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RocketScientist's Miscellaneous Ramblings
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Server Hardware

Let's talk about hardware for a few minutes.

My previous employer exclusively used Compaq, now HP, server hardware. It was great. It was exceptionally reliable, easy to know what you needed when you want to buy new stuff, the dealers we worked with were knowledgeable and helpful, and really consulted with us to purchase hardware, and had the goods to give us great pricing (we bought a LOT of hardware). Their leasing folks were top-notch. Their warranty service was completely spot-on, perfect. When we had a string of problems (3 failures in 3 months) with a particular model RAID controller, they gave us a spare in case we had a failure (did I mention that we had a LOT of hardware?).

The reason organizations tend to go with name brand hardware solutions instead of some garage-built but probably cheaper solution comes down to three factors: Server management software, hardware reliability, and availability of high end server options. There are many great local beige-box server builders out there that can provide 4-hour on call service, technical support you won't get from a big company, and great pricing. But the local beige-box dealer can't provide you with an 8-way server, because that requires a lot of specialized engineering that most can't recoup, and they won't provide you with centralized server management software for the same reason, too much capital cost and not enough return on investment. Everybody, including Dell, HP and IBM uses the same CPU's, the same power supplies (or at least the same manufacturers for power supplies), cables, and other stuff, so reliability shouldn't be a problem. If I was running a shop with less than 4 or 5 boxes total and I didn't need any 4-way or 8-way boxes, I'd probably go with a beige box dealer.

So, what does this have to do with Dell? I've had 3 drive failures in the last two weeks. Two of them on a server that's less than 3 months old. What's more, the Dell server management software had crashed on the box with two failures, both times before the drive failed, so the only notification I got was from our helpful SA who happened to be surfing the event logs. So, the hardware isn't reliable, and the server management software is somewhat worse than useless, because it gave me a false sense of security. OK, so about 2 months ago we started looking for new server hardware to replace our aging (5+ years old) cluster of 2 8-way Pentium 3 Xeons. Come to find out that Dell had decided to get out of the 8-way server business.

So, let's see. Dell's hardware reliability hasn't been great. Their server management software is terrible. Oh, and they don't provide high-end options any more. Which means they're not providing me any reason but a really low price to continue using their servers. They're sacrificing their margins in order to cover their less than stellar products.

Dell's recommendation on fixing their server management software was essentially that we needed to go back and read the manual. OK, I didn't have to read the manual to set up HP Insight manager, and it worked fine. I set Dell's stuff up, read the manuals, and it works fine. For a few hours. Then the services crash, and don't restart. Side note, we really need NetIQ App Manager, it rocks for monitoring services and making them work.

I'm not seeing any "value proposition" from Dell. Their hardware isn't great, their server management software is terrible, and their high-end stuff is either non-existent (the 8-way boxes) or it's a co-branded solution (their EMC storage arrays). They have no value to me above that of a local beige-box dealer, but at least with the beige box dealer I can go somewhere and yell at someone, which is much more satisfying than yelling at someone over the phone.

Next up: Why I hate Dell's Desktops and some of the rest of their product line.

Print | posted on Monday, November 03, 2003 10:10 PM |

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# re: Server Hardware

I can't tell you how much I agree. I work for a smaller company (15 servers, the most powerful of which is a dual Xeon), but Dell sure lost our business. How? Being very frustrated with the reliability of some of our Dell servers, we were looking to try something new. We bought IBM. Just one server. Then another, then another. You get the picture. The difference in reliability is simply amazing. Whatever they're doing in there, they've got MY business :)
11/4/2003 6:43 AM | Travis Laborde
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# re: Server Hardware

I'm with you. Prior to my current position, I'd always worked with Compaqs and they were great. I'm working with Dell servers now, and I generally haven't been impressed. Not to mention that it always seemed to me that Microsoft had a better relationship with Compaq and that translated into benefits when using Microsoft software on Compaq hardware; the two seemed to work well together.
11/7/2003 2:25 PM | Anonymous
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