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SRM players cook up new pricing models

A new wave of creative pricing is on the horizon in the SRM space. Gone are the days of counting processors in the system, but capacity tracking is now king.

As more IT shops deploy networked storage, many storage resource management (SRM) vendors are moving to capacity-based pricing, rather than the server or processor-based pricing models of old.

Among the vendors now charging according to capacity are Sun, TeraCloud, Astrum, recently acquired by EMC, and newcomer Deepfile. These vendors join Hewlett-Packard, which always charged according to capacity.

Why the change? According to Robert Bingham, vice president of marketing at TeraCloud, which makes the SpaceNet SRM package, capacity-based pricing is "easier for customers to understand," and scales "as the size of the enterprise increases." Gone are the days of counting processors in the system, or the number of hosts you've connected to the SAN.

Processor-based pricing, in particular, gets very complicated in high-end Unix environments, says James Staten, director of marketing for storage software at Sun Microsystems. "Imagine an F15K server that uses the dynamic domain capability," he suggests. What happens if the SRM discovers 128 physical CPUs, but only three of them are in actual use managing storage? "It gets really annoying," he says.

Server and processor-based pricing holdouts include IBM Tivoli, Fujitsu Softek, Northern, and Veritas, which have the support of many customers. Linda Loux, manager of Windows operations at Rosetta Inpharmatics, believes that processor-based pricing is inferior to host-based pricing, but capacity based pricing would be untenable in her environment.

Her firm uses IBM Tivoli's SRM tool, acquired from Trellisoft, to keep tabs on 50GB/day storage increases. Under Trellisoft, price was determined according to the number of hosts under management--in this case, five NetApp filers. Now under Tivoli, pricing is done according to processor. This model "is more complicated," Loux reports--"it requires some extra planning on our part." Capacity-based pricing wouldn't work--"our capacity increases too quickly," she says, which would create a management headache.

In some cases, capacity-based pricing also leads to higher costs. That happened to AmeriVault, an online backup service provider that uses Astrum Software's SRM tool. "We manage 20TB across only six servers," says AmeriVault CTO Kevin Harris, "so in my case I'd rather have host-based pricing." At the same time, Harris acknowledges that AmeriVault is unusual in supporting so much capacity across so few hosts.

In general, users have a deep seated distrust of capacity-based pricing, says Thomas Vermersson, president of Northern, which makes the Windows SRM tool Quota Server. "They feel like its a way to trick them in to spending more money," he explains.

That's understandable, says Jeff Erramouspe, Deepfile CEO. "Customers want to know, 'If my capacity doubles, will I have to pay 50% more?'" To appease customers, Deepfile instated two policies: First, it prices according to total raw capacity, not capacity in use, so you don't need to worry about month to month fluctuations in usage. Second, it locks in pricing for three years -- "so they don't have to worry about the upside."

But debates about how to price storage software should settle down pretty soon, predicts Sun's Staten. "We're at a point where no one really knows how much storage software should cost." As SRM software becomes more widely deployed, equitable pricing models should emerge.

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