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Vendors push VARs to boost SMB market

Although vendors have a whole host of reasons for VARs to tap into the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market, VARs see the downside.

A lot of technology companies see the small to medium-sized business (SMB) market as a rich area for growth, but storage integrators and resellers have a particularly good opportunity, according to Sajai Krishnan, general manager of StoreVault, a division of Network Appliance Inc.

In a recent survey StoreVault conducted of 300 SMBs, a typical company had five to 25 servers, between 1TB and 6 TB of data and 25 to 500 employees -- and just one or two IT people on staff, Krishnan said.

Each of those IT people could be managing servers, storage networks, security and other aspects of storage management, leaving no time to ferret out what particular flavors of software and hardware might work best for the company's storage strategy.

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"This is a challenge and having the right reseller in the mix really helps in terms of getting the right solution," Krishnan said.

However, while solution providers can find opportunities in the SMB market, it's hard to build a systems integration business on SMBs alone, according to Richard Bocchinfuso, vice president and chief technology officer for systems integrator MTI Technology, Inc.

"It's tough in the SMB market space because it's so transactional, so high volume and there's not a lot of dollars in the business," Bocchinfuso said. "SMBs will have a budgetary number for a project in mind and a lot of times the number does not coincide with the cost of business. That's why there's a balancing act between budget and quality and functionality," Bocchinfuso added.

Nevertheless, many SMBs face immediate problems with data backup and restore, and are worrying about disaster recovery, Krishnan said. VARs should pay attention to these trends and work with storage solutions that tackle these problems. Solution providers can also build SMB solutions using replication, consolidation of both email and servers and virtualization.

What's more, VARs should be investigating the data and storage architecture a customer will need in two or three years in the same way they would for a large company, rather than just building for the short term, according to Matthew Wolken, vice president of fault tolerant and enterprise storage solutions platform group at NEC Corporation of America.

"There are the short-term needs, every day you've got another job to do, and there are budgetary concerns. There are ongoing growth demands for the short term and it's a little bit hard to figure out what am I going to be doing three years from now," Wolken said. "If you look at the storage needs only today, you might be impacting the overall competitiveness of your business in the future by not having enough growth capability," Wolken added.

To win greater business in the SMB market, Krishnan said, NetApp is focusing on VARs that target and recruit only SMB-class customers.

"The VARs that focus on the larger companies and are used to these longer cycle $100,000 or $200,000 deals, many of them don't know how to make money with an SMB that wants to spend money on a $5,000 to $15,000 solution," Krishnan told after his presentation at the Storage Networking World (SNW) conference in Orlando last week.

Budget limits are a fact of life for smaller companies, even those that really need additional storage, confirmed Larry Krantz, of Contemporary Innovations LLC. -- a six-employee IT consulting firm based in Marlborough, Mass.

"I need storage for email because I have customer inquiries about my company's services; I've got a billing department, personnel files, etc. As a small business I have to maintain each of these vertical areas of information and data and each one has a different requirement. For example, I have to keep invoices for seven years because of the IRS requirements," Krantz said.

"I'm looking for a VAR who can come in, set up the solution and I don't want to have to pay for maintenance every month. I have not been able to find a VAR that will do that yet," Krantz said.

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