Sold on storage

Network attached storage (NAS) is gradually making a name for itself as the storage technology of choice amongst end-users in the Middle East. With storage vendors excited about the capabilities and simplicity offered by the technology, Channel Middle East examines the steady rise in popularity of NAS and asks what it means for the reseller channel.

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By  Dawinderpal Sahota Published  June 21, 2007

|~|Guru-Prasad200.jpg|~|Guru Prasad, Tech Access|~|Network attached storage (NAS) is gradually making a name for itself as the storage technology of choice amongst end-users in the Middle East. With storage vendors excited about the capabilities and simplicity offered by the technology, Channel Middle East examines the steady rise in popularity of NAS and asks what it means for the reseller channel. NAS remains a technology synonymous with mature markets. Yet while regions such as Europe and the US lead the way when it comes to deployment, the Middle East is quickly following suit. Storage experts forecast that the Middle East market for NAS is set to grow between 30% and 40% in the next year. Dubai-based storage reseller StoreTech claims it is seeing blanket demand for its NAS solutions in the GCC. “We have a wide spread of users, from four-user organisations to 4,000-user organisations,” commented Anil Gupta, managing director at StoreTech. “Any network is the right candidate for NAS. If you want to refer data, modify things or back-up data, NAS is the best solution.” Although demand for NAS is being generated from a diverse range of customers, its deployment, until now, has still been more sluggish than some would have liked. PC and server vendor Dell reckons the rudimentary IT infrastructures that many businesses in the region possess is culpable for this dilemma. “Customers are still looking at one server and one application in this region,” observed Kevin Pickford, enterprise systems consultant at Dell. “So the deployment of NAS in the Middle East has been quite slow in comparison to other regions.” That said, NAS is being used in multiple sectors across the Middle East region, according to Mohammed Amin, general manager MENA at storage vendor EMC. “It is becoming the de facto technology for businesses in the energy sector, engineering firms, and for video rendering and editing,” he asserted. “Because of their application nature, NAS is the most efficient way of accessing and managing core business information. These business environments require fast, reliable and predictable access to their information, while ensuring data protection and availability.” One storage channel source cites Egypt as the market with the most potential for NAS, arguing that its infrastructure is sophisticated enough for the technology’s deployment, even if the market isn’t yet ready. “Egypt is technically a mature enough market to deploy NAS — they are already starting to do that, but I think the market knowledge is a little immature to understand the benefits.” Technology powerhouse HP reckons the GCC is really grasping its range of NAS solutions. “Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar are all investing in IT — especially amongst SMBs,” said Ashraf Helmy, marketing manager for the vendor’s Middle East StorageWorks division. “In the NAS space we have our all-in-one storage server solution targeting the mid-size and SMBs, and the ‘NAS for the family’, which is positioned at entry-level, up to the enterprise customers that require services that we can integrate with SAN solutions,” said Helmy.||**||Server consolidation |~|ashraf-helmy200.jpg|~|Ashraf Helmy, HP|~|Consolidation of servers is a trend being witnessed in the region. Previously, servers were only being consolidated amongst enterprise customers running high-end technology infrastructures. But as the trend of consolidation seeps into other areas of the market, NAS is commonly being installed alongside it. Helmy said: “NAS plays a part in our ‘simply consolidation’ scheme. We are targeting consolidation not only on an enterprise level, but also on an SMB level.” Guru Prasad, business development manager at Sun distributor Tech Access, concurs that such businesses are realising that procuring a centralised, scalable and easy to deploy box can help them consolidate. “That’s the overall reason — consolidation is all about the ease of use, simplicity and reducing complexity in the network, so this is the typical area in which we are seeing deployment of NAS,” he revealed. The key driver of NAS is its simplicity to deploy. It negates complex planning, and vendors and distributors alike admit that a reseller doesn’t need to possess a great deal of expertise in storage to deploy NAS. Storage giant Network Appliance reckons the skills required to implement NAS are minimal. “Resellers should have networking and storage skills, and of course they need some know-how of the NAS systems they sell,” said Martyn Molnar, regional area director MENA at the vendor. “When resellers choose to sell an appliance-type NAS system such as ours, this point can become very easy as there is not much to do to get it up and running.” Amin, at rival EMC, said: “As the term implies, NAS is IP-based and the majority of resellers in the Middle East have expertise in this field. Most of the resellers will have IP certified professionals and experts in their organisation and, with minimal training on EMC NAS products, they are able to implement EMC NAS solutions in the enterprise and also in the SMB sector.” StoreTech insists it is making no exaggeration when it claims that NAS is an ‘install and forget’ product. Anil Gupta explained: “There’s no mandatory specialised knowledge to deploy this, it’s as simple as installing a network printer. It is just that instead of a printer you have a NAS box.” Manish Gupta, solutions manager, also at StoreTech, adds that NAS doesn’t even warrant the services of an on-site IT manager in a business. “In site offices, you can leave servers unattended because NAS doesn’t need human resources,” he said. “There are companies that deploy 6TB storage that don’t even have an IT manager. And the IT manager wants NAS because there are so many other things they need to maintain. It helps to have something like NAS, which is zero maintenance,” he added. However, when it comes to making money from selling NAS, much depends on the type of deployment a reseller is undertaking. As NAS is a straightforward technology to implement, low-end installations don’t warrant so much by way of financial reward. “Your margins go higher based on where you’re selling,” claimed Prasad. “If you’re trying to sell a simple 1TB box to an SMB, obviously your margins are less — you’re not doing a lot, you’re just pushing a box. Low-end vendors typically offer 3% to 4%. But when you move to higher end deployments and add services, your margins increase too.” That said, the simplicity and ease of use that NAS solutions offer means there is ample scope for resellers to add value by way of services. By offering post-sales services, resellers can distinguish themselves from rivals and curry favour amongst vendors. “Our channel capitalises on how easy our solution is by adding value — they are not only implementors,” claimed HP’s Helmy. “They have their own value added services, disaster recovery planning and there are a lot of application related value added services.” Swift post-sales service and maintenance is the key to effectively serving a customer’s — and vendor’s — needs, suggests Bipin Nair, product manager at Kuwaiti distribution outfit Advantec. “Resellers can provide support in this space by ensuring a swift swap-out of faulty drives to keep their customers’ businesses running,” he said.||**||Persuasion techniques|~|Anil-Gupta200.jpg|~|Anil Gupta, StoreTech|~|Tech Access warns that not all customers will see clear advantages in adopting NAS, at first anyway. So a reseller who can streamline his focus and identify customers that will undoubtedly benefit from the technology, stands to succeed. “They need to clearly identify the customers they can pitch NAS to — they can add value by having the right kind of people for pre-sales support, and they need to pinpoint the customers that would benefit from NAS. This could be a simple telemarketing exercise or an education exercise with the vendor and distributor,” counselled Prasad. StoreTech takes a difference stance on the issue, claiming the benefits of the technology are not discriminatory — every customer stands to gain — so the key is in how the solution is sold. “Because it is sold as part of a solution, we add a lot of services. Our demo-to-sales ratio is 100% — whenever we meet a customer it always generates business, but prior to us meeting them they’re often not aware of what NAS is,” claimed Anil Gupta. In fact, the key challenge facing the deployment of NAS is awareness — that’s the consensus of vendors, distributors and resellers in the field. They all agree that the lack of understanding of NAS in this region is holding back its widespread adoption. “The real challenge is education and knowledge about the benefits of NAS — how NAS is a viable, cost effective and easily configurable solution for SMBs and their customers,” claimed Nair at Advantec. Jul Johansen, solutions manager at Dell Middle East, agrees that the key challenge is customer awareness. He claims the PC heavyweight is planning to address this issue — especially in the Middle East — in the future. “We will introduce more NAS products and as the emerging markets are so important to Dell, we will really be paying attention to this region,” he promised. However, one channel source claims that such pledges from big vendors are simply not enough. The source reckons the top five storage vendors need to be doing more: “At the moment the top five vendors are only interested in pushing their high revenue earning products — their servers, PCs and laptops — so they’re not focused on this as it would only mean a few sales for them. They’re not driving awareness of NAS.”||**||Lack of awareness|~|kevin-pickford200.jpg|~|Kevin Pickford, Dell|~|Being a storage-focused vendor, Network Appliance is one vendor has a vested interest in increasing the profile of NAS, and is working towards increasing resellers’ awareness so that customers can ultimately benefit too. “NetApp provides various possibilities for resellers to keep up with the trends,” said Molnar. “A wealth of material is on our website, with special partner sections, newsletters and webcasts for our partners and of course the NetApp academy for live training around technology and how to sell it.” Nair at Advantec — which delivers products from storage vendor Buffalo Technologies across the region — agrees that increasing the level of awareness among resellers will have the desired effect on end-users too. “Buffalo believes that it is important for resellers to understand the simplicity of our NAS products and how these products can best serve the needs of their customers. During the second half of 2007 it will expand an existing UK-based reseller training web-site by creating a section dedicated for Middle- Eastern resellers,” added Nair. Meanwhile Advantec claims it is localising this process by offering tailored communication methods, including on-site training sessions, to value added resellers. Tech Access reckons that while the immediate challenge with NAS in the Middle East surrounds its awareness, making clients understand the return on investment represents the next significant hurdle. “Justifying the ROI in the deployment of NAS — basically telling them how they can save more money in the future, rather than up-front in capital expenditure is important,” said Prasad. “Buying a server with a disk is always going to be cheaper than NAS, but the ROI will be much higher on a NAS solution, depending on what the customer wants to do.”||**||Specialised field|~|Bipin-Nair.jpg|~|Bipin Nair, Advantec|~|Jordanian outfit Rahma Integrated Systems claims another issue, in Jordan, is the level of maturity in the market. Issam Jazar, software manager at the reseller, says customers are not yet comfortable dealing with the wealth of technologies and vendors on offer, preferring instead to stick to simplified IT models. “In Jordan, people want to get all their networking needs from one vendor; HP and IBM are very popular here,” revealed Jazar. “We used to work with NetApp, and they have really nice products, but the market in Jordan is not that mature and tenders require the same vendor for servers and storage. Of course, NetApp doesn’t do its own servers, whereas IBM and HP do, as well as NAS, SAN, switches and fabrics — everything. So, end-users prefer to work with them,” he said. StoreTech however, is quick to provide assurances that this isn’t such an issue in the GCC: “EMC is the largest storage vendor in the world — it doesn’t make servers, nor does Network Appliance. We’ve been in this market for eight years and in the GCC, storage is a specialised field,” he said. It might be a specialised field, but the level of growth in the NAS market, coupled with the interest it is creating among SMBs, is likely to mean that this part of the storage sector becomes an even greater attraction for resellers in the coming future. ||**||

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