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Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

My Friend Needs a Product From VCE

Disclosure: I work for VCE so make of it what you will.

I had lunch this weekend with a friend of mine that manages the server infrastructure for a local government entity.  During the usual banter regarding business, he mentioned that a recent storage project (1+yr and still going) had suffered a series of setbacks due to outages, product compatibility issues, and other minor odds & ends.

The entity he worked at released an RFP that detailed quite a bit of what they were looking to accomplish, which in retrospect may have to been too ambitious given the budget available.  After going through all the proposals, the list was narrowed down to two.  On paper, both were excellent.  All vendors were either Tier1 or Tier2 (defined by sales).  Both proposals were heavily vetted with on-site visits to existing customers, reference phone calls, etc.  Both proposals consisted of a storage back-end with copious amounts of software for replication, snapshotting, provisioning, heterogeneous storage virtualization, and more.

While each component vendor of the winning proposal was highly respected, the two together did not have a large installed base that mimicked the proposed configuration (combo of hardware & software).  In hindsight, this should have been a big RED flag.  What looked good on paper did not pan out in reality.

Procurement went smoothly and the equipment arrived on time.   Installation went smoothly.  It was during integration with the existing environment that things started to break down.   The heterogeneous virtualization layer wasn’t quite as transparent as listed on paper.  Turns out all the servers needed to have the storage unpresented and presented back.  (Hmmm…first outage, albeit not a crash.)

Then servers starting having BSODs.  A review by the vendors determined that new HBAs were needed.  This was quite the surprise to my friend since the he provided all the tech info on the server & storage environment as part of the proposal and was told that all existing equipment was compatible with the proposal.  (2nd, 3rd, 4th+ outages…crashes this time).

So HBAs were updated, drivers installed, and hopefully goodness would ensue. (planned outages galore).

Unfortunately, goodness would not last.  Performance issues, random outages, and more.  This is where it started to get nasty and the finger pointing began.  My friend runs servers from Cisco (UCS) and HP.  The storage software vendor started pointing at the server vendors.  Then problems were attributed to both VMware and Microsoft. (more unplanned outages).

Then the two component vendors started pointing fingers at each other.  Talk about partnership breakdown.

So what is my friend’s shop doing?  They are buying some EMC and NetApp storage for their Tier 1 apps.  Tier 2 and Tier 3 apps will remain on the problematic storage.  They are also scaling back their ambitious goals since they can’t afford all the bells & whistles from either vendor.  The reason they didn’t purchase EMC or NetApp in the first place was due to fiscal constraints.  Those constraints still exist.

As I listened to the details, I realized that he really needed one of the Vblock ™ Infrastructure Platforms from VCE.

First, his shop already has the constituent products that make up the majority of a Vblock – Cisco UCS, EMC Storage (small amount), and vSphere. This makes transitioning to a Vblock ™ easier since less training is needed and a comfort level already exists for those products.

Second, the hardware and software components in the winning proposal were not widely deployed in the proposed configuration.  At the time my friend’s shop put out the RFP, there were more Vblocks in production use in the United States than there were of the winning proposal’s configuration world-wide.

Third, at VCE, all the hardware/software components in a Vblock ™ are thoroughly tested together.  It’s VCE’s job to find any problems so a customer doesn’t.  People think that if you take three items listed on an HCL somewhere and put them together, then everything will work fine.  It just isn’t true.   In fact, a number of patches put out by the parent companies are the result of testing by VCE’s engineering and quality assurance teams.

And finally, probably the biggest reason why my friend needs a product from VCE is to get rid of all the finger pointing.  When VCE sells a product, every component is supported by VCE.  There is no saying “It’s not our problem, call the server vendor”, or “call the storage vendor”, or “call the software vendor”.  I’m not saying that all vendors finger point. Also, your mileage with a set of particular vendors will vary, but if you are CIO/Manager/whatever, you have to admit that “one call, that’s all” is quite compelling.  You can either have your staff spend time managing vendors or you can have your staff spend time moving your business forward.

I’ve put the bug in the ear of my friend about going Vblock in the future.  It won’t happen any time soon since his procurement cycle isn’t conducive to purchasing all his infrastructure components in one fiscal year.  It usually takes five years to get through all three major components.  But who knows?  Maybe his recent experiences will accelerate the cycle.

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My Thoughts on Our Cisco UCS Sales Experience

August 31, 2010 2 comments

This is a topic that when I think about it, I jump around in my head from subtopic to subtopic.  To make things easier on myself, I am going to write a bunch of disjointed paragraphs and tie them together in the end.

Disjoint #1

I’ve never worked on Cisco gear in the past.  Everywhere I worked where I had access to network/server equipment, Cisco was not a technology provider.  I don’t know why, other than I’ve heard Cisco had the priciest gear on the market.  I’ve also heard/read that while Cisco is #1 in the networking gear market, their products are not necessarily #1 in performance, capacity, etc.  Throw in the perception of the 800lb gorilla and you get a lot of negative commentary out there.

Disjoint #2

When I was 19, I started my career in the technology field as a bench tech for a local consumer electronics store.  The owner (Ralph) was a man wise beyond his years. He saw something in me and decided to take me under his wing, but because I was 19, I did not understand/appreciate the opportunity that he was bestowing upon me.

While I learned some of the various technical aspects of running a small business, I did not do so well on the human side of it.  I was a brash, cocky 19yr old who thought he could take over the world.  However, there is one thing Ralph said that I remember very well and that is, “If no one has any problems, how will they ever find out what wonderful customer service we have”.

It’s not that he wanted people to have problems with the equipment they purchased.  He knew that by selling thousands of answering machines, telephones, T.Vs, computer, etc there would be some issues at some point and he felt that he  should do his best to make amends for it.

Ralph truly believed in customer service and would go out of his way to ensure that all customers left feeling like they had been taken care of extremely well.  If there was poster child for exemplary customer service, it would be Ralph.

Disjoint #3

A number of vendors with broad product lines have somehow decided that the SMB market does not need robust, highly available (maybe even fault tolerant) equipment.  Somehow, company size and revenue have become equated with technical needs.  Perceptions of affordability have also played into this, meaning, if you can’t afford it, then you don’t need it.

Why do I bring this up?  Way back in one of my earlier posts, I mentioned that we had a major piece of equipment fail and received poor customer service from the vendor.  The vendor sales rep kept saying that we bought the wrong equipment.  We didn’t buy the wrong equipment, we bought what we could afford.   In hindsight it wasn’t the equipment that failed us, but the company behind it.

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Tieing all this together…

When we first started looking at UCS, some folks here had trepidations about doing business with Cisco.  There were preconceived notions of pricing and support.  Cisco was also perceived to have a reputation of abandoning a market where they could not be number one in sales.

I must also admit that there are technical zealots in my organization that only believe in technical specifications.  These folks try to avoid products that don’t “read” the best on paper or have the best results in every performance test.

However, my team diligently worked to overcome these objections one by one and we couldn’t have done it without the exceptional Cisco sales team assigned to us.

In the early part of the sales process, we pretty much only dealt with the Product Sales Specialist (PSS) and her System Engineer (SE).  The rest of the account team entered the picture a month or so later.

These two (PSS and SE) had the patience of Job.   The sales team took copious amounts of time meeting with us to explain how UCS was different from the other blade systems out there and how it could fit into our environment and enable us to achieve our strategic goals.  All questions were answered thoroughly in a timely manner.  Not once did I ever get the feeling that they (Cisco) felt they were wasting their time.

When the infamous HP-sponsored Tolly report (and other competing vendor FUD) came out, Cisco sales took the time to allay our concerns.   As we read and talked about other competing products, not once did they engage in any negative marketing.  Cisco took the high road and stuck to it.

We had phone calls with multiple reference accounts.  We had phone calls with product managers.  We had phone calls with the Unified Computing business unit leaders.   We had phone calls with…you get the idea.  Cisco put in a great amount of effort show us their commitment to be in the server business.

On top of all this, there was no overt pressure to close the sale.  Yes, the sales team asked if they could have the sale.  That’s what they are supposed to do.  But they didn’t act like car salesman by offering a limited duration, once in a lifetime deal.   Instead, they offered a competitive price with no strings attached. (Disjoint #1)

Needless to say, we bought into UCS and have transitioned to the post sales team.  This means we now interact more with our overall account rep and a generic SE rather than the PSS and her SE.  I call our new SE generic because he is not tied to a particular product but represents the entire Cisco product line.  He’s is quite knowledgeable and very helpful in teaching the ways of navigating Cisco sales and support.

So has everything gone perfectly?  No. We’ve had a few defective parts.  If you have read of my other posts, you know that we have had some integration issues.  We’ve also found a few areas of the management system that could use a bit more polish.  So in light of all this, do I regret going with UCS?  Not at all.  I still think it is the best blade system out there and I truly think the UCS architecture is the right way to go.

But with defective parts, integrations issues, etc…”Why do I still like Cisco?” you ask.  For starters, I don’t expect everything to be perfect.  That’s just life in the IT field.

Second, go re-read Disjoint #2.   Cisco must have hired Ralph at some point in time because their support has been phenomenal.    Not only do the pre and post sales teams check in to see how we are doing, any time we run into an issue they ask what Cisco can do to help.  It’s not that they just ask to see if they can help, they actually follow through if we say “yes”.  They are treating us as if we are their most important customer.

Finally, to tie in Disjoint #3, any time we run into something where other vendors would say we purchased the wrong equipment, Cisco owns the issue and asks how they can improve what we already have purchased.   It’s not about “buy this” or “buy that”.  It’s “How can we make it right?”, “What can we do to improve the product/process/experience?”, and “What could we have done differently?”   These are all questions a quality organization asks themselves and their customers.

I don’t know what else I can write about my Cisco sales experience other than to say that it has become my gold standard.  If other vendors read this post, they now know what standard they have to live up to.

To other UCS customers: What was your sale experience like?

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