For storage solution providers focusing on the SMB space, vertical markets represent ripe opportunities.
Eryck Bredy, president of Bredy Network Management, a $1.5 million solution provider based in Woburn, Mass., said he's betting the bank on two niche markets: nonprofit companies and financial services firms.
Nonprofit organizations account for about 40 percent of his customers, financial services firms for about 15 percent, said Bredy. But opportunities in the latter are on the upswing.
"The thing about companies in the financial sector is they have little tolerance for downtime," said Bredy. "Add to that the fact they're relying on mission-critical applications, and protecting their data isn't an option,it's a must."
As for nonprofits, Bredy said their business models lend themselves nicely to the idea of signing annual storage contracts.
"These companies have to prebudget all their IT costs for the year," said Bredy. "Having a storage services contract with a solution provider gives them a set fee to work with. And the great thing is, we're not just peddling products,we're also selling software, support and maintenance. That's the value-add."
John Sullivan, president of 1st Compute, seconded that sentiment. "We always bundle services with the storage products we sell," he said. "Otherwise, they'd be too much of a commodity."
The Easton, Md., solution provider concentrates on a handful of vertical markets,among them, financial services, health care and legal firms, said Sullivan.
What the company is trying to do now is pay more attention to developing turnkey solutions and less to selling simple storage bundles. "In the past, we tended to be reactive in providing storage products to our customers," said Sullivan. "But at this point, we need to take a more proactive approach by creating and marketing entire solutions."
According to solution providers, however, delivering storage systems to the SMB space presents a challenge all its own.
The main difficulty integrators run up against with SMBs is overcoming a reluctance to invest in the appropriate systems, they said.
There are a variety of alternatives for backing up small-business data, said solution providers. Those range from shareware applications to midrange tape drives and autoloaders. Yet despite the advent of tape drives that offer enhanced performance and increased capacity, many small businesses are still backing up their data to Travan drives, tape backup products that store 20 Gbytes of storage at most, said Scott Erickson, managing partner at PC Support, a solution provider in San Jose, Calif.
"These are mom-and-pop shops I'm talking about," Erickson said. "They can't afford anything else. If you talk to them about autoloaders on Friday, they'll still be laughing on Monday."
It's tough enough to get clients to do daily and weekly backups, said Erickson. "Sometimes they forget, and that's generally when something [happens to their data," he said. "A couple of years ago, one customer paid me to visit every Monday, switch tapes and put his on my shelf. I thought that was ridiculous. Eventually, he did too."
A $1,000 tape drive is only for small businesses that have some technical ability, said Tony Audas, director of purchasing at Bryan Computers, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based solution provider that serves the education market and an assortment of legal and medical firms.
For others, a $350 DVD-RAM drive, a $450 DVD RW drive or even a low-cost CD-RW drive is fine if they want only to back up content. "But for customers that want to back up their databases, tape is better," he said.
Some of Audas' small-business customers are using mirrored hard drives to keep copies of their data.
But no matter what storage method or medium they use, vertical-market SMBs are aware just how critical it is that they deploy sufficient backup and restore solutions. For them, solution providers well-versed in the ways of data storage and retrieval can be key.