Storage supplier decision: Should you buy from a server vendor or a storage vendor?

With server vendors buying up storage suppliers on a regular basis, the decision around where you get your storage products from takes on an added dimension. Read up on the key advantages of buying storage products from a storage vendor compared with buying them from a storage vendor.

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Storage resellers should be constantly reviewing their storage product portfolio to make sure that what they are offering to their prospects and customers will continue to meet their demands and keep the reseller competitive in the market. Increasingly, storage resellers are faced with an additional issue to consider: Who should be their storage supplier: a server vendor or a storage vendor?

This is not a problem just for server resellers that also happen to provide storage; it is also a problem for storage resellers that, for the most part, exclusively sell storage and its related components. That's because many server vendors now offer both servers and storage. For these vendors storage has moved beyond internal disk systems that are installed into their servers and onto complete midrange to enterprise-class storage systems. Both types of resellers are faced with the decision of adopting a standalone storage system from a storage-focused vendor or a storage system from a server vendor.

Despite that they spend a lot of marketing dollars, it's clear from the recent battle between HP and Dell over 3PAR and past skirmishes for ownership of other storage companies -- as well as conversations with industry insiders -- that most server vendors remain disappointed with their attach rates. The percentage of customers that buy storage from them is not what they'd like it to be. This is a surprising state of affairs since the server vendor is already the incumbent when a storage system is purchased. It should be easier for a customer to place one purchase order instead of two. But it's still an uphill battle for server vendors operating in the storage space

Why to buy storage from a storage vendor

There are a few reasons why it's not a slam dunk for server vendors to win storage customers -- or your loyalty. First, in many cases, storage-only suppliers have the innovation advantage. That innovation appeals to end-user prospects and customers, and it should appeal to you as well. Storage vendors tend to incorporate advanced features and have better application integration than server vendors. Counter to what you'd expect, most server vendors have not done any real work to provide tighter integration of storage with their server hardware. While a few server vendors have integrated storage management functions into their server management console, that hasn't been enough to move the needle for most customers.

In addition, storage vendors tend to be more successful because they stick to their core competency instead of reaching far afield. If a company understands from the top all the way down to the bottom of the organizational chart that the only way it will be successful is to sell storage, it'll be more aggressive about making that happen -- which should benefit you. Even when a server vendor expands into storage via the purchase of a successful storage vendor, there's no guarantee of the same level of success after the sale because the core storage team often leaves and the product gets lost in the maze of products already owned by the server vendor.

The third advantage that storage-only suppliers hold over server vendors relates to focus as well -- focus on the channel. While server vendors certainly have channel programs, they are often over-saturated and leave little room for the margin opportunity that attracted resellers to storage in the first place. And, storage-only vendors are often significantly smaller and truly need the reseller community to help them get into any account, large or small. Conversely, many server vendors have an enterprise sales force and often relegate the storage resellers to the SMB space. There is nothing wrong with the SMB space, but you shouldn't be precluded from operating in the larger markets if you decide you can offer value there.

Why to buy storage from a server vendor

So, there are ample reasons to not choose a server vendor as your storage supplier. But why would you want to consider it? There are a few reasons. First, you might have a consistent level of business with a particular server vendor, and they offer the path of least resistance.

Second, if you want to improve your relationship with a server vendor, one of the best ways to get their attention and separate yourself from the competition is to offer that server vendor's storage. In many cases, this can lead to server business from that vendor as a reward for hard work on the storage products.

Another reason to sell storage from a server vendor comes into play if you had been a partner of a storage vendor before it was acquired by a server vendor. You might opt to continue to sell that line of products. But, you should beware that the integrity of the storage program from the original storage vendor could drop. And understand that you might be forced to sell or become trained on that server vendor's server products.

Conversely, it's also possible for the server vendor to improve on the technology or business conditions. While this isn't a common scenario, it could happen. And sometimes, a simple change of dynamics can make all the difference. For instance, if you had a personality conflict with someone at the old storage vendor, under new ownership, that person might be gone. Or the server vendor might offer a better channel program than the old vendor.

About the author

George Crump is president of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the United States, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, George was chief technology officer at one of the nation's largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.

This was first published in September 2010

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