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IP SAN services fertile ground for SMBs

IP SANs are perfectly suited to SMBs; they're cheaper and less complex than Fibre Channel SANs, but your SMB customers might not understand that value proposition. It's up to you to educate them about the technology -- and then follow up with a variety of complementary IP SAN services offerings.

With sophisticated but costly Fibre Channel storage area networks (SANs) making significant inroads with large enterprises, you'd expect the technology's cheaper alternative, IP-based SANs, to be gaining ground among small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). But that's not happening. Why? There are a few reasons. First, SMBs tend to associate "SAN" with "too expensive," owing to the outlay required for Fibre Channel SANs. Second, IP SAN services have so far been lacking. That leaves a gap that smart value-added resellers (VARs) can step in and fill.

If you're interested in providing IP SAN services to SMBs, you'll need to educate potential customers about the value proposition that IP SAN technology can bring them, and then put in place a portfolio of IP SAN services while working with the vendors that can help your cause.

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The first step is advocacy. By educating potential SMB customers about IP SAN technology, VARs can make SMBs receptive to a variety of service offerings. Education begins with listening to what the customer is saying about storage problems. Once the problems are understood, solutions should be offered couched in business terms. Only after business solutions are discussed should the technical means for implementing those solutions be introduced. IP SANs are complex, and SMBs, especially, are complexity-averse. Campaigns should be problem- and solution-focused and should emphasize how the VAR will make things simple for the company.

Once SMB customers understand the value of IP SANs and how they differ from Fibre Channel SANs, VARs should pitch customers on the assessment phase to determine whether or not they are ready for IP SAN installation. In the assessment phase, the VAR should conduct a complete inventory of customer storage assets and requirements. One approach that helps in this assessment is to construct a storage asset matrix which lists the storage assets across the top and then vertically lists the capabilities needed for storage assets (latency, recovery, backup, cost to support, etc.). This simple matrix will quickly identify opportunities for IP SAN deployment.

After installation is done, it's time to approach the issue of recurring services -- you'll be in a great position to take on this work. The realm of monitoring services could be very popular, especially for companies that have increasing storage use but a hard time predicting demand. Services to gauge the health of IP SAN environments are key, as are systems that provide for routine upgrades to storage capacity based on trigger points. Of course, given the nature of SANs in general, increasing storage capacity is very easy to do dynamically.

Remote monitoring and backup operations are another easy set of managed services that can be added to your services portfolio. Since SANs explicitly support data virtualization, deploying the appropriate storage management tools will allow you to routinely perform non-intrusive data backup and recovery activities.

Disaster recovery services should also be of particular interest to SMBs. To provide disaster recovery services, consider partnering with small ISVs or other software-intensive companies to deliver storage services. SANs enable a completely virtual storage environment that allows for routine data management on site, along with periodic archival off site.

Once you've identified the services you want to build into your IP SAN services portfolio, the easiest route for bringing in all this business is to establish partnerships with IP SAN vendors, such as as NetApp, LeftHand Networks and EqualLogic. The storage products offered by these vendors lend themselves readily to remote service management and are offered at a price point that is attractive to SMBs.

About the author: Mike Jude, a senior analyst at Nemertes Research, is an expert in business process analysis and optimization. He is also a co-founder of Nova Amber, a consulting firm specializing in virtual business process implementation and technology.

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