Beyond the Box

The storage market is proving to be one of the most resilient sectors in the face of a slowing economy. But storage has gone beyond just tape back-ups. What is driving the move to more complex solutions, and how can solution providers get behind the curve?

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By  Mark Sutton Published  October 1, 2001

Introduction|~||~||~|Despite so many sectors in IT reporting slowing growth or declining revenues, there is one area that is still providing growing revenues—storage. As the data held by businesses, governments, and many other organisations grows, so they are faced with the same problem—what to do with all that information. A University of Berkeley study suggests that humanity will create more new information over the next two years than in the whole of history—by 2003 we will have created 57 exabytes of data—57 billion gigabytes. Providing secure, stable, accessible storage is such a requirement for any company that collects data of any kind; and meeting these needs is a constantly growing business. Just storage management software alone will be worth $16.7 billion by 2005 according to Gartner Dataquest.

The growth in data is being driven by wired businesses, and as companies rely evermore on computerised processes so the data problem gets worse. Improved collection of data for customer management, increasingly complex volumes of multimedia files for uses as diverse as oil & gas exploration data and video-on-demand, and digitisation of official records for governments, hospitals, civic planning and any number of other applications are driving not just the need for storage, but the different types of solution that are deployed.

Bosco Moraes, enterprise storage product marketing manager at Compaq explained. “We have a mix of customers—government organisations, banks, telcos. In financial institutions we are talking about areas like mission critical recovery. For some businesses the computers they are deploying are not really for back office operations, so high availability storage is an issue. Media companies want to use the Internet to distribute content, so we find a lot of opportunity there. Really the type of solutions that we offer depend on the type of business,” he said.

||**||Educating the market|~||~||~|Partly the task of the storage companies has been to educate the user about the value of their data, says Moraes, especially in this region. Both internal staff and channel partners have had to gain an understanding of the storage business.

Customers are also learning—but often the hard way. “In more established markets, the value of data is perceived to be higher,” said John Poulter, RoEMEA regional director for Veritas, the storage software company. “Until we get a major data loss in the Middle East, like eBay in the US, no one will perceive management of data to be core to their business. If you are losing thousands of dollars per hour because your systems are down, then data availability becomes an issue. That is beginning to wash across the Middle East.”

The different storage needs are met by different solutions. Vendors offer solutions from external tape drives, network attached storage, storage area networks, right up to mainframe level solutions. Sun recently expanded its range of storage offerings, which previously addressed the Unix, Linux and NT market, through an agreement with Hitachi Data Systems. The move gives the company an added presence in the mainframe market, for extreme high-availability storage.

The diversity in product range is important to address customer needs. Mark Fryer, storage sales and marketing manager for Sun MEA explained that the depth of their range meant that they could provide complete solutions to any size of customer. “One thing that we tend to find here is that storage is not treated as a separate procurement, which is much more prevalent in the UK,” he said. “Customers want a single throat to choke—they want everything from the same vendor. They want to buy a server, and storage, all in the same stack.”

In other territories, says Fryer, customers have bought storage separately from other hardware. In some cases this has created heterogeneous storage networks, with a wide variety of different devices, although the complexity of handling SANs has often meant that customers who went with the bleeding edge found that they ended up with a largely homogeneous set up anyway.

“Once [a customer] chose vendor A as their SAN supplier, they have tended to end up with vendor A’s storage hanging off the end of the SAN. We are in a good place to get into these consolidation battles, but vendors are still developing a true heterogeneous SAN,” said Fryer.

||**||Storage consolidation|~||~||~|Consolidation of different types of storage is still proving to be a driver in the storage markets though. “Storage consolidation is big here,” said Jeff Maslen, IBM storage sales manager for Middle East & Pakistan. “I was with a customer in Islamabad, who had just bought another terabyte of storage—he had all this storage scattered around two rooms, attached to two different servers, with a 4mm tape drive, but it took so much time to manage it, and the data restore did not even work. You want to be able to take all of that storage, give it proper connectivity, scripted automatic backup, and put the tape library at the other end of the building in case the whole thing goes up in smoke. You don’t need to put it all in one box, the idea is to centralise the management of the storage.”

Maslen said that the idea was to move many of these storage functions, such as backup, out of human hands, and make them automatic. High availability systems mean that there is much less of a backup window now, so what could have been done by several people managing a tape library now required a faster, more reliable set-up. Although backup is still not taken very seriously in the region, companies still need to develop more intelligent ways of handling what they have got.

“What people really want is centralised management of storage,” he commented. “If you take oil & gas companies, their data is doubling every quarter. Today two guys might be handling 100GB, but in two years time they could be managing a terabyte.”

Customers are also looking to improved management of storage as they feel the tightening economic climate. “We are seeing a fall out from the US economy, people are looking for solutions that help them manage what they have more effectively,” said Poulter.

“In the past, a Compaq or HP would go in and sell them another box,” said Nick van Noordwyk, Veritas’ regional director, MEA. “They don’t have the budget for that big box anymore, so they are coming to us to make what they have got work better.”

Another area that is growing is the idea of storage virtualisation, where all of a company’s storage devices are treated as one big one pool. Most of the vendors are working in the area. “I think it will be the way forward—it is like the memory of your PC, you don’t care where stuff goes, you just manage a huge pool of magnetic media, it is the democratisation of media,” explained Maslen.

||**||Getting the right skills|~||~||~|Regardless of the type of solution, vendors are all looking for the same thing from channel partners—commitment. Van Noordwyk compares storage today to networking a few years ago. There is a shortage of skills, particularly in the region, and there is still enough space for a partner to make good margins, he says, but the vendors are looking to see investment from partners. “Some of the resellers will go out and sell a solution, but they can’t install it, they can’t support it, they can’t spec it properly. We now have an awareness of storage in the market, we now have to change that focus a little bit, to empower the resellers to go ahead and do that job for us.”

Veritas is offering its Vplus program for partner training to get the skills into the channel, and has now got labs and other facilities in place in the region for that purpose. It is starting to make a difference, according to Mike Hynes, Veritas’ country manager for Gulf states. “One of the obstacles we have had is resellers won’t train until they have got a deal, but they won’t get a deal unless they are trained. We have made training more accessible, and maybe because of the general awareness of storage, we are finding that resellers are now much more willing to spend their own dollars to get trained on Veritas products,” he said.

Compaq are also pushing training for partners. A storage university this summer saw eighty storage certifications completed in three weeks, and the company plans to do more. The complexity of solutions makes it a necessity, says Moraes. “Most of the mid-sized projects can be handled by our channel, the high-end requirement would need some assistance from global services, so we will assist the channel as and when they need.

“We also do sales training, because it is slightly different from selling a server or a PC, you need to be able to sell the business value of a SAN, which is difficult because the [customer] investment is high, the cycle time is longer, and it is critical to provide the right solution because it determines the future of how the technology is deployed,” he said.

The rewards for those that have concentrated on security are good. STME, one of the longest established storage specialists in the region, has just deployed a leading-edge storage infrastructure for Emirates Airlines in Dubai that can scale up to 7 terabytes. Last year the company posted revenues of $20.1 million, this year it is estimating $36 million.

Trevor Hutson, general manager of STME, says that the investment in expertise—STME grew its staff by 25% in the last six months—has been vital to its success in providing independent storage solutions. “If you look at some of the vendors in the region, they have 4 or 5 guys in enterprise storage—we have 35. We don’t supply servers, we just sell best of breed storage.

“We go into a company, with different servers, different operating systems, internal and external storage, and say ‘there is your storage’. Everything goes into one place, which is managed, and then you can share information from a Unix server to a mainframe,” he continued. “IT managers are asking how they can manage this enormous volume of data, they want to know how to use this data, and that is when they come to us, because we enable them to manage and utilise the information.”

The storage industry is in no doubt about the growth of storage. “Sun shifts 100 terabytes of storage per day—and that is just Sun. Where does that all go to?” said Fryer. “The dot-com boom had something to do with the growth, but I don’t think there will ever be an end to it. Maybe this region is a bit behind the trends, but we have to get our channel tooled up and focused on this market, because the requirement for storage will never end.”||**||

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