Selecting data storage technologies for SMBs

When selling data storage technologies for SMBs, many customers have a hard time separating data storage technology myth from reality. This fast guide outlines common misconceptions about SMB storage, and offers best practices for understanding SMB needs and choosing storage technologies to address those needs.

One assumption held among many storage users is that SMB-focused data storage technologies are too expensive, too complex, too difficult to acquire and lacks in feature functionality. Here is where channel players have a prime opportunity to separate myth from reality.

Become a trusted SMB storage advisor
Take the time to understand customer requirements rather than show them the lowest cost product on a line card. Unless you are looking to compete with other low-cost providers, taking time to present options and explaining why those options have merit to your customers brings value. As a trusted advisor, you can help them navigate various technology options and vendor differences. Be prepared to step outside the box, so to speak, to propose an alternative technology you are comfortable using that will also help address specific issues; you may want to help ease day-to-day management, improve availability or enable future growth without adding complexity or cost.

Furthermore, many large storage vendors, including EMC and NetApp, are creating new channel-focused business models outside of their traditional original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and reseller networks. This ultimately allows the channel to bring alternative solutions to customers that are easy to use, easy to install, easy to acquire and affordable -- so they can differentiate themselves from competitors while addressing customer pain points.

IT customers commonly express concerns about challenges involved with choosing data storage technology and product offerings for their environments. They debate over Fibre Channel or iSCSI, storage area networks (SANs) or network-attached storage (NAS), what type of disk drives to purchase and related questions. Those in the channel should leverage their consultative solution-selling skills and act as trusted advisors in helping customers choose technologies best suited for their needs.

This fast guide will help you understand what an SMB needs in a storage technology and develop revenue-generating business solutions to address those needs.

Understanding SMB needs

  • Changing the SMB storage landscape
  • A key difference between SMBs and large enterprises is scale and size. Scale in terms of size and complexity of an SMB environment; vulnerability and applicable risks; IT resources (servers, networks, storage, etc.); and scope of business continuance and protection. The loss of a key server in a large enterprise environment may have a devastating impact on that organization's operations, however the loss of a sole data storage server in an SMB could shut the entire business down.

  • Storage for SMBs: Clearing up the confusion

    The key to a successful storage acquisition for an organization of any size is to know what they must have and would like to have. It is also crucial to understand the data storage technologies available and how to get them. Here are seven questions to help prepare your customer for a storage acquisition:

    • What are your data storage objectives, and what do you want your storage to do?
    • What are the people skill sets related to data storage in your environment?
    • How much of a budget do you have and what can you spend the budget on?
    • What existing data storage devices (disk, tape, optical) or software do you already have?
    • Do you have preferred business partners, resellers or vendors to work with?
    • Do you know what your storage growth and capacity needs are now and in the future?
    • What are your availability and data storage protection needs?

    Choosing storage technologies for SMBs

  • Choosing backup technologies for growing SMBs

    After reviewing some key questions, you may find that a customer is a candidate for a disk-based backup solution, such as network-attached storage (NAS), storage area network (SAN) or direct-attached storage (DAS). In the past, tape-based robotic libraries were very expensive; however, today you can find solutions for well under $10,000 in the market. That being said, disk drive prices continue to drop while capacities continue to increase, making for a good option for near-line and off-line backup mediums.

  • Backup and recovery considerations for SMBs

    Your customer's environmental requirements will affect what data backup and recovery strategy and technologies you'll choose -- or if you'll propose a backup managed service. You must consider:

    • Amount of data to be backed up
    • Recovery point objectives (RPO) and recovery time objectives (RTO)
    • Customer skill set
    • Existing technology in the environment
    • Specific customer preferences

  • Web-based storage service providers: Are SMBs ready for you?

    For a monthly service fee, an SMB can schedule data backups to be delivered via the Internet and stored on disks at a data storage service provider's data center. That sounds good to some SMB IT managers, who question the costs of traditional backup systems, which include hardware, media and continual human interaction. But moving to an online backup system is not without it's risks, in some SMB customers' eyes.

  • Storage resource management: SMB buying decisions
  • Recent market consolidation has eliminated a number of independent SRM vendors. However, SMBs can still find SRM platforms to fit their needs and budget, from remaining independents like Tek-Tools, Softek Storage Solutions Corp., Teracloud and Northern Parklife.

    Market leaders like EMC, HP and Veritas/Symantec, are also targeting SMBs, with low-end versions of their enterprise SRM suites and with modular platforms.

    About the author: Introduction and sidebar by Greg Schulz. Greg Schulz is founder and senior analyst of The StorageIO Group in Stillwater, Minn., and author of the book Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier).

    This was first published in October 2006

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