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Mea culpa -- Coping with vendor mentality

Summary: In Mr. Toigo's previous posting, he ranted about NetApp's "Hard Deck" program -- he had some problems with it. NetApp begged to differ. See what he has to say now.

In my previous post, which appeared this week, I ranted about Network Appliance's "Hard Deck" program based on info received from resellers and from an article by Kovar in Computer Reseller News. Aside from the flaky name, Hard Deck, I took exception with the segregation of accounts at NetApp between their direct sales force and their channel resellers and integrators. To my way of thinking, it all came down to a simple question: Shouldn't the customer get to choose whether he or she wants to work with a local guy or with suits from Sunnyvale, [Calif.]?

Apparently, the folks at NetApp now monitor this blog and they didn't like what I wrote -- mainly because, they said, I was wrong. Not wrong in my view that the customer is king, but wrong in my understanding of Hard Deck. So, they scheduled a call to help me get my facts straight with the head of their channels: Leonard Iventosch.

Leonard began by telling me that he has been at NetApp for about five years. That means he came in at just about the same time that many channel partners were getting screwed by the company by having their primo accounts reassigned to direct-sales androids at the mother company. It is unclear whether Leonard had anything to do with this.

He went on to say that Hard Deck was conceived as a good thing for channels. He went to great pains to say that the line being drawn between 'big accounts and all the rest' was not intended to create a no-fly zone for channel guys, but for NetApp guys. This is what was unclear in press accounts of the program – so unclear in fact that several resellers e-mailed me to complain about the program.

If you are a channel guy, everything below the Hard Deck is yours, Leonard said. NetApp direct-sales androids don't get any commission from this business unless it is filed through a channel partner.

As for the above-the-hard-deck business, apparently both NetApp sales guys and channel partners are free to go after this business. The customer gets to choose who he wants to work with. Sounded pretty reasonable to me -- so I pressed other points.

I asked, first off, who would support the accounts after the sale. Would NetApp swoop in and take control with all of the after-sale service and support matters, effectively cutting off the reseller who opened up the account in the first place? His answer was an emphatic, "Nyet." He said that a program was put into place a couple of years ago that lets the reseller provide support and to leverage NetApp service renewal and software renewal programs directly on behalf of the customer. Well, that sounded pretty good too -- so I pressed on.

When would NetApp allow its NFS and CIFS connectivity software licenses to be transferred with the box when the customer wanted to get rid of his used gear? Without these licenses, the box was just a boat anchor.

He said that those were legal matters outside of his realm of authority. I told him that I had spoken to both No. 1 guy and No. 3 guy at NetApp about it in the past and that nothing had been done. As a consumer ombudsman, I told him I could not endorse or recommend NetApp gear until they made their licenses transferable and that I would continue to press this point because it was so important.

He asked, "Do you know of anyone else in the industry who is doing transferable licenses?" Probably, a sly reference to EMC, which, of course, would never hear of such a thing. I told him that IBM, NetApp's new buddy swimmer, will recertify and relicense just about any gear.

Then, I reminded him about Lexus and how their transferable bumper-to-bumper warranty got them a spot in the luxury car market then proceeded to revolutionize the automobile industry as a whole. Why not do this with software licenses at NetApp, I suggested. Then you could wrap yourself in the flag of consumerism and maybe force the whole industry to change for the better. He said it was an idea worth exploring. (I think No.1 and No. 3 guy said the same thing to me a couple of years ago when I first proposed it. So, I'm not holding my breath.)

Not to be so easily assuaged, I suggested that he also look into releasing the utility software for formatting filer disk drives for general use by customers. That way, they don't have to pay three times the street price for disk drives they can buy at the local computer store just for the privilege of having them formatted to a particular block size as a hedge against a possible RAID-4 bug. He acknowledged receipt of this bit of advice as well.

Finally, I told him that someone should peruse his Web site and disappear all the performance testing reports on his older platforms. Leaving the data about older wares on the site exposed him to an embarrassing revelation that his gear from two generations ago outperformed his current gear. He said he'd look into that too.

So, I've done all I can do. The rest is up to the consumer.

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