05 February 2011

Stuff Costs Money

Sorry for the late post -- I'm going to try to do this every morning, but I had to catch an early flight to NC for a family occasion. Air travel's put me in a mood, so this is more of a rant than something constructive.

You get what you pay for – at least in the hardware world. If you do not have enough information, it is always difficult to say what you should buy, and how you should compare prices.

The problem is that it is sometimes hard for a customer to understand why there are so many ways to fulfill one single goal, and why the different solutions might have gigantic price differences. If you’re a sales type of guy, it’s important to make sure that you offer the right components, and make sure that the competition does the same.

I need 1 TB of Storage.

Okay, this sounds simple enough. You can now make an offer for a simple 1TB Disk and an USB2 disk case. Totals at about 600 CHF including MWST.

Does this solve the customers problem? Does it help him? Is it what the customer wants?
Maybe. You don’t know.

You can generally leave a better impression if you ask the customer what he needs the storage for, and also think about secondary problems like backups.

I need 1TB of Storage for our ERP-Database running on one of our IBM x3650 servers. We have no idea on how we should back it up, though.

Now you already know a lot more, and know that the 600CHF solution with a single disk won’t even get close to the solution. You still don’t know enough to know everything (i.E. you could get 1TB with RAID10, but also with RAID5). You could also try to upsell to a SAN solution, though it wouldn’t be necessary. What you do have though is the possibility to upsell a backup solution – but there’s a catch here too.

ERP software is usually very important. Can the customer afford the degraded performance associated with an online backup? Or is there a need to use database mirroring and then backup the mirror? Problems like these are usually overlooked when shopping for hardware, and if you react right you have the chance to sell more hardware, sell services, and all this while helping the customer – you’re doing the right thing and making more money.

Real problems
I see this problem mostly with Windows Small Business Server 2003. Yes, you can get a fully working machine including licenses for 3000 CHF, but the question is if that’s what the customer really wants.

SBS is a product that makes many compromises in order to offer a highly competitive pricing, it even works against many Best Practices recommended by Microsoft. That doesn’t mean that SBS is a bad product, just that it’s a mixed bag. Selling two servers is usually impossible for Small Business customers, even though it would be best for Domain Controllers.

An SBS machine usually runs the whole company – it functions as a domain controller, file server, print server, Exchange server, and sometimes even ERP server or Internet gateway (i would recommend to seperate the latter two roles on seperate machines/appliances). If the SBS server is down, none of the information workers can do anything. That’s why you shouldn’t skimp on the SBS hardware. Hardware RAID, dual power supplies, brand components, updates, etc. are all important. Don’t buy whiteboxes or low end servers.

Why? You could buy an IBM System x3250, stick two 500GB disks and 4GB of RAM in it, and you have the same basic attributes – the problem is that such a machine is much slower IO-wise (you run Exchange and a Fileserver on this thing!), and has much worse reliability than better 2U servers like the IBM System x3650.

But if you’re running a bigger environment, go out and buy two x3250 and use them as Domain Controllers (and ONLY Domain Controllers).

There are many companies offering IT services to small businesses. While many of them have competent personnel that knows what they’re doing, sometimes they’re more sales than goal oriented. They will offer the wrong hardware for the job, and you’re the one who has to explain to the customer why your offer is more expensive than the one from your competition.

That’s why it’s important that even a sales rep understands what he’s selling.

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