Server vendors may use a lot of the same components when it comes to enterprise servers, but customers have a definite preference for certain system brands. A just-released "Vendor Faceoff" study of enterprise buyers by Gabriel Consulting Group (GCG) shows IBM and HP in a two-horse race for the top spot with Sun and Dell picking up the third and fourth spot respectively in most of the study's results.
IBM held a narrow lead over HP in server technology while HP was the most preferred vendor in the customer ratings for product quality and customer support.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the strong third place showing by Sun Microsystems, a relative newcomer to x86 servers. "We continue to be impressed by just how many customers have Sun x86 gear in their datacenters ... 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 company said in its report.
"I was surprised as hell," Dan Olds, principal of GCG, told InternetNews.com. "The big thing it tells you is that real customers see plenty of differentiation in these boxes, even if the vendors are using the same chips, Ethernet cards and other components."
Olds said he factors in when companies have standardized or have a preferred vendor. So, for example, IBM's rating takes a hit if an IBM shop, with systems from multiple vendors, notes a preference for Sun.
GCG's semiannual Server Vendor Preference Survey polls real world customers, including IT managers architects and administrators, about their perceptions of vendors, the servers they offer and specific issues like power and cooling, floor space concerns, virtualization and future purchasing plans.
The server market only grew by six percent in 2006, according to GCG which said all the vendors are in a dogfight to keep and attain customers who can readily compare competitive offerings. In the GCG survey of 297 enterprise customers, 83 percent said they currently use servers from three or more vendors and almost a third run systems from five or more vendors.
In the overall results, HP or IBM either won or tied for first in almost every technical and customer support category. Fifty-five of respondents said that their server purchases are heavily influenced by power and floor space concerns, while 65 percent said these considerations will become much more important in the future.