As value-added revenue streams are compressed by IT product commoditization, resellers have naturally looked toward services as a high-margin alternative to a pure product play. One potential service offering that is generating a lot of interest is Web-based storage -- basically providing storage as a service over the Web. The good news is that this service has a huge amount of potential; the bad news is that it can be a complex undertaking to build.
Web-attached storage is a new name for an old concept: network-attached storage (NAS) . However, where in the past, this meant attaching storage devices to a private or secured network, it now means attaching the storage to the Internet. This new wrinkle is driving storage reseller business opportunities while also creating some interesting challenges.
Web-attached storage opportunities
The opportunities are obvious. Increasing demand for storage is an IT constant. Some estimates believe demand for storage is expected to expand at double-digit rates for the foreseeable future. Even with dramatic price reductions, IT operations are finding it hard to stay ahead of the curve. What's driving this, of course, is that everything is becoming storable and regulation plus litigation demands that anything that can be stored must be.
The result is that companies of all sizes require quickly accessible storage, including data archives and backups, from anywhere. Peak load augmentation may also be necessary as a way to smooth the demand and procurement curve, where demand for storage periodically exceeds supply as storage devices are acquired and integrated into the storage infrastructure.
Maintaining large storage complexities is not an optimal way to run an enterprise IT shop. Scarce IT resources are better invested elsewhere. For SMBs, supporting such storage infrastructure in any meaningful way may not even be feasible. Yet all size companies have the same storage issues.
Web-attached storage services make the investment in and management of storage much less impactful. With such services, customers won't have to worry about storage capacity in real time; instead they can focus on long-term storage planning. The VAR positioned to provide these services could find a lot of demand. However, this opportunity does not come without some significant challenges.
Challenges of reselling Web-based storage
In particular, security becomes of paramount importance. The Web, after all, is anything but secure. Robust security protocols and data encryption must be built into the service offerings and they need to be bullet proof.
Additionally, the service, if it has anything to do with archiving, must recognize that data may need to be maintained for extended periods of time.
Amy O'Connor, director of storage strategy with Sun Microsystems said, "Data may need to outlive the creator of the data." Consequently, VARs, unlike enterprise IT, must plan storage offerings and services to last decades or longer. In this situation, standards become a major consideration. Storage platforms built on proprietary architectures may make augmentation or support impossible as companies come and go.
Another issue associated with Web-attached storage has simply to do with selecting the right vendor. While enterprise IT can afford the luxury of selecting storage offerings strictly based on an assessment of cost or TCO (total cost of ownership), the VAR must use a more balanced approach. Providing a service that is a critical and auditable backstop to customers brings with it a certain amount of responsibility and must be built to last. While the least expensive service may do the job, selecting itbased on price alone is not responsible.
"Factors which must be taken into account are the degree to which the vendor is innovative, its track record applying innovation and its commitment to open standards," said O'Connor. Once again, this is because, as technologies advance and vendors come and go, storage services must remain viable.
The bottom line is that VARs can take advantage of the growing demand for storage by providing storage as a service over the Web. This can be a highly lucrative revenue source, but VARs must recognize that entering this market requires a long-term commitment and depends on selecting the right vendors for storage infrastructure.
About the author:Mike Jude is an expert in business process analysis and optimization and is research director at Ptak Noel Associates. He is also a co-founder of Nova Amber, a consulting firm specializing in virtual business process implementation and technology.