Hardware Today: Gateway Server Snapshot Page 2

By Ben Freeman (Send Email)
Posted Mar 22, 2004


The paucity of Gateway's year-old server offerings may be a blessing in disguise, as it gives them room to grow. You can bet Gateway will pick its battles with its road map. In a marketplace where it's not uncommon for vendors to scramble to be all things to all CIOs, this is encouraging. Gateway has held off on introducing a blade to date, planning one for "the not too far off future," and, while Weinbrandt held fast and emitted nary a specific peep on new products in advance, it seems likely Gateway will leverage its partnerships with IBM and Intel into a low-end blade it can push more confidently than Dell with its PowerEdge 1655MC.

Another area where Gateway has strategized better than Dell is in its processor strategy. Gateway's servers currently lack an Itanium-2 option, another incongruous Dell offering. This is unsurprising based on Gateway's low-end focus, but the move looks to have been a smart one, given Intel's plans to release a 32/64-extended Xeon chip around mid-year. "We don't have a date, but whenever Intel introduces that product, that really solves the short-term issue around 32/64-bit compatibility," said Weinbrandt, who conceded that an Intel 32/64-bit server looked likelier than an Opteron down the road.

But for the moment, a lean server line solves only part of the puzzle. The issue of gaining ground in a fiercely competitive market remains. "It comes down to, why Gateway?" Gordon Haff, senior analyst at Illuminata, told ServerWatch. "Enterprises already have the x86 Tier 1 vendors: Dell, HP, and IBM," he said, adding that "even Sun's now joined the fray." Outgunned by vendors like RackSaver for high performance clusters, and with a blade pending in a market beginning to blossom for blades, Haff believes enterprises will ask, "What does Gateway have to offer that is unique and compelling?"

"Quality is a significant part of our differentiation," Weinbrandt said. For quality assistance, Gateway draws on the experiences of partner Intel, which in turn has drawn on assistance from its partner, IBM. Gateway's 4-way Xeon MP 995 rack server, for example, features error correction and availability features that approximate IBM's "self healing" mainframe technology. "There really is no single point of failure in that box, other than if the motherboard completely bombs," Weinbrandt said, adding that some of these mainframe features are also present in lower-end Xeon DP servers.

Gateway's key differentiator may remain its refreshing simplicity. It has made the server purchasing process akin to that of buying a television set: easy to buy at a retail location near you, and just as easy to return. "What Gateway's trying to leverage its retail locations, which have been a debatable move because of their cost," Haff said, "but they do give Gateway a physical presence that a competitor like Dell lacks." Gateway servers are also relatively OS agnostic. They are certified for SUSE, Windows, and Novell but come in many other flavors under limited support through a custom integration department.

Gateway also claims to be the only vendor offering a 90-day money back guarantee. "No other server vendor has ever done that," Weinbrandt said. "Even in my years at Dell, we would never have taken that approach," he added, "because we were worried about having somebody return a product."

And Gateway's servers may be easier to repair than TVs. Through a partnership with IBM Global Services, it's leveraged Big Blue's worldwide support model to offer four-hour and two-hour response times through its call center in Atlanta. "This is very different than our competition," Weinbrandt said, "most of their call center activity is migrated somewhere overseas."

The support technicians manning Gateway's enterprise support phones are all Tier Three and server certified, "so you're not going to go through that desktop certified individual, who's asking, Is it turned on? Is it plugged in? Is the OS running?," Weinbrandt said.

Last year, Gateway introduced a storage line priced to compete with Dell's. Its aim: to be "disruptive" in the enterprise storage market. Gateway currently offers tape backup devices to direct attached storage as well as a single Windows Storage Server 2003 based NAS offering. Although these options can't rival those from NetApp, EMC, or Snap, they do give retail and dedicated Gateway customers in-vendor storage options for their servers.

The following chart offers an at-a-glance view of Gateway's storage offerings.

Gateway's Storage Offerings

Storage Type
Server
Description
Storage Range
Base Price
Tape Backup Solutions 810 2U DAT72 autoloader, supports up to two 6-cartridge autoloaders Up to 8 DAT72 36/72 GB DAT cartridges $2,199
820
2U LTO autoloader Up to 8 LTO-1 Ultrium 100/200GB Tape Cartridges $5,499
Direct attached storage 840 8 to 12 drive 2U hot swappable Serial ATA RAID 2 TB to 3 TB $3,999
850 SCSI Storage Enclosure 219 GB to 432 GB $2,999
Network-attached storage 860 Celeron (480 GB) or Pentium (1 TB) based NAS server running Windows Storage Server 2003 with hot-swappable Serial ATA 480 GB or 1 TB $3,699

With its enterprise division off to a great start, Gateway is positioning itself to steal some market share from Dell and other commodity vendors -- assuming it can continue its strategy of playing to its strengths while also finding ways to push the envelope of what a small server vendor can do in a big-player-dominated market.

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