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Whose customer is it anyways?

Selling and supporting commodity storage challengers is more work than punting a Dell or HP SAN into the SME, but they offer the same (or better) reliability for a lower cost. That means that the margin Dell or HP is taking on the SAN hardware and on their four hour enterprise support now belongs to the MSP.

Perhaps more importantly to the MSP in question, by going this route they retain ownership of the customer relationship. Put a Dell into a company and you're just an interchangeable tech supporting a name-brand system, as interchangeable as the guy that comes to swap your ADSL modem.

Put something in that isn't a household name and suddenly it isn't the badge on the front that matters, but the fellow who makes it go. At the higher end, this doesn't matter. You do protracted consulting, bill enough hours to put an entire primary school through post-secondary and otherwise insinuate yourself so deeply into the company that dislodging you takes a task force of accountants and a replacement contractor.

In the SME world, however, an MSP can go months or even years without hearing from a client. They put a solution in, it "just works" and that's that.

The sticky bit

Some systems administrators consider the use of solutions that aren't from a dominant enterprise manufacturer a breach of professional ethics. The only acceptable solutions are the solutions everyone else is using, because those solutions are used by everyone.

For some, the argument is that enterprise solutions can be serviced by anyone bearing the right certificate, letting you know exactly who to hire. For others, they feel that enterprise class gear is "more reliable," though like-for-like statistics are difficult to come by. Such statistics are even harder to find supporting the enterprise-vendor side of the argument.

The most common argument is based not in technical or professional ethics but in personal morality. The more vociferous agitators against the newcomers argue that we should deploy everything identically. Sysadmins "should" differentiate themselves not by what they sell but by the more ephemeral measure of "the quality of their support".

Similarly, rank after rank of SMEs all with identical IT infrastructure and identical workflows are told they should differentiate themselves to their customers via location and "quality of service". This argument is rooted in a belief that the purity of design – typically the design the complainant is personally most familiar with – needs to come before any consideration of efficiency or affordability.

In the enterprise world, some or all of these arguments have merit. They even have merit with regards to some SMEs. They are the arguments that established vendors and challengers will need to both champion and defeat in the next few years. The rest of us, however, should start learning about products from this up-and-coming tier of "proper" SME storage providers. ®

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