives. Then they put the whole thing together and never bother to hook up the fault bus. The fault bus tells the user if the cooling systems are working properly and if the UPS is working properly. All of this information can be fed into the controller, which can report a drive failure or a host channel failure, in addition to the status of the UPS, the fans, and the power supplies. The controller can then page you or send you an e-mail to alert you to the problem. You can then log on remotely and look at the configuration to determine the nature of the problem. But, if you don't hook up the fault bus," he added, "you'll never take advantage of this feature." "That's true," said Herzog. "Therefore, the VAR who is able to say, ‘This box has these features, and I can incorporate all of these features,' will win the deal — as opposed to someone else who says, ‘I know how to bolt these two pieces of iron together.'"