Quality Awards VI: NetApp nudges Dell for top midrange array spot

Dell plus Compellent proved to be a strong combination, but not quite strong enough to overtake NetApp on our sixth Quality Awards survey for midrange arrays.

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Dell plus Compellent proved to be a strong combination, but not quite strong enough to overtake NetApp on our sixth Quality Awards survey for midrange arrays.

To say NetApp Inc. outscored Dell Inc. on the latest Quality Awards survey for midrange arrays is something of an overstatement. With the slimmest possible margin separating them -- 0.01 -- the two data storage behemoths duked it out in every rating category, sharing honors along the way and finishing in a near dead heat. With all scores tallied, NetApp topped Dell with a score of 6.60 vs. 6.59. Obviously, both vendors’ products are highly regarded by their customers, even as that trust and loyalty has been earned via two distinct routes. NetApp is a networked storage pioneer, while Dell has successfully leveraged partnerships and acquisitions to build an impressive portfolio.

OVERALL RANKINGS

QUALITY AWARDS VI: OVERALL RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
QUALITY AWARDS VI: OVERALL RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
Enlarge QUALITY AWARDS VI: OVERALL RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS diagram.

NetApp and Dell led a generally strong group of eight midrange vendors and their product lines. Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), with an overall 6.47, wasn’t far behind the leaders, and IBM’s 6.40 was also just a bit off the pace. Rounding out the field were EMC Corp. (6.31), Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. (6.25), Oracle Corp. (5.97) and first-timer Nexsan Corp. (5.66). (For more information about our process and surveyed products, see “About the Quality Awards” and “Products in the survey.”)

SALES-FORCE COMPETENCE

Setting the table for its close competition, NetApp bested Dell in the sales-force competence category by a scant two-hundredths of a point: 6.40 to 6.38. The two vendors evenly divvied up the six statements in the category. NetApp showed its strength with a sales team that’s knowledgeable and reps who understand customers’ businesses and interests. Dell’s reps scored high for taking time to learn their customers’ industries, and for their flexibility and willingness to negotiate. HDS’ 6.31 placed it third, just trailing the leaders on most of the category statements.

QUALITY AWARDS VI: SALES-FORCE COMPETENCE RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
QUALITY AWARDS VI: SALES-FORCE COMPETENCE RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
Enlarge QUALITY AWARDS VI: SALES-FORCE COMPETENCE RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS diagram.

Breaking down the numbers

Smart sales: The highest overall average for a single statement in this category was a 6.36 for “The vendor’s sales support team is knowledgeable.”

Four vendors scored 6.00 or better on all six statements: NetApp, Dell, HDS and EMC.

The worst scores across the board were for “My sales rep keeps my interests foremost” (5.86).

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INITIAL PRODUCT QUALITY

Pre-sales activities and inking contracts are the pregame show with the real kickoff happening when the gear gets uncrated. Midrange vendors -- led by NetApp’s solid 6.74 for initial product quality -- are apparently doing a good job of creating a winning first impression, as the overall average for this category was second highest (just trailing the numbers for product reliability). Dell once again finished second with an equally impressive 6.68; HP tallied a 6.60 for a strong third-placing showing. NetApp scored highest for four of the six statements, with fifth-place HDS snagging the remaining two statements.

QUALITY AWARDS VI: INITIAL PRODUCT QUALITY RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
QUALITY AWARDS VI: INITIAL PRODUCT QUALITY RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
Enlarge QUALITY AWARDS VI: INITIAL PRODUCT QUALITY RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS diagram.

Breaking down the numbers

HDS’s 6.95 for “This product was installed without any defects” was the highest single statement score for all categories in the survey.

NetApp’s first-place finish was achieved with top scores for getting up and running quickly, requiring little vendor intervention, needing only a reasonable amount of professional services and ease of use.

All eight products totaled scores higher than 6.00, only the second time that has happened in six surveys.

PRODUCT FEATURES

Some claim the parity among midrange arrays is so great that there’s little difference in their features. That may be true for core capabilities, but there’s still considerable differentiation among vendor’s wares. NetApp won the product features category with a 6.63 score that was enough to squeak by strong showings by HDS (6.55) and Dell (6.52). NetApp scored highest on four of the seven features statements, including those for snapshot (6.82), mirroring (6.79) and replication (6.61) capabilities, which are acknowledged strengths of NetApp products.

QUALITY AWARDS VI: PRODUCT FEATURES RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
QUALITY AWARDS VI: PRODUCT FEATURES RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
Enlarge QUALITY AWARDS VI: PRODUCT FEATURES RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS diagram.

Breaking down the numbers

Second-place HDS had the highest statement score in the category for all products, a 6.88 for “This product’s capacity scales to meet my needs.”

Dell came in third, with top scores for overall satisfaction with features (6.71) and management features (6.63).

Along with the top three finishers, IBM had 6.00-plus scores for all category statements.

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PRODUCT RELIABILITY

The true test of any midrange storage product is how well it fares over an extended period of time. In all but one of the past midrange surveys, the overall average for reliability was the highest among all categories -- which is also the case this time (6.45). Dell’s 6.75 put it on top, ahead of NetApp (6.69) and HDS (6.66); within striking distance were IBM, EMC and HP. Dell scored highest on four of the five statements, ceding to HDS only for the statement related to applying patches nondisruptively. With the exception of HDS, all products had their lowest scores for the nondisruptive patching statement. NetApp’s second-place finish resulted from trailing Dell by just a few hundredths of a point on several statements.

QUALITY AWARDS VI: PRODUCT RELIABILITY RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
QUALITY AWARDS VI: PRODUCT RELIABILITY RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
Enlarge QUALITY AWARDS VI: PRODUCT RELIABILITY RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS diagram.

Breaking down the numbers

All products had average scores of 6.00-plus in the reliability category.

Dell was tops for meeting service-level requirements, having very little downtime, needing few unplanned patches and providing comprehensive upgrade advice.

IBM, EMC and HP joined the three leaders by scoring 6.00-plus on all five category statements

TECHNICAL SUPPORT

Things will break, but the vendor that responds fast and with a good fix will please any data storage pro. Dell snared its second category win with an average score of 6.62, splitting the eight tech support statements with second-place NetApp (6.57). HDS and IBM tied for third, each tallying averages of 6.35. Dell’s strengths were delivering support as promised, rarely requiring problem escalation, solving issues in a timely manner and having well-versed support personnel. NetApp led for doing a good job training its partners, providing good training and documentation, and taking ownership of problems when they arise.

QUALITY AWARDS VI: TECHNICAL SUPPORT RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
QUALITY AWARDS VI: TECHNICAL SUPPORT RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
Enlarge QUALITY AWARDS VI: TECHNICAL SUPPORT RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS diagram.

Breaking down the numbers

Dell’s 6.93 for “Vendor supplies support as contractually specified” was the highest rating for any statement in this category; its 6.91 for “Support personnel are knowledgeable” was the second highest.

The two leaders’ statement scores were remarkably consistent; for Dell, its eight scores had a range of 0.60; for NetApp, the range was 0.49.

Besides Dell and NetApp, HP was the only vendor to receive scores of 6.00-plus for all statements.

WOULD YOU BUY THIS PRODUCT AGAIN?

QUALITY AWARDS VI: BUY AGAIN RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
QUALITY AWARDS VI: BUY AGAIN RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS
Enlarge QUALITY AWARDS VI: BUY AGAIN RANKINGS FOR MIDRANGE ARRAYS diagram.

A true test of customers’ satisfaction is whether they would come back for more. Often these results don’t jibe with the category scores, but NetApp and Dell again lead the pack with solid scores that should generate some repeat business. Among NetApp users, 87% said that knowing what they know now, they would make the same purchase again. Dell users were nearly as loyal, with 86% ready to repeat their purchases. IBM (82%) and EMC (81%) users were similarly inclined, with HP (78%), HDS (77%), Oracle (67%) and Nexsan (60%) rounding out the field.

On past Quality Awards surveys, midrange users have reported generally positive reviews for their systems of choice, and the scores from this survey reinforce those impressions. The midrange segment is the fastest growing slice of the storage array pie, so another survey of mostly positive results is good news for both users and vendors.

BIO: Rich Castagna is editorial director of the Storage Media Group.

This was first published in September 2011

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