From The Editor | January 9, 2009

Pitch Cost Savings, Security As Value Proposition In Slow Economy

A conversation about storage and security trends in 2009 must be rooted in the economic havoc of the last few months of 2008. No matter how well we rebound from the recent mortgage and banking crises, the ripple effect will undoubtedly continue throughout the first half of 2009.

There may still be a silver lining for storage and security VARs, especially those who offer managed services. Managed services becomes an even greater value proposition when economic belt tightening takes place. It allows businesses to budget a set amount of capital for maintenance of IT infrastructure. That proactive stance often prevents major network outages and the premium price when a business has no choice but a major — unplanned — installation. For VARs, the monthly recurring income can help offset the ebb and flow of business during uncertain economic times. Providing preventive services helps solidify a VAR's status as trusted advisor, and when cash flow improves, you will be in a prime position to handle clients' future IT investments.

For traditional storage VARs, the news isn't gloomy either. While spending on IT may drop, storage solutions providers can offer cost savings on existing processes as a value proposition to customers. For instance, virtualization and other energy-saving storage technologies help clients who need to invest in new infrastructure but are looking for ways to avoid that capital expense. Other examples include data compression and deduplication technologies that allow businesses to squeeze more storage capacity out of existing networks.

Another point any storage VAR can make to existing and potential clients revolves around backup and disaster recovery. If losing data sets business back in a good economy, imagine the long-term damage done by a crash when business is slow. Using a managed services provider to monitor and manage backup and recovery processes can protect your business and is a budget-friendly alternative to the unexpected cost of restoring lost critical data.

Lastly, many vendors with whom I spoke recently say the slow economy may provide the extra push alternative solutions — such as layering software on storage appliances to improve performance, storage in the cloud (web-based storage), software as a service (SaaS), and desktop virtualization — need to move into the storage mainstream.

Security Needs Only Increase As Cyber Criminals Continue To Evolve

In terms of security, 2009 will be no different in terms of the need for VARs to educate customers about the importance of end-to-end security. A slow economy provides an even more compelling reason to implement security procedures because what used to be simply a challenging diversion — hacking into someone's email or business database — has evolved into a highly profitable endeavor. When I recently spoke to Dave Marcus, director of security research and communications at McAfee, he addressed the proliferation of cybercrime. "Most people don't realize how easy it is to be a cyber criminal. Why rob a bank when you can steal passwords and sell information?" says Marcus. "When you combine that ease with an economic downturn, you have problems." The security industry expects cybercrime to continue its proliferation, with vendors and VARs stressing that no business, regardless of size, is safe from a cyber criminal. Malware doesn't discriminate; it simply looks for opportunity. "Malware cares only about the data, not how large your company is," says Marcus.

One method cyber criminals use that is expected to expand next year is the linkage of malware to topics of interest to the general public. Last year, email buzzwords that allowed malicious codes to slip through security doorways included China's earthquake, the Beijing Olympics, and Free Tibet. In 2009, you can count on energy-saving tips, job opportunities, and refinancing deals as email topics that lure the public into opening malware devices.

Security VARs will need to continue educating their clients and providing expert protection against criminals infamous for their cleverness and ruthlessness. That challenge will continue to be tough, given the criminals' ability to react quickly to changing security measures and the need for all businesses to allow access to the Internet for legitimate business traffic. Another trend to watch revolves around cyber criminals hiding within reputable social networking sites. A recent security breach at a popular business networking site left thousands of users rattled and raised awareness about how cyber criminals can easily slide past both personal and business defenses. 

Regardless of your target market, as a VAR you are in the position to help your customers make the most of their IT investments. Whether they need to upgrade and are looking for energy savings to offset that investment cost, or they just need to make their existing infrastructure work more efficiently, your expertise will continue to be in demand.