For storage VARs used to selling mainly data storage hardware, software and services, unified computing alliances among a number of big vendors -- in which the servers, storage and networking systems for a customer's data center are sold as a bundle -- introduce some big changes and some risk. In this podcast interview, Greg Schulz, founder and managing partner of the StorageIO Group, explains what unified computing platforms are all about, how to sidestep the risk and how to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the alliances.
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SearchStorageChannel.com: Let's talk about unified computing platforms and the alliances between companies like Hitachi Data Systems/Microsoft, Cisco/EMC/VMware and NetApp/VMware/Cisco. What are these alliances all about?
Schulz: The common theme here is what's in the name: unification. The value prop is to make it easier for the customer to buy but also it's a way of the different vendors to position, align themselves, extend their current marketing alliances and relationships for that of account control. What we're seeing here is in some ways new but also something that we've seen in the past, which is effectively a data center in a can, a data center in a box.
SearchStorageChannel.com: Are there big differences among those alliances?
Schulz: They vary. Certainly anything with VMware, anything with Cisco, is going to have a lot of coverage, a lot exposure, a lot of activity around it. But what's interesting is when you look at an HP, what they're doing with Microsoft with that set of stacks, what they're doing with VMware with those stacks, not to mention what HP and Oracle have been doing with database stacks for years. A lot of times it's just a different combination of each other. In other words, you've got VMware, well-positioned with the EMC/Cisco alliance but then you have VMware aligned with NetApp. You have VMware with one of their largest footprint providers, HP and Dell. So you're seeing a lot of these different variations. In many cases, it is, what is the solution that's being delivered? How are they going to market, how are they bringing it into the channel? And what are those opportunities, as well as what are those issues and challenges in the channel?
SearchStorageChannel.com: So what do these alliances mean for storage VARs?
Schulz: Confusion. And in confusion there is opportunity. What I mean by that is, for the storage VAR, all of a sudden you have the Cisco/EMC/VMware alliance. Somebody comes in the door to talk to that storage customer about that solution. Well guess what? That might be somebody representing the networking side of the house. Instead of a storage VAR going in to talk to a customer, that might be a networking VAR bringing in the server and the storage along with the networking components. So all of a sudden that storage VAR may be competing against a different company or a different entity for that same account. Or they may be competing with another team within their organization. So as part of that confusion, in a larger VAR, you may have situations where the network team wants to go in with the unified [solution] or the server team wants to go in with the unified [solution] or the storage team wants to go in with the unified [solution], that provider has to be unified with that solution before they go in to the customer. When they go in to the customer they have to have that unified message because they also have to talk to the network person, the storage person and the server person. Oh, and by the way, most of these are going in with virtualization, so they might also have to talk to the Microsoft or the VM person.
SearchStorageChannel.com: So do you envision this as in general, a lot of confusion for a certain period of time until [VARs] get their acts together?
Schulz: Yes. There are some near-term opportunities for those who can articulate their story and streamline that process -- make it very easy for the customer to do that upgrade. That VAR or provider can go in, sit down with the customer, whether it's one person or whether it's the server, storage and network team sitting at that same table, talking common themes, common messaging, common languages and addressing common issues. Then their opportunity is to streamline that process for near-term gain.
SearchStorageChannel.com: So, the ones that can benefit are the ones that can simplify upfront?
Schulz: Absolutely. And they need to simplify not just on what the story is but also going back within their own organization [and determine] what account team or what parts of the account team are going to go do the message. How are they going to handle their own compensation internally so that you don't run into conflict within an existing account?