Because You’ve Built It, Will They Come?

Author: Mike Karp, Senior Analyst, Enterprise Management Associates

There cannot be much doubt that Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) is ready for prime time. The technology is new but evolutionary, and therefore it doesn’t require much of a stretch for system builders to understand it. It is a proven technology: we have seen SAS work in the lab, at plugfests and in the field. It’s hot pluggable, has a roadmap that will take it to 4X its current speed, it’s cheaper to build than parallel SCSI, it plays well with the cheaper SATA technology, and it’s highly scalable.

Additionally — and perhaps most importantly — it arrives on the scene (not coincidentally, of course) at a time when parallel SCSI, which has played a major role in protecting IT data since the 1980’s, has reached what may reasonably be described as its end of life. Because something is a technical success however, even if the timing is right, does not necessarily guarantee that it will win in the marketplace. Remember the Betamax, which by most accounts was technically superior to the VHS videotape technology that eventually defeated it? Remember mini-super operating systems like VMS and PRIMOS? Many readers of this newsletter could make a good case for the fact that both were far superior to Unix in many ways, and yet both fell by the wayside.

I am told that the Cord was a wonderful car in 1936, well priced and way ahead of its competitors in just about every respect. I am not sure I have met anyone who ever rode in one though…

It is safe to say that it doesn’t do anyone much good to invent “the next big thing” if the marketplace doesn’t understand the value that the “thing” delivers. Put differently: it’s one thing to have a technology, but quite another to have a product.

What stands between SAS and commercial success? A few things come to mind. We are now at the point where SAS must transition from its current posture as a technology triumph to being a success in the marketplace — and that means it is now time for the marketers to take over. If marketing teams are clever, and at least a few may be, they are looking at their potential customer base and trying to figure out just what they can do to make SAS an immediate need rather than a future consideration.

As an analyst, I talk to vendors, end users, and every group in between. What are some of the values SAS vendors can deliver that will sway system integrators to add SAS to their lines sooner rather than later, and will get them to reach out to their customers with serial technologies rather than the parallel devices they have been comfortable with for years? Based on what the end users and resellers tell me, here are a few suggestions.

Make Life Easier for the Channel!
The chief rule of course is to understand what resellers/system integrators want. I talk with these guys all the time, and — no surprise here — they are still interested in the same three things that have concerned them for years: margin, margin, and margin. One thing has changed however: these days, most in the channel take a much more sophisticated view of what contributes to margins, and understand full well that their costs involve much more than just the costs associated with buying or building product. Resellers also are keenly aware that they can make additional margin points by making the sales cycle easier — if it takes a day less to get a prospect to sign on the dotted line, that’s a day’s worth of cost they don’t have to assign to a project, and a day’s worth of value they can allocate elsewhere. Think of what the savings benefit might be to a reseller selling $5,000 systems if he can take $500 out of the cost of goods sold (the metric for what it costs to put a sales rep in the field is much higher than this number, by the way).

If as a SAS vendor you can create a “marketing wrapper” around the technology you deliver to your channel partners, you have the opportunity to give them improved margins while still maintaining your price to the reseller. When I refer to this wrapper, I mean something much more than a spec sheet of course, I mean real sales tools — a prospect qualification tool perhaps, or some other way to add value by streamlining the reseller’s sales cycle. What such tools might be will differ from company to company, but in a business where every technology leader knows that someday he will wake up to find that a competitor goes faster or can beat him on price, this might easily be seen as a key differentiator.

Recommendation #1: make one leverageable set of marketing material that rides with the technology — why not make it part of the BOM. It is likely to be seen in the marketplace as a low-cost but high-value part of your deliverable.

SMB means BIG business
Small and Medium Business (SMB) represents a huge and under-served market, a place where SAS should score many victories. For years we have all played lip-service to supporting SMB, but it’s a fact that when it comes to management tools, hardware and services, most vendors have served enterprise customers far better than they have served smaller ones. As a result, SMB not only cannot take advantage of economies of scale, they also have lost out because basic technologies have never been made available to them.

Today, this is changing. The large software vendors — CA, EMC, HP and IBM — have all released or are releasing robust management suites with new pricing models that will make it easier for SMB managers to squeeze more value out of their storage assets. There will be a sharp up-tick in SMB buying because of this, which means this is a terrific opportunity for SAS vendors to look for the synergies in the SMB space, and to take advantage of them.

The most obvious such synergies center on SATA. SATA will be good enough at many SMB sites, but for many there will also be a need for better than “good enough”. SAS is the clear choice here. Keep in mind that the SAS-SATA combination arrives at a time when even smaller companies are starting to wonder if there might be some value for them in Information Lifecycle Management (ILM). SAS devices offer such sites a much less painful option than Fibre Channel, and one that is likely to be much less costly as well.

With the new technologies that are now available, many SMB sites are also likely to be bringing on arrays for the first time as well.

Recommendation #2: When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he answered, “Because that’s where the money is.” Borrow a strategy from Willie Sutton, and remember that for the next several years, SMB is going to be where the money is. Adapt your strategies accordingly.

In summation: the technology works, and it has become a standard (engineers and T10 technical committee members, take a bow). Now it’s time to take the next big step, and turn technology into product.

Mike Karp is Senior Analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, an independent Boulder-based research and analyst firm specializing in the issues of management of technology — hardware, software and services. Mike also writes the twice-weekly “Storage in the Enterprise” newsletter for NetworkWorld FUSION.

Mike may be reached at, or at his Massachusetts office at 508-366-0328.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.