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Is EMC lacking some TLC?

Some EMC users are frustrated by the company's service and are switching vendors despite being happy with the technology.

After a slap on the wrist for aggressive behavior a couple of years back, EMC turned over a new leaf in its approach to customer service. But recent accounts from some users suggest a worrying trend that the storage giant is slipping back into old habits.

One company experiencing the cold shoulder from EMC is First National Bank of Omaha. It has a tiered, heterogeneous storage environment that includes EMC Symmetrix 8730s and 8830s, along with IBM and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) arrays.

Kenneth Kucera, senior vice president of enterprise technology services at the bank, writes a letter every year to all his vendors asking them how they can work better together and inviting them to visit. He also ranks the vendors' strengths and weaknesses in the letter.

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"My issue with EMC is that they simply don't pay enough attention to us … All our vendors, IBM, AT&T and HDS, get back to us quickly and come to see us … But in the past two years, EMC hasn't even responded," Kucera said.

Feeling snubbed, Kucera has started looking for a replacement for his two EMC Symmetrix arrays. He declined to mention which vendors he has his eyes on. However, the bank recently took on a sweeping virtualization project using IBM's SAN Volume Controller to virtualize all its storage.

"Our EMC equipment is up on lease in three or four months, so I'll probably start to hear from them soon," added Kucera, dryly.

Another company felt it was getting too much attention from EMC. Paul Taverna, senior network analyst at Harleysville Insurance, a subsidiary of Harleysville Group Inc., is more than happy with EMC's technology. In fact, due to the DMX's phone home feature, he said EMC usually knows about any problems before Harleysville does. Taverna's gripe with EMC is how its marketing and sales force operates.

"Sales is always trying to pressure us into purchasing much more hardware and software than we need. We have also found that we have paid much more than other customers for the same hardware. While we are happy with EMC's service, the overall cost has us looking at other vendors," Taverna said.

A different user has already made the switch. The Ohio Department of Administrative Services (ODAS) has been an EMC shop for several years, but from March 20, it will have swept the floor and replaced everything with IBM storage.

ODAS' troubles with EMC go back to 2001 when there were some chip problems with the Symmetrix 8730. Walt Callahan, Ohio's assistant chief information officer, said the department was given a quote and then ordered a replacement system. It later found out that the next generation product, the 8830, was available but EMC had never made them aware of that. The Ohio department ordered and received the new product without complaint.

Callahan insists his decision to switch to IBM was not because EMC was lacking in any way. The department had reached the end of its lease on the EMC gear and IBM came in and offered a better service, he said.

Complaints are loud and clear

Of course, not every EMC customer is dissatisfied with its service. International Data Corp. storage software analyst Bill North pointed out that it's always easier to find the squeaking wheels than the ones that are running smoothly. "The complaints are louder," he said. North added that with all the acquisitions EMC has untaken recently, some disruption could be filtering back to users.

Michael Passe, senior storage engineer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, runs an EMC shop and said he hasn't experienced anything unusual from the company. "I know that they've reverticalized their accounts in an effort to provide better service from the account team … I haven't had issues getting a hold of them though. They are usually a phone call or e-mail away with response in less than a day." He added, "I would say that we have one of the best vendor relationships with them out of all our vendors."

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