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IBM and HP the most loved x86 server vendors of all - study

Sun ho-hummed, Dell scorned

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In the good old days, IBM workers would crack open their songbooks and sing about the wonders of Big Blue. These days IBM's x86 server customers are the ones humming away with pride, according to a new study from the Gabriel Consulting Group (GCG).

Grand vendor that it is, IBM has managed to please data center operators across a wide range of metrics. It, in fact, secured top billing in almost every GCG category. Not surprisingly, HP beat out IBM in a couple of categories and followed Big Blue closely in the rest. But where IBM and HP succeeded, Dell failed and x86 baby Sun Microsystems kind of ho-hummed.

All told, GCG interviewed 212 enterprise x86 server customers. The majority of these customers employed more than 1,000 workers and owned between 20 and hundreds of servers. In addition, the vast majority of the customers bought systems from two, three or all four vendors with just 25 per cent of those surveyed standardizing on a single vendor. GCG worked to normalize the results, "so that vendor scores are not skewed by the number of respondents who prefer a particular vendor."

Here's what GCG found.

In overall x86 technology, IBM posted a VPI (vendor preference index) score of 120, which compares to 100 for HP, 89 for Sun and a humble 40 for Dell. IBM also won out in observed system performance and raw system performance, although HP almost matched Big Blue in both categories. Sun again finished third, and Dell brought up the rear.

HP, with the old Compaq engineering prowess behind it, knocked all rivals on the ever important serviceability and reliability fronts with IBM coming in second, Sun in third and Dell in last.

"The results from these questions again reinforce the fact that IBM and HP are leading the pack and that the reputed leader, Dell, is not held in high regard by enterprise customers," GCG wrote. "These results should raise a red flag with Dell management, give that system reliability and availability are such hot button issues with customers."

On the management front, HP again topped all vendors with IBM trailing just behind it. Sun and Dell did their same things.

If you want top notch services, then you're turning to IBM first by a long shot, followed by HP, Sun and, you guessed it, Dell.

"In services, it’s obvious that the IBM/HP ‘big guns’ are held in much higher regard by customers than Sun or particularly Dell," GCG wrote. "This result isn’t particularly surprising in that IBM and HP have devoted huge resources to building their services capabilities."

Given the previous results, it may come as a shock to see Dell blow away the competition on the "sales momentum" front. Dell notched a VPI score of 120, while IBM came in at 98, HP hit 95 and Sun hit 80.

"On one hand, our survey respondents believe that Dell has more sales momentum than any of their competitors," GCG wrote. "But, throughout the survey they have generally blasted Dell for coming up short on technology and customer service. The also believe that Dell is less viable in the enterprise x86 server market than IBM, HP and Sun. What customers seem to be saying is 'we aren’t that wild about Dell, but everyone else is', which, to us, means Dell is doing a great job of marketing."

In a broader context, these results may help explain why Dell finally gave in and adopted Opteron. Its x86 server business simply has not been as competitive over the past 18 months, and the lean Dell Model let customers down, as the vendor was not flexible enough or willing to bring on a new chip supplier.

Meanwhile, it's very surprising to see Sun rank so highly given its miniscule share of the x86 server market. Still, GCG said that it received far more responses than it expected from customers who have indeed got their hands on Sun's gear.

Certainly, the strangest bit of data from the GCG survey comes from the "overall value for the money" question. Here IBM won out ahead of HP with Dell and Sun locked in a tie. Funny enough though, the vendors just about tied in this category with the VPI ranging only from 102 to 96. So, even though you all love IBM and HP, you think that Sun and Dell are still giving you a good value. This either means that x86 gear has become so cheap that everyone is pleased or that you're all taking it too lightly on the slackers.

For more information on the survey, you can check out the GCG site here. ®

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