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Quality Awards V: EMC and IBM top NAS field

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Record-breaking scores highlight EMC's sweep of the enterprise NAS group and IBM's stunning performance among midrange NAS systems.

Over the years, we've seen fairly high satisfaction levels reported by users on the Storage magazine/SearchStorage.com Quality Awards for network-attached storage (NAS) systems. But the latest Quality Awards survey -- our fifth for this product class -- suggests that NAS vendors haven't been sitting on their laurels, as scores were higher than ever. In fact, overall average scores and category scores for both the midrange and enterprise NAS groups were all record highs. And given the unchecked growth of file storage at most companies, it's a good thing respondents are so pleased with their choices for file storage.

In five rounds of Quality Awards surveying, we've had five different winners in the enterprise group, with first-time victor EMC Corp. at the head of the class this time. EMC's previous best showing was a second-place finish, but the current survey results put the firm atop an abbreviated but strong field with an impressive overall average of 6.80 -- the highest enterprise NAS score to date (albeit by a mere 0.04 points over BlueArc Corp.'s score from a few years ago). Only two other vendors made the final cut and both registered commendable scores: NetApp Inc. with an overall 6.66, followed by Dell Inc. at 6.41.

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The midrange NAS group also had a first-time winner, as IBM users poured on the praise to give Big Blue a resounding 7.15 overall score. That's the highest overall score we've ever recorded for either midrange or enterprise NAS systems, and the second highest across all product categories and five rounds of surveying. Noted one IBM user: "IBM is great."

IBM emerged from a particularly strong (and high scoring) field of midrange NAS vendors. In our last survey, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. broke NetApp's string of three straight wins in the midrange group but dropped back in the field this time. EMC (6.70) bolstered its enterprise win with a solid second-place showing in the midrange group, followed by NetApp (6.63), HP (6.42) and Dell (6.09).

The NAS buying experience

When Billy Joel sang "Get it right the first time, that's the main thing" it's unlikely he was shopping for a NAS system, but for system vendors Joel's line could be an anthem. Getting off on the right foot -- which for users means working with a knowledgeable and prepared sales team -- will often set the tone for the user's experience with the product. Judging by the improving scores in the sales-force competence rating category, vendors continue to improve their sales support efforts.

In the enterprise group, EMC launched its sweep of all categories with an overall 6.67 score for sales-force competence. EMC's highest scores were for the statements "My sales rep is knowledgeable about my industry" (6.78) and "The vendor's sales support team is knowledgeable" (6.73), but its scoring was very consistent for all statements in the category. NetApp's 6.48 placed it second, followed by Dell (6.33); both of those firms received their top marks for the knowledgeable sales support team item.

Among midrange systems, IBM made a clean sweep of the rating categories, matching EMC's enterprise-winning 6.67 score in the sales-force competence category. IBM's performance was highlighted by the only 7.00-plus score for sales-force competence statements, snagging a 7.08 for its knowledgeable sales support team. EMC's midrange entry finished just behind IBM with a 6.63 average tally; NetApp (6.29), HP (6.21) and Dell (5.76) filled out the field.

Lasting impressions

The sales effort may be the first step in the NAS deployment process, but the most lasting impression may be formed when the system is uncrated and cranked up for the first time. The initial product quality rating category endeavors to capture those impressions.

EMC topped off its excellent initial product quality ratings in the enterprise group with a 7.02 for "I am satisfied with the level of professional services this product requires" and came within a hair of the 7.00 mark with a 6.98 for "This product was installed without any defects." NetApp and Dell also showed strength in this category, scoring 6.70 and 6.64, respectively. NetApp's top mark (6.89) was for the statement about installing without defects; Dell's 6.82 for "This product was easy to get up and running" was second to only EMC's 6.90, which seems appropriate as Dell resells many EMC NAS models.

Among midrange systems, IBM obviously made some good first impressions as it scored over 7.00 for all statements in the initial product quality category for a record-breaking average of 7.32. IBM's best statement rating was a staggering 7.52 for "This product was installed without any defects." Kudos to IBM and all the vendors represented here, as the average category scores were all very good, ranging from Dell's 6.41 to NetApp's 6.71.

QUALITY AWARDS V ENTERPRISE NAS STANDINGS

Enlarge QUALITY AWARDS V ENTERPRISE NAS STANDINGS diagram.

This was first published in January 2011

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