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Clustered storage is changing SMB channel conversations

It's time to change your storage conversation. As clustered storage products enter the small to medium-sized business market, you not only need to change what storage technologies and services you sell but how you talk to SMB customers.

Jerome Wendt
Current generations of storage products often force sales reps to ask customers probing technical questions. How much capacity are you going to need? Do you want enough capacity for just this year or enough for the next three years? What size and speed disk drives do you need? Have you considered what size LUNs you want to present to your severs? Answering any of these questions could delay the sales process weeks or months.

Benefiting from clustered storage products and services

Offering clustered storage products and services changes the nature of customer conversations. One difference is that clustered storage products from companies like EqualLogic Inc. and LeftHand Networks Inc. are modular in nature and allow users to buy only the amount of storage they need now. This eliminates the need to have lengthy planning sessions with customers that force them to forecast how much capacity they will need in the future, since they can purchase additional capacity as needed.

While some vendors may fear losing the up-sell opportunity that legacy storage arrays provide, those already selling clustered storage said they end up selling more storage, not less. In most cases, it even opens up new revenue and service opportunities.

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These new revenue opportunities stem from the free storage software that clustered storage arrays vendors EqualLogic and Lefthand Networks offer. By bundling their arrays with free software for clustering, replication and snapshots, users can address long-running backup and disaster recover problems, which they had previously neglected due to lack of funds.

This opens up the door for storage sales. For instance, Lefthand Networks generates some sales by first asking offsite replication customers two basic questions: "How much data do you need to replicate?" and "Do you have DSL or a cable modem in your home?" In some cases, customers buy Lefthand Networks' smallest storage array -- the NSM 160 -- install it in their homes and replicate data from primary business sites to home for offsite protection of their most critical data.

Example: Developing a managed storage service

Because EqualLogic includes the same replication software with all of its storage arrays, and no software licensing restrictions, James Tenner, president of Broadleaf Services and an EqualLogic reseller in Burlington, Mass., was able to offer a new managed storage service to his customers: offsite storage hosting for EqualLogic users.

Broadleaf Service's Boston office receives replicated data from EqualLogic storage arrays from as far away as Los Angeles. To insure the integrity of data replicated over these distances, and as added value to clients, Broadleaf has written scripts that monitor ongoing replication for alerts and disruptions in service between their clients' EqualLogic arrays and their own EqualLogic arrays.

One intangible benefit Tenner received from simplifying his customer's storage infrastructure is that it allows him to stay closer to his customers. Using other storage array products often brought him into contact with customers only when more storage capacity was needed or during a product upgrade cycle. Now he talks with customers regularly about more strategic topics. "My most effective customer relationships are when discussions are at the business and strategy level," Tenner said.

Potential risk of providing clustered storage services

Clustered storage is so much easier to manage and configure that users may see no value in service providers. Broadleaf Services prevents this in two ways. On the technical front, Broadleaf regularly provides technical tips to its customers on topics like "How to migrate data on EqualLogic arrays" or "How to upgrade firmware," and assists them in whatever way they need help. On the business front, Broadleaf now spends more time with customers focusing on new and better ways to solve business problems.

About the author: Jerome M. Wendt is the founder and lead analyst of The Datacenter Infrastructure Group, an independent analyst and consulting firm that helps users evaluate the different storage technologies on the market and make the right storage decision for their organization.

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