Service provider takeaway: Storage service providers who are comfortable offering remote managed services to customers can leverage data replication for cost-effective disaster recovery and more predictable storage sales.
Data replication services offer service providers a powerful way to increase the storage value proposition for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Now that data integrity has risen to executive-level concern with requirements like Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and HIPAA, data replication has become a key way to ensure that data integrity. Data replication, offered as a managed service in conjunction with the sales of storage capacity, can provide valuable continuing telemetry (metrics on storage consumption and performance) and a cost-effective way for small businesses to develop disaster recovery plans and achieve high storage reliability. This tip explains how.
When it comes to storage, service providers typically seek to maximize revenue by proactively offering storage capacity to customers. This focus on volume is effective in the enterprise space, where customers can reasonably be expected to know their storage needs and track their utilization. In the SMB space, however, it is less likely that customers will have a good idea of their storage requirements over time.
This is where managed services come in. Service providers have been offering remote management of storage since the 1990s and have included such features as storage backup and recovery and load leveling. Because of the hot-button issues around data integrity, data replication as a managed service is an attractive complement to those features.
What's the appeal of replication? It's simple: Data replication is a backup in real time that mirrors all important data and possibly application images, making it a very appealing way to achieve a robust disaster recovery capability, even for those companies too small to devote any time to disaster recovery planning.
Data replication also provides important telemetry, both to customers and to service providers, regarding storage consumption and utilization trends, enabling service providers to proactively offer capacity to a customer while providing the assurance of a storage safety net.
So how should you sell data replication? The easiest method is to pitch it as a way to significantly increase storage reliability. Using data replication in real time, the MTBF (mean time between failures) for storage is pushed practically to infinity. This is very attractive to SMBs that are data-intensive (and most of them are). It is especially attractive to SMBs that are publicly traded since they have fiduciary responsibilities under Sarbanes-Oxley that require data integrity.
Since data replication is done in real time and constantly, a high-speed connection between the primary storage and replicated storage is needed. That's why replication is usually set up within a storage area network (SAN), in which data links are typically based on iSCSI or Fibre Channel.
SANs are usually beyond the engineering or support capabilities of small businesses, so you can offer the SAN as part of a packaged deal and then offer maintenance and support services to accompany it, including management of the data replication process. What this means, in practice, is that you would remotely monitor the data replication software.
Such an arrangement essentially means that you would offer the SMB data storage with high availability via managed services. The benefits to customers are highly survivable storage with built-in disaster recovery and utilization metrics. The benefit to you is a new source of revenue based on data replication, plus the opportunity to monitor storage consumption with an eye toward normalizing storage sales by allowing you to accurately predict customer demand and plan for it.
To offer data replication services, you'll need to have or acquire the necessary monitoring tools -- from companies such as HP, IBM and EMC -- for managing the data replication process. Of course, you'll also need to be comfortable offering managed services; otherwise, replication management will require a significant investment in a remote monitoring capability.
To increase your chances of getting this business, avoid making the offerings sound too technical. SMBs are much more comfortable talking about storage availability than about data mirroring or data replication. When couched in terms of achieving very cost-effective disaster recovery while ensuring storage uptime, data replication becomes much more understandable to executives at small companies.
Additionally, SMBs are much more open to managed services when they perceive those services to be cost-reducing. Data replication is more of an insurance policy than a cost reduction mechanism, but you should focus instead on showing the small-business owner how data replication can reduce costs by helping to normalize storage purchases; using the backup capabilities implicit in replication allows for backup storage to help carry the load between storage purchases.
The bottom line is that data replication can be both a significant value-add for customers and a new revenue source for service providers. Smart providers will pitch it as a storage reliability and cost reduction mechanism that provides a significant disaster recovery capability rather than as a new technology that will complicate IT support within the small business.
About the author
Mike Jude, a senior analyst at Nemertes Research, is an expert in business process analysis and optimization. He is also co-founder of Nova Amber, a consulting firm specializing in business process implementation and technology.
This was first published in February 2008