NetApp Enters SMB Storage Fray

For its initial dive into the SMB storage space, which NetApp defines as companies with 30-plus users, the company has set up a separate StoreVault division, headed by General Manager Sajai Krishnan, who is charged with bringing the company’s new SMB appliances to market exclusively through the channel. That group has tapped Tech Data, Clearwater, Fla., as its sole broadline distributor for the launch.

While NetApp won’t reveal speeds and feeds of the new line, dubbed StoreVault by NetApp, Krishnan confirmed that it will be priced starting at $5,000 and that the device can operate simultaneously as a NAS file server and an iSCSI SAN. Optional Fibre Channel connectivity is expected 90 days after the initial launch.

NetApp’s competitiveness against archrival EMC has traditionally depended on its ability to profess a lower cost of ownership and operation compared with EMC products, as well as the fact that it uses a single operating system and software stack for its entire product line, as opposed to EMC’s separate software for each line, NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven said in an interview with CRN.

NetApp’s latest launches will expand that strategy, with the StoreVault line positioned against EMC’s Clariion AX150 and the EMC Insignia lines at the low end and the FAS6000 line going head-to-head with EMC’s Symmetrix line in the enterprise-class SAN space.

Sponsored post

“We believe it’s becoming increasingly a two-horse race between us and EMC,” Warmenhoven said. “EMC has been the market leader, and we are definitely the challenger. The shortcoming of our playing the challenger role has been the scalability of our systems.”

The StoreVault line will have only one sales channel: VARs. “This is the only go-to-market vehicle for us,” Krishnan said. “No CDW. No e-tailers.”

That’s a message that resonates with Gavin Rosenberg, marketing director at Sunstar, a solution provider in Inglewood, Calif. “If someone sells through CDW, I don’t want to do it,” he said.

NetApp’s move to start a separate division for the new product is important, Rosenberg added. “I don’t have to deal with the same folks that sell the company’s high-end solutions,” he said. “It’s not part of the rest of the company. As a result, they’re going to be hungry to make it work.”

Van Kotter, partner at NetPath Systems, a Salt Lake City-based solution provider that earlier signed up with the EMC Insignia small-business program, said he is more comfortable with NetApp when dealing with smaller customers.

“It’s because we work with NetApp on its enterprise product and have a very good local NetApp direct sales rep,” Kotter said. “Sometimes having the direct rep on your side can help with better pricing and in keeping out other NetApp VARs,” he added.

John Zammett, president of solution provider HorizonTek, Huntington, N.Y., said he likes the fact that the new StoreVault appliance does not overlap NetApp’s existing product lines. “We feel this product gives us a greater opportunity to go after the SMB world without affecting our current NetApp market,” Zammett said.

NetApp, which currently has between 250 and 300 solution providers, looks to recruit two to three times that many new partners to sell the StoreVault line in the next two years, said Leonard Iventosch, vice president of channels at the company. Tech Data will be the only distributor for StoreVault for now, a move Iventosch said the vendor’s current enterprise distributors, Arrow Electronics and Avnet, agreed to. Tech Data also carries the EMC Insignia small-business storage product line.

EMC has brushed off moves against the company by NetApp.

At its annual user conference last month, EMC Chairman, President and CEO Joe Tucci said that the Hopkinton, Mass.-based vendor has no shortage of competitors. “With the possible exception of IBM, who at least tries to be everyplace we do, we don’t have one competitor to compete with up and down and across the breadth of everything we do,” Tucci said.

That attitude suits NetApp just fine because IBM is part of its attack on EMC. IBM last year signed an OEM agreement under which it will rebrand and resell nearly all of NetApp’s products through its direct and indirect sales channel, and it is expected to start offering the FAS6000 arrays within a few months. The StoreVault line is not part of that agreement.

Barry Ader, senior director of Clariion product marketing at EMC, questioned the positioning of the FAS6000 arrays, saying that while they scale to just over a half-petabyte of capacity, they are still based on the same architecture as NetApp’s existing midrange arrays.

Scalability does not equal high end, Ader said. “So it comes down to a two-board midtier architecture vs. what customers really want from the high end, including multiple controllers, global memory, disk directors and so on,” he said.

Still, storage solution providers say NetApp’s inclusive channel strategy should help carry the vendor as it moves both up into the enterprise and down into the entry-level space.

“What will make NetApp really strong is closer ties with channel partners who by their sheer numbers will give the company much greater market opportunities, both in the SMB and in the enterprise,” Zammett said.

Aside from the StoreVault initiative being launched next month, NetApp is updating several other elements of its channel program, Iventosch said.

For one, the vendor has started a new Technical Partner Advisor program under which it has put technical people in each geography to map customer accounts with partners with the right expertise, he said. The company’s channel development managers are more involved with account mapping and less with closing the deal.

NetApp also is moving to enforce and reinforce its year-old hard-deck program, which Iventosch admitted has been more “soft” than hard.

“Now, when a rep enters an order, if the customer is not on his list of five to 10 named accounts, he must enter a partner name or his commission is zero,” he said. “This is automatic. There’s no going to his sales manager and saying, ‘Can you do this for me?’ ”

A zero commission rate for direct sales below the hard deck is a real incentive to work with the channel, Zammett said. “It shows the sincerity of the program to force the direct sales reps to work with us,” he said.

NetApp also is upping its deal-registration bonus to between 15 percent and 20 percent, compared with the current 7 percent, Iventosch said.

Any one of these moves is a clear sign that NetApp realizes the importance of the channel, said Benjamin Woo, vice president of sales and marketing at New York-based ASI System Integration, which expects to double its NetApp revenue this year over last year.

“It’s great for companies like us with a great NetApp relationship,” he said. “NetApp wants to touch the channel better, and it has a more mature understanding of their partners.”