IBM signed deals to distribute entry-level tape and hard drive products via Tech Data, Ingram Micro and Bell Micro, making its storage products available to non-IBM-certified solution providers for the first time.
IBM also hopes to use distribution to expand its solution provider base to include channel partners that have yet to work with the vendor, as well as increase its SMB storage business, company executives said.
Current IBM solution providers that wish to sell storage must be certified, but by going to open distribution the company hopes to expand its market to include those that don't want to invest in the certification process, said Jens Tiedemann, director of distribution channels for IBM.
"We want to serve non-IBM-platform customers. . . . We think there is an opportunity for non-IBM resellers in the tape area," Tiedemann said. "We also hope they will make inroads with our NAS and FAStT hard disk products."
The move toward open distribution comes as IBM increasingly looks to sell its products and services regardless of how it might affect the business of other parts of the company, said Tiedemann.
"Under [Senior Vice President and Group Executive, IBM Storage Systems Group) Linda Sanford, we have gone through tremendous changes from a dusty proprietary model to an open model in the last two years," he said. "One of the key elements is our distribution strategy. In the past, we were closely tied to servers, and were even a part of that division. Now we are standing on our own two legs."
Roy Appelbaum, vice president and general manager of Tech Data's networking and high-end storage technologies, said IBM's move is part of a trend where manufacturers that once sold direct to channel partners or end users start looking at distributors and solution providers, particularly in the hard-to-penetrate SMB space.
"It's a natural evolution that manufacturers go through," Appelbaum said. "In early stages, it's all about selling direct. Today, storage is moving to the mainstream with an open systems environment. The best products from the best manufacturers are being put together. The best guys to do that are VARs and systems integrators."
Data-intensive applications, the Internet, increasingly available bandwidth, and a focus on security and safe archival of data is causing the industry to estimate that storage will account for up to 70 percent of IT spending in the next three or four years, said Appelbaum.
"As storage apps become a hotter technological issue, manufacturers recognize a way to reach a wider audience is through the channel," he said.
According to Ingram Micro, products aimed initially at distribution include IBM's 3581 LTO tape autoloader, which includes a single drive, one to seven cartridges, and LVD and HVD Ultra2 SCSI capacity to up to 1.4 Tbytes of compressed data. The unit is available in rack-mount or stand-alone formats. IBM will also work with distributors on its 3580 external LTO tape drive.
Other products slated for distribution include IBM's TotalStorage NAS 200:5194 Model 201, which can be configured for 109.2 Gbytes to 440.4 Gbytes of hard drive-based data. Also included is the 5194 Model 226, which is expandable to up to 3.5 Tbytes using one to three EXP Storage Expansion Units. Both are rack-mounted units.
Tiedemann said that in the near future, IBM plans to offer its FAStT series of hard drive RAID systems through distribution as well.
Tech Data is discussing the opportunity to sell more complex IBM storage products and plans to wrap specialized technical support, road shows and bundles around the LTO products, Appelbaum said.
Ingram Micro is expanding its storage line card to meet the expected increase in demand for storage solutions in 2002, and has been approached by several manufacturers, said Kelly Harvey, business unit director of the distributor's Technical Products Division. "There is a huge opportunity in storage right now," she said.
Internally, Ingram Micro has been working on a broad marketing campaign to educate and train its small and midsize enterprise solution providers about Ingram Micro's storage offerings, and has recently added entry-level tape solutions from Exabyte and OnStream to its line card, Harvey said.
Ingram Micro has also been beefing up its internal resources to meet the needs of storage solution providers. Its technical support help desk in Buffalo, N.Y., was expanded to include a dedicated storage technician, and two more technicians will be added in February, Harvey said.
Bell Micro's strategy has been to provide backroom capability and support to its SMB solution providers, said Phil Roussey, executive vice president of marketing for the distributor. "[IBM's move plays perfectly into our strategy," he said.
For IBM, the move toward open distribution puts it in more direct competition with Compaq Computer and EMC, said Tiedemann. "EMC is making inroads into the low end of the market, some with Dell, some with other distributors," he said. "But over the past 10 years, IBM has had strong relationships with our business partners. 2001 is the first year over 50 percent of our storage business went through business partners. I like to say EMC is flawlessly executing our old business model."
Scott Campbell and Mike Cruz contributed to this article.