Quality Awards V: Compellent regains top midrange arrays spot

The fifth edition of our service and reliability survey for midrange arrays shows that users of midrange storage systems are pretty darned satisfied with thier purchases.

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The fifth edition of our service and reliability survey for midrange arrays shows that users of midrange storage systems are pretty darned satisfied with their purchases.

Midrange storage array vendors seem to be doing a lot of things right. On our latest Quality Awards survey of midrange arrays, all of the finalists scored so well that it's hard to find fault with any of their product lines. This is the fifth time we've canvassed users about the service and reliability of their midrange storage arrays, and these users showed the highest level of satisfaction with this product class to date. With a record overall score of 7.12 for midrange systems, Compellent Technologies Inc. has regained the crown that Dell Inc. snagged in our previous survey.

Compellent's win was earned with a consistent performance, garnering the top scores in all five of our rating categories -- sales-force competence, initial product quality, product features, product reliability and technical support. In winning all of the categories, the company's Storage Center products picked up ratings greater than 7.00 in four of them; the ratings range from 1.00 to 8.00.

Midrange might

But even with such an excellent showing, Compellent must still share at least of little of the Quality Awards spotlight. While not seriously challenging Compellent's overall score of 7.12, all eight finalists finished with overall scores higher than 6.00 -- the first time that has happened for midrange arrays and a rarity for any Quality Awards survey.

About the survey

The Storage magazine/SearchStorage.com Quality Awards are designed to identify and recognize products that have proven their quality and reliability in actual use. Results are derived from a survey of qualified readers who assess products in five main categories: sales-force competence, initial product quality, product features, product reliability and technical support. Our methodology incorporates statistically valid polling that eliminates market share as a factor. Indeed, our objective is to identify the most reliable products on the market regardless of vendor name, reputation or size. Products are rated on a scale of 1.00 to 8.00, where 8.00 is the best score. A total of 315 respondents provided 497 midrange storage array evaluations.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. rode its EVA and P4000 lines to a strong second-place finish, scoring an overall 6.73, with Hitachi Data Systems just a shade behind at 6.67. But a strong 1-2-3 finish isn't the end of the story, as the rest of the group was bunched closely behind the leaders with ratings ranging from NetApp's 6.59 to Oracle Corp.'s (Sun) 6.38. Five of the eight vendors had scores higher than the winning overall score in our last survey.

Products in the survey

The following vendors and midrange array model lines were included in the Quality Awards survey. The number of responses for the finalists are included in parentheses after the product names.

  • 3PAR InServ E200 or F200/F400*
  • Atrato Inc. Velocity 1000 (V1000)*
  • BlueArc Corp. Titan 2000/3000 Series, Mercury*
  • Compellent Technologies Inc. Storage Center (14)
  • DataDirect Networks Inc. S2A Series*
  • Dell Inc. CX Series or Dell EqualLogic PS Series (47)
  • EMC Corp. Clariion CX Series (110)
  • Fujitsu Eternus DX400 Series*
  • Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. StorageWorks EVA Series and P4000 Series (76)
  • Hitachi Data Systems Universal Storage Platform (USP) VM or AMS Series (35)
  • IBM DS4000/DS5000/DS6000 (74)
  • NetApp FAS200/FAS900/FAS2000 (69)
  • NEC Corp. D3/D4/D8 Series*
  • Oracle Corp. Sun 6000/7000 Series (35)
  • Pillar Data Systems Axiom 300/500/600*
  • SGI InfiniteStorage 4000/5000/6000 Series*
  • Xiotech Corp. Magnitude 3D or Emprise*

* Received too few responses to be included among finalists.

Sharper sales teams

On most Quality Awards surveys, the lowest user ratings typically appear in the sales-force competence category, as was the case on the most recent midrange array survey. With tighter budgets and often urgent needs, storage managers expect sales reps and their support teams to be responsive and well-informed. Just a few years ago on our second midrange survey, the overall average for the sales category was a tepid 5.28, indicating that users' expectations were likely met but rarely exceeded. This time around, the category average is 6.47, suggesting strong -- and probably effective -- efforts by vendors' sales forces.

Compellent picked up its first category win with a 6.81, buoyed by scores of 7.00-plus for the statements "My sales rep keeps my interests foremost" and "The vendor's sales support team is knowledgeable." In all, Compellent came out on top for four of the six category statements. HP didn't lead for any single statement, but lined up ratings running from 6.45 to 6.96 to finish second with a category average of 6.67. Third-place finisher Hitachi (6.59) was high scorer for two of the category statements ("My sales rep is knowledgeable about my industry" and "My sales rep understands my business").

Whether it's in response to the rigors of a down economy or reaction to surveys such as this, vendors appear to be redoubling their sales efforts.

Click here to get a PDF of the Quality Awards V: Midrange Arrays standings.

Implementation and initial quality

A positive sales experience is a great way to start a relationship, but it can quickly be derailed if problems arise during deployment of the product. Here, too, in the initial product quality category, our midrange array vendors seem to be surpassing expectations as well as their previous performances. Ratings were high across the board in this category, with Compellent posting above-7.00 scores for five of the six statements en route to a 7.21 category average finish. Compellent's only sub-7.00 score was a 6.93 for "This product was installed without any defects." Hitachi's rating of 6.94 for that statement topped Compellent by the slimmest possible margin.

HP nudged out Dell for the second spot in the category (6.88 vs. 6.80), and garnered the only other 7.00-plus score (a 7.06) for the key statement "This product is easy to use." Not too far behind Dell, the rest of the field was packed almost too tightly to see any space among them; a mere .05 points separated Oracle (Sun), Hitachi and IBM (tied), NetApp and EMC Corp.

And if perfection is the goal of midrange array vendors, they appear to be well on their way, as the average score for all eight products for the statement "This product was installed without any defects" was a glossy 6.81.

Features and functions

A midrange storage system from just a few years ago would hardly be recognizable by today's standards. Responding to user demands, vendors have tricked out midrange arrays with the kinds of features and capabilities that you could only once get with enterprise-class storage systems. Improved features -- and more of them -- equate to contented users as evidenced by record high scores in the product features rating category.

Compellent's 7.26 average score easily outdistanced NetApp, which notched a very solid 6.75 giving it a small margin over third-place finisher HP (6.68) which it turned nudged out IBM (6.61) by the same margin. Compellent's Storage Center scored the highest on all seven category statements in the product features category, ranging from a 7.07 ("This product's snapshot features meet my needs") to a 7.36 ("This product's remote replication features meet my needs"). By delivering these "bread-and-butter" features along with its signature Fluid Data automated tiering, Compellent may be raising the bar a bit for all midrange systems vendors.

That's not to suggest that any of the product lines are slackers when it comes to features. The overall average for the category was a 6.64, the highest we've seen and substantially higher than the previous mark of 6.33. The average scores for key midrange array requirements were high for all eight products, such as a 6.79 for "This product's capacity scales to meet my needs," highlighted by Hitachi's 7.11 (the only other 7.00-plus score in the category) and Compellent's 7.31.

Storage you can count on

The true test of a storage system is how well it performs after the showroom shine wears off. Each of the eight vendors' product lines passed the test on this survey easily, with an across-the-board 6.74 average in the product reliability category; this is not only the highest average ever for that category, but the highest average of any category to date.

Compellent again netted the highest ratings for each of the five category statements, ranging from 7.14 to 7.36 and rolling up to a 7.27 average, its highest category score on the survey. But it wasn't alone in "seven heaven." Second-seeded Hitachi earned three 7.00-plus scores for the statements related to meeting service-level requirements, having very little downtime and needing very few unplanned patches, on the way to an impressive 6.97 category average. Third-place HP joined Compellent and Hitachi in the plus-7.00 club with a 7.03 for the "unplanned patches" statement and finished with an average rating of 6.72, which put it just .01 ahead of EMC's score of 6.71.

Continuing support for the product

Past Quality Award surveys for midrange arrays had scores in the technical support category that hovered around the lows seen in the sales-force competence category. This survey isn't any different, with support getting the second-lowest overall category average. But the twist here is that the score is still fairly high at 6.59, led once again by Compellent (7.02). Hitachi (6.71) racked up its second second-place finish, with HP (6.69) hard on its heels with another strong performance. HP finished second or third in all five ratings categories.

The only statement in the support category that Compellent didn't score top marks on was "Vendor's third-party partners are knowledgeable"; instead, HP and Oracle (Sun) tied for the lead with a score of 6.72. It's a significant mark for those two vendors, as 54% of HP respondents and 37% of Oracle respondents said they purchased their systems from VARs.

Midrange vendors are also delivering on their support promises. One of Compellent's two 7.29 category scores was for "Vendor supplies support as contractually specified," a statement that all vendors scored well on for a group average of 6.79 (high in the category). Well-trained support staffs were also recognized on the survey, with Compellent (7.07), HP (6.87) and Hitachi (6.80) all standing out for the statement "Support personnel are knowledgeable."

Click here to get a PDF of our Heavy Lifters chart that lists our respondents' average installed capacity for the products included in the midrange arrays survey.

Do it again

In addition to the specific statements in each rating category, we asked survey respondents a more subjective question: All things considered, would you buy the product again? Over our five surveys for midrange arrays, the responses have been generally positive and very steady, with an average of 77% to 79% saying "Yes" across all product lines. This time, the "buy again" numbers jumped, reflecting the higher category ratings and, undoubtedly, greater satisfaction with the entire class of midrange storage products.

Overall, 89% of respondents said they would take the plunge again with the same product, led by Compellent's eerily perfect 100%, NetApp and Dell both at 94% and the rest of the field ranging from EMC's 87% to Oracle's (Sun) 83%. Not too shabby when it comes to satisfied customers.

BIO: Rich Castagna (rcastagna@storagemagazine.com) is editorial director of the Storage Media Group.

This was first published in September 2010

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