Racing cars overtook cleavage as the main distraction at Storage Expo 2002. After the runaway success of the first dedicated storage show in the UK last year, the second aimed to be bigger and better.
Despite the efforts of Stockage in Paris, the Storage Networking Industry Association forum in San Jose and Systems in Munich, Storage Expo in Birmingham was still in pole position as the leading storage exhibition.
With more than 2,500 attendees and 90 exhibitors, event organiser Imago couldn't have been happier, according to show manager Harvey Bremner.
"We've increased the number of attendees and exhibitors, and there are no noticeable absences among the vendors. The quality of end users has been high, and vendors are saying they've achieved in the first half of the first day what they hoped to achieve in terms of sales leads over the entire two days," he said.
Serious closure of business is what the show is all about, agreed Scott Mercer, regional director of CommVault UK.
"Storage will continue to dominate in IT because of bigger applications and more consolidation. The whole management of storage will continue to grow. Maybe not as much as predicted, but customers are still adding applications and files and the demand is still there," he explained.
Exactly what the end users are demanding from their storage supplier was an important issue at the show. From consolidation of storage to greater interoperability, increased education and switching from direct-attached storage (Das) to storage area networks (Sans) or network-attached storage (Nas), one theme was constant: end users are looking to get more from less.
"The underlying issue for everyone here is that customers are having to do more storing with less budget," said Nigel Ghent, marketing director at EMC.
Malk Walker, director at Ideal Enterprise Solutions, added: "It's about saving pound notes for the customers. Chief financial officers now have a much greater say in any project sign-offs and they are looking for the business benefits and return on investment [ROI]. Total cost of ownership has been taken over by ROI."
Being able to prove business benefits and ROI is a challenge for the channel. "Resellers can't just use the downtime argument any more. They have to be able to quantify the return," explained Walker.
David Liff, regional vice president of EMEA brand management storage at Computer Associates (CA), suggested that one way in which resellers could try and demonstrate the ROI of storage was to ask the customer how valuable its data is.
"There is still a reluctance to spend, and buying decisions are taking longer, but people are investing if good ROI is shown," he said.
Another way for resellers to offer ROI is to run a shared reward and shared risk model. "System integrators are already offering this model, and it's something everybody needs to do to show a willingness to get contracts off the ground," said Walker.
Liff agreed that the model could work. "The shared risk model is based on an understanding of business values. Being committed to a customer relationship is always the best idea," he explained.
But Gary Rider, newly appointed UK general manager at StorageTek, warned that the idea has problems. "Both firms will have different ideas about what constitutes success on the project," he said.
"The risk at the end of the day will still be in the hands of the customer, not the supplier or reseller. You would have to ensure that success is simultaneous. The days of promises of ROI and business benefits are over. It's time for facts."
Ghent added that ROI shouldn't be the be-all and end-all. "Business benefits should be a more important consideration. Resellers should match the technology to the applications already within a business to save the end user having to redeploy or upgrade," he said.
Andy Norman, managing director at storage specialist Sagitta, believes that end users have lost faith in the ROI argument. "Vendors are finding it difficult to sell kit, so they believe they have to show ROI. But end users are cynical, because why would a vendor have an ROI model if not to try to justify why the end user should buy their kit?" he said.
Norman added that many end users are looking to migrate from Das to Sans or Nas to save money. "All the storage must work together. Choice and flexibility are the key, and this is achieved with the enterprise functionality of intelligent management software," he explained.
The use of storage management software was widely endorsed around Hall 8 at the NEC. "Software has become the new hardware. Storage management software is the new black," stated Chris Boorman, vice president of marketing for EMEA at Veritas.
Steve Pearce, chief operating officer at distributor InTechnology, agreed. "There is a huge emphasis on software. It's about how to move storage without just adding more hardware, and hence cost," he said.
Mercer even suggested that storage hardware has become a commodity. "It was always going to happen. The hardware vendors are all partnering aggressively to combat this," he said.
However, Rider disagreed. "Over time everything becomes commoditised, and any software vendor that believes it is a differentiator is living on borrowed time. What's important now is how you apply the technology," he warned.
Greg Scorziello, chief executive at Bi-Tech, added that resellers need to focus on the commercial benefits of new storage technology. "The channel is trying to sell software and services to make margin, but resellers first need to build an infrastructure that makes commercial sense to the end user. Don't focus on software and services; focus on the entire solution," he said.
Bringing a solution together for end users was another key theme of the exhibition. Liff suggested using storage resource management (SRM) to create heterogeneous storage environments.
Last month CA released its SRM BrightStor Portal, which allows all storage environments to work together, cutting down on the number of staff needed to manage the storage. "People don't generally have the skills or the architecture to use all the hardware they have, so SRM has become a hot topic," said Liff.
James Byrne, director at reseller JCom, suggested that encouraging end users to install SRM software is another way of proving the ROI of a storage project.
"The aim these days is to save costs and simplify, and software is the way to do this. SRM also does storage asset management, which lets end users know what they already have and what a possible solution could be," he said.
As the show drew to a close with a barrage of corporate gifts ranging from handy bottle openers to less handy bouncy balls, there was one noticeable absence: the scantily clad young women who usually adorn the stands of various vendors to attract customers.
"Maybe the vendors have products that are attractive enough on their own now," said one female executive.
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