Storage 2002: Increased opportunities for resellers

Some of the hot technologies include iSCSI and IP SANs, storage virtualization, new backup options, and disaster recovery.

By Bill Pinkerton

The storage industry has changed dramatically over the last few years. Users are faced with tremendous increases in capacity requirements, as well as a growing array of options such as storage area networks (SANs), IP networked storage solutions, network-attached storage (NAS) and iSCSI, new tape backup technologies, virtualized storage, remote data replication, and a confusing array of management tools. These new technologies require that end users, vendors, resellers, distributors, and integrators gain an in-depth understanding of how the technologies work as well as how they meet user requirements.

Of course, not everyone needs a lab-level knowledge of every storage technology or option. But the industry in general can benefit from a broader understanding of solutions, how they fit into the overall IT landscape, and the relative cost/benefits of each alternative.

Given the mission-critical nature of many data storage deployments, it's not surprising to see a significant delay between the introduction of a new technology and its adoption by the IT community. In many cases, the sheer newness and unfamiliarity of a technology can be the biggest roadblock to market acceptance.

iSCSI (Internet SCSI), a new IP storage networking technology, sends block-level data over TCP/IP Ethernet networks such as LANs, WANs, or the Internet. iSCSI holds great promise, but given the current performance considerations and relative newness of this emerging technology, resellers have been hesitant to push iSCSI, and end users have been even slower to deploy it.

To effectively sell and implement iSCSI technology, solution providers must educate themselves on bandwidth and other performance issues relating to the customer's existing Ethernet environment. They should also be prepared to position the relative benefits of Fibre Channel SANs versus iSCSI solutions, since these alternatives offer potentially similar functionality but run on different fabrics and deliver their own specific performance and cost/benefit ratios.

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As vendors migrate iSCSI functionality from software to a new generation of specialized hardware, performance concerns will become less of an impediment to end-user adoption. As a result, solution providers and users will accelerate their comfort level and acceptance of iSCSI solutions. In the future, iSCSI solutions will no doubt become a key ingredient in the networked storage mix.

By deploying specialized software or appliances, storage managers can now use virtualization to manage multiple, heterogeneous storage devices as a single storage pool. Due to its newness and potential implementation complexity, including the design of SAN fabrics and the coordination of multiple, heterogeneous servers, virtualized storage can require a high degree of expertise on the part of resellers and implementers.

At the same time, that level of complexity creates additional consulting and services opportunities for integrators and resellers. By mastering the challenges of virtualization, solution providers can add significant value to their offerings and distinguish themselves from their competition.

Adding to the complexity surrounding storage virtualization, no standards exist and few vendors agree on a single definition. Furthermore, a variety of virtualization solutions are available, and more will be introduced this year. Currently, only a handful of vendors offer storage virtualization products.

Tape backup options
More-efficient tape backup is a requirement in today's mission-critical environments. The tape market is, as always, characterized by a wide array of formats. One of the more promising new formats is Linear Tape-Open (LTO), branded "Ultrium" in the marketplace. An industry standard, LTO is manufactured by multiple vendors and provides cartridge interchangeability. Target markets for this new generation of dense cartridges include servers with high requirements for backup capacity, speed, and reliability.

LTO improves data density by supporting up to 100GB per cartridge (uncompressed) and data-transfer rates up to 20MBps. New read-write head alignment technology, new error-correction techniques, and robust cartridge design improve the reliability versus some earlier generations of tape solutions.

Disaster recovery
Last year's events fueled concern about disaster preparedness and recovery, elevating it to one of today's most important topics for IT organizations.

Fail-safe storage requires a solid grasp of automated backup and recovery, remote data replication, fail-over, and other technologies. But as with virtualization, the level of complexity in a disaster-recovery project translates into additional revenue for qualified resellers and integrators. Disaster-tolerant storage can require substantial investments in hardware, software, and consulting.

End-user challenge
In much the same way that vendors only sell what they carry, end users typically buy what they know. This is due in part to the security of deploying only familiar, well-proven technologies. But while it may be more comfortable to stick with what is known, the tradeoff can result in lost productivity or reduced data protection when compared to the implementation of a better solution.

Most organizations have IT specialists focused on the entire IT shop's day-to-day operations, instead of specific storage specialists. As a result, they don't have time to keep up with all of the latest storage developments—a key role of vendors and resellers.

Storage vendors and their sales representatives can serve as an important source of product and technical information on their specific offerings. However, most have limited product portfolios and are typically limited in their knowledge of storage solutions that exist outside their scope of offerings. Therefore, end users that need a more balanced, product-neutral source for storage solutions may have to search beyond a specific vendor to storage resellers and integrators.

Reseller Role
As the intermediaries between vendors and end users, resellers, system integrators, and distributors have a key role to play in the assessment and acceptance of new storage technologies. Unlike vendors, "the channel" must know not only how to position and sell products, but how to transform them into solutions.

These solution providers typically have a more detailed understanding of end users' requirements and can offer a more objective evaluation of storage solutions and alternatives.

Value-add IT distributors can help increase the knowledge and acceptance of new storage technologies. Because they handle multiple vendor offerings and work closely with vendors, distributors can provide objective, unbiased assistance to resellers and integrators.

Today's advanced storage solutions offer substantial benefits to any IT organization. By understanding end users' requirements and the capabilities of storage alternatives and by leveraging the specific capabilities of vendors, resellers, and distributors, the industry can improve both the knowledge and acceptance of emerging technologies.

Bill Pinkerton is director of storage marketing for Pioneer-Standard Computer Systems Division (www.pioneer-standard.com) in Atlanta, GA.

This article was originally published on April 01, 2002