Re: a little rant about Dell

  • From: Neil Doane <caine@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: technocracy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 27 Jul 2000 00:26:18 -0700

Ack, I'm becoming a VA evangelist...sorry if this is starting to sound like
a VA sales seminar, I'm really just trying to answer directed questions, not
push a specific product. :)

* M.K. Chatterji (chat@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx) on [07-26-00 10:35] did utter:
> Hey Neil,
> Is VA really solidly married only to Intel hardware? 

Yes if you mean 'x86-based' when you say 'Intel'.  No if you mean 'Intel'
when you say it.   All we sell is x86-based products (at this moment
anyway) and while most (again, at this moment) of our high-end systems are 
based on Intel mobos with Intel processors, we're moving rapidly to change 
that, though I can't really comment on specifics.  Basically, the only
remaining part that we're still solidly Intel-centric about still is the 
CPU itself, just about anything else is fair game (and the CPU situation
will likely be changing soon.)  

Alot more thought goes into choosing hardware for a company product than 
for choosing hardware for a few hundred email accounts, and though some 
hardware might seem attractive on the surface, it may have problems with 
manufacturing lead times (we can't get enough of it fast enough to offer 
a full-fledged product for all our customers, for instance), different 
combinations of hardware may effect different Linux software adversely or 
well-supported hardware may not be of a sufficient quality..."economies of 
scale" and all that.  From all I've seen since I started here, VA's mostly 
been concerned about being solidly married to a couple ideas, not 
neccessarily a particular vendor, i.e the highest quality hardware that 
is available quickly enough for our needs, the hardware with the best 
support and development systems that allow us to most rapidly produce new 
products to meet market needs and still maintain the highest standards of 
quality...stuff like that.   Manufacturers with large volumes use Intel for 
a reason, they have their shit wired.  Compared to some manufacturers, their 
products tend to have less infant mortality, their supply systems can produce 
massive pipelines in short amounts of time, etc.  That said, AMD and 
others are rapidly displacing their dominance as the 'chip maker most able 
to make your company money with the least number of headaches'.  Talk to a 
Director of Operations for any company that sells massive numbers of 
AMD-based systmes and you're likely to hear lots of horror stories about 
miscommunication, supply problems, product development support, etc. 
(again, I'm given to understand that AMD is much better these days. :)

> We're now 
> thinking it's time to do Linux on other architectures (following our 
> bad experience with Dell+RedHat). Whereas Dell has nice-looking rack 
> servers and in fact quality-built hardware, our guys are really more 
> used to multi-processor (RISC) Sparc boxes with high performance 
> backplanes, fiber-optic interfaces, and RAID arrays.  They thought 
> that for incidental Unix needs, and because of our on-going 
> relationship with Dell (they make it REALLY easy for institutions to 
> order, blah blah),  that we'd just buy Linux from them along with the 
> NT stuff we buy from them.

Well, VA isn't likely to sell anything other than x86-based hardware in the
near future, until IA-64 gets solidly rolling anyway.  However, we do sell
some higher-speed interconnect stuff (fiber and copper gigabit, Myranet, 
etc.) and of course, lots of hardware RAID implementations.  
> Buying from VA has always been an option--hell we have VA posters all 
> over the place here! But the thinking around here was, well to put it 
> bluntly, what different do you really get -- it's another Intel box, 
> right.  Certainly the open source support philosophy and driver 
> support would be better--and we're learning that the hard way. But 
> does going through the pain of starting a relationship with a new 
> vendor offset that? I don't know.

Well, the value-add for VA isn't for everyone.  I mean, there'd have been
little need for us in the FCRC to buy a VA box, it would have been a waste
actually.  The hardware we got was individually purchased and assembled, so
there was no need to pay VA to figgure out what was the best combination of
hardware or to pick out quality components that worked well together for
us...we did all that.  We had a department on campus that replaced _anything_ 
that was broken (basically a free on-site repair service).  We had ice for
Technical Support if things got really ugly.  We weren't doing anything that
pushed the envelope of the software envolved...we could always find the
answers to most of our questions in listservs or newsgroups.  

Then again, not all people have those services easily at hand or may
need assistance in creating some service or configuation or whatever.  
Some people order such a large quantity of servers, that it makes 
financial sense for them to have us configure custom loads onto their 
machines, for instance, instead of paying someone to crack each box open 
and repartition their machines (or load custom software or whatever) when 
they arrive.   Some people need specific rackspace/hardware requirements and 
need something we sell to specifically meet that need (like our 9008 boxes, 
that put .6-terabytes of Ultra-2 SCA storage in a 2U enclosure, or whatever...
VA custom-designs several of its boxes to meet very specific requirements.)   
Also, sometimes departments/companies want to know that they aren't alone 
with their x86-based hardware, that their vendor isn't abandoning them to 
figgure out their Linux problems because they've modified a line in a text 
file somewhere that nullified their Linux support; people with VA systems 
know that they can call us up and we'll help them, even if it means going 
to the people who write the software they're having problems with and finding 
out the solution to their problem (which, at VA, can often be accomplished 
by simply walking down the hall. ;)   

> Anyway, the Dell+RedHat deal has left a bad taste in our mouths and 

Chalk another one up to the Dell Linux Experience. ;)

> we need to look around. Maybe at Alphas, Sparc, G4, etc.,

I'm assuming that you're still talking about staying with a Linux
implementation as opposed to a Solaris or X/MacOS one...out of 
curiosity (not that going to those architechures is bad if the need is
there), but what do you think you'll gain by going to, say, an Alpha-based 
system?  I mean, are you doing things that are computationally exceeding the 
capacties of a 32-bit system?  ...or do you percieve that the presence of a 
64-bit processor automatically equates to a higher-quality Linux experience?  


       . /._ o /     --personal="caine@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx" 
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