Through my years working as an IT manager for several different organizations, I have learned that there is a lot more to choosing a server vendor than simply opting for the one who can offer the lowest price on server hardware and software -- there has always been quite a bit of work that goes into picking a vendor. Every organization has its own unique needs that are likely to change as time goes on, and unless a vendor can adapt, it's time to find a new one.
The vendor may also exhibit some serious red flags that could indicate it's time for a change:
* The vendor imposes unreasonable price increases
* The vendor is unresponsive to your needs
* The vendor tries to sell you products and services that you don't need
* The vendor uses high-pressure sales tactics
* The vendor fails to support the products that it sells
Of course, deciding whether you should stick with your current vendor or look elsewhere can be difficult. So how do you make the right decision? Let's consider a few real-life examples.
A server vendor raises its prices unjustifiably
Early in my career, I was a network manager for a large insurance company. The company had an annual contract with a local hardware vendor stating that we would buy our hardware and software from that vendor. We also paid an annual fee for unlimited technical support on anything we bought from them. Under the support contract, the vendor was obligated to replace any hardware that went bad over the course of the year.
Each year, the cost of the maintenance contract increased. I remember making a decision to renew the contract, even though the cost of it had nearly doubled from the previous year. When my boss asked me to justify the renewal, I explained to him that the cost increases were justified because our hardware inventory had tripled since the previous contract had been signed. As such, the vendor was on the hook for supporting -- and potentially replacing -- a lot more hardware.
Everyone has to be budget-conscious these days, but it can be a big mistake to switch vendors just because your current vendor's prices increase. Instead, you have to consider the value you are getting for your money. In other words, is there a justifiable reason for the increase? If your vendor keeps hitting you with unreasonable price hikes, then it may be time to look at others.
A server vendor violates your trust
Being a network administrator is a high-pressure job. You are expected to keep all systems running smoothly. Sometimes, it is impossible to live up to your obligations unless you have a hardware vendor who can get you the parts or the support you need -- when you need it. As such, it is absolutely critical that you have a server vendor you can trust.
I once worked for an organization that signed a contract with a hardware vendor stipulating that we would purchase all of our server hardware from them, but in exchange the vendor had to keep duplicate hardware on hand. In the event of a hardware-level server failure, the vendor would be required to deliver the duplicate server to our office within one hour and order another within 24 hours.
Believe it or not, several years actually went by before the organization I worked for had to use any of the vendor's duplicate server hardware. When our crisis occurred, the vendor delivered the duplicate server to us within an hour, as promised. I transplanted the old server's drives into the new one and brought the server online. At first, everything seemed to work well, but then I decided to do a health check. It was then that I had noticed the replacement server didn't have as much memory in it as the server that had failed.
When I confronted the vendor about it, he said that I must have made a mistake when I placed the order for the server. Thankfully, I had the receipts on hand that proved the server had been ordered correctly. After further grilling, the vendor confessed to removing memory from the server to accommodate another customer who needed some memory quickly. He said that he had already ordered the replacement memory, but that it had not arrived yet.
Not only had the vendor failed to deliver adequate hardware to me in a time of crisis, but it tried to blame me for the mistake rather than admitting it had cannibalized the spare server for parts. In other words, the vendor had betrayed my trust in a big way.
Obviously, this is an extreme (but very real) example of an untrustworthy vendor, but I have seen plenty of other situations in which a vendor betrayed an organization's trust. For example, I once had a family member in the IT business who found out that the hardware vendor he was using was providing a competitor with detailed information about his company's IT infrastructure.
In a less extreme example, I had conversations with an colleague who had a support contract with a server hardware vendor. When the organization actually needed support, however, the vendor claimed to be too busy and said that it would help the organization out in a day or two. All of these situations are examples of a betrayal of trust, and I would not hesitate to switch vendors in any of these.
A server vendor makes serious or frequent mistakes
One of the server vendors I used many years ago was a small, family-owned business. I initially started using this vendor because it had the best prices in town and it could get me anything I wanted with only one-to-two days' notice.
At one point, I had thought about switching vendors because this particular vendor tended to make a lot of mistakes on my orders. Often, it would order more machines than I had asked for or the machines would have the wrong amount of memory installed. Most of the orders that I placed with this vendor were delivered correctly, but mistakes happened often enough that I realized early on I needed to carefully check each one when it arrived.
Believe it or not, I did not get rid of this particular vendor. We are all human and everyone makes mistakes (although some people seem to make more mistakes than others). In my mind, it is the way that the mistakes are corrected that really counts. Every time I called the vendor's attention to a mistake, the issue was promptly addressed with no questions asked. The owner of the shop went to great lengths to make sure I was always satisfied by the time I walked out the door. As such, I continued doing business with the vendor for as long as I worked for that organization.
But not all mistakes are handled so quickly and successfully, and many IT administrators simply don't have the time or flexibility to ride roughshod over their server hardware vendors. A vendor that cannot (or will not) own up and fix its mistakes immediately is often costing your organization more money than it saves -- and replacing that vendor may be exactly the right thing to do.
As you can see, it can sometimes be difficult to decide whether or not a situation warrants replacing your hardware vendor. My advice is to overlook honest mistakes -- so long as those mistakes are resolved to your satisfaction. Instead, be on the lookout for signs of incompetence or dishonesty. Using a hardware vendor that has either of those traits can really come back to bite you.
If you do decide to switch vendors, make sure to have another one in place before you break the news to your former vendor. That way, you won't be left without a source for products, parts and support during the transition from one vendor to the next. If the service was already so bad that you've been forced to stop using the vendor, imagine how much worse it will become once the vendor realizes it's losing your business.
What did you think of this feature? Write to SearchDataCenter.com's Matt Stansberry about your data center concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.