I’ve been tasked with the job of finding a new server for a client, normally I love this kind of job but today its really not going particularly well.
The problem? I know what the client wants/needs but explaining that to the companies with the servers is rather difficult. Either I have to sit on the phone with a sales droid who doesn’t know what they’re talking about or I have to go play with a website which doesn’t work the way I think it should or the worst, go through thousands of spreadsheets trying to puzzle out what goes with what.
So far Dell has the best website I know of for configuring servers, but it still doesn’t do it right because it makes you make decisions up front that if you’re “just shopping” you can’t really make upfront. Obviously this all depends on the way you will be doing your shopping, but let me go through the way I would like these stores to work.
My client is looking for a new server to run there SQL and act as there Syspro Application Server for about 30 users, it also acts as a terminal server for 3 of those 30 people and runs a complex web application for managing picking, shipping etc. The reason for looking for a new server is increase the speed of the current applications and allow for future expansion and improve the reliability as the old server is over 4 years old and starting to give trouble.
So I want to go to a website and tick off a few basic things upfront like this:
[? ] Rack Mount
[x] Hot swap power supplies
[x] Hot swap drive cage
[? ] AMD Processor
[x] Intel Processor
[?] 64bit Processor
 Number of Processors
 Maximum number of drives
gb Minimum amount of RAM
[x] 4hour on site
[? ] Next business day
[? ] Drop off and collect
[? ] Whenever we feel like it
You’ll note that options should be Yes, No and Maybe (?) so that if you’re unsure if you want a 64bit processor you can say “maybe” and it’ll include both 32bit and 64bit.
Then you click a button and start configuring your actual machine with details like what type of processor you want, Xeon/Core2 Duo/Quad Core etc. and on the page where we actually get to play with the real configuration is where they put the pricing so that you can choose between the 3Ghz or the 2.9ghz processor on price. Perhaps after selecting the above it could give you 3 options, “entry level/mid range/enterprise” or something like that to further decrease the number of options.
You should put the most important questions first, and in the case of a server things like processor manufacturer, number of processors, number of drives and whether its rack mountable are important. I don’t care as much if its a 2.9ghz or 3.0ghz processor as much as I care that it has hot swap power supplies.
I love the idea of having this on a website rather than reading through spreadsheets or speaking to a person because I want to “play” with the configuration. I want to do things like “How much will it cost if I choose 6 drives in stead of 2?” so that when I take my final quote to the client I can say that you’re getting the best value for your money.
I’m often doing a quote with a budget in mind for example it would be something like “How much server can we get for R 30 000 and it should have the maximum amount of hard-drive space and fast drive speed rather than processing speed.”
I admit that this isn’t the easiest kind of site to develop, but it is possible and if you get it right you’ll get me at least as a customer. By the way if any company would like something like this, you can always get in touch with me… I’ll have a go at writing it for you 🙂