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IBM and HP objects of x86 server customer desire

Sun and Dell get tepid marks and ire

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Customers still have a crush on IBM and Hewlett-Packard as x86 server vendors while Sun Microsystems and Dell continue to receive lukewarm satisfaction, according to a new survey.

The latest "Vendor Faceoff" study of enterprise x86 customers by Gabriel Consulting Group (GCG) shows IBM holding a narrow lead over HP in favored technology while HP takes top marks in customer support and product quality.

GCG interviewed 297 enterprise x86 customers this round — that's actual data center operators, not CTOs and what have you. Eighty six per cent of the participants have servers from three or more vendors, and almost a third run systems from five or more.

GCG uses a metric called Vendor Preference Index (VPI) to get a measure on the pleasure while attempting to weed out some customer bias. VPI compares the number of "votes" a vendor gets to the number of respondents who said they have standardized on that vendor. A score of 100 is par, and scoring significantly under 100 means customers standardized on one vendor and voted for another. Scoring above 100 is the bees knees.

For the overall x86 satisfaction "face-off," IBM received a VPI score of 108, while HP came in a close second with 103. Sun follows with a score of 80 and Dell trails at 60.

GCG said IBM's strength in technology was apparent in "best overall x86 server technology" questions with a VPI score of 132, compared to HP with 85, Sun at 77 and Dell at 63. IBM won the "highest raw performance" category, scoring 112, although Sun almost tied with 110. Big Blue also topped the "observed performance" and system management categories by a significant margin.

HP got a win in the hardware quality categories, grabbing kudos in hardware build consistency, initial quality and ease of set up and use questions. HP beat IBM on several questions relating to reliability, winning the "Best Availability & Reliability Features" category crown with a score of 115, as opposed to IBM's 112. Sun and Dell trailed the category with scores of 67 and 64, respectively.

GCG said they were impressed by the number of customers with Sun x86 gear, despite the vendor being relatively green to the field.

"Even more surprising is how consistently Sun is ranked ahead of Dell on almost every survey criteria. This is pretty good progress for a vendor who has only been in the x86 server market for a few years and still offers a limited product line," the report stated.

Dell's scores largely remained flat from the last study. GCG suspects some of the dissatisfaction could be a result of the survey taking place in 2Q 07, when the company was facing financial and customer satisfaction problems.

"While much of this doesn’t directly impact enterprise product or customers, it can influence how survey respondents view a particular vendor or issue at a given point in time."

In x86 customer support and service, HP made a big improvement, raising their average score from 90 to 100. IBM fell from 95 to 92, Sun remained steady at 81 and Dell slipped from 67 to 60.

GCG said HP was the only vendor to get high marks for following through with their roadmaps and delivering their gear on time. HP also led with their ability to engineer and implement Windows solutions — although Sun may improve in the area as they make ties with Microsoft. Sun beat the rest in Linux capability with a score of 107 vs. 94 for IBM, 83 for HP, and 52 for Dell.

HP and IBM tied in helping customers virtualize their x86 servers, although 24 per cent said there wasn't much difference between the vendors, or they weren't sure who was the best. A hefty 63 per cent reported they are either testing or already using virtualization on at least a portion of their x86 servers. About half believe virtualization will become prevalent in their organization.

HP got top nods for their desire to innovate x86 gear, while both HP and IBM tied for x86 research and development.

This may be an interesting space to watch in subsequent surveys – Sun is making noise with their recent introduction of the first 2U 4-socket, quad-core, x86 server from a Tier 1, and Dell just may pull off a transformation that makes enterprise users take notice.

GCG wasn't commissioned by any of the vendors to do the study. Those interested in sinking their teeth deeper into the survey can can contact GCG here. A summary of the survey can be found over here. ®

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