On our most recent Quality Awards user survey of midrange storage arrays -- the fifth such survey -- the finalists performed quite well. And with a historical-high overall score of 7.12 on a scale of 1.00 to 8.00, Compellent took home the title with its Storage Center products. The company claimed the top scores in all five of our rating categories: sales-force competence, initial product quality, product features, product reliability and tech support. But even with such a showing, the company shares a little of the Quality Awards spotlight with the other finalists. All eight finished with overall scores over 6.00 -- the first time that has occurred for midrange arrays.
HP's EVA and P4000 storage arrays had a strong second-place finish, with an overall 6.73 grade, with Hitachi Data Systems close behind at 6.67. The rest of the group was bunched closely behind the top three, with scores ranging from NetApp's 6.59 to Oracle/Sun's 6.38.
Sharper sales teams
On most Quality Awards surveys, the lowest user ratings typically appear in the sales-force competence category, as was the case on the most recent midrange array survey. With tighter budgets and often urgent needs, storage managers expect sales reps and their support teams to be responsive and well-informed. Just a few years ago on our second midrange user survey, the overall average for the sales category was a tepid 5.28, indicating that users' expectations were likely met but rarely exceeded. This time around, the category average is 6.47, suggesting strong -- and probably effective -- efforts by vendors' sales forces.
Compellent picked up its first category win with a 6.81, buoyed by scores of 7.00-plus for the statements "My sales rep keeps my interests foremost" and "The vendor's sales support team is knowledgeable." In all, Compellent came out on top for four of the six category statements. HP didn't lead for any single statement, but lined up ratings running from 6.45 to 6.96 to finish second with a category average of 6.67. Third-place finisher Hitachi (6.59) was high scorer for two of the category statements ("My sales rep is knowledgeable about my industry" and "My sales rep understands my business").
Whether it's in response to the rigors of a down economy or reaction to surveys such as this, vendors appear to be redoubling their sales efforts.
Implementation and initial quality
A positive sales experience is a great way to start a relationship, but it can quickly be derailed if problems arise during deployment of the product. Here, too, in the initial product quality category, our midrange storage array vendors seem to be surpassing expectations as well as their previous performances. Ratings were high across the board in this category, with Compellent posting above-7.00 scores for five of the six statements en route to a 7.21 category average finish. Compellent's only sub-7.00 score was a 6.93 for "This product was installed without any defects." Hitachi's rating of 6.94 for that statement topped Compellent by the slimmest possible margin.
HP nudged out Dell for the second spot in the category (6.88 vs. 6.80), and garnered the only other 7.00-plus score (a 7.06) for the key statement "This product is easy to use." Not too far behind Dell, the rest of the field was packed almost too tightly to see any space among them; a mere 0.05 points separated Oracle (Sun), Hitachi and IBM (tied), NetApp and EMC Corp.
And if perfection is the goal of midrange storage array vendors, they appear to be well on their way, as the average score for all eight products for the statement "This product was installed without any defects" was a glossy 6.81.
Features and functions
A midrange storage system from just a few years ago would hardly be recognizable by today's standards. Responding to user demands, vendors have tricked out midrange storage arrays with the kinds of features and capabilities that you could only once get with enterprise-class storage systems. Improved features -- and more of them -- equate to contented users as evidenced by record high scores in the product features rating category.
Compellent's 7.26 average score easily outdistanced NetApp, which notched a very solid 6.75 giving it a small margin over third-place finisher HP (6.68) which it turned nudged out IBM (6.61) by the same margin. Compellent's Storage Center scored the highest on all seven category statements in the product features category, ranging from a 7.07 ("This product's snapshot features meet my needs") to a 7.36 ("This product's remote replication features meet my needs"). By delivering these "bread-and-butter" features along with its signature Fluid Data automated tiering, Compellent may be raising the bar a bit for all midrange systems vendors.
That's not to suggest that any of the product lines are slackers when it comes to features. The overall average for the category was a 6.64, the highest we've seen and substantially higher than the previous mark of 6.33. The average scores for key midrange array requirements were high for all eight products, such as a 6.79 for "This product's capacity scales to meet my needs," highlighted by Hitachi's 7.11 (the only other 7.00-plus score in the category) and Compellent's 7.31.
Storage you can count on
The true test of a storage array is how well it performs after the showroom shine wears off. Each of the eight vendors' product lines passed the test on this user survey easily, with an across-the-board 6.74 average in the product reliability category; this is not only the highest average ever for that category, but the highest average of any category to date.
Compellent again netted the highest ratings for each of the five category statements, ranging from 7.14 to 7.36 and rolling up to a 7.27 average, its highest category score on the survey. But it wasn't alone in "seven heaven." Second-seeded Hitachi earned three 7.00-plus scores for the statements related to meeting service-level requirements, having very little downtime and needing very few unplanned patches, on the way to an impressive 6.97 category average. Third-place HP joined Compellent and Hitachi in the plus-7.00 club with a 7.03 for the "unplanned patches" statement and finished with an average rating of 6.72, which put it just 0.01 ahead of EMC's score of 6.71.
Continuing support for the product
Past Quality Award user surveys for midrange arrays had scores in the technical support category that hovered around the lows seen in the sales-force competence category. This survey isn't any different, with support getting the second-lowest overall category average. But the twist here is that the score is still fairly high at 6.59, led once again by Compellent (7.02). Hitachi (6.71) racked up its second second-place finish, with HP (6.69) hard on its heels with another strong performance. HP finished second or third in all five ratings categories.
The only statement in the support category that Compellent didn't score top marks on was "Vendor's third-party partners are knowledgeable"; instead, HP and Oracle (Sun) tied for the lead with a score of 6.72. It's a significant mark for those two vendors, as 54% of HP respondents and 37% of Oracle respondents said they purchased their systems from VARs.
Midrange vendors are also delivering on their support promises. One of Compellent's two 7.29 category scores was for "Vendor supplies support as contractually specified," a statement that all vendors scored well on for a group average of 6.79 (high in the category). Well-trained support staffs were also recognized on the survey, with Compellent (7.07), HP (6.87) and Hitachi (6.80) all standing out for the statement "Support personnel are knowledgeable."
Do it again
In addition to the specific statements in each rating category, we asked survey respondents a more subjective question: All things considered, would you buy the product again? Over our five user surveys for midrange storage arrays, the responses have been generally positive and very steady, with an average of 77% to 79% saying "Yes" across all product lines. This time, the "buy again" numbers jumped, reflecting the higher category ratings and, undoubtedly, greater satisfaction with the entire class of midrange storage products.
Overall, 89% of respondents said they would take the plunge again with the same product, led by Compellent's eerily perfect 100%, NetApp and Dell both at 94% and the rest of the field ranging from EMC's 87% to Oracle's (Sun) 83%. Not too shabby when it comes to satisfied customers.
This story was originally published in Storage magazine.