When it comes to enterprise IT, supplier numbers are dwindling with vendor consolidation meaning fewer choices with bigger implications. Ask IT professionals to rate their best and their worst, and the results inevitably return to the top 10 vendors.
While the favourite vendors for IT managers across Australia vary from organization to organization, it seems both HP and Dell remain high in the popularity stakes.
As mainstream as the next IT shop, Bland Shire Council IT manager Colin Salske, like many of his peers rated Dell as satisfactory from what he has seen so far.
"We deal with Dell a lot, mainly because of its quality of product and pricing, and the service as well," Salske said.
"Another good vendor we deal with is Praxa, which handles all our licensing and it just seems to be the best for price and service. For instance, we just put in an order for 62 Office 2003s, because we're upgrading, and it came back to us with the best price, really quickly."
As for giving the thumbs down, Salske wouldn't name names but cites a recent bad experience with a desktop provider.
"We purchased desktops ... and had to have them returned and get our money back. This was probably the main reason we moved to Dell," Salske said.
Another IT executive enamored of smaller, keener IT companies over big players is Barwon Water executive manager of strategy and technology Joe Adamski.
While claiming Sun and Cisco were ranked as favourites, Adamski also named GIS vendor Open Spatial as providing genuinely new technology and solutions.
Meanwhile, the West Australian town of Bassendean's council IT manager Peter Barker has also turned his back on big brand name IT vendors.
"I like the smaller vendors; we use NetPlus Micro Computers and Rite IT, they're just small companies I've used since coming here," Barker said.
"When I first arrived I must have sent out quote requests to 40 or 50 vendors, whether they were big or small companies, I gave everyone equal opportunity.
"The big vendors just couldn't deliver what we needed on our shoestring budget, so since then we've never really bothered with them, they were way out of our price range."
So what makes these small vendors so great, apart from cost?
"NetPlus, especially, just offers great support, really, really good, and just offers better deals than everyone else," Barker said.
However, Shellharbour City Council IT manager Michael Leonard is one IT manager happy to point the finger at vendors who he feels under deliver - in this case Telstra.
"The worst I've come across is Telstra. It just lacks a coordinated service approach to its customers," Leonard said.
A Telstra spokesman said while it was hard to give exact answers without specifics, the telco "takes issues of this kind very seriously" and that change is in the wind.
"The new CEO Sol Trujillo has made it very clear Telstra's number-one priority is customer service and customer satisfaction," the spokesman said, and urged the local government manager to make his complaints known to the telco.
However, a health sector IT manager, who demanded anonymity, described Telstra as "terrible".
At law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth CIO Vic Wotherspoon also rated Dell, saying the direct experience is working.
"It helped with supply chain by removing the middle man, it's cheap and reliable, and it always keeps us informed about upcoming products," Wotherspoon said.
Wotherspoon also named smaller, pure-play vendor as standouts, including maintenance services company Interactive Peripherals, saying it excelled at its core competency.
Meanwhile, printers are still proving mission-critical in the satisfaction stakes, with a state education IT manager expressing frustration with one brand and eventually moving to HP.
"We had a level of difficulty...mainly some quality issues, and have now found we have a much higher rate of reliability with HP.
"Dell and HP are our favourites, mainly because most of my work is in IT hardware, and we tend to have standards in this area, and they have met these standards with their quality and their competitive prices," the IT manager said.
At the WorkCover Corporation of South Australia chief information officer Tony Arjona was more than happy with his picks and pans, describing HP and Oracle as "our favourites ... basically because they are the ones we deal with the most".
Arjona nominated licensing experiences with Microsoft as "pretty bad", but added that it was licensing rather than product.
At West Gippsland Health Care, Group IT manager Joseph Oppedisano said HP had remained a consistent performer.
"In the case of HP, we have various hardware and software contracts with them, and in terms of hardware, they've been pretty quick with their response time," Oppedisano said.
nfrastructure future a self server affair
A shakeout in the IT infrastructure market will produce better performance and greater uniformity from suppliers for IT managers watching the cut-throat state of the enterprise server market.
So says Intelligent Business Research Services advisor Chris Morris, who adds that while so-called on-demand server services will remain a marketing focus for most vendors, the reality is that many IT shops will continue to self-manage their servers rather than rent capacity and cycles from the likes of Sun, IBM and HP.
"Budget constrained organizations - that is all organizations - are looking for means to reduce infrastructure costs, not just incrementally but dramatically," he said.
He also tips Windows is likely to surpass Unix market share in 2006, with Linux adding to Unix erosion, adding that only IA-32, Itanium and Power will display "consistent growth".
On the RISC front, Morris says new strategies from HP and Sun will see them duke it out with IBM over Unix platforms, ultimately resulting in roughly equal market share by around 2010.
With this in mind, software vendors aiming at the Unix market will be forced to support all three variants and drop more peripheral players, Morris says.
Meanwhile, the penguin-powered Linux land grab will continue to erode the Unix market as hardware manufacturers make hay from what Morris calls "differentiators" backed by "strong advocacy and strategic initiatives".
As for server vendor wrangling, Morris predicts enterprises will tightly balance the price advantages of dual vendor strategies over the savings of consistency - with self-managed customers becoming more ruthless than ever on price. w - Julian Bajkowski
In this ongoing series where you, the reader, get to rate the vendors, Computerworld will drill down on specific technologies and market segments ranging from storage to security. Next week we publish the results of our reader poll. To participate, send your assessment to Siobhan_McBride@idg.com.au