Choosing the right server vendor is critical in allowing projects to perform. But when you make your selection, you may want to look past the hardware. Sometimes, targeting the best vendor means factoring in the additional services the vendor offers. Vendors can assist you in achieving the goals of a project and serving you as a customer in the planning and implementation of server technologies by providing value-added services. Let's take a look.
Vendor selection strategy
To choose the best vendor for your project, you should take a holistic approach, identifying which vendor offers the maximum value in terms of helping you meet your server hardware needs and completing your project. Often, the most important factor in selecting a server hardware vendor is what the vendor offers beyond the sale of the actual hardware. You can find anyone to sell you something. Obtaining value-added services, demo units, and special insights will allow you to better reach your objectives for the solutions you are deploying.
When choosing a vendor, you want someone who will best allow you to complete your project:
- On time.
- On budget.
- At expected performance levels.
Server hardware is slightly different from most hardware procurements. It tends to get more attention, more planning, and more options from vendors (and IT personnel) during project planning and presales investigations compared to other purchases, such as client devices.
It is important for the vendor to fully understand your needs. If the vendor understands the scope and duration of your project, it will give you optimal service. Some of the best services that vendors offer are in “presales” mode. Presales benefits can occur when you’re nailing down performance requirements, hardware specifications, connectivity options, software configurations, service plans, management options, and support options. Vendors may offer evaluation software or hardware, demonstrations by various manufacturers, and conference calls with technical resources, as well as insights and perspectives on your situation that you may not have considered.
The size and scope of a project will dictate what value-added services vendors will give you. Certainly, projects and purchases with larger volume will get more attention from vendors. This can be somewhat discouraging at times, since the smaller projects and IT groups also need to best meet their organizational objectives, just on a different scale. However, some vendors will offer their services to help add value to their relationship with you even if you’re small. In fact, some vendors now have special teams and business units aimed at serving small and midsize businesses.
Vendors are not currently making a ton of money on the goods they sell, since there is significant price competition. The advent of Internet price comparisons and direct sales from vendors has created a marketplace that puts the buyer in a great position. Presales research is now easy, which has taken some work away from the vendor.
The Internet has also normalized prices, made customers and vendors more informed about products, and added dynamic new product marketing channels. And the intense price competition has had some negative effects, as some vendors have had to sacrifice service and other value-added resources in order to be able to compete on price.
Vendors big and small
Server hardware vendors exist in many sizes. The bigger vendors might be less flexible in offering value-added services but may have quicker response time with their suppliers and a more attractive price structure. The smaller vendors (and local value-added resellers, or VARs) are generally geographically closer to you, which may be beneficial in support situations. Some smaller vendors will give priority to landing a customer that will occupy a large percentage of their revenue (50 percent or more) and deliver that customer premium service. This is at a cost, of course, but it may provide a nice fit for your project needs.
When you’re selecting a vendor, be careful to keep in mind the duration of the relationship. If the relationship that you are creating will last a finite period of time, make the vendor aware of that intention. However, if you feel that a long-term relationship potential exists, mention that as well. You may be able to benefit by disclosing your timeframe to the vendor.
Other TechRepublic resources for selecting vendors
For more information on selecting the best vendor, see these articles: "Vendors and the limits of partnership"—Pay special attention to Artner’s Law 7.1.1.a. It’s the truth. "Members offer tips for winning vendor negotiations"—Find out what topics you should (and should not) discuss with vendors.
What vendors can do for you
When you are planning your project, vendors can often provide valuable assistance because of their experience in helping other companies deploy similar solutions. Even if it costs you a little bit, a vendor’s advice may be an excellent complement to your internal research efforts. For example, the vendor may be able to recommend other technologies and products that could enhance your solution.
Additionally, once you decide to purchase equipment from a vendor, you should be aware that it is often willing to engage in preconfiguration work that can save time for your IT staff. This can include:
- Installing add-on hardware (backup drive, special accessory card, modem, etc.) that may not be a standard option from the server manufacturer.
- Deploying a software image or software configuration procedure you have created for the project.
- Configuring RAID arrays.
- Shipping a preconfigured server directly to a remote site and assisting with deployment support.
Making the choice
Overall, vendors are there to help you procure the server hardware for your needs. However, utilizing the additional services that vendors offer can be a tremendous benefit and can tip the balance when selecting the best vendor for your company.
What tips do you have for selecting a server vendor?
We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.
Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.