IBM Moves To Bring Storage, Security Into A Larger Conversation

‘The security practice is all about stopping a breach from happening. And the storage part of data resiliency is how you recover once you’ve had a breach. ... When a storage partner can’t address the front end or if a security partner can’t address data resiliency and recovery, the message may not be as robust and as differentiated as if they can do both,’ says Stacie Mason, vice president of IBM Americas storage sales.


IBM’s Stacie Mason

IBM is moving to bring its security and data storage capabilities closer together as a way to make it easier for its channel partners to bring more sophisticated solutions to customers.

Stacie Mason, an IBM veteran who in July became vice president of IBM Americas storage sales, said the combination will make it easier for partners to not only work better with customers, but also with IBM.

“One of the top ways you can bring a new partner into the IBM Ecosystem, the first time they’ll touch IBM, is through storage,” Mason told CRN. “We can bring them into the ecosystem with storage because it’s such a broad product. Security is the other product line that is a big draw to bring partners into the IBM ecosystem.”

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Bringing storage and cybersecurity technologies together as a way to not only stop cyberattacks on stored data while making it easier to recover from a successful attack has become a common focus in the storage industry.

IBM in late August held an IBM Cyber Summit that brought 40 channel partners to the company’s Dallas-based innovation center. The meeting, which brought together IBM security and data resiliency product developers and engineers, discussed regulatory frameworks and protocols, Mason said.

“We showed them real-world scenarios and best practices,” she said. “And what we’re really trying to do is help our partners build practices around data resiliency. It’s not just a point product or a transactional relationship, but really trying to help them figure out how do they build this practice and help differentiate them in the market using IBM products but also adding their own IP, their own services, their own wrappers around it, so they can go to their clients and have a really high-value message on an issue really relevant and pertinent to them.”

The two technologies complement each other, Mason said.

“The security practice is all about stopping a breach from happening,” she said. “And the storage part of data resiliency is how you recover once you’ve had a breach. ... We’re showing partners how to have a conversation around both. When a storage partner can’t address the front end or if a security partner can’t address data resiliency and recovery, the message may not be as robust and as differentiated as if they can do both.”

IBM has shown it sees the need to meld security to data, said Dylan Ryback, director of security services at Novacoast, a Wichita, Kan.-based MSP and software and security services provider.

Ryback told CRN that his company no longer sells hardware and is not currently an IBM storage partner. However, he said, he came back from the IBM Cyber Summit impressed.

“What made the most impression on me was, given IBM’s history in storage, the interoperability between the technology and cyber resiliency,” he said. “I saw that IBM saw this clearly.”

At the conference, IBM introduced the concept of a minimum viable company, which Ryback said is similar in concept to a minimum viable product, a term used by software developers to describe a product with enough features to validate an early stage software project and get to market as soon as possible.

“IBM applied the term to a company, saying that it is important to identify those infrastructures that need to run in a minimal environment while getting back up after a cyberattack,” he said. “This requires a holistic solution. It’s not just security and not just storage. And IBM has it covered.”

IBM also used the opportunity to discuss AI and automation as part of a complete solution, Ryback said.

Michael Adams, Northeast leader for digital infrastructure at Converge Technology Solutions, a Gatineau, Quebec-based solution provider and IBM channel partner, told CRN that IBM has a good understanding of the problem.

“It’s not just speeds and feeds,” Adams said. “IBM has all the components, including immutable snapshots and front-end security. IBM showed it can detect a ransomware attack before it reaches the data to proactively enable vaulting and snapshots.”

IBM compared disaster recovery with cyber recovery, Adams said.

“With DR, you know where the data is, the steps to recover the data, and what happens,” he said. “But in a cyberattack, you don’t know when it happened or where. That kind of comparison will help me develop those ‘a-ha’ moments with customers.”

IBM’s focus on security will help drive IBM’s storage business, Adams said.

“When you talk about storage arrays and flash arrays, they all start to look alike,” he said. “But if you can talk cybersecurity, it becomes a big differentiation.”

Changes On The Storage Front

Aside from the cybersecurity aspect, IBM continues to have a broad storage portfolio balanced between its hardware and its software-defined technologies, Mason said. This includes IBM’s move late last year to move its Red Hat OpenShift Data Foundation and Red Hat Ceph into IBM storage, she said.

“We can address all the different storage needs for our clients, whether they’re more advanced clients looking for software-designed storage because they are investing heavily in software-defined, or the vast majority of our clients who are investing in more traditional hardware with software on top of it, including traditional arrays, all-flash arrays or mainframe-attached,” she said.

IBM, like many of its competitors, is investing in tying on-premises and cloud storage together, linking IBM storage with Red Hat OpenShift, Mason said.

“It doesn’t matter where your storage is,” she said. “Is it on-prem? Is it in the cloud? IBM is investing heavily there. We’re seeing the results of the investments that we have made within Red Hat proliferating across our entire product set. It’s in our entire software, our traditional software lines, as well as our storage software line.”

Focus On The Channel

Over half of IBM’s storage revenue comes via indirect channels, Mason said, although she declined to get more specific. The company’s channel push for storage is part of a wider initiative at IBM, she said.

“Two years ago, our CEO Arvind Krishna announced publicly that we’re going to invest $1 billion in the ecosystem,” she said. “We have since been building up our teams. Back in 2020, we had 5,000 accounts around the world that were considered IBM direct accounts. As of the beginning of this year, that number was less than 400. North America is probably about half of that. So there are 200 accounts that are really deemed as IBM-led.”

“IBM-led” doesn’t mean business partners cannot participate in the account, Mason said. Instead, she said, IBM storage leads the company in channel participation.

However, Mason said, almost 100 percent of sales to North American customers outside the top 200 accounts go through the channel.

“That’s our go-to-market, she said. “When we even look at our opportunity pipeline, we expect reps to move it to the channel. As soon as they identify something, it goes to the channel. We don’t want to see our reps hanging on to opportunities.”

IBM in 2022 doubled its head count around partner-facing resources and doubled it again in 2023, Mason said.

“And one of the first things that I did in this role in that first 30 days is I reached into some of our client engineering teams, which if you know about IBM structure, client engineering has some of the brightest engineers and architects that we have, and we moved them into our channel,” she said “And in our channel ecosystem as partner technical specialists, they’re assigned to partners.”

That quadrupling of IBM storage technical head count fills a need with people who can help partners, Mason said.

“They’re out there in the field, they’re engaging side by side, arm in arm, whether it’s doing configurations, delivering value propositions, helping our partners figure out how to do POCs [proofs of concept] and assessments,” she said. “That’s probably the biggest investment I’ll make this year in our storage business, beefing up that technical skill specifically with the channel.”

IBM continues to recruit new channel partners for its storage business, Mason said. This includes partners looking to specialize in software-defined storage, including security experts looking to branch out, she said.

IBM is also working with TD Synnex, Ingram Micro and Arrow to find ways to make it easier to on-board partners, Mason said.

“We’ve streamlined our processes,” she said. “We can bring a partner on board with a contract within 24 hours. And with IBM Partner Plus, formerly known as PartnerWorld, which was never accused of being the easiest partner program in the market, we’re focused on streamlining on-boarding.”

Under Partner Plus, partners not at the highest tier still getscompetitive pricing, Mason said. They get rebates based on proficiency badges, special pricing for registered deals and more, she said.

“We’re trying to win and earn our partners’ support,” she said. “We’re trying to gain 100,000 new clients overall in the next few years. That’s an IBM goal stated by the CEO. And in order to do that, we need partners.”

Looking ahead, IBM will continue to increase investment in technical skills it can bring to partners while decreasing its investment in more generalist partner-facing personnel, Mason said.

IBM also in July introduced a new program called Propose and Earn that pays partners cash to set up new customer meetings for IBM’s flash storage arrays, she said.

“We’ll also pay for new POCs, new product assessments and new clients,” she said. “Two weeks ago, we launched a series of enablement webinars and said we will quadruple our investment in Propose and Earn. And in the month of August, we actually saw as much activity as we saw in the first six months.”