“It Had Gremlins”
Overall, Autobase has been happy with Gateway servers. After all, selling your vendor’s servers to customers is a mark of trust. “They’ve been extremely reliable,” Hinsch said. But given the volume of Gateway servers Autobase uses and ships, problems are bound to crop up. Autobase has this contingency covered. In the event of hardware trouble, Gateway support partner IBM Global Services steps in, should an initial consultation between a dealership and Autobase be unable to resolve the problem.
Stanley offered a recent example, involving an internal server malfunctioning, where this support agreement came in handy. “It [the server] had gremlins,” he said. “About six weeks ago, it just wouldn’t boot, period, it wouldn’t even get to the BIOS post screen” he said. IBM Global Services, Gateway’s support partner, replaced a variety of hardware components on the server. “Then it worked. We got Windows 2000 back up and running on it.”
But at press time the gremlins remain. “Now, when we come back from the weekend, it blue screens, and we’ve had to do two reinstalls,” he says. Autobase continues in its pursuit, with IBM Global Services at the ready to help, and, despite the persistency of the problem, one malfunctioning development server in a pool of hundreds isn’t too shabby of a track record.
Despite Autobase’s faith in the cost-effectiveness and quality of Gateway’s servers, room remains for improvement. Autobase’s wish list for Gateway’s product lines mainly centers around manageability. Stanley would like to see Gateway’s servers loaded with more robust management software, along the lines of what IBM and HP offer.
Gateway did add a more robust management suite in fourth-quarter 2003, Gateway Systems Manager 3.0. The suite is currently bundled free with new servers, but, based on Stanley’s response, could probably be more proactively pushed to long-standing customers. Whether it stands up to IBM and HP’s offerings will require time.
Hinsch, in the field, has no complaints. He does cite increasing customer demand for thin clients but believes Gateway (and other vendors, for that matter) will be unlikely to deliver them soon, based on cost pragmatics. “Distributors are moving away from thin clients,” he said, “because at this point you can buy a PC for about the same price you can buy a client and a flat-screen monitor.”
It’s not surprising that a company in the management software business, like Autobase, would request improved manageability from a major server vendor. Gateway faces a tall order of grabbing more market share by loading its servers up with extras, keeping prices down, and all-the-while convincing customers its servers possess mainframe-level quality. Gateway’s track record with customers like Autobase suggests such quality exists and that expanding this type of customer base into a bigger piece of the pie is within its grasp — provided it continues to innovate and redefine commodity servers.