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In most of our surveys, we've been surprised to find that product support hasn't been a big differentiator. However, this year's midrange survey provided as broad a spectrum of scores as the other categories. EqualLogic was again the winner, posting a 5.96 (see "Technical support"). Sun FlexLine finished a close second with a 5.85. Sun's 6000 series had its highest ranking in this category, placing two spots behind its FlexLine sibling with a 5.31. This scenario was exactly the same as last year's for that company's products.
Because many midrange array systems are sold through resellers, we were interested in how those partners were viewed by customers. In many cases, the reseller provides initial (Level 1) technical support. When we posed the statement "My vendor's third-party partners are knowledgeable," EqualLogic recorded a score of 6.07. Moreover, the company's partners can apparently resolve most problems themselves, as users awarded the statement "Problems rarely require escalation" with a score of 6.13.
Although EqualLogic had the best scores for partner knowledge, it was hardly a runaway. Both HP and Sun FlexLine scored 6.00 regarding the knowledge of their partners. "[Sun's FlexLine] onsite people are just absolutely fantastic," said Velocity Express' Weissman. "They go over and above." Even IBM, which otherwise had lackluster results, recorded a solid 5.75 in this area. "Whenever I have called their support, they've been excellent," said Compton Petroleum's Rickards. "They've set up the exact scenario that I've got in their lab and have always been able to duplicate the problems."
Rami Elyas, a member of the enterprise data storage and recovery services group at Lilydale Inc. in Edmonton, AB, which is also an IBM DS4300 user, said, "The support has been really good. We've always been able to get the parts here within a day."
In our survey, the differentiator was the need to escalate problems. For this statement, Sun fell to a 5.53, HP to 5.30 and IBM to 4.67.
We've found a direct correlation between a vendor's sales-force competence and its overall results. Winners of prior Quality Awards have always finished in the top two in this category; in this survey, Sun's FlexLine topped all others with a 5.88, while EqualLogic was second with a 5.57, which was its lowest score in any category (see "Sales-force competence"). Comparing Sun's FlexLine results to the results for its 6000 series is interesting because the 6000 finished sixth with a score of 5.17. In the case of FlexLine, 50% of systems were purchased through resellers, whereas 90% of the 6000s were purchased directly from Sun. Eighty percent of EqualLogic's systems were purchased through a value-added reseller (VAR).
Sun FlexLine scored a 6.07 for "My sales support personnel are knowledgeable." It also scored very well for "My sales rep is flexible" (5.97). EqualLogic had its highest ratings for "My sales rep keeps my interests foremost" and "My sales support personnel are knowledgeable." EqualLogic's weakest area was for the statement "My sales rep understands my business" (5.33).
Weissman undertook an extensive evaluation project before purchasing a midrange array. "We eventually narrowed it down to EMC, Hitachi and StorageTek," said Weissman. "We fully realized that all three would have worked."
Eventually, Velocity eliminated EMC because of less-than-satisfactory performance and Hitachi because of its complex software, and settled on a Sun FlexLine array. "We didn't have any strong bonds with any particular vendor of storage, so they weren't really able to influence our decisions," said Weissman.
Similarly, Rickards did a careful analysis of alternatives when his company was looking to replace its IBM DS4300. "Price was part of the initial discussions," said Rickards, "but as we got further in, realizing the differences and how they each price, we very quickly discarded that because it looked like it was going to be a moot point for the amount of storage we were looking to buy." Although the firm's experience with the IBM array was positive, it opted for an EMC Clariion.
Hard-nosed bargaining is sometimes called for. "If you have to pay list price for an [HP] EVA, I think you're paying way too much," Argonne's Salbego. "They're very willing to negotiate, but does that mean I know if I'm leaving money on the table or not?"
Lilydale's Elyas said they put their trust in their VAR. "We worked closely with the VAR and IBM," said Elyas. "We used the reseller because they know our business pretty well and it was a nonbiased view—they didn't have much to gain whether we bought IBM or Hitachi or EMC."
About the authors and about the survey, page 5.