IBM sells NAS through partners

Most of IBM's network attached storage devices will go through resellers, while storage area networks will remain strong at large enterprises

IBM announced yesterday that INTechnology, a specialist storage provider, will sell its network attached storage (NAS) products in the UK. IBM expects to be selling more storage through resellers than direct sales very soon; the indirect flavour of the storage business is nicely illustrated by the fact that INTechnology itself only deals with customers through around sixty business partners.

Storage is one of the few markets where exponential growth is still confidently predicted -- IBM quoted a Frost & Sullivan prediction of a $1.8bn NAS market in Europe by 2007. However a proliferation of technologies (NAS, Fibre Channel SANs, iSCSI and Infiniband to name a few) is in danger of confusing consumers.

"For a department running Unix or NT, we recommend NAS, connected through Ethernet, scaling from 100GB to several terabytes," said Bill Mahoney, IBM vice president of worldwide storage networking sales. "For the enterprise, we recommend fibre channel SANs."

Both companies agreed that NAS, which shares data over existing Ethernet LANs, is now suitable for workgroups and departments, while storage area networks (SANs) which use Fibre Channel to create separate storage networks are more suitable at the enterprise level. However, different regions have different approaches. "The US is likely to adopt heavyweight SANs," said INTechnology's strategic business manager, Derek Warry, "while in Europe NAS will take off, since the mid-market usually goes better here."

In future the balance would tip further towards NAS and away from Fibre Channel, said Mahoney, though he was at pains to reassure customers that Fibre Channel SANs would have a long term future, in part because of gateways such as IBM's NAS 300G, which allow users to combine the two, so smaller systems on the LAN to access SAN storage without the expense of Fibre Channel connectivity.

"Fibre Channel has a long life ahead of it," said Mahoney. "We are in the maturity of Fibre Channel and the early years of IP storage." Analysts agree. "Large enterprises will not wait for iSCSI [which offers storage over IP], but will deploy Fibre Channel SANs now," said analyst Alan Zeichick of Camden Associates at a recent NetEvents conference in Portugal. "It will be two or three years before iSCSI takes off and Infiniband may start in 2003."

Even despite the often-repeated promise that all shared storage systems will increase efficiency, companies' storage needs are set to increase rapidly, and for every dollar spent on the hardware, users have to invest another five or six on services, so it is an important market.

For INTechnology, IBM storage is currently second to Compaq, at around 30 percent of its business, "but this is increasing rapidly," said Warry. IBM expects to sell 70 to 80 percent of its storage through business partners within the next few months.

INTechnology is less than a year old, having been formed to merge storage resellers Storm and Vdata. It had turnover of £163 million in 2000, through 60 partners. The main things it offers its partners are plush offices in London and Harogate, as well as solutions centres where technology can be demonstrated, first line technical support and a better conduit into IBM for more detailed queries, said Warry. "We may also have the product in stock," he added.

See ZDNet UK's Enterprise Channel for full coverage.

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