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Data center mangers' demands rise faster than budgets

Although a new survey of data center managers shows budgets are tight, VARs see opportunities to tailor their offerings to customers and develop a compelling selling strategy.

A survey of data center managers by Symantec Corp. shows that many are being squeezed by demands for increasing levels of service on one side and tightening budgets on the other.

For the survey on the state of the data center, which was published Oct. 30, Symantec surveyed 800 data center managers at large enterprises. Half of respondents reported having difficulty meeting existing service-level requirements, and 32% reported that those requirements are rising rapidly.

Part of the difficulty is in access to talent -- 52% said they're already understaffed, 69% reported their data centers are growing by at least 5% per year and 11% expected growth to exceed 20%.

Budgets are growing only 7.1% per year, however -- a figure that could be halved by inflation, which is expected to be about 3% in the U.S.

Half of respondents are using virtualization to help contain costs, and 58% are consolidating servers for the same reason.

Web applications and storage virtualization are other popular options, but skilled data center staff will remain in short supply, respondents said.

Those factors lay the groundwork for IT channel companies able to supply the skills and cost-containment technology large data centers need. But so many customers and value-added resellers (VARs) are focused on the same technologies that they have to find ways to distinguish themselves, according to Greg Schulz, president of The StorageIO Group in Stillwater, Minn.

One way is to expand the conversation with a data center administrator to talk not only about virtualization, data archiving, data compression and moving data from tape to disk, but also about issues of power and cooling, Schulz said.

"The real value of a VAR is to help customers put together an attack plan that says: Let's look at the overall data environment and see where either costs can be reduced or more capacity added without consuming any more power or cooling to support growth," Schulz said. "For example, if you can pick up a 10% reduction by shrinking the number of physical servers through virtualization, 5% savings on power reduction, 5% by providing a cooler environment and so on, all of a sudden you are looking at some real cost savings."

Technologies like server virtualization, data deduplication and advances in storage capacity within disk arrays, for example, have all changed the data center conversation, according to Eric Linxweiler, senior vice president of solutions services at Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Logicalis USA. But, more than discussing technology, customers want to know the effect of an IT purchase on the ongoing cost of running a data center.

"What has changed, especially with technology, is that you are now asking questions of efficiency whereas previously you were asking questions of just overall technology," Linxweiler said. "Customers want VARs to help them find out what purchasing technology is going to mean to their business in terms of power savings, personnel savings, maintenance savings and forecasting the growth of their data out for a few years. They want VARs to help them make a decision on these issues," Linxweiler added.

The issues that face smaller customers are similar to those of the large data center managers in the survey, VARs said. But the approach and customer management issues are much different.

Sophisticated data centers in large corporations have already discussed their budgets and have a technical staff that knows how much it will cost to fix a particular problem, according to Peter Anderson, president of Tampa, Fla.-based VAR Bayshore Technologies Inc. Once large customers turn to the VARs, they have already decided what they will spend. Smaller businesses, however, often fight for every penny they spend.

"If you're a business owner and you're going to spend $250,000, the owner has to find the money -- it's coming directly out of their pocket so it's a different kind of conversation," Anderson said.

"A lot of companies are now leasing. It might be servers, storage, software and services, and we wrap that around a solution. We get paid quickly from the leasing companies and for smaller companies it's easier to pay $1,000 a month than $150,000 in one whack," he said.

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