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Data storage systems integration worth paying more, customers say

Customers are buying from an expanded list of storage vendors, and they're willing to pay more to have those data storage systems integrated, according to a new SNIA report.

Value-added resellers (VARs) that can bundle hardware and software into a reliable storage configuration can tap into extra cash from customers who are prepared to pay more to integrate their data storage systems, according to a new study released this week.

Of 387 responders, 62% said they would pay more for interoperable data storage systems, according to the report, prepared by the Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA's) End User Council. Responders said they'd be willing to pay an average of 7.6% more for an interoperable storage system.

That willingness may be more of a confirmation of what customers have already bought, rather than a projection of what they will; the report showed that complexity in the data center is increasing as end users buy equipment from a wider range of vendors.

Obliquely, the report "wonders what impact this complexity has on the need for interoperability."

"The main surprise I've seen in this report is the fact that -- at a time where a lot of users are trying to consolidate and rationalize their environments to increase the utilization rates and get the best return on their investments -- we see an increasing amount of different vendors' productS being introduced into the data center," said Vincent Franceschini, chairman of the SNIA board of directors. "That can only reflect some further challenges with regards to integration and with regards to management." Franceschini added.

Respondents also said that among their biggest worries is upgrading technology. Storage-management software requires the most frequent upgrades, but 50% of vendor-recommended upgrades fix problems. The other half either don't fix the problem they should, introduce a new feature or, 25% of the time, make problems worse, respondents said.

In the eyes of VARs like Mike Chapman, CEO of San Carlos, Calif.-based EMC VAR RedBridge IT the data verifies the view that vendors should place more importance on their channel partners because vendors can't always satisfy customer's technology needs.

"Manufacturers come to end users and they only know how to do one thing, sell what's on their line card because they only have one solution to bring to the table, which is their own," Chapman said.

According to Chapman, no storage vendor has all the products to service every storage need, but Chapman has also noticed that vendors want their channel partnerS to be more committed to them, through investments in certification programs for example. That trend can limit a VAR's ability to provide interoperability, Chapman adds.

"Over the last three years vendors have wanted greater commitment and dedication out of us and it's been harder recently to have multiple vendors that compete with each other," Chapman said.

"The only people who can provide interoperability are the VARs who can create it themselves."
Mike Chapman
Chief Executive OfficerRedBridge IT

Gary Johnston, president of IT Partners of Phoenix, Ariz., a Hewlett-Packard Corp. partner said vendors could do more to encourage interoperability.

"I'm limited to the HP storage channel, and they are really focused on moving storage technology into new business and more driven by the revenue from that, than by the solutions that that technology delivers," Johnston said. "Sometimes, we end up trying to fit the technology that's been sold into the business solution versus solving the business solution with the technology first," Johnston added.

Nevertheless, the need for end customers to have a mix of technology is shifting the burden and opportunity back to the VARs.

"The only people who can provide interoperability are the VARs who can create it themselves," Chapman said. "We are going right back to what the channel should be doing, which is bridging the gap between the technology and what end users business requirements are," Chapman added.

Survey respondents, which consist of large, medium and small businesses, also highlighted differences between the business tiers. SNIA classifies large business as having gross revenues of $1 billion or above; medium business with revenues between $100 million and $1 billion and small business are categorized as having revenues below $100 million.

The report said the respondents in the small business tier are more likely to rely on third-party technology evaluations than large and medium-sized businesses that rely more on vendors' recommendations.

Sandy Cohn, general manager and director of technical services at Atec Group of Albany, N.Y., said the report's findings match his company's experiences.

Cohn's assessment is that large companies are geared toward the manageability of their systems. However, many SMBs install their systems, put them on automatic update and expect them to do things like tape backup.

"It's procedures like these that get companies in trouble because no one is maintaining them properly. What we do is try to supplement that with our staff. That's where managed services come in and that's great for our business," Cohn said.

As vendors and VARs seek to serve end users better, SNIA's Franceschini said the onus is on both groups to communicate better to solve integration issues and has said that SNIA is developing a network for further collaboration between different industry segments that should help the process along.

"Clearly many of the vendors are at the source of some of that information, but at the same time some of the channel partners are also generating a different level of information about interoperability because they do integration work," Franceschini said. "For the benefit of the end user I see that the two need to work together in order to have a better handle on these issues," Franceschini said.

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

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