Wrapping managed storage networking services for customers

Whether you're establishing a base storage networking offering or building services into a product suite, this tip offers insights to help you develop managed services.

Some companies choose to manage storage as an internal business function, but many others have to shift the work onto managed storage networking service providers like yourself. How would you go about establishing storage networking as a managed service for these companies? Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.

Establish a standard product offering

Consider what you want to offer your clients. If you intend to provide storage and storage area network (SAN) managed services together, produce a "product guide" listing what's available. Some examples may be:

  1. SAN RAID-5 protected storage at $5 GB/month.
  2. SAN RAID-1 protected storage at $8 GB/month.
  3. SRDF and RAID-5 protected storage at $11 GB/month.
  4. Host SAN connection at $20 per port per month

This list is quite simple, but you can obviously expand it to be as comprehensive as you require, and include some product differentiation. For instance, consider offering tiered storage at discounted prices with your standard storage offering or charge more for hosts that need to connect to the SAN with 4 Gbps bandwidth rather than a standard 2 Gbps.

Establish a standard managed services product set

You clearly can't support or offer all products from all vendors. Create a standard product set that covers the hardware and software products in your portfolio. This may include, for example, EMC DMX hardware and Cisco switched fabrics. Then you will want to define host connectivity options and restrict versions you are prepared to support (Windows, Linux, Solaris); consider standardizing on a single HBA vendor (i.e., Emulex or Qlogic) and define the specific revisions of HBA microcode, SAN microcode and array microcode you are prepared to support. You will need to establish an agreement with the customer regarding policies as to how and when you should upgrade to new levels of microcode and software over time.

Establish a standard managed service offering

How will you offer your product list to customers? You must create a standard list of services to provide, such as:

  1. Configuring a new host to the SAN - $50
  2. Provisioning up to 100 GB of storage - $50
  3. Decommissioning storage – free
  4. Performing a standard failover test - $500

You may choose not to itemize some of these costs, such as provisioning and decommissioning, and include them in product charges instead.

Provide managed support service levels

Define some service levels and the cost of support to provide those services, for example:

  1. 24 x 7 x 2 callout at $5,000 per month
  2. Incident support at $100 per incident
  3. Onsite attendance within four hours at $10,000 per month

It may be appropriate to vary these costs based on the amount of storage supported or, optionally, build them into the price of your product offering.

Provide performance service levels

Define with your customer the availability and performance requirements for the environment. This will be the most troublesome area. You must reserve agreed upon times for maintenance and repair, in case of a hardware or software failure, and establish standard metrics for storage performance, usually based on host-response time.

Wrap-up on wrapping storage networking as a managed service

However you determine your standard product offerings, keep these additional points in mind.

  • Price product offerings to ensure you can still make money. The underlying hardware has a cost -- both capital and maintenance.
  • Consider a schedule for replacing the technology (i.e., every three years), and make customers aware of how they will be affected when technology is replaced.
  • Consider overhead for support and provide an "engineering" function for microcode and software-level certification of the tools you provide. Produce a balance sheet showing all the overhead costs versus the price at which you intend to offer your services.

About the author: Chris M. Evans is an independent storage consultant with Brookend Ltd., with nearly 20 years' experience in a wide range of storage platforms covering mainframe, open systems and Windows. Chris specializes in network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area network (SAN) technologies, designing and implementing large-scale infrastructure projects for major financial corporations. Online, Chris maintains www.storagewiki.com; you can catch up with him on his blog at www.storagegurus.com.

This was first published in September 2006

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