MSPs tempt users with storage management services

MSPs (managed service providers) are tempting customers to consider hosted storage management as a way to jump start the utilisation of a glut of underused storage equipment and navigate complex storage environments, according to industry analysts.

Loudcloud followed that trend this week by announcing its subscription-based Storage Management Services 2.0, powered by Opsware and featuring greater flexibility around the MSP's Web site storage offering to accommodate customers requiring different levels of capacity and speed based on Web site activity.

Storage Management Services 2.0 can be customised for "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 SAN (storage area network) solutions, Frank Chen, director of product management at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Loudcloud, said Wednesday.

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

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

"More MSPs are offering integrated services and a single point of contact. The challenge of standalone storage is, at the end of the day, you have a managed storage provider and storage [solution] 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 discs.'" Perhaps most frustrating to users is finding a cost-effective means to squeeze greater performance out of highly underutilised storage infrastructure and equipment built up out of the "not to get left behind" fear during the massive dot-com boom and e-commerce push, said Doug Chandler, analyst at market researcher 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 utilisation 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 services assistance request to their storage device providers. Despite lingering customer hesitancy toward storage and data outsourcing, MSP telecomm players such as Bell South, AT&T, and Qwest Communications and IT outsourcing giants including EDS 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, added Chandler.

Despite sluggish storage sales during an economic downturn, EMC says it is unconcerned by 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 solutions, said Ken Steinhardt, director of technology analysis at EMC.

One role EMC will not assume is the mantle of hosted storage service provider. Instead, it will opt to partner with MSPs or the struggling breed of SSPs (storage service providers) through its AutoIS (Automated Information Storage) solution, 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 StorageWorks, and other storage devices, said EMC officials.

Still reeling from overspending on storage infrastructure, Chandler said many SSPs have begun to mirror MSPs storage management services model to survive rather than their traditional offering of storage as a buy-on-demand utility.

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