Server Analysis – Sun victory!
We started evaluating server vendors about two weeks ago, and I’m happy to declare a winner. Sun just got my business and I’m excited to see how they stand up to some hardcore scrutiny once they’re in my datacenters.
Everything’s not 100% rosy, though, so in the interests of being transparent and open, let’s take a look at the Pros and Cons of the Sun sales experience, in rough order of importance to me:
- They’ve embraced Linux and open-source.
- They’ve embraced x86-64 hardware.
- Lots of Sun employees use SmugMug. They rallied to make sure we were talking to the right people.
- Their CEO blogs, and he blogs in an open and honest way. Yes, this was a key selling point for me.
- They had a perfect platform for us – the X2200 M2 supports twin Opterons with 16 DIMM slots, making it easy and cheap to get 4GB boxes or 32GB boxes and anything in between.
- Production time is measured in days, not weeks or months.
- Their lights-out management sounds awesome on paper. (For the x64 gear. The T1000 didn’t have great LOM, I’m afraid).
- Their engineering rocks. ZFS is drool-worthy, Thumper is a cool piece of hardware, Sun Spots are innovative, and Black Box is just pimp. I’m a geek, what can I say?
- They’re profitable again.
- They’re pushing hard (with some bumps along the way) to give love to startups.
- They’ve been very attentive to us, including:
- Sending a handful of people, including some fairly heavy hitters, out to our “office” the very next day after my initial post.
- Getting their hands dirty trying to understand exactly what our use cases are.
- Agreeing to benchmark and profile some our unusual use cases internally to gather data.
- Sending quotes over in a nice, useable format (PDF)
- Getting aggressive on pricing despite the fact that we’re a small company.
- Keeping in contact with the status of the whole process regularly.
- After publishing a factual, by-the-numbers review of the T1000 that was less than positive, Sun’s reaction was perfect. They didn’t blow up, deny it, or try to cover it up. Instead, they got us more hardware, invited me to their HQ, and put the right people in the room to understand our use case and the numbers we were seeing. This is ongoing, for the curious, and their response was crucial to today’s decision.
- The reverent terms they use to describe their CEO, Jonathan, and the direction and pace he’s setting. Having your employees on board 100% is huge.
- In a prior life, I knew Jonathan briefly and liked him a lot. My father and he worked very closely together through NeXT. Trivia fact of the day: Jonathan’s old company, Lighthouse Design, wrote a game for the NeXT called Void that I absolutely loved. It was a multiplayer LAN game set in space, and it was a blast. Lighthouse was smart enough, though, to put it in the NeXT Software Catalog in the ‘Network Diagnostic’ section so that people could order copies on their company’s dime. True story. (Oh, and as far as I know, Jonathan doesn’t even know we’re investigating Sun. He didn’t grease the wheels or anything to get us a good deal – we’re not unique).
- The sales process sucks. I don’t mean the sales people – they were great, on-the-ball, and attentive. I’m talking about the internal processes to get approval for things every step of the way. The process would lurch from super-fast “here’s what we need” to super-fast “yes we can get that for you” to molasses-slow “we’re waiting for approval” or “we’re waiting for your Sun ID to come through” and then back to super-fast “let’s fiddle with this detail in the quote” to super-fast “here’s a revised quote”. Large-company-itis got in the way, big time. I needed to have bought this stuff a week earlier, at least, than I actually did. We’re not alone in this particular view.
- Their up-front prices are higher than Rackable’s. I list this merely because it’s worth mentioning. SmugMug is built upon the concept that “you get what you pay for” and I wholeheartedly believe that. Sun got aggressive about pricing for us, and got their prices to be in the same ballpark as Rackable’s, which was great. But they didn’t meet or beat them, so we will end up paying more up-front. TCO remains to be seen, but we hope with higher-quality gear, service, and management, TCO may be lower. Note that I’m just comparing hardware prices here – I’m happy to pay more for better support (2 hour turnaround, for example), but we’re just talking hardware prices here, which you’d think would be similar since the companies all have access to roughly the same components. I’m also not sure how Ning’s math works and ours doesn’t – I guess it’s because he assumed Sun’s servers cost the same as his whitebox servers, which they clearly aren’t for us.
Now, where did the other vendors fall down?
- HP employees use and love SmugMug. They were very helpful making sure we got the right sales contacts.
- Their lights-out management stuff is fantastic.
- Didn’t have a platform that fit our needs (16 DIMM slots, 2 CPU sockets). Dang.
- Passed us off to a VAR. I think in my entire career I’ve only seen Value Added Resellers “add value” once. The other hundred or so VARs I’ve dealt with have just been a complete pain.
- A few of our customers let us know that, theoretically, in some world view, Snapfish competes with SmugMug and is owned by HP. I don’t consider Snapfish to be a competitor in almost any sense of the word, and I’m not sure it’d sway my judgement if it was, but I suppose it could have been a tie-breaker if there had been a tie.
- Easily the fastest on the draw getting quotes to us. One phone call, boom, we had a PDF in our hands. Bonus points for it being PDF.
- Didn’t pay attention to our actual needs. Quoted 16GB (8x2GB) machines and 32GB (8x4GB) machines, rather than the 32GB (16x2GB) machines we actually needed.
- Turned out not to have a platform that does what we needed.
- Lights-out not built-in to their servers.
Nothing really got off the ground here, so I guess they didn’t really want our business. Made a few calls, but didn’t get much useful back. An employee does love SmugMug, but found out sorta late in the game.
- Actually has machines that fit our specs. Turned out to be more rare than anticipated – 2 CPU sockets + 16 DIMM slots isn’t as easy to find as I thought.
- Cheap. In every sense of the word.
- Weeks have gone by with lots of emails and phone calls, and we still have lots of brand-new expensive broken servers. Can you guess why we started looking for someone else in the first place?
- Hardware delivery times are long these days.
- Cheap. In every sense of the word.
So there you have it. I’ll definitely post my thoughts once we’ve had some time to spend with the hardware.