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Out of the box

Storage is a continuing story as vendors consistently innovate to help businesses cope with increasing amounts of data. Pallavi Sharma speaks to the regional community to discover how this story can unfold to benefit the Middle East channel ecosystem.

“More data was created during any 48 hour period last year than by all of humanity in the last 30,000 years and this will be the amount of data generated roughly every hour by 2020,” said Duncan Mitchell, senior VP, Emerging Theatre, Cisco.

This statement paints a vague but accurate picture of the huge challenges business have to face in order to facilitate the management and storage of consistently growing volumes of data.

According to researchers at IBM, as storage becomes a key driver of businesses, it will become imperative for the industry to conduct new breakthroughs in storage research.

Steve Wojtowecz, VP of storage software development at IBM added that this situation is made worse by data hoarding businesses. “When it comes to big data, more is not always better. Businesses are becoming data hoarders, spending too much time and money collecting useless or bad data that can lead to misguided business decisions. Simple policy decisions and existing storage technologies can change this, but companies are hesitant to delete any data—or duplicate data—for fear of needing specific data down the line. Part of the solution is deleting copies, lowering costs,” he said.

Wojtowecz also said that in the face of these challenges, 2012 will witness the adoption of denser data storage solutions like solid state disks (SSD) that offer not only reliable but also long term preservation of data that can be accessed anytime, anywhere via the cloud. He added that storage innovation will be lead by the entertainment and healthcare verticals as both these industries are currently dealing with maximum magnitudes of data that show no signs of slowing down and are critical to the business.

IT professionals also attribute the recent flooding in Thailand that resulted in a heavy shortage in hard disk drives (HDD) to fuel the adoption of SDDs even further.

Of course, price per gigabyte of SSDs continues to be higher than HDDs. But many believe that the gap is narrowing while some users willingly pay more to leverage the advantages of solid state memories such as access time, transfer rate and lower power consumption.

On the other hand, vendors are also making big efforts to provide longer writing cycles on flash chip, an area where PCI is gaining momentum being the most popular and according to some users, the best interface to sustain the speed of SSDs for high-end applications.

Some companies are already offering all-flash storage subsystems competing in performance with the fastest traditional monolithic SAN. SSDs will progressively be used as cache, in tiering configuration with HDDs and then for the complete storage memory with HDDs for backup only.

Regional insight

Regional vendors and distributors evidence a similar surge in the adoption of the latest storage technologies and credit this demand for fuelling further innovation across the larger industry.

Nicholas Argyrides, MD, at prominent regional value add distribution company, EMPA says that end users today have more options to store and access their professional as well as personal data than they did a few years ago.

“It is no secret that the amount of data required has been increasing by the second due to the recent digital transformation across industries created by higher adoption of mobile phones and technology, increased broadband access and surge in digital video and multimedia content. A recent study has indicated that the adoption of SMB and consumer NAS units from 2009 until 2015 will grow by up to seven times. This is only one clear indication of where this technology is heading. While UB flash drives and external HDs continue to be popular, users want more storage capabilities and quicker access to critical data. This is one reason why SSDs and NAS devices are fast gaining popularity, driven even further by the emergence and capabilities of cloud technologies,” he says.

He’s quick to add that the company’s storage business has grown exponentially over the last couple of years. Argyrides says that although the recent HDD shortage was a major challenge it also opened up a new wave of opportunities for businesses specialising in storage.

“The last two quarters have been really challenging due to the recent flooding and resulting worldwide shortage in HDD manufacturing and supply. During this low-supply period we had to work very closely with our partners to maintain their confidence level and make the best of the limited supply of goods in the market. It was also a great chance for resellers to make unprecedented margins on storage equipment, something that, literally, ‘added more value’ to their business. At the same time, the recent scarcity of conventional storage devices has also created an opportunity to ‘pitch’ NAS and cloud storage solutions as better replacements of older HDD technology,” he explains.

Cizar Abughazaleh, regional sales manager, Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Iomega agrees with Argyrides affirmation on cloud capabilities positively swaying the demand for storage technologies saying that the company itself has witnessed a huge spike in the demand for its latest storage solutions.

“We are seeing great demand for our SMB NAS Cloud Solution products as a result of which we have expanded our range to serve a wider segment of the SMB market.  We have recently made a number of announcements such the new Iomega StorCenter PX Server Class Series of network storage products, which features a new version of EMC LifeLine software, which includes the Atmos Connector client software. The technology looks to provide easy cloud access to SMBs and start ups,” Abughazaleh says.

He adds that the advantage of this technology is that the Atmos Connector software lets users quickly and conveniently copy data stored on an Iomega StorCenter NAS device directly to the Atmos-powered cloud storage. “Once a customer’s data is in the cloud, it instantly becomes a backup copy to help protect the customer’s data from various forms of outage. Additionally, customers can access their cloud-based data from more than one location to facilitate data movement and data sharing,” he says.

Abughazaleh says that already EMC Atmos is used by over 35 service providers worldwide, delivering Atmos-powered clouds in over 65 worldwide locations. This revenue growth has in turn has helped Iomega to sustain continuous investments in the region with a presence across 15 countries in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META) and a VAD in each country to provide in-country technical support.

HP has been another prominent player in the storage business, noting the potential for future growth to make well thought out strategic acquisitions over the last few years.

“The recent acquisition of 3PAR has considerably contributed to HP’s performance on a worldwide and regional scale. According to the latest IDC external storage research, HP Middle-East has gained 12% market share while HP’s external storage business has grown by upto 14% globally and our “lead-with” technologies such as 3PAR, StoreOnce and LeftHand has grown 70% on average,” says Ayman Dwidar, channel manager, HP Enterprise servers, storage and networking (ESSN), Middle East.

Dwidar credits the limitations of older storage technologies for driving demand and innovation across the industry.

“A majority of the unified and monolithic storage solutions available today have been built for the needs for 20 years ago. As a result of which, customers are stuck with legacy storage, that is too expensive, complex and isolated to meet the demands driven by virtualisation and cloud technologies in addition to big data.

Keeping these challenges in mind, HP ESSN and its partners have created what they call the HP Converged Storage portfolio built on three primary components, modular hardware building blocks based on HP ProLiant and HP BladeSystem technology, federated, scale-out storage software and converged management and orchestration across servers, storage, and network.

These solutions include HP 3PAR and HP B6000 StoreOnce Backup Systems.

Dwidar says, “HP 3PAR is a powerful, mission-critical storage system that simultaneously supports mixed, unpredictable and multi-tenant workloads on a single high-performance array. HP B6000 StoreOnce Backup Systems takes HP’s StoreOnce deduplication intellectual property to the enterprise, providing efficient disk based backup for effective longer term on site data retention, off site disaster recovery. The B6000 has a high-availability, scale-out design, offering up to 768 Terabyte of capacity and speeds of up to 28Terabyte per hour. It is the fastest data ingest rate on the market and seven times faster than the nearest competitor.”

It is HP’s optimistic outlook that has perhaps then resulted in prominent regional distributors like Emitac Distribution to embed the company’s latest storage offerings in their own growth strategies.

Carlos Tannous, business unit manager for Emitac Distribution’s value add division says, “Storage solutions are one of the fundamental elements that equip Emitac Distribution with a solid technology portfolio to offer end to end data centre solutions. This is where HP’s Converged Infrastructure (CI) solutions help us deliver enterprise agility. Emitac Distribution is focusing on the latest HP technologies that simplify the deployment of CI through integrated solutions that accelerate application delivery, define the next-generation of converged storage and revolutionise how data centres are built in the future,” Tannous explains.

Actifio is another vendor that has worked towards innovating existing storage solutions to leverage growing demand ultimately helping the organisation grow.

“A new breed of storage options is replacing the traditional data protection approach with a bold new ones through the creation of storage architecture that can protect multiple systems, environments (physical, virtual and cloud) and applications in a single, highly efficient, virtualised storage pool. Protection and Availability Storage (PAS) platforms administer SLA-driven data protection and data management across the entire production environment – regardless of application, system or deployment model. PAS-based products radically simplify data protection and associated functions and reduce storage-related costs by up to 90%. Cost savings apply across all environments whether they are located on virtual, physical or cloud data infrastructures. This is an application-centric, SLA-driven data management paradigm that is independent of server, storage, or network infrastructure. Actifio is proud to be the world’s first PAS platform with the ability to extend all of the above mentioned benefits to the enterprise,” says Greg Scorziello, GM, EMEA at Actifio.

He adds that the PAS platform has already been credited with revitalising the North American data management and storage industry – driving the shift away from reliance on costly point tools used for backup, disaster recovery, deduplication and business continuity. “To date, Actifio PAS has enabled more than 100 global organisations to reduce storage costs by 90% and network utilisation by 70% while dramatically improving data protection, business availability and the efficiency of existing storage investments. Following this trend, PAS platforms are gaining rapid traction with organisations in the Middle East,” says Scorziello.

Knowledge transfer

With most technology business in the Middle East being through partners, it is no wonder that vendors have been quick to follow innovation with communication and training.

HP for instance has been very busy with offering a number of training and education initiatives for its numerous partners in the region varying as per partner status (Gold Partner, Preferred Partner, Proximity Partner etc) and specialisation.

The company has launched a number of initiatives to help partner’s capitalise on the opportunities posed by the latest technologies. Dwidar cites the example of HP’s 3PAR channel program that aims to support enterprise storage specialised partners to promote 3PAR thin technologies with exclusive support and benefits from HP in addition to HP ServiceONE.

“HP ExpertONE is HP’s next-generation Global Certified Professional program, designed to lead the industry in certification, content, quality, and relevance for Channel Partners and HP employees. HP ExpertONE provides the portfolio of certifications for our Specialist and Preferred Partners and provides individuals with the education, tools and skills needed to succeed in today’s highly competitive landscape. The program provides Solution and Product training in an innovative learning environment through the SMB Academy and StoreOnce Academy,” Dwivar says.

The While StoreOnce Academy is a training initiative to cover the StoreOnce deduplication technologies, the SMB Academy is a fast-track certifying training roadshow for channel partners to achieve their SMB storage certification and will be launched in the second half of 2012.

In addition, Dwidar adds that the company offers a choice of two specialisation tracks for partners to leverage a unique level of support from HP allowing them to increase their competitive edge and service levels on storage opportunities.

“The enterprise storage specialist track will enable HP channel partners to deliver sophisticated storage solutions such as information lifecycle management, IT consolidation, business continuity and availability. Enteprise storage specialists will be the partners who craft storage strategies that manage, protects and optimise data with unmatched simplicity, agility and efficiency In order to enable large enterprises and organisations to grow and adapt to change and implement private or public cloud computing. The SMB Storage Specialist track will help HP partners deliver storage and data consolidation, virtualisation, application modernisation and business protection solutions to help SMBs optimise their business,” explains Dwidar.

Dwidar adds that the partner benefits associated with the two tracks include marketing support through the provision of marketing funds, sales support, Pay-For-Result compensation schemes, and access to priority pre-sales support through the office based pre-sales (OBP) team. In addition, partners can also gain access to HP’s Deal Registration Partner for Growth (PfG) program to generate and secure new business subject to country availability as part of these initiatives.

Scorziello highlights Actifio’s training initiatives such as the Actifio University describing it as comprehensive training seminar for partners “to accelerate delivery of PAS based solutions through all the tools and education they need to promote and support their Actifio-based services.”

He continues, “Actifio’s Partner Program is designed to enable our Value Added Resellers (VARs) to capitalise on this billion dollar market opportunity. From training and joint-field marketing events to sales support and demand generation, Actifio’s Channel team lead by is committed to helping partners deliver PAS based solutions to their customers.”

Scorziello adds that the company’s partner program is lead by a former Cisco and VCE executive, Russell Rosa as VP of worldwide channels at Actifio. “Rosa’s expertise in virtualisation, storage and channel management is a strong asset to Actifio as it advances its Channel Partner Program and cloud strategy, which was recently expanded by a partnership with IBM,” he says.

The company also supports partners on a one-to-one basis by phone and in-person as needed along with a NFR demo program and provides repeatable turnkey SLA and industry focused consulting in addition to ISR support and deal registration.

“Our Primer Partner program has been a great success as partners find it very useful to help them expand their business and keep them updated with new solutions and market trends,” says Iomega’s Abughazaleh.

According to him, the benefits for partners include dedicated support, performance based rebated, access to Iomega product roadmaps and advanced product information, access to sales leads and incentive programmes, special discounts for evaluation units, joint marketing support, in addition to deal registration and pre sales and advanced technical support.

“We believe that continuous education and awareness of our product solutions and technology is extremely important for the business as well as partner. This is why we have we have conducted a series of training seminars across multiple countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan among others. In addition to which, believing that flexibility and availability of learning is just as important, Iomega has launched its online training program to provide anytime, anywhere access for our partners in the region,” he says.

Iomega has also recently announced worldwide channel availability of Iomega Network Storage Solutions with MindTree SecureMind Surveillance Manager Software for partners in the region says Abughazaleh.

“The MindTree SecureMind application is now included at no additional charge with all Iomega StorCenter network storage products as a fully-featured application for one video surveillance camera. This enables users to set up a video surveillance environment and explore the full feature set of the Iomega and MindTree combination. For users interested in an all-in-one network storage surveillance product offering that includes both hardware and software, Iomega now offers the Iomega StorCenter px4-300d Server Class Series with MindTree SecureMind Surveillance Manager, Integrated Video Management System (IVMS), which combines a desktop four-drive Iomega StorCenter px4-300d device, plus two 1TB server class drives and an eight-camera SecureMind license,” he adds.

Adding value

Noting the significant competition in the existing market for storage solutions, distributors in the region are also making significant efforts to extend training opportunities across the region’s reseller and retail community.

EMPA’s Argyrides says that the company extends a number of vendor initiatives to its partner. “One of the most popular schemes has been the online certification training for our vendors’ technologies. The Iomega Online Product Trainings and e-Certification is a great example wherein our partners can learn about the Iomega NAS technologies and product road maps,” he says.

“At EMPA, we believe that nothing is more effective than continuous and consistent training programs. We customarily hold these in cooperation with our vendors and one area we focus on is storage security. In an industry where margins for commoditised equipment are eroding due to intense competition, implicating the financial benefits of dealing with new technologies is always an attractive opportunity,” continues Argyrides.

Arun Chawla, CEO at Trigon says that the company takes on a number of training initiatives together with vendors. For instance, Trigon has recently introduced an Iomega experience centre at a prominent retail outlet in the UAE.

“The experience centre at the Sharaf DG Time square in Dubai is a dedicated area for educating customers with live demonstrations focusing on all the new innovations so that customers can have a feel of the product. In addition, we have now displayed Iomega’s NAS products across all the retailers in addition to select channel partners with whom we consciously schedule training seminars every month to help ultimately secure better margin through the provision of better support to customers,” says Chawla.

Emitac’s Tannous says that the distributor’s primary value add proposition constitutes the provision of pre and after sales support, channel education, trainings and specialization opportunities in addition to POC execution.

“These initiatives, we believe, will help our partners turn their storage systems businesses into optimised solutions for virtualisation, cloud and next generation applications and all around the power of the HP Converged Infrastructure to help partners overcome any challenges they may face in selling and deploying storage technologies across organisations in the Middle East,” Tannous adds.

Going forward

Believing the trend to be yet in its infancy, vendors around the globe are making significant efforts to ensure they stay ahead of curve through wider channel adoption and better customer support initiatives.

For instance, Dwidar says that the company will continue to focus on its partner community to drive the IT giant’s growth in the region even further.  In the coming months, we plan on expanding the use of the Deal Registration Portal. In addition, going forward we will also put an even stronger focus on cloud with new channel programs and benefits for enterprise channel partners who want to invest in this highly dynamic market area, this will naturally cover the critical aspect of data storage,” he says.

Abughazaleh says that while Iomega has so far been successful in establishing s great structure for its business to business NAS solutions in conjunction with the company’s partners, it now looking to its overall service offering to the next level.

“We want to go the extra mile for our customers and we want to do it right, assuring the availability of our customers’ Iomega StorCenter Network Storage devices remains a critical part of their data protection strategy. Iomega has made selecting and obtaining the best level of support for the entire life of our NAS products easy and affordable. Getting a service plan from Iomega assures dependable delivery of results and lower TCO of Iomega network storage solutions. In addition, our customer service portal is available 24×7 to protect network storage technology investments with fast, consistent and reliable technical and problem-solving expertise,” he says.

Actifio has recently announced the appointment of Donna Williams, a former HP, IBM and FalconStar Software executive as the VP of the company’s global services and support division. “This I believe is one example of our commitment towards to delivering world-class customer service,” says Scorziello.

If the latest predictions by Symform are anything to go by, vendors and partners are yet to come across one of the largest market opportunities associated with storage technology to have ever existed.

Symform described 2012 as the year of the “storage revolution”.

Based on industry trends and insights gathered from customers, partners and industry experts, Symform predicted that 2012 will be all about data—how to store, secure, access and manage it.

“Globally, the volume of data is growing at an accelerating, record pace. It is simply not possible for companies or service providers to continue managing and storing data with traditional local or offsite methodologies,” said Matthew Schiltz, CEO of Symform. “This massive data growth combined with the high cost and reliability issues surrounding traditional offsite storage will force a revolution in the industry, as companies push to get greater ROI from existing infrastructure and take a more strategic view of their data.”

Symform report also found that the spread will continue to widen between per giabyte costs of a local storage device versus what it costs per gigabyte to store and back up that data in the cloud. “With 4TB drives on the horizon for less than $100, “businesses will balk” at paying $1,000 per month to back up a $100 local drive” the report said.

The company also predicted businesses will look to solve a fundamental storage issue of deploying additional onsite storage capacity at record rates when the average local disc is only 25 to 35% utilised over the life of the drive.

Next year will be a wake-up call for small to medium-size businesses (SMBs) to reassess current storage and backup practices.

“Research reveals that 70% of SMBs do not store data offsite, only locally, and that at least 15% of SMBs have no data backup or business continuity plans whatsoever. Faced with a dizzying array of on-premises and ‘prosumer’ cloud storage options like iCloud and Dropbox, Symform predicts that SMBs will re-evaluate their buying criteria in favour of more secure, scalable, enterprise-class storage and backup solutions,” Symform concluded.

Although many may question the accuracy of these predictions, there is no doubt that storage is one technology subject that is yet maturing, with a lot more to come in the future, vendors and partners have an opportunity to continue to evolve to leverage a significant first mover advantage. //

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