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Sat 16 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Averting disaster

Business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) services are becoming a way of life for organisations unwilling to take risks when it comes to ensuring the integrity of their data in the event of an emergency.

Business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) services are becoming a way of life for organisations unwilling to take risks when it comes to ensuring the integrity of their data in the event of an emergency.

But not every end-user ranks it top of their IT agenda, preferring instead to adopt fairly basic recovery policies. So what can Middle East resellers do to enhance their chances of selling BC/DR solutions to customers and how should they go about it?

Channel Middle East sought the wisdom of the following vendor spokespeople: Wasima Khan (WK), director EMEA field marketing at CA; Samir Achour (SA), Middle East channel manager at EMC; Vikram Suri (VS), regional midmarket and commercial manager MENA at Symantec; Khalid Khalil (KK), Middle East and Africa regional manager at Brocade; Tony Ward (TW), Middle East general manager and sales director at Hitachi Data Systems; and Martyn Molnar (MM), regional area director for Network Appliance.

In our experience, customers have more faith engaging with organisations that can boast local support or offer them servicing agreements that not only tie them to a technology choice, but to an uptime SLA-type choice.

Which sectors are showing the greatest appetite for business continuity and disaster recovery solutions, and why?

SA:The most demanding sectors in the Middle East are telecommunications and banking because of government directives, compliance and business impact. They cannot afford to lose their data or have data going down for long periods. Downtime means a lot of money and being out of business for even an hour is too costly for a telco or a bank.

KK:The financial sector, which includes banking and insurance, continues to show the greatest appetite for business continuity and disaster recovery solutions. Finance has always been the strongest sector by virtue of the requirement to protect financial data and transactional services. However, every sector is showing growth as regulations require businesses of all types to conform, from product companies to those that deliver information services.

Another sector that is investing heavily elsewhere in the world is retail, especially when it comes to the protection of credit card information and continuity of transactions, although I haven't seen that trend in the Middle East yet.

MM:The prime vertical scenario has to be financial services. The bigger, western financial institutions that are entering the market here have well-established, robust processes and they have been internationally vetted and are operating to a common standard. That's placing a lot of pressure on the domestic players and really driving very strong demand.

For us, over the past three or four months, there has been a strong uptake in the financial services sector with projects involving disaster recovery infrastructure. From a horizontal scenario, e-mail in general is becoming the nervous backbone of most organisations.

There is so much content now embedded in e-mail applications, while the growth of user bases in the Middle East is also fuelling the requirement for disaster recovery.

What are end-user customers in the Middle East looking for when it comes to investing in BC/DR solutions?

KK:For every end-user the main priority is a fast recovery time and short point of recovery, broad coverage for as many applications as possible and, of course, the cost of the solution when it comes to capital and operational expenses.

The quality of service is very important too, but essentially it's a balance between the number of critical applications and the criticality of the situation in terms of budget or investment. There are those who don't care about the cost if a fast recovery time is ensured and then there are some sectors where money is very important and they can allow more time to recovery. Those guys will look to the cost first.

MM:I think it's business resiliency. The challenge many companies have had over the past five to 10 years is that any disaster recovery scenario has been isolated to a very specific part of the business and locked down to an application or a specific vertical line of business.

What you tend to end up with is a fragmented strategy that is difficult and expensive to maintain. For an agile business looking to continuously improve the SLA it gives to its clients, that presents a very tricky strategy.

So when I talk to customers the reason why we welcome our solutions is because we provide the building blocks that can really underpin this continuous improvement framework. We use standardised components and skillsets that are transportable across all areas of the business they wish to put the strategies in place for.

TW:Manufacturers as a whole will need to really understand the pains of the customer and the solution they are looking for to reward that risk and pain, and more importantly to be able to have an educated financial conversation with those end-users so that any CAPEX and OPEX risk and rewards are completely understood.

Under that basis they must have a realistic threat and risk analysis so that if they go down this road they really understand the initial investment versus the external cost versus the reward at the back-end. And they must also have real-time recovery objectives contained within that plan.

WK:There's a straight standard requirement from most vertical customers, which is to ensure protection, recoverability and uninterrupted access to critical information. And the methodology that is used must be easy to manage. Today, IT is struggling to manage this explosive data growth because of the increased value of data to the business.

There are growing government compliance requirements and a lot of internal compliance procedures that most companies have, such as requirements and policy writing on e-mail, a specific search of keywords or Excel sheets with contact information. The customers' key priorities would be about ensuring protection and recoverability in a simplified and unified manner.

They want a product with operational efficiency that is simple and can reduce cost in the complexity of their environment .

How should a reseller approach the situation when going into a customer to talk about providing a business continuity and disaster recovery solution?

VS:One of the first things they need to look at is identifying their information assets and understanding what the information assets would mean to the organisation in the eventuality of a disaster. Then they should try to arrive at some recovery time objectives, and look at whether they could build a link between the assets and the downtime of these assets.
Business continuity might mean different things to different organisations. It would have a different meaning to a company that manufactures shirts for instance, and it would mean a different level of downtime for a bank or a financial institution. Understanding the nature of the business is key for the reseller or the systems integrator.

TW:You've got to theoretically go in with a complete consultative approach. It's not a question of, "how much disk do you want and how much storage do you need?" because that isn't what they are looking for. They are looking for a real-time solution that is going to lessen the pain and in essence reduce the risk. The thing about service-oriented solutions is that it's not about products in the datacentre, it's about the solution itself.

Primarily they have got to have a strong professional services and consultative approach. This is not, to put it bluntly, a sales call. It is a consultative approach with a solution-orientated buyer.

KK:With any solution, the discussion should start with the definition of what the business problem and objective is in terms of business continuity. If the reseller wants to win the confidence of the customer and really appear credible then the first step is to define and understand the problem, and then explain to the customer which business continuity solution is the most appropriate for them.

Once an understanding of these problems has been established, it comes down to how the reseller can integrate its skills to show the customer that it can develop the architecture and design the solution for them.

What skills and expertise do resellers need to sell business continuity and disaster recovery solutions?

WK:Knowledge of the customers' vertical business model and an understanding of the challenges that they face. At CA we strive to enable partners. We have 25 unique courses that are designed and focused around recovery and business continuity that helps them understand the wishes of customers and increases their level of understanding of the solutions that they can position to a customer.

VS:Resellers need to look at themselves as being in more of a partner-based relationship, rather than a customer-vendor relationship, because they are the customer's first primary contact to put up a mitigation strategy should there be a disaster.

In our experience, customers have more faith engaging with organisations that can boast local support or offer them servicing agreements that not only tie them to a technology choice, but to an uptime SLA-type choice.

TW:Primarily they have got to have a strong professional services and consultative approach. This is not, to put it bluntly, a sales call. It is a consultative approach with a solution-orientated buyer and the last thing that comes out the back end would be product versus sale.

With regards to the expertise, it is about a strong professional services approach and understanding the value because there is a clear defined link between what pain are they understanding versus what the vendor wants to sell them.

Regulatory compliance may differ from a telco to a finance institution. The fact of the matter is the data may be the same, but the longevity of it and the cost associated with it, and whether it can be done on low-end disk, SATA disk or fibre channel, is all part of the solution planning.

What resources does a reseller need to build a strong BC/DR offering?

MM:Any engagement that we work on is very people-intensive and there is an infrastructure component to it, which is also intensive, certainly during the engagement phase. This also comes a little bit later once you've identified what the core solution components are. An additional resource that we bring to the table as a vendor to support the partner is the ability to drive a proof of concept.

We will either take the partner and the customer to one of the labs to assess the infrastructure and build something which resembles the solution or do something on site. It is toolset-driven as well, so while there are methodologies, there are also analysis tools that can help write a business case. There is no point buying a disaster recovery solution that doesn't work. We tend to find that 90% of our customers like to get some form of look and feel of the solution before they make any commitment.

WK:One is an understanding and positioning of solutions, rather than products. A reseller should have expertise built around systems integration, implementation and consulting, as well as on-site services that in the eventuality of a disaster would be a key resource. Without going into technical detail, policy writing and reviewing is another skill.

If the partner is capable enough they can act as an outsourced arm to do that, but confidentiality of data means the customer may not want to have an external party come and do that for them.

VS:The first point would be to invest in skills to understand how disaster recovery or business continuity planning actually works. It is important to understand the business benefits of putting such a solution in place and understanding the industry for which the solution is being offered.

After that it is about looking at the skills and expertise around key technologies because today a large enterprise customers' environment is quite heterogeneous. It is growing in a modular fashion and the applications that sit on the growth of these technologies randomly change depending on the needs of the market.

SA:It's mainly the consultants. Resellers must have a strong consultancy team. I think 80% of the requirement is probably in terms of consultancy and people. It's not the knowledge of technology and infrastructure, but business and business requirements. They will, of course, need to meet the customers' requirements in terms of solutions and infrastructure, but this will be at a later stage.

How can resellers maximise the margin they make from selling business continuity and disaster recovery solutions?

MM:You tend to find that any services-led engagements are more margin-rich than traditional product-led engagements. A product engagement is typically a one-off transaction with a single margin profile attached to it whereas a services engagement - and specifically if you are delivering the types of skillsets around business continuity - is almost a different profile in terms of revenue stream.
It is a lot longer and more margin-intensive because you are delivering far more value to the client. And from our perspective as well, they need to sell our software because it is the most margin-rich component as far as the partner is concerned.

SA:The strongest profit areas come from selling services and consultancy, and this is exactly the typical place and market where the reseller can maximise that because when it comes to business continuity it's probably 70% services and 30% infrastructure.

They should not negate the services part to stay in a reseller position because this only constitutes box-moving and a specialised company like Accenture, Wipro or Cap Gemini will take the opportunity to make the maximum profit selling their services.

The best case scenario for our partners is for them to be able to sell the services because that is the only way for them to increase the overall project margin.

VS:They should largely focus on selling services around the solutions. This could be in a variety of areas, such as implementation services, consulting services, as well as services pertaining to disaster recovery and uptime solutions. There are statistics from other parts of the world that show there could be US$5 or US$6 worth of service around every dollar of product sold depending on the maturity of the market.

KK:There are efficiencies in business continuity that can be gained from leveraging proven packaged solutions against unnecessary systems integration. Resellers can realise efficiencies by delivering infrastructure that has been tested and packaged with lower bundle costs and ensure the smoothest implementation, which reduces operational cost.

The customer will also potentially pay more for faster implementation and data availability, providing two dimensions of margin opportunity for resellers.

To what extent should the vendor get involved when a channel partner is selling a business continuity solution?

TW:From our [HDS] Global Solutions Services and professional services point of view, we have a complete division that solely looks after BC/DR so we would engage them as and when is required, and as much as required. We are a completely indirect business so we would always expect the reseller to take the lead, but we would be 100% behind them to give our support in the background.

And I think that in the Middle East, especially, the customer always likes to see vendor involvement because we can explain where we have done it before and talk about reference sites and case studies.

WK:I think the vendor should remain involved around the design of the solution for the customer. There might be specific features that get added on as businesses grow and the needs of the customers grow. Obviously there is pricing as well, but beyond that I think the expertise level of resellers remains extremely high to deploy such complex solutions.

SA: It really depends on the skills of our partners. We have partners that can run the project from start to finish without our involvement and we have others that might ask us for involvement or who might not have all the skills to oversee a full project. In that case, we may help with the consultancy, the design or any other step of the project.

We always try to encourage our resellers to deliver the services themselves because we believe they can achieve more revenue and margin from this area, which improves their growth opportunities. Generally speaking, the vendor is always present in a complex project because it shows credibility to the end-user.

The reseller viewIt's all well and good for storage and security vendors to declare that there is plenty of profit to be made from business continuity and disaster recovery, but what about the resellers out there in the field? After all, they are the ones who come up against clients unwilling to put their data in the hands of ‘outsiders' or who deem full BC/DR a lavish expense.

Jocelyn Al Adwani, deputy CEO and CTO at pan-regional enterprise storage solutions provider STME, believes that resellers eager to get ahead in the business continuity space must avoid the mistake of merely attempting to sell the benefits of the technology.

"Organisations are realising that the best way to implement full business continuity is to work with a consultant to analyse the business and determine what is critical and what dependencies there are between different parts of the operation," she said.

From a basic perspective, just ensuring the information is available is a simple exercise whereby the end-user must decide what data requires real time replication and assess the risk versus the investment in order to meet the business objectives over different scenarios."

Al Adwani reckons that the most important aspects of a BC/DR project are the planning and documentation stages, which are consultancy-based and command the most sophisticated degree of recommendation.

She urges her counterparts to endorse vendor involvement where necessary, but says that if the customer is starting out with a plan at the consulting level then impartiality is the "only way" to guarantee the design of a solution based on feature and functionality.

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