SSPs launch software blitz


While traditional storage service providers (SSPs) have shed the SSP moniker and revamped their businesses to focus on managed storage services and software applications, analysts claim that the storage utility model is still viable. However, former SSPs are now churning out software and services and are pulling back on providing "disk-on-demand."

In a recent Gartner Group/Dataquest survey of companies that provide storage services (including SSPs, managed service providers, telecommunications companies, and others), server backup and recovery was reaffirmed as the number one storage service that end users want, according to Adam Couture, senior analyst of IT services at Gartner Group/Dataquest. Meanwhile, tele communications companies came out as the number one pick for being "likely to survive as an SSP," according to the survey.

Telecommunications giant Bell South agrees with that assessment, according to Chris Parsons, senior vice president of the company. BellSouth recently entered into an agreement with SSP pioneer and data storage service management company Storage Networks to implement, manage, and monitor BellSouth's managed storage services. More than one year ago, BellSouth began investigating storage service offerings as part of its "e-Platform" strategy, its vision of network-enabled applications, including storage-enabled networks. BellSouth believes that storage will be a core part of its infrastructure as it expands.

Key to the company's strategy will be delivering managed storage services based on its existing infrastructure (see sidebar). BellSouth wants to leverage its current infrastructure to provide computing power and high-speed optical and DSL-based network access for its e-Platform.

Based on a survey of SSPs, MSPs, and other service providers, backup and recovery and primary storage-on-demand are becoming less popular.
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Software is key to the future viability of SSPs/MSPs, according to Doug Chandler, director of infrastructure management services research at International Data Corp. "They're all taking the same approach, which is based around software and its ability to allow companies or the provider itself to manage heterogeneous environments and get maximum efficiency," says Chandler.

Validating this trend is Broomfield, CO-based ManagedStorage International (MSI), which recently introduced the latest version of its GridWorks software-a series of applications for aggregating, correlating, and presenting data from multiple management platforms into one holistic view of storage.

GridWorks supports almost all server and mainframe storage platforms and management applications. It reports on infrastructure utilization and job status (such as data backups). Also featured are automated, on-demand order placement for unscheduled backups and capacity provisioning as well as online invoicing.

"GridWorks is the basis from which we manage our services," says Thomas P. Sweeney III, president and CEO of MSI. "It helps service providers by giving them a complete turnkey business support ser vice infrastructure."

However, while MSI is focusing its efforts on GridWorks, the company is not trying to become a software developer. "There are a lot of companies chasing that path right now," says Sweeney. "There are big companies out there developing software control capabilities. Our view is that we ought to integrate and take advantage of them."

Southborough, MA-based Storability recently released a storage services delivery platform that allows its customers to deploy storage as a utility. Its Assured Storage Management System (ASMS) is designed for two types of companies-enterprises that are moving to an internal service provider model, and service providers who want to expand their offerings to include storage services.

ASMS provides a centralized view of a heterogeneous storage infrastructure across multiple platforms and locations via Storability's Web-based portal. The software provides reports on operational status, performance monitoring and trending, capacity planning, and storage use by departments.

Also, managed service provider Sanrise recently announced next-generation backup-and-restore services, while Storage Networks introduced new versions of its STORos operating system, VSP, and STORvision. The upgrades include support for virtualization technology, including Vicom's virtualization engine.

BellSouth offers plug-in storage utility

Telecommunications company BellSouth and Waltham, MA-based StorageNetworks are working together to deliver a storage utility where end users can plug into network-based storage.

Leveraging its existing infrastructure, BellSouth wants to deliver "dial-tone" quality data service to both its business and consumers, according to the company. BellSouth will roll out storage area network (SAN), network-attached storage (NAS), and backup-and-recovery services in Miami, FL, and Atlanta, GA. Storage Networks will manage the services using its STORos, STORvision, and Virtual Storage Portal (VSP) software. Earlier this year, StorageNetworks initiated its STORfusion program to allow large service provider companies (e.g., BellSouth) and Internet data centers as well as other firms to private-label its services and essentially become their own SSP.

The SAN and NAS services are fully managed hardware, software, and network connectivity environments. Backup-and-restore services will be delivered over Gigabit Ethernet. BellSouth's storage infrastructure will include EMC, Sun, and StorageTek hardware as well as Veritas software.

"Storage will be one of the largest growth engines for our company going forward in the data space," says Chris Parsons, BellSouth senior vice president. For the last two years, the company has been building its service offerings, which included basic communications, broadband access, Gigabit Ethernet, and optical infrastructures, as well as managed services such as managed hosting and security. BellSouth's strategy is to build a storage-enabled network (SEN), where storage is a core part of the infrastructure and not an "add-on" piece.

The storage utility concept did not take off as anticipated by SSPs, many of whom jumped into the market after Storage Networks' successful IPO in June 2000. When Internet-based businesses began closing their doors, SSPs lost potential storage-on-demand customers.

So why would a telecommunications company pick up the fallen storage utility flag and fly it during difficult economic times? Parsons believes that BellSouth can be successful providing storage services because it owns the "last mile" of connectivity-that is, it owns the connection between the customer and the cable/telephone company.

"From the consumer to the large business, we have optical infrastructure in every building [within a BellSouth service area]. It just made sense to us to combine that infrastructure, our distributed platform, customer base, and partners," says Parsons. "Adding StorageNetworks to the mix brings an understanding of storage virtualization, technology sets, APIs, and operational models.

"What you're seeing is a network-centric organization coming together with a storage-centric organization, and you get storage in the network on a major scale," continues Parsons.

Underscoring the trend for storage utility services, other telecommunications companies are partnering with SSPs. For example, Arsenal Digital manages AT&T's backup-and-recovery services, and Storability provides managed services for Qwest's storage utility infrastructure.

This article was originally published on November 01, 2001