Space: the Final Frontier

As exabytes of electronic information pile up across the region, storage space becomes imperative. But just how big is this market in the Middle East, and is it worth your time?

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By  Colin Browne Published  December 6, 2000

Introduction|~||~||~|Just how big is the enterprise storage ‘opportunity’ anyway? Like all high-growth areas, this space is extremely competitive, and EMC, Storagetek, Compaq, and Sun Microsystems have their channels pretty much sewn up locally, right? So where will it be possible for you to carve yourself a piece of the pie?

Well, how does everywhere grab you? Consider this: humankind will generate more original information over the next three years than was created in the previous 300,000 years combined, according to a new study from the School of Information Management and Systems (SIMS) at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1999 the world created about 1.5 “exabytes” of unique information—which is 1.5 billion gigabytes, or the equivalent of 250 megabytes of new information for every man, woman and child in the world. According to the study, that number is expected to double every year for the foreseeable future, even without counting the multiple copies that most information generates.

Get it? The study, which was sponsored by EMC, found that there are currently about 12 exabytes of unique content—print, film, optical, and magnetic—in the world. Most new information created today is “born digital,” generated by individuals and organisations in digitised electronic form.

||**||It's all about management|~||~||~|That unprecedented activity calls for special measures. It is no good throwing more disks at the problem in order to create more storage.

Put it in perspective: if a library had a million books at the beginning of this year, and that number doubled every year, at the end of year five, it would have 32 million books. You try finding the ones you want if all you have done is put up more shelves. And if any of those books are not of a standard size, custom shelves have to be created. When those books are discarded, the shelves are just so much firewood.

This won’t do. Ask any librarian. What is required is a common, standard set of shelves, which can simply be reused, and a flexible, comprehensive system to locate, track, check-in and check-out, and age books, which will be equally effective when managing three trillion books as it will with one million.

That isn’t easy to do, but if you are in the solutions providing game for the long-haul, it may be worth learning how. “What is actually happening is that instead of being server-centric, the new world is very much storage-centric, and in fact, the money being spent on storage is already, I believe, rather more than is being spent on servers,” Trevor Hutson, managing director of storage solutions VAR, STME told CRN.

||**||A growing market|~||~||~|“If you want to put that in perspective in the Middle East, we as STME, have been around for 18 years, and three years ago, our storage sales were about US$3 million per year. This year they are $25 million. So in three years we went from $3 million to $10 million to $15 million to $25 million,” said Hutson.

“And the problem, from a management viewpoint in terms of the end user, is not so much where do I put all this storage; it is how do I manage all this? Now different companies mean different things when they say enterprise storage, but what it should mean is that you have a central repository of storage, with one set of management. And you can plug into that storage, anything at all; it makes no difference if you have a Sun server, or an HP server, or a mainframe,” said Hutson.

It also means that as new applications roll out, you don’t throw away your storage. In other words, say you have an application you were running on a Sun server with Sun storage; if you got rid of that application in the past, you didn’t have any use for that server or the storage any more. In real enterprise storage, you may get rid of the server, but you just re-allocate the storage that you have already purchased.

That said, new customer buying patterns show server and storage solutions being sourced separately with increasing regularity. “People are starting to think of the storage first and then building the servers and the platforms next,” said Ivan Kraemer, sales manager, Storage, Hewlett-Packard Middle East.

||**||Going after the competition|~||~||~|Kraemer says that HP has given its storage business managers a mandate to double the connect rate on HP servers, as well as going after those sold by Compaq and Sun. With that in mind, it is hard for HP not to see EMC as a major target; until around 18 months ago, HP farmed its high-end storage opportunities out to EMC through a joint venture between the two companies. The breaking of that relationship gives HP much work to do to in order to compete. “We are definitely behind at the moment, and behind EMC in particular because we gave them all our business until recently,” Kraemer said.

“A large part of the challenge now is to identify and to train channel partners. We are looking for two or three or four for the region, and want them to be channel specialists.”
EMC, with its dominant position globally, is in everyone’s gun sights, and Sun, not normally known for its storage sales prowess, says it is no different. “The view in Sun is that we should have had EMC’s throat a lot earlier. We consider EMC one of our strongest competitors right now,” Alan Townsend, managing director, Sun Microsystems SEAME told CRN.

As a widely-accepted king of server sales, analysts have speculated that Sun’s soaring profits could be bolstered by as much as a further 60%, were it to take advantage of the storage opportunities its customer accounts create. “I think we woke up a long time ago, but I don’t think Sun has done a very good job of executing, to be honest,” said Townsend.

||**||Compaq and IBM|~||~||~|But Sun has also traditionally limited its connection-capabilities to its own servers, and if it wishes to compete with EMC or the recent Compaq/IBM alliance, it will have to change that.

Townsend says the company is aware of its dilemma and is working towards that change. “From a corporate point of view, it is going to be an absolutely critical area of focus. We are very happy to sell storage on other people’s products; we’re going to have to sell storage on other people’s products,” he said.

For Compaq and IBM, that is absolutely key. Earlier this year, these two systems vendors pledged to work together and invest $1 billion over the next three years to improve interoperability of SANs. In a nutshell, the companies have agreed to work together to make sure standards are open and that everything works together for network storage. “It means that we are creating common architecture for management,” said Jeff Maslen, product marketing manager for enterprise storage at Compaq MEMA.

“Some people here have applications that are so mission critical they don’t want to touch it, but want to keep adding to it. The mainframe can now be managed inside a Storage Area Network. That’s funky,” he said.

“And to be honest, IBM, if you listen to what analysts were saying, were having trouble getting their open storage systems into the marketplace in a timely fashion. We were having difficulty with some customers who said they only want one storage system for the whole lot, and we could only do Unix and Windows NT. So for both of us, we are now able to take each other’s products and look after our own accounts and have it under one SAN. But it goes beyond that: it means that customers who have made an investment in our stuff, or in IBM’s stuff, or with the earlier mainframe stuff, it now comes into one set of services, software and solutions and a SAN that is guaranteed to work,” said Maslen.

Putting all that together on the ground however has taken considerable organisational skills—Compaq was a company that hadn’t appeared to make big inroads into the enterprise storage opportunity either. Maslen organised a channel specifically to sell SANs, consisting of roughly two partners per country. But becoming a Compaq partner required more than lip service; there was investment up-front required. “What it means is that they invested $8,000 to fly to Munich to an external consultancy company, got trained on the stuff, came back, and started putting it together with us,” said Maslen.

EMC and Storagetek also recognised the requirement for a strong channel, and in as much as their sole interest is storage, they may have got a jump on the game. STME, which represents both, as well as software vendor Veritas, came early to market and claims a strong customer list including major telcos such as Saudi Telecom, Batelco, Etisalat, Click, and MobiNil. And while most organisations can claim to have sold one or other item to the likes of Etisalat, STME’s Hutson says he is referring to terabytes of storage designed to accommodate the inherent growth in telcos’ ASP or ISP plans. As if to prove the point, Hutson has secured what he refers to as one of EMC’s “top guys” for the first quarter of next year. “[He will be] resident in the Middle East, just to look at ASP/ISP opportunities,” he said.||**||

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