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HP x86 servers beat out Dell, IBM on customer satisfaction

End users rank HP top x86 server vendor, beating out IBM and Dell in a Q1 2007 customer satisfaction poll.

End users ranked Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (HP) Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) x86 portfolio No....

1 in Technology Business Research Inc.'s (TBR) Q1 2007 report, "Corporate IT Buying Behavior and Customer Satisfaction Study for x86-Based Servers."

For 10 years now, TBR's quarterly studies have provided detailed analyses of medium and large corporate end users with regard to their x86-based server brands. The poll results are used to rank each vendor as either strong, weak or neutral in categories like on-time reliable delivery, hardware quality/reliability, phone support, server management features and overall value.

Blade servers, value among HP's strengths

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HP's current rank above competitors IBM and Dell Inc. is based on strengths in hardware reliability, server management and overall value.

"HP has consistently had a competitive strength with hardware reliability. The most interesting thing is for the first time their overall value was ranked as a strength for them," said Julie Perron, manager of primary research at TBR.

HP's innovations in the blade market, virtualization, and power and cooling technologies may have contributed to the step up out of IBM's shadow into first place in this poll, according to Paul Miller, vice president of marketing for the HP Blade System.

Blades represent 45% of the TBR study population and of users who don't have blades, 34% said they plan to adopt the servers over the next 12 months.

In past TBR polls, HP's service support lagged compared to the competition, as did it delivery time satisfaction ratings, Miller said.

"In years past we weren't perceived as the fastest company to ship hardware, and we used that information to guide our investments, so now, our turnaround times for delivery are among the fastest in the market," Miller said.

IBM and Dell: Sharing second place

IBM's satisfaction ratings began to decline in Q4 2006 and dropped in rank to No. 2 alongside Dell this quarter. IBM's weighted satisfaction index dropped by 2.6% -- a considerable amount, according to TBR -- driven by declining overall satisfaction, delivery time and onsite support ratings from users.

IBM's results have varied each quarter, while HP's have been fairly steady, according to TBR's Perron.

The exception to end users dissatisfaction with IBM was phone support, where satisfaction levels remained strong.

IBM representatives were contacted, but were unable to comment on the poll results at the time of this article.

Dell's weighted satisfaction index has advanced at a modest 0.6% pace, TBR reported. Dell's improvement was driven by better satisfaction levels for onsite support and server management -- two of the three areas responsible for Dell's drop from the top spot back in Q3 2005.

The report shows Dell still needs to focus on improving its phone support, onsite support and server management.

Dell has taken steps to address these problems recently. The company is investing an incremental $150 million this year on its "customer experience" initiatives and is seeing signs of improvement, according to Dell.

"Dell has been in business for 23 years, and there are lessons learned every day. We have gotten really good at making sure the equipment meets expectations," said Daniel Bounds, a senior product manager for Dell.

In the past year, the company increased the number of customer service agents to decrease the average hold times for U.S. customers from nine minutes to three minutes.

HP's x86 server title hinges on value, innovations

In the meantime, HP has to protect and grow its small competitive advantage, according to TBR.

Miller said HP uses TBR's quarterly reports to gauge user satisfaction and will work to hold onto its lead by continuing to innovate.

Products like blades, virtualization, and power and cooling technologies are areas that users want cost-saving innovations from HP, and the company will continue to invest there, Miller said.

Keeping acquisition costs and the total cost of ownership of HP products down is another area where the company tries to stay competitive, Miller said.

"Dell has always been perceived as the price point leader, but we are always competitive if not lower," HP's Miller added.

HP plans to improve its management software offerings, as well.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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