MSPs tempt users with storage management services

Managed service providers (MSP) are trying to persuade customers to consider hosted storage management as a way to jump-start the utilization of a glut of underused storage equipment and navigate complex storage environments, according to industry analysts.

Loudcloud Inc. followed that trend this week by announcing its subscription-based Storage Management Services 2.0. The product is powered by Opsware and features greater flexibility around the MSP's Web site storage offering in order to accommodate customers requiring different levels of capacity and speed based on Web site activity, according to the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company.

Storage Management Services 2.0 can be customized for customers ranging from low-end Web sites that deliver pages quickly with content changes every 10 to 15 minutes, to interactive sites sharing storage across multiple servers, to high-volume environments requiring storage-area network (SAN) solutions, said Frank Chen, director of product management at Loudcloud.

Loudcloud has already begun to explore the possibility of bringing the existing storage equipment of major enterprises in-house and under its control rather than providing outsourced storage solutions from its own backyard.

Chen said application performance levels and platform integration snafus affecting storage are pushing customers toward the idea of accessing storage management as part of a broader range of value-added service offerings from MSPs.

"More MSPs are offering integrated services and a single point of contact. The challenge of stand-alone storage is, at the end of the day, you have a managed storage provider and storage provider. Who's really going to solve a problem first?" said Chen. "The last thing you want to hear is, 'That's not my problem. Those aren't my disks.' "

Perhaps most frustrating to users is finding a cost-effective means to squeeze greater performance out of highly underutilized storage infrastructure and equipment built up out of the fear of getting left behind that was prevalent during the massive dot-com boom and e-commerce push, said Doug Chandler, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm IDC.

"There's a lot of unused capacity out there, and in many cases, [customers] have isolated storage capacity that can't be accessed through one server," said Chandler. "What customers are doing now, post-dot-com, is looking to get more utilization from what they already have. That's part of the challenge EMC is facing."

According to Chandler, most customers wrestling with storage management headaches are choosing to place their first service-assistance requests to their storage device providers. Despite lingering customer hesitancy toward storage and data outsourcing, MSP telecommunications players such as BellSouth Corp., AT&T Corp. and Qwest Communications International Inc., as well as IT outsourcing giants such as Electronic Data Systems Corp. and IBM Global Services, are touting the benefits of outsourced expertise.

"Customers have been wary of anybody managing their storage environments or actually owning their devices, because critical data runs on the devices. At the same time, customers have looked at SAN, and it's much more complicated than it used to be and many are looking outside [for help]," noted Chandler.

Despite sluggish storage sales during the economic downturn, EMC Corp. said it isn't worried about MSPs muscling into the storage arena. The Hopkinton, Mass.-based storage giant is focusing its efforts on ROI benefits for customers and investing heavily in improving storage software systems, said Ken Steinhardt, director of technology analysis at EMC.

But EMC won't assume the mantle of hosted storage service provider. Instead, it plans to partner with MSPs or the struggling breed of storage service providers (SSP) through its Automated Information Storage (AutoIS) product, which is designed to tie together different storage platforms.

"[Hosting] is not really our business. We are sticking to our core competencies and sticking to our knitting," said Steinhardt. "The complexity of [a SAN] environment is increasing, and it's a tremendous challenge to the customers and why we've gone so aggressively to provide software products to address that."

This week, EMC released the newest version of EMC ESN Manager software, which offers automated management of multivendor SANs for EMC Clariion, EMC Symmetrix, Compaq Computer Corp. StorageWorks and other storage devices, said EMC officials.

Many SSPs are still reeling from overspending on storage infrastructure, Chandler said, so they have begun to mirror the MSP model to survive rather than continuing with their traditional offering of storage as a buy-on-demand utility.

This story, "MSPs tempt users with storage management services" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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