Guest Column | August 14, 2014

How To Preserve Your Data Protection Business With Customers Distracted By Shiny Baubles

John Pearring, Vice President of STORServer, Inc.

By John Pearring, Vice President, STORServer, Inc.

John Pearring, Vice President of STORServer, Inc.

Since data protection remains one of the biggest issues for customers today — both as a recurring growth and upgrade product opportunity — resellers can unfortunately get derailed by “new” offerings on the market. Customers constantly urge their seasoned and trusted resellers to get them information about the new, hyped-up data protection offerings as well as those that are well-known and established without distinction for which kind it is. Resellers can spend both unnecessary time and non-profit forays getting caught up in the latest shiny baubles that widen the eyes of their customers.

How can you tell the difference between offerings that are all flash and no substance and those that actually deliver results? The answer separates the successful resellers from the struggling ones.

While advancements in data protection do deserve reseller attention, the same basics that apply to existing technology upgrades also apply when identifying the real from the fantasy, revolutionary products. Those fundamentals are: 1) to get educated, 2) watch the beta sites, and 3) preserve and protect revenue-source customers by urging caution until technologies are proven.

We will use several cloud offerings as the example for this discussion, though there are plenty more to choose from. Cloud backup, cloud disaster recovery, and cloud archive solution products have been popping up for the greater part of the last decade. Few of them have been golden eggs for resellers, even when they have sold well. Now that the dust is beginning to settle, we can see how data protection leaders in software, hardware and appliance offerings now incorporate the best of cloud.

Basically, the cloud experience reminds us of the three rules that resellers have followed and ignored as they have tracked with the cloud offerings.

Use caution with leading edge technologies

The first rule is: Don’t be the new kid on the block with cutting-edge technologies unless you are willing to lose your investment. Cutting-edge means exactly what it says. Somebody is going to get hurt while everybody else watches. If you want to be first, dip your toes lightly into new, cool-looking rivers and streams, if you get my drift. It is not the surface appearance that matters.

Initial cloud backups sucked some resellers dry. The margins were thin, and where hardware investments were required, the life-cycle of servers and storage quickly changed when solid-state drives (SSDs) were introduced and as mean time between failures (MTBFs) increased the annual maintenance and replacement costs of both disk and tape. In addition, the service level agreements (SLAs) that were signed put resellers at great risk as they absorbed the compliance and recovery expectations previously owned by customers.

Education first expects that you do not sacrifice your own employees or customers to become properly trained. Be sure to get good technical recommendations and warnings before trying something new. Beta sites, however, can be valuable. Some customers cannot hold off and are too willing to be the guinea pigs. That is good for everyone else. It is okay if you have a customer like that. If you have employees who get giddy at trying out new stuff, that is fine too. But most customers, when the potential outcomes are explained, would rather wait. Reseller executives with basic business skills do not want to burn up their employees, even when employees want to jump into the fire.

Prioritize customer satisfaction

The second rule is: Customer satisfaction trumps customer acquisition. Selling a new technology because a host of folks will buy it does not mean you will make money. Data protection resellers live on keeping their customer base happy, not on delivering a fast storage product customer turnstile. Retail-level sales involve turnstiles, and reseller sales involve boardrooms and long memories. Burned customers set bridges on fire.

Cloud recovery exemplifies how the rule was ignored in the infancy of selling cloud-based backup, archive, and disaster recovery. In fact, pipes have grown both in how much data can be sent and in how much compression can be used. That is good for backups. Source deduplication also enhanced the ability to replicate data without ever having to move it, which is great. For recovery, however, data at the source site no longer exists, and full data movement eliminates the incremental copy advantage, the compressed bits and the deduplication comparison. Customers experienced problems in cloud recovery that took them back to the Stone Age.

Data protection is slow to adapt

The third rule for resellers is: Data protection product lines involve constant aggregation of technologies. The leaders in data protection product development can make the same errors in adoption of new technologies that startups will make. The difference is that those data protection leaders either absorb the startups that are solid or they adopt the technology internally.

This rule is the most difficult to apply because data protection includes practically every single storage, server, network, and file system advancement ever created. New storage configurations and tiering capabilities do not immediately get incorporated into data protection architectures. Data protection software took years to assimilate the network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area network (SAN) protocols into their automation. In addition, the virtual machine offerings caused enormous data protection confusion.

Remember these rules. The problems associated with new technology developments do not have to derail profitability and customer satisfaction for resellers of data protection solutions. If you stick to keeping the first and second rules, you will be able to keep a level-head on putting new technologies into the right buckets.

The measure for how you are doing resides in one simple financial reading. If your bread and butter data protection product offerings continue to grow (even if slowly), then you are in good shape.

Even the most awful advancements will likely morph into practical usefulness. Waiting to adopt technologies until that time means you will stay ahead of much of your competition.

John Pearring is vice president of STORServer, a leading provider of proven data backup solutions for the mid-market, selling exclusively through the channel. As STORServer president from 1995–2008, he built the original OEM alliances and e-business infrastructure for the company.  Appliance shoppers can use STORServer’s Solution Wizard to evaluate which best backup appliance is best for their business.