A Consensus is Building

This week we were at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas meeting with our clients in the Media business. Our media clients are some of our largest storage users and while we initially supported their NetApp architectures, our SimplStor products now have a strong following in the VFX business. Over dinner one night with our clients we discussed the main issues facing big storage customers (which are really every storage customer’s issues), the price per TB of storage and the availability (or lack thereof) of bandwidth to take advantage of cloud storage providers who seem to be in a race to become the lowest cost provider. This article in Storage newsletter illustrates how price competitive cloud based providers are:

“The new pricing plans did not change the amount of free storage available but it lowered the entrance fee enough to make customers more willing to pay for the service. Before the change, 100GB could be purchased for $5/month, now it’s $2, the 1TB plan is at $10 (formerly $50) and you can now go up to 30TB for $300/month whereas the highest storage space available was 16TB before the change.”


The price war for cloud-based storage seems to have taken the traffic from the big storage providers’ booths and the NetApp booth did not have many people in it when we went by it. But neither did EMC, Hitachi or any other big storage provider.  Large storage customers are looking for affordability, and the big iron storage providers can’t provide affordable mass storage and remain profitable in part because of the costs of their large engineering and support staffs.

At NAB it became apparent that there is an emerging consensus that the high end storage only providers like NetApp are going to see some significant erosion of their markets by lower cost alternatives. The disruptive technologies of the 90’s are being disrupted themselves by commoditized high availability storage software. Going beyond Linux, the availability of Solaris ZFS and Microsoft Storage Server R2 on commodity based Cluster in a Box hardware is one way to cut the costs of storage. And our customers are interested in these solutions that can now be created and supported by a niche high availability storage company like Zerowait.

Our customers like our service and support model and the way we can provide a semi- custom solution for them at less than 50% of the cost of the big players in the marketplace. The internet and the ease of international shipping has created a global community of media storage users large enough to provide Zerowait sufficient customer base to profitably build and support these kinds of niche solutions. When people from around the world can easily work together to create affordable quality solutions everyone wins.



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A Bridge to the Future

boulder mountainsOver the last couple of weeks I have been visiting customers in Colorado and found that many of NetApp’s customers are distressed by the costs of upgrading to OnTap 8.2, which include new hardware (in many cases), training and data migration. Migrations are never easy, and with the corporate mantra these days being “doing more with less” finding spare cycles in an IT department to develop and document the migration plan, then schedule and implement it with limited staff is alienating many of NetApp’s customers.

The majority of IT departments don’t have the expertise to handle data migrations, and justifying another proprietary upgrade for storage hardware is at odds with management’s push to reduce costs (both capital and ongoing support) using open source and commoditized solutions. These customers, and many more, are yearning for an affordable storage solution for tomorrow and the next 5 years or more, and the media is beginning to notice.

Is this perception true? Possibly – and the IDC numbers and NetApp’s own recent results, with flat-lining revenues indicate that something is not quite right in Sunnyvale. The filer lion king is turning, just maybe, into a floppy old beast and needs to reinvigorate its carnivore approach to the storage business.

In a tough economy, storage administrators need a trusted advocate on their side to help bend the costs down and Zerowait has a set of alternative solutions to help customers whether they want to maintain their legacy NetApp infrastructure, migrate to an affordable and reliable open source solution, or migrate up to 8.2. In addition to providing long term legacy NetApp support, allowing you to capture the maximum ROI from your current NetApp investment, our engineering staff has the broad storage and network experience to provide assistance in data migrations, whether supplementing your staff or managing a turn key migration. And for those looking to contain costs by taking advantage of the open source  x86 environment, our SimplStor product line delivers highly reliable, affordable  storage with the enterprise support and auto notification limited IT staffs need to ensure availability.

Zerowait has support, migration, and alternative hardware solutions that will help you build a bridge to your Future data storage requirements.  www.zerowait.com

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A Storage Sweetener

Since NetApp’s introduction of OnTap 8.2 several months ago, Zerowait has been receiving a steadily increasing number of requests for staff augmentations and help in planning data migrations, often to more affordably priced storage arrays. Migrating mixed NFS and CIFS NAS volumes can be tricky. These migrations typically require a significant time investment and cost a princely sum when handled by the OEM of high-priced, first-tier storage. Zerowait has developed a recipe to sweeten the mix when customers want to refresh and augment their data storage infrastructure.

The upgrade to 8.2 OnTap is leaving a bitter taste in many customers’ mouths, and who’s to say that OnTap 8.3 will even have a “7-mode”? The upgrade involves training customers on Clustered OnTap, which contradicts NetApp’s messaging that customers would only need to learn OnTap once and never learn it again. The conversion is a lengthy process as all data needs to be copied from the 7-mode system to Clustered OnTap without any means for an in place upgrade. Regardless of OnTap mode, once a customer’s upgrade is complete, all of the customer’s licenses will be reissued to a new code that is node-locked reducing the portability of OnTap that NetApp always championed. While some customers may like the new feature sets, there are many who feel the 8.2 upgrade is going to add unwanted complexity in both solution engineering and day to day operations.
This is a fork in the road for NetApp’s customers. A sizable number of customers like the simplicity, reliability, and compatibility of their current equipment with 7-mode. Additionally, customers have to engage NetApp directly to get 8.2 licenses for older systems, which requires an expensive NetApp support agreement.

Our customers like NetApp’s original messaging that allowed customers the freedom to upgrade their filers simply, on their own schedule, and without a professional services engagement. Now you have to ask permission for an upgrade from NetApp. What people have traditionally liked about NetApp is that it left administration of the filers in the hands of the administrators. This was a big differentiator from EMC, who controlled even the simple task of swapping out of bad drives! Trading that freedom in and being forced into a box is a bitter drink to swallow for many NetApp aficionados.

Zerowait’s customers have asked us to sweeten the storage cocktail they’ve been offered, and we have come up with a recipe which leverages a customer’s NetApp equipment with our SimplStor hardware to provide an affordable and easy to manage tiered storage strategy. Using our approach, customers will be able to put their primary storage on whichever current equipment they choose, and then using standard migration methodologies, move their lower tier data to NetApp equipment, which Zerowait supports, on a second tier. For even greater cost savings, SimplStor can be rapidly deployed for archival storage needs.

Zerowait’s customers like the flexibility to choose their storage equipment’s support model while most are questioning how NetApp’s new licensing scheme will benefit customers. If you are considering an upgrade to OnTap 8.2, but aren’t sure about it, give us a call and we will review the options with you. Our expert engineering staff can help your staff upgrade or migrate your data and afterwards they can enjoy a refreshing glass of lemonade using our recipe of lemons, sweeteners, and a few drops of our secret sauce.

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How many data migrations can your company afford?

Banana_Fruit Over the last few weeks I have been visiting with customers in the Southwest. The common theme of the meetings since the beginning of January has been that it is very hard to make strategic decisions on long term storage requirements when your hardware and software vendors are working with very short product and support life cycles. Since Zerowait is in the legacy support business for NetApp equipment I get into a lot of very interesting discussions of how companies can make plans for archival storage in such an environment.

One of the customers I spoke with last week compared the product life cycles of NetApp’s products to the shelf life of a banana. We laughed at the comparison but it’s not far off. We have many customers who live in a regulatory environment where their storage has to be immediately accessible for decades. Over time these regulations have enormous costs in both time and money to ensure that the storage is available and that the networks are well-documented. One of our Radiology customers informed me that typically the images are reviewed a few times in the first 90 days, but must be kept spinning for 21 years. His question is how many storage platform manufacturers around today are going to be supporting their equipment and proprietary software two decades from now? And government regulations for the Tobacco industry require data accessibility for perpetuity.

These compliance storage requirements are seeping into other business sectors and the unintended consequences are going to cost companies a lot of money in managing archival storage. One of our Oil and Gas customers has taken the approach that proprietary storage software is time-limited by its DNA in that the software writer has to constantly update their code to stay in business. His approach is open source, which will provide support for legacy software for decades. I think this makes sense, but the process of migrating data between proprietary high availability primary storage resources to high reliability secondary and tertiary storage is still a costly process in time and money–and it will remain one for decades.

It seems that many customers are starting to realize that they need to put their primary storage on systems with the shelf life of a banana, and then migrate their data to a long-term affordable archive solution. Because of our expertise in legacy NetApp equipment and open source storage solutions many of our customers are asking Zerowait to help bridge the gap between the requirements of high availability storage and affordable long term archiving. It is this long-term business support model that led to our SimplStor product, and is only going to grow.

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Getting off the NetApp train

Does NetApp have a problem with 8.2 cluster-mode? Their reputation was earned with highly reliable storage, and by empowering their customers to do things themselves. With 8.2 Cluster-mode the NetApp Borg are in control and NetApp has turned into EMC. NetApp customers have always been in control of their systems and configurations: Now you have to ask the Borg for permission.

Last week while visiting a client in New York I was told “I’m getting off the NetApp train; there will be no more forklift upgrades in our facilities.” It was not the first time I had heard that a customer was tired of the cost of NetApp support; being in the independent support business I work with disaffected NetApp users daily. But since the announcement of the relicensing of Filers by NetApp for 8.2 came out our business has been inundated with requests for legacy support for NetApp equipment.

NetApp started out as a departmental storage company, and Dave Hitz and James Lau really put together a great engineering team to solve the problems of NFS, CIFS and multi-mode storage. Snapshots and Snapmirror are great software products that are reliability leaders and a true differentiator. These products empower Storage Administrators to provide their users with outstanding data storage reliability and access. Why would a corporation that has worked so hard over the years to earn its customer loyalty, suddenly change its business paradigm and enrage its customer base?

A friend of mine that is in a related business to ours might have the answer: He said that it sounded to him as though NetApp had changed from an Engineering company to a Marketing Machine. And we wondered: Could this be a pattern for innovative manufacturing companies when they get to be about 20 years old and experience wholesale changes in leadership?

During our discussion, I mentioned that NetApp’s management should be listening to their customers, and reacting to the unhappiness that is pushing them to embrace legacy support. My friend said that the original team at NetApp understood the issues of the Storage Administrator and built a solution for them, while the new management does not understand the issues that a storage administrator deals with and are far more focused on numbers and Wall Street.

Based on what I’ve been told, NetApp’s customers recognize that there are not enough new features in 8.2 to justify the costs and effort to upgrade to a new OS platform. The customers are telling their Sales teams that they like what they are using now and Zerowait is going to maintain their equipment moving forward. Will NetApp’s management listen to their customers, or will they just keep to their talking points? I expect 2014 will shape up to be a pivotal year for NetApp Corporation and its customers.

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Trying new things

As 2013 nears an end, I have been reflecting on the things we tried and the successes we had over the course of the year. For example, in 2013 Zerowait tried to increase the proportion of total sales in the areas of international service and support business and SimplStor products. In reviewing our efforts, I can see how we accomplished our goals, but can also identify the many course corrections we made along the way. The path was not necessarily straight. Basically, I have found that there are 3 steps to success; and, while each is critical, success is never guaranteed. However, if you allow your team to count learning and adapting from failure as a part of the process, improvement is always possible.

Step 1 is Vision: Since we are in the service and support business, when I meet with clients I hear about their problems. I listen closely and try to identify ways that Zerowait can create a solution for them. In a typical year I visit between 100 and 200 customers at their locations, and because I travel so much I have time alone to think about possible solutions. The result is between 20 and 25 new ideas a year that I try to work into something definable. Once I have identified the core idea, I present it to our team for review. Most of the ideas won’t hold water after a few minutes discussion, but in a typical year about 5 new ideas will get turned into projects of one type or another. One of my friends considers this the law of 25%: About 25% of my conversations will yield an interesting business idea, about 25% of those ideas are worth a business analysis sheet (which I do), and about 25% of those analysis sheets will actually be turned into a project at Zerowait.

Step 2 is Execution: If you don’t execute then the ideas are just dreams. At Zerowait we create engineering projects to try things with defined completion dates, which often slip as we learn more information. What is interesting in researching new things is that often the course you are on can change as a new piece of information steers the project in a new direction. That new direction can create something wonderful, but there is a chance it’ll just be a waste. That is why communication is so important with projects. It is difficult to stay focused on the objective while being flexible enough to be able to change direction a bit to meet a new information or opportunity. As Zerowait doesn’t have unlimited financial or human resources, we have frequent reviews and are willing to pull the plug on a project if it is not yielding results of one type or another.

Step 3 is Course Correction: As we endeavor to create a new product or service I have frequent conversations with our customers to make certain we are staying on course with what they are looking for. Sometimes things work in ways that you don’t expect, or someone leaves their job and that causes the project to wither on the vine. Other times the “Hey – what if we did this?” conversation with customers will lead to Zerowait trying a new variation which turns into the final product, and that is very cool. Unfortunately, most projects we try do not yield a new product; they yield knowledge and often an incremental change in the way we do things to improve our customer service and support.

It is often very frustrating to watch what started out as a great idea struggle as we are unable to execute the idea and make it a success. Even in those cases, when we write up the report it is important to document what we learned so we can add that to our knowledge and experience and apply it to the next round of projects. For example, this year we built a special 2U SimplStor Controller for a specific market niche but the customer went another direction. A few months later another customer asked for a very similar product configuration because I had mentioned it during a meeting. A perfect example of how the first failure led to the second success, which looks like it will turn out to fit an even bigger market niche.

At Zerowait we will continue to try new things and find ways to help our customers. Trying out new ideas is always interesting and often frustrating, but in the end it certainly provides us with a wealth of experience and knowledge with which we continually improve our products and services. From SimplStor to the Exporter of the Year award, Zerowait has grown and prospered because we keep trying new things.

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Zerowait solves the cost challenges of Data Storage

Founded in 1991, Zerowait is the largest third party service company providing NetApp (NTAP) support and the creator of the SimplStor product line of affordable big storage solutions.

Zerowait’s core business is its ZPA Zerowait Parts Assurance business which provides customers around the world with outstanding service and support for their legacy NetApp equipment, including its Exception Reporter systems monitoring. Zerowait supports NetApp storage infrastructure in the financial, energy, healthcare and media business sectors.

Background : NetApp is one of the largest data storage providers in the world and the release of their new OnTap 8.2 operating systems has forced many of their customers into a corner. They are now in the awkward position of having to upgrade to the new NetApp architecture or change their storage infrastructure. Whether a customer decides to upgrade or migrate away from NetApp, there is no winning as both options are expensive. Many large NetApp customers are deciding on a third option; the use of third party support to maintain their legacy NetApp equipment while they consider their options for data storage going forward.

How does NetApp’s upgrade to OnTap 8.2 change things for NetApp’s customers?

Mike Linett: NetApp’s customers use a lot of older legacy NetApp Filers to store their secondary and tertiary data. OnTap 8.2 will not allow customers to snapmirror data to systems running older versions of OnTap, forcing them to upgrade to expensive newer systems. Customers are under a lot of budgetary pressure and NetApp is taking away their options. We have had several customers tell us that the upgrades are going to cost about $1 Million per PB, and they are looking for alternatives. As the only international independent service provider customers are contacting us from all over the world.

IT spending is under the budget microscope at many organizations and CFO’s and CIO’s are looking for every way they can to save money. $1 Million per PB for secondary and tertiary data just does not make sense to many organizations, and primary data is not growing as fast as archival data. We are helping customers bend the cost curve down substantially.

Question: What is the primary benefit of NetApp’s OnTap 8.2 OS ?

Mike Linett: From NetApp’s point of view 8.2 offers scale out for performance and capacity, but there are really very few companies in the world that need that level of scaling and the costs are very high. Our customers like the idea of scale out with 8.2 but are wondering why they can’t use their older systems any more. NetApp seems to have forgotten that customers need BOTH affordable and scalable data storage solutions, not EITHER affordable or scalable data storage solutions.

How is NetApp positioned as open source storage solutions continue to take market share?

Mike Linett:
NetApp’s software is feature rich, but the costs can make the biggest companies blush. NetApp has a high cost of goods, and an expensive support model. Quite frankly, the value add of NetApp is being challenged daily by open source alternatives that don’t have the high costs of acquisition, maintenance, and software support.

Our SimplStor Platform spans a number of markets from archiving through secondary storage solutions. With our Add on Kits our customers can add flash, solid state and a number of memory options and network options including SAN. We have found that one size does not fit all storage requirements, and so we offer SimplStor Add On kits to our customers who need to tune their storage to meet their unique needs.

Question: What is your forecast for 2014 and 2015?

Mike Linett: Corporate finance is paying a lot of attention to IT spending and in the bigger accounts we meet with the question is typically how can we help cut 30% or more out of their storage costs. When compared to NetApp for support we are typically 50% of their price and our SimplStor acquisition price is about $200K per PB compared to NetApp’s $1000K per PB. So the value add of NetApp is under a lot of pressure right now and for the next few years.

Question: Where does Zerowait go from here?

Mike Linett: Zerowait is adding Field Storage Managers to service our NetApp and SimplStor customers around the world, and our international growth over the last few years has been phenomenal. We expect our international and domestic commercial business to continue to grow as more customers need affordable, scalable storage options.

In addition, we are going to increase our concentration on the Federal space and are in the process of releasing a GSA schedule. The Federal government spends a lot of money on storage, and Zerowait can help them save our money. Storage is only going to grow, and Zerowait can help the government control the cost of that growth, just as we have been doing for the private sector.

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A Storage Poker Game

txholdemOver the last month I have made numerous trips to the Houston, TX area to work with our Energy customers who have tremendous data and processing requirements. The folks that I have been meeting with are all concerned with the costs of storage acquisition, maintenance and migrations. In my conversations with them, I realized that dealing with NetApp was like playing a hand of Texas Holdem.

The game starts when the client decides to run his NetApp systems for 5 or more years but his NetApp team tells him that after 3 years he needs an upgrade even though his filers are not maxed out in storage capacity or IOPS. The customer wants to increase his ROI and the Salesman has to meet his sales quota and wants to increase his sales commissions. So the first cards are dealt; the customer has two down cards – budget and increased ROI, and the sales person deals out the next three face up cards – Software Licenses, End of Software Support, End of Life.

Over sips of Shiner beer, the savvy customer asks the salesman a question about how come some customers are able to use transferable licensed systems. The salesman bluffs about lack of license transferability on their systems.

The next card the customer receives is the Zerowait card. It gives the customer the comfort he needs because Zerowait has been providing the NetApp community with reliable service and support for over a decade, and SimplStor provides an affordable tier two storage environment. But a smart poker player wants a stronger hand.

Our customer and poker player has proof of license transferability and knows that Zerowait can support his NetApp equipment around the world and so he stays in and continues to grow the pot and finally calls the salesman.

The salesman has to admit that transferable licenses exist and that high availability equipment does not become low availability because a new model came out. The customer wins by reducing his costs of new equipment by showing the salesman that there is competition in the marketplace, and by leveraging Zerowait’s legacy support he reduces the number of new units he purchases.

That is how Zerowait’s savvy customers play poker with their NetApp sales team and win.

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Zerowait support across the USA

At Zerowaitclient map we do a tremendous amount of NetApp support and last week one of the members of our engineering team plotted the locations of our current support accounts in North America. As you can see, our customers are spread out across the country, with most located in what is often referred to as the “NFL Cities”. As Zerowait’s customer list has grown over the years we have had to do a lot of traveling to provide our customers with ever improving service and support. Recently Zerowait has been adding Field Storage Managers where we have the largest customer concentrations. Our FSM’s are storage engineers that help our customers’ improve their storage infrastructure efficiency by extending the life cycle of their current storage equipment or by helping our customers with our affordable NetApp upgrades and SimplStor storage products. Over the next year we will be adding more FSM’s to our team to help our customers deal with their ever growing data storage requirements.

While other storage vendors concentrate on unit sales, at Zerowait our focus is on service and support. There are options to the expensive forklift updates/upgrades offered by the Big Storage companies, and our focus on support has resulted in Zerowait customers across the USA and Canada that rely on our hardware, service, and support.

If you are looking for an affordable and reliable storage support solution I hope that you will give us a call so that we can add you to our map of satisfied customers.

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SEG Show and Tape Replacement

Last week Zerowait was at the SEG show in Houston and it was a great show for us. We met with a lot of our Oil and Gas customers and the common thread we heard this year was that they need an affordable long-term storage solution that can grow with their requirements but not require expensive yearly software subscriptions and a data migration every few years.

Energy exploration is a global business and moving tape and data around to offsite locations can be quite difficult given some of the more remote exploration locations. Then, when you want to use the information, retrieving data from tape can be a slow process and require storage support technicians to locate and load the tape. That’s why SimplStor as a TapeReplacement solution makes so much sense. Using SimplStor, which is competitively priced with tape solutions, our customers have immediate access to their data storage and can eliminate the proprietary costs of software support and offsite climate controlled tape storage.  As I have said before our customers are pretty savvy and more every day see the advantage of a low cost SimplStor archival solution using open source software with the tier one support of Zerowait behind it vs. the expense of ongoing software licenses, tape storage, and maintenance costs of a tape solution.

Last week we also announced our new partnership with RedHat, offering both Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat Storage Server.  Many of our largest customers already have a relationship with Red Hat and by creating a formal relationship with Red Hat for our SimplStor and SimplStor Cloud products we can provide our global customers the options of using CentOS or Red Hat depending on their preferences. As a service and support organization Zerowait is always focused on providing our customers with long-term solutions that will scale with their requirements, and we are pleased we can now offer single point of support for SimplStor with Red Hat.

As part of our ongoing efforts to scale up our support for both NetApp and SimplStor products, we are adding another Field Storage Manager in our Texas office this week. Texas and the Central USA are growing markets for Zerowait and our customers have been asking us to increase our engineering presence in the area to help with data migrations and management of their growing NetApp and SimplStor infrastructures.

As our customers continue to scale up their storage infrastructures, the demand for our assistance continues to grow and storage support services are now the largest part of Zerowait’s business.
Tape Replacement, NetApp support, SimplStor archives with single source support for both hardware and Red Hat software, Zerowait has solutions to help you get the most from your IT budget. Give us a call today and let our engineers show you how.
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