Don't Miss The Boat In Low-End Storage

Customers want it, vendors have it, but channel partners have been slow to deliver it. Despite industry data that shows an increasing need for simple, low-cost storage solutions, VARs have seemingly ignored this low-hanging fruit in favor of more complex storage solutions. Now, new and better offerings in basic, low-end backup and recovery have vendors hoping that the channel will see the light--and the profit potential--in this oft-ignored segment.

The growing number of vendors that say they are responding to end-user desire for simple, inexpensive data storage reads like a who's who in the market. Earlier this year, EMC launched its Insignia division, which offers a storage array bundled with backup, recovery and replication software aimed at SMBs. Network Appliance this summer launched its StorVault subsidiary with a similar focus.

And more recently, Adaptec, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft have joined the vendors emphasizing storage simplicity for end users with few or no IT staffers.

The moves are well-timed, according to IT market researcher Ovum Summit. The firm has found that business continuity and backup/recovery represent the top IT pain points for SMBs. But that finding seems lost on many in the channel, who see IT optimization and services delivery as greater priorities.

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NEXT: Why the disconnect?

Ovum analyst Mary Johnston Turner says customers may be giving solution providers a different message when it comes to priorities.

"Channel partners are so used to being beaten up on price," she says.

Looking to generate interest in the simple storage space, HP is taking a page from its printer playbook with a new entry that could win over some stubborn channel partners, according to observers. HP has long had three key storage lines under its StorageWorks brand: the high-end XP, midrange EVA and the low-end MSA. But it's the new AiO, or "All in One," that's creating real SMB buzz.

For the AiO, the company's storage division worked with HP's Printing and Imaging Group to learn how the company combined scanning, copying and printing into what has become HP's successful multifunction printer line.

The AiO is a 1-TB data-protection solution that works with either SAN or NAS using a common management tool, for a starting price of $5,000. AiO includes application-specific interfaces for backing up Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server and related files. Microsoft and HP worked together to develop AiO's application wizards, based on Microsoft's Storage Server 2003 R2, to simplify deployment and management.

"The biggest thing we are doing is taking the guesswork out at the application level," says Harry Baeverstad, director of network-attached storage in HP's StorageWorks division. In a demonstration last month, Baeverstad showed that AiO could be configured for backup and recovery in less than 10 minutes. Baeverstad says he expects 90 percent of AiO sales to go through the channel.

But for a channel that has become wed to more complex services offerings, machines that require minimal attention could be seen as detrimental.

"It's definitely a concern," says Don Zurbrick, sales manager at Tampa, Fla.-based Big Sur Technologies, one of the early partners to deploy the new AiO. He says AiO is for customers that lack real IT departments. The low-end solution, which supports replication, is giving him a chance to offer a managed service, as well as an entree into other IT services, he says.

Jerry Pape, CEO of Excalibur Software Production and Testing in Big Sky, Mont., describes an SMB as "anyone who doesn't have an IT department," adding that the number of data failures has grown exponentially over the past two years, and many smaller companies are at a loss of how to combat them.

"Whether it's batteries exploding, bad capacitors or [faulty] hard drives," he says, "people are scratching their heads and saying, what can I do?"

Pape is a proponent of the Snap line from Adaptec, which the vendor completely refreshed beginning in May. Adaptec has since launched its lower-end Snap Server 110, 210 and 410 lines. Along with its recently released Snap Server 500, Adaptec has unified its portfolio around its Guardian operating platform, which adds intelligence to the appliances. Much like HP's AiO, the new Snap Servers support both SAN and NAS via iSCSI.

And vendors will continue to roll out new wares in an effort to lure into the game those VARs still standing on the low-end storage sidelines, experts say.

Microsoft, which just one year ago jumped on the data-protection bandwagon with its first server-backup offering, is moving to upgrade its Data Protection Manager (DPM) by next summer and is readying version 2 of its System Center DPM. The Redmond, Wash., software giant is hoping the new tools will generate broader appeal with native support for Exchange, SharePoint and SQL Server.

The added support for Exchange, in particular, could make DPM viable for SMBs that are pure Microsoft shops, as well as for branch offices of larger enterprises, says Forrester analyst Stephanie Balaouras.

"This makes them hugely competitive with the other data-protection products," Balaouras says.

NEXT: HP aims for the middle.

Hewlett-Packard is doubling financial incentives for partners that register new midsize enterprise opportunities in an effort to lure more SMB customers.

The incentives are being offered to VARs that register deals through HP's New Business Opportunity program. The plan to double incentives is among a handful of semi-annual enhancements to HP's PartnerOne program scheduled to be launched Nov. 1, the beginning of the company's fiscal year.

HP also will introduce some changes to its six-month-old Attach Plus program, the effort spawned by CEO Mark Hurd's mandate that partners attach more HP products to their solution sales. The Attach Plus enhancements are aimed at making it easier for partners to capitalize on the program, executives claim.

Rather than having only three levels, for example, Attach Plus will have five in most areas.

"Partners complained that it was difficult to get from one level to the next," says Tom LaRocca, vice president of partner development and programs at HP's Solution Provider Organization. In services, HP will move from four levels to six.

In addition, HP is refining the content of its Attach Plus training. New educational material will focus on sales. "We want to give resellers the right tools to have a conversation with customers," LaRocca says.