Quality Awards III: Compellent shakes up midrange array field

No "big name" vendor has yet won the top spot in our Diogenes Labs-Storage magazine Quality Awards for midrange arrays. This year, two relative newcomers--Compellent and EqualLogic--topped the field of competitors.

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Relative newcomers Compellent Technologies and EqualLogic snared the top two spots in this year's Quality Awards for midrange arrays.

The midrange array category for the Diogenes Labs–Storage magazine Quality Awards appears to be fertile turf for underdogs. In the competition's first year, StorageTek (now Sun Microsystems Inc.) was the surprise winner. In the last survey, EqualLogic (now owned by Dell Inc.) topped the field. No "big name" array vendor has yet to win this category, and the tradition continues with Compellent Technologies Inc.'s Storage Center winning top honors.

Like EqualLogic before it, this is Compellent's first time as a finalist for this award, and its 7.02 overall score narrowly edged out EqualLogic's 7.00 rating (on a 1.0-8.0 scale where 8.0 is the most favorable score). EqualLogic's high rating is a big boost to Dell, whose CX line once again rated last out of nine finalists. Sun fell from second to sixth place this year, while Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. slipped from third to fifth. Hitachi Data Systems Corp. and Network Appliance (NetApp) Inc. each moved up one slot from the last survey, to third and fourth place, respectively. Rounding out the field were IBM Corp. and EMC Corp., which maintained their seventh- and eighth-place positions.

The battle between Compellent and EqualLogic was a tight one. Compellent won three of five categories: sales-force competence, product features and technical support. EqualLogic won the initial product quality and product reliability categories. Scores for all vendors improved significantly this year, with five of the finalists' scores exceeding the 6.00 winning score from the last survey. In keeping with the rest of the field, Dell CX Series showed a nice year-over-year improvement in its overall score, rising from 4.92 to 5.38. In fact, the lowest category score for any vendor was 5.19 (Dell CX for technical support). Such scores indicate a high level of satisfaction across the field and are the highest scores for midrange products in the three years we have presented the award.

In examining the survey results, we also looked at the "top-two box" and "bottom-two box" scores for each vendor. Those scores tell us how many of a vendor's respondents rated it in the top-two or bottom-two scores on every issue. This is a measure of how totally enamored or annoyed a customer is with a vendor. In the case of Compellent, 75% of its 18 respondents rated the company in the top-two box, whereas only 6% put it in the bottom two. EqualLogic's 22 respondents put it in the top-two box 73% of the time, but in the bottom two only 3% of the time. Hitachi was the only other vendor to be rated in the top-two box more than 50% of the time (57%). Although Dell CX Series had the highest percentage of bottom-two box scores (11%), it wasn't significantly worse than most other vendors.

When respondents rate more than one system, we compare the results head-to-head. In this comparison, Hitachi had the highest rate of match-up wins (57%), while Compellent and EqualLogic broke even (50%). All other vendors were less than 50%, with Dell CX Series winning just 11% of its head-to-head contests.


About the survey: The Diogenes Labs-Storage magazine Quality Awards are designed to identify and recognize products that have proven their quality and reliability in actual use. The results are derived from a survey of qualified Storage readers who assessed products in five main categories: sales-force competence, product features, initial product quality, product reliability and technical support. Our methodology incorporates statistically valid polling that eliminates market share as a factor. Our objective is to identify the most reliable product on the market regardless of vendor name, reputation or size. Products are rated on a 1.0-8.0 scale, where 8.0 is the most favorable score.

This year's survey, the third edition focusing on midrange storage arrays, had the highest number of system ratings: 316 respondents provided 516 system ratings. The largest number of responses were for EMC Corp. (121) followed by Hewlett-Packard Co. (81) and Network Appliance Inc. (66). Among all respondents, 59.6% reported on only one vendor, and 5% reported on four or five vendors. None had more than five vendors.

Perhaps not surprisingly given the product category, our respondent pool was somewhat skewed to the small- and medium-sized organization, with 62.8% working for organizations with less than $1 billion in revenue. Financial services was the largest market segment represented, followed by healthcare/pharmaceuticals and government/nonprofit.

Seventy-six percent of respondents are storage administrators, storage managers or IT managers.

Products included in the survey: The following product lines were included in the Quality Awards III survey for midrange arrays:

3PAR Inc. InServ E200*, Apple Inc. Xserve RAID*, BlueArc Corp. Titan 2000 Series*, Compellent Technologies Inc. Storage Center, Dell Inc. CX Series, EMC Corp. Clariion CX Series, EqualLogic Inc. PS Series (now owned by Dell), Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. StorageWorks EVA Series, Hitachi Data Systems Corp. Thunder 9500 V Series or AMS Series, IBM Corp. FAStT and DS4000/DS6000, LeftHand Networks Inc. SAN/iQ*, Network Appliance Inc. FAS200/FAS900/FAS2000 Series, Pillar Data Systems Axiom 500*, Sun Microsystems Inc. StorageTek 6000 Series/StorageTek FlexLine Series, Xiotech Corp. Magnitude 3D*

* Didn't receive enough responses to be included in the final results.



Sales-force competence
Compellent's 6.69 score for sales-force competence was its lowest category score, but high enough to best the field. EqualLogic's lowest score (6.48) was also in this category. Although these are very good scores, it indicates that the sales process is the least pleasant part of the user experience. Among Compellent users, 100% of them purchased through a value-added reseller (VAR); 77.3% of EqualLogic customers used a VAR and the remainder purchased directly from the manufacturer. EMC was the only company that sold more products directly to customers than through a VAR (59.5% vs. 40.5%). EMC's sales-force competence score was a respectable 5.77, but it was still only good for eighth place. Sun had its second-best category score in this area with a 6.09.

Compellent was the only vendor to notch a 7.00 or higher on any of our statements in this category. "This vendor's sales support team is knowledgeable" received a rating of 7.00, and 11 of its 18 respondents even awarded it a perfect 8.0. "Compellent was very interested in playing ball on price," says Cary Dahl, IT operations manager at Community Health Plan in Seattle. But dealing with a newer company was a consideration. "Sure they're new, that's one of the things that kind of worried me off the bat--you know, disk comes and disk goes," he says. But Dahl's concerns were allayed because "they had a good vision, [and] they had a good sales pitch."

EqualLogic also had its highest rating for this statement, albeit a slightly lower 6.82. Ten of the 22 EqualLogic respondents gave the vendor a perfect 8.0. Compellent received a top-two box score from 73% of respondents in this section vs. 59% for EqualLogic. All other vendors received a top-two rating less than 50% of the time for sales-force competence.

"I tell people it's like a marriage because it has its moments when you wonder if it's worth it," jokes James Yaple, supervisory IT specialist at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Austin, TX, about his relationship with EMC's sales force. "But it's really a partnership," he hastens to add. Yaple also notes that EMC "will come out and visit us on a regular basis."


Product features
The product features section was the first of three categories in which Compellent received a category score higher than 7.00. Its 7.24 easily topped EqualLogic's 6.97. NetApp had its second-best category score in this section with a third-place score of 6.35.

For Compellent respondents, data replication is apparently the best part of the product. Its highest ratings within this category were for remote replication capabilities (7.47), snapshot function (7.44) and mirroring (7.36). Its lowest category rating, and the only one below 7.00, was for "This product is interoperable with other vendor's products" (6.67). Ongoing operation is also a strong point. "From a day-to-day operations standpoint, it's really just set it and forget it," says Community Health Plan's Dahl.

Ease of use for daily operations is a key feature for most storage managers, and our midrange crop didn't disappoint. "The real highlight of the [HP] EVA is that you don't have to think too hard when you allocate storage," says Spencer Williams, chief IT architect at Rush Enterprises Inc. in New Braunfels, TX. With an HP StorageWorks EVA3000 and two HP StorageWorks EVA8000s in his shop, "[the] real benefit is that it allows us not to have a full-time storage guy," says Williams.

James Burd, senior storage administrator at Denver-based Infocrossing Inc., has had a similar experience with the IBM System Storage DS4700 and DS4800 he manages. "All of the basic features are there that we need," says Burd, "and the daily operation of these things is pretty simple and straightforward."

EqualLogic also received good marks for its data replication functionality. It received a 7.20 for its mirroring feature, a 7.17 for its remote replication and a 7.05 for its snapshot capability. As with Compellent, EqualLogic's lowest mark for the section was for vendor interoperability (6.53).

Compellent's biggest advantage is apparently scalability. When customers responded to the statement "This product scales to meet my needs," Compellent received a 7.28, the only score above 7.00; EqualLogic had a 6.86, followed by Hitachi's 6.77 and HP's 6.15.


Initial product quality
The initial product quality section was EqualLogic's turn to shine. The company scored a survey-high 7.37 for this section and received a top-two box score from 88% of its respondents. It certainly seems that EqualLogic customers are enamored with the product's ease of use. When asked to respond to the statement "This product is easy to use," a remarkable 19 out of 22 rated it a perfect 8.0, yielding an average score of 7.64. The product was also highly rated for "This product was installed without defects" and "This product was easy to get up and running" (7.45 for each). It also received a 7.36 for "This product requires very little vendor intervention" and "This product did not require professional services."

"It's a piece of cake--really no issues, just plug and play," says Rush Enterprises' Williams of HP's EVA8000 (6.58). Yaple, at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, manages EVA5000s/8000s, as well as a couple of EMC Clariion CX300 Series arrays. "As far as getting the CX up and running," he says, "it's really not very complicated."

Compellent wasn't without its own quality virtues. Respondents liked Storage Center's ease of use, awarding it a 7.38 for "This product is easy to get up and running"; it also received a 7.33 for "This product is easy to use." However, they weren't as pleased with the statement "This product requires very little vendor intervention," giving it a 6.83.

But Compellent's big advantage relates to value. It was the clear winner when we asked respondents how they felt about the statement "This product offers good value for the money," receiving a 7.11 vs. EqualLogic's 6.95. The third-place "value product" was Hitachi with a rating of 6.81.


Product reliability
EqualLogic's product reliability score wasn't quite as lofty as its product quality tally, but it dominated the category nonetheless with an overall 7.24. Its top-two box score was 76%, only slightly higher than Compellent's 74%. However, EqualLogic's bottom-two box score was a mere 1% vs. Compellent's 6%. EqualLogic had the best score for "This product experiences very little downtime" (7.48), and rated nearly as well for "This product meets my service-level requirements" (7.41). This was the best score in the group for that statement.

This section proved to be Compellent's weakest, and the only section where the company didn't place among the top two. Even so, its 6.88 rating was to be envied by most of the field. Its best score in the category (a 7.11) was given to the statements "This product meets my service-level requirements" and "The vendor provides comprehensive upgrade guidance."

"I have had zero unplanned downtime," says Community Health Plan's Dahl, who's a Compellent user.

Hitachi's leap into second position (7.07) in this category can be traced directly to our bellwether statement "Patches can be applied nondisruptively," where it smoked the field with a 7.07. EqualLogic placed second with a 6.55, followed by Compellent (6.22). But Hitachi's highest score in the category was a 7.37 for "This product experiences very little downtime." Hitachi also had high marks for "This product requires very few unplanned patches" (7.29).

"The reliability of the Dell on a daily basis is great," says Infocrossing's Burd, who manages Dell CX Series and IBM DS4000 systems. For his IBM systems, he says they "get SNMP and email, and it works." But he prefers the "phone home" feature of the Dell CX.


Technical support
Compellent returned to its winning ways in the technical support section. Its 7.15 was the only score above a 7.00, although EqualLogic was close with a 6.96. Hitachi placed third with a 6.57, while all of the other vendors fell below 6.0. As with most of our surveys, technical support scores were neither outstanding nor horrible. The Dell CX Series trailed the field with a still-decent 5.19. "Whether you call at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m., they've been very responsive," says Community Health Plan's Dahl of his Compellent array.

Compellent's best rating in this section was for "The vendor supplies support as contractually specified" (7.41). EqualLogic had a 7.23 in this regard. Compellent also had a very nice score for "The vendor provides adequate training" (7.40). Training is an area where we rarely find high ratings. Documentation can also be a sensitive area for storage managers. "The hardest part of dealing with documentation on EMC is finding it," says Yaple at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, although when he does locate the docs he needs he finds them comprehensive and useful. Other sources, such as Web sites, can also be good areas of tech support. Rush Enterprises' Williams likes HP's online forums. "They have high-end storage guys looking at those forums all the time," he says. "They write back within a couple of hours."

The most knowledgeable support staff apparently belongs to Compellent. It received a 7.35 for "The vendor's support staff is knowledgeable" and bested EqualLogic's 7.10 for the same statement.

Willingness to repurchase
When we ask users if they would purchase the same product again knowing what they know now, we often find no correlation to the award's order of finish. Many factors play into a purchase decision, even some that many not relate directly to the specific product or support. In this case, however, we did see a significant correlation. Of Compellent's 18 respondents, 100% indicated they would make the same decision again. EqualLogic had a 90.9% positive response and Hitachi had an 82.0%. All other vendors were in the seventies, except for Sun (64.7%) and Dell (60.7%).

Taking a chance on a relatively new vendor can be a risk, but sometimes that risk pays off. In the case of Compellent and EqualLogic, it would appear that users who took the risk are glad they did. If our surveys are any indication, a dark horse bet on midrange arrays can pay off handsomely.

This was last published in April 2008

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