ACER IS JUMPING back into the server market in a big way with the launch of six separate lines of products and a comprehensive support network. This is not just a simple launch, Acer is taking the server market very seriously, intending to mirror their success in laptops and desktops.
Making a server is the easy part of the process, but making a comprehensive line of server products is bigger challenge. Both of these pale in comparison to keeping the customer happy, and supporting mission critical servers with a 4-hour support window everywhere in the US.
There are six product lines ranging from single server to mammoth data center machines. On the low end, things start with the AT tower servers, 1-2S small business machines. From there, there is the AR line of Rack servers, the Gemini AW line of multi-node rack servers, and the AB blade enclosures. To feed it all, there is the AN line of NAS/SAN boxes. Sitting on the very top are the huge AS machines, part of a joint venture with Hitachi.
The initial lineup
On top of this, there is a huge catalog of spare parts, upgrades, VAR options, and support offerings. Both Intel and AMD CPUs will be offered at launch, as will LSI RAID cards, Qlogic switches, Infiniband options, and a whole lot more. Far more important is a promise that Acer will price these add-ons to the market, not with HP’s levels of abusive locked-in margins.
If a drive has a $200 MSRP, Acer will price it around that, not the bloated multiple of that that others do. $500 80GB SATA drives are out of the question here, but all parts will still be compatibility checked and tested like the other vendors. Add to that a policy of making common spares across lines, and you have the potential for lifetime costs to be far lower than the ‘big boys’ in the server realm.
With a line up like this, Acer wants to compete for just about any server bid out there, or at least they want their VARs to do it. The entire Acer server line will be sold through the channel, nothing direct. During a chat with Acer spokespeople, the company was adamant about keeping dealers in the loop, not cutting them out like the direct sellers do. Having seen how HP undercuts their channel ‘partners’, Acer’s stance will probably be very popular in the channel.
Having a huge channel presence is a good thing, a large reseller network is essential for the more critical parts of the server business, service and support. Allowing your VARs and dealers to support the user is equally essential to keeping your VARs in business and the customers happy. Acer is planning on letting the VAR do the work when they want, and backing them up when they don’t want to, or simply can’t.
Acer isn’t the first name that pops in to you head when you think of high end business products, they have a reputation of being ‘Best Buy specials’ at very competitive prices. While this may be good for people wanting to buy a cheap first laptop, it tends to scare enterprise customers away. To calm those nerves, Acer has set up a new call call center and support organization in central Texas.
This center is dedicated to supporting server customers and VARs in all the ways the other vendors do. It provides support, solution design, training, testing and other services not needed to sell consumer products. Acer claims they have people to help with Microsoft, Linux, Citrix, and VMWare, provide solutions where VARs can’t or won’t, and generally ensure everything works out. That should cover enough software bases to keep most people happy, anything not on Acer’s list will likely have their own VAR support anyway.
The new 24/7 call center is located near the Acer hardware support center, something the company deems critical. If there is a problem, the two sides can get together and figure it out rather than hash out minutia across time zones and continents. For the really high end enterprise user, the Hitachi Data Systems partnership should be a known and ‘safe’ quantity.
The new server division is run by industry veterans, and knowing at least one of them, there should be almost no learning curve here. These guys have been there and done that. Manufacturing for this line is US based, so once again, any problems can be dealt with quickly. Acer seem to have launched this server line with all pieces in place and ready to go.
One of the last components that every server line needs is tools, both installation and management. Acer offers three tools here, Smart Setup, Smart Console and Smart Server Manager. Smart Setup is going to be familiar to anyone who has done server setup in the past, a GUI based ‘wizard’ to walk you through doing the basics, drive configuration, partitioning, IPs, and preliminary OS tweaking, then replicate it. This kind of setup and automation is mandatory for any real server, and Acer has it covered.
Smart Console is also a must have, basically an integrated KVM over IP. You can remotely mount media, CD or USB, and you don’t need an OS on the system for it to function. It works in band or out of band, your choice as long as the hardware has the appropriate ports. Remote bare metal boot and installs are a must have for this market. Having this as a built-in feature will ease the burden on both VARs and the support center staff.
Last up is Smart Server Manager, basically a console for the data center. It uses IPMI and SNMP, both open standards, to control up to 250 machines per instance. Most companies with that many machines will probably have a comprehensive management solution in place already, but if you want to play in the enterprise game, you have to offer tools like this.
Getting back to the hardware, the first question is always cost. The cheapest AT server starts at $721.11, and goes all the way to $10,499 for the entry level AN box, with everything else falling between. These are of course starting prices, as with all computers, you can option them up until you run out of budget. The top end Acer/Hitachi boxes did not have a price specified, the details of those products will be fleshed out later.
Acer looks to have done what they said, launched a comprehensive server line with the requisite accessories, tools, and support in place from the start. This is all said with the usual caveat of, “Lets see how it actually works in the field”, and the only test there is time. If you think getting a spare part for an obscure server is tough in a big city, try getting one in Porcupine, South Dakota at 2am on a Thursday during a blizzard. In four hours or less. If Acer can pull this off, keep their VARs busy and profitable, customers happy, and prices down, they will probably take a large chunk of the server market. So far, it looks like they are doing everything right.S|A