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VARs offer tips on selling iSCSI

As iSCSI deployment grows, especially among SMBs, VARs are finding the most effective ways to present and integrate iSCSI to win business.

By all indications the deployment of iSCSI is rising, especially in the small and midsized business (SMB) market segment, giving value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators (SIs) the chance to ramp up their services in this burgeoning area.

That said VARs and SIs are looking at the best way to approach this market, and are sharpening their selling skills as they convince customers that an iSCSI infrastructure can help them with their budgets as well as their ability to better manage their storage needs.

The first thing a VAR should look at is the current status of a customer's infrastructure, which is the best place to begin a discussion with a customer.

"You have to look at what equipment they have, what technology they've invested in currently and what sort of applications, databases and network topology they have in place," said Rich Kuhar, vice president of business development at Arkay Inc, Akron, Ohio. "Then you need to know how they see their data growing, what demands they have and what their business entails," Kuhar said.

Kuhar said once a VAR has made that assessment, reps should look at what will be the most appropriate products on the market for the customer's needs; he warns that there are many products with different capabilities.

"There are iSCSI technologies that are more advanced in the GUI itself and others offer better capabilities in data management. Not all iSCSI solutions are created equal and matching the products to the customer's needs is the key," Kuhar said.

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Greg Knieriemen, vice president of CHI Corp., Cleveland, Ohio, recommends VARs drive home the cost benefits to customers.

"The single most important thing is to appreciate the return on investment that you're going to be passing on to your end user when you contrast that against Fibre Channel," Knieriemen said. "The second is to communicate the ease of use of iSCSI and the fact that you don't need to invest in additional training and additional resources to implement iSCSI," Knieriemen added.

Knieriemen said his company tests the environment to prove to the customer that iSCSI will meet their needs.

For instance, replication is a big concern to Knieriemen's customers who want to know if Internet or VPN access is robust enough to handle nightly backups.

"No matter what the answer is we need to demonstrate it, and often times we find ourselves doing proof of concepts to show how iSCSI works and just how simple it is," Knieriemen said.

Gavin Rosenberg, marketing director atSunstar Company, Inc., Inglewood, Calif., said he likes to ask detailed questions about the infrastructure, saying the key is to ask the right questions and urges other VARs to do the same.

"I want to know if their switches are a higher gigabit, do they have capacity on it, what are their cables like and are they running gigabit to all the work stations or just to the backend servers," Rosenberg said. "I will also ask how many users are attached to a box, because generally the iSCSI boxes are SATA drives. If you want to get real performance you've got to go to faster drives," said Rosenberg .

He also observed that customers with 75 servers won't want anything but Fibre Channel (FC), but that does not mean you should close the door on an iSCSI discussion.

"They might consider adding more storage on iSCSI because it's just inexpensive for backup purposes," Rosenberg said.

Richard Taylor, national sales director, at ScImage Inc. of Los Altos, Calif., said VARs should always look for customers that have clustered server environments where one server is not active and in standby mode. Taylor said such an environment offers an opportunity to discuss an iSCSI infrastructure that can cut expenses, offer flexibility and remotely redirect data from the primary server to the backup server.

"You have to buy an enterprise edition of SQL, an enterprise edition of the Windows Server operating system, advanced server, and so you're cost for implementing a cluster goes up incrementally by the extra server plus about $13,000 or so in Microsoft licensing," Taylor said. "With iSCSI I can actually have a mirrored server where I can mirror the database to another server," Taylor added.

While there are many different environments and technologies that VARs come across, demonstrating the advantages of cost and performance are key factors to winning iSCSI business. In this case while Taylor agrees that clustering is more suited to the high-end market, he does say that at midsized businesses iSCSI can be a better solution.

"We advise the customer in advance. We say to save some money we can provide you with nearly the same level of fault tolerance at a lower cost by using a mirrored server and iSCSI versus going to a clustered server environment and we'll give you higher performance because I've got two servers that are working all the time," Taylor said.

Let us know what you think about this story; email: Nicole Lewis, Senior News Writer.

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