Branded Hardware Platforms are NOT Created Equal

Resellers and their customers increasingly expect that the software they use for specific applications such as video surveillance and CAT Scans is delivered to them in the form of appliances for faster, turnkey deployments. But just because the software is bundled with hardware in the form of an appliance does not mean all solutions are the same, even those delivering branded appliance solutions. In this second of a 3-part series, independent consultant to Bell Micro, Tom Baylark, discusses why some standardized hardware platforms are better solutions than a heterogeneous, white box solution and how branded solutions differ.

DCIG: What benefits does a standardized hardware platform offer over a heterogeneous hardware platform for an independent software vendor (ISV)?

Tom: I have to put an asterisk by this statement because all branded hardware is not alike. One of the challenges that OEM manufacturers like Bell Micro have historically had with vendors who were very price competitive and price-focused and have had a price advantage, such as Dell, in the OEM space is that they may not maintain a consistent platform.
 
As an ISV you may tune your application to run on a specific piece of hardware with specific components. However, at a later date during a support call, your support staff may need to go inside of the server and change out the network card with a new network card. Performing that task may blow up the appliance because the application was tuned to run on that appliance with that older network adapter. The consistency in the ruggedness and the enterprise features, even in the branded environments, are not necessarily always there.
 
When it comes to selecting hardware vendors, I put them into two piles. There is the custom-build, white box type of environment. The ISV wants to do some really radical customization on the box. In these circumstances, the ISV doesn’t want to allow any changes on the box and wants to see a roadmap for the next five years on this box.

From a customer and reseller perspective, they do not know what version of hardware is running on Linux is running their DVR nor do they care – they just want their DVR to work. From an ISV perspective, they want the underlying technology in the DVR below market price and I want the technology as soon as it comes out. The ISV will do their own support and engineering of this product.

Then there is the branded version. Using a branded version, ISVs can leverage the high-end engineering that will go into a brand-name server as well as the global services provision that the server provider can deliver on the ISV’s behalf. Further, if an ISV is going to sell into a DOD or HIPAA environment where folks are shooting for compliance, they may be able to leverage the certification that global vendors like HP have already obtained as part of delivering their appliance-based solutions to the market. Putting the ISV’s software on these servers automatically leverages that existing certification.

The reasons to use a branded solutions therefore are three-fold: (1) Acceptance into the data center; (2) The ability to leverage the brand with customers; and, (3) Faster time to market since the product is already developed so all the ISV needs to do is just put its software stack on it so resellers and customers can deploy it more simply.

But as I said earlier, ISVs who are looking at branded solutions need to be aware that within branded solutions there are differences between vendors and choosing the right partner or partners is essential to success.

DCIG: One of the things that Bell Micro talks about is its unique ability to take a branded piece of equipment like the HP ProLiant server and enable customization of that with third party components like video or sound cards or other components that are better suited for the OEM product. How is this helpful to ISVs?

Tom: Bell Micro talks about the value of the product but creating the product is the easy part of bringing the appliance to market. But those ISVs who have never brought an appliance to market before probably do not understand this and this is one of the big issues. ISVs are more accustomed to burning CDs and making labels as their approach to bringing their solution to market is to verify that the manual that accompanies the CD is correct.

Bell Micro takes them from that approach to actually managing the inventory and design to introducing new products and testing and certifying them. The ISV finds out that the solution is the easy part. According to research, the cost of doing this is a very small slice of the overall pie. Selecting a partner to help you through these things is essential. Bell Micro is steeped in experience that is difficult to buy but it helps the ISV through the entire life cycle of bringing their appliance-based solution to market.

DCIG: Do ISVs think this is too hard so they push back?

Tom: You do need to be honest and say here is the tough part about this. ISVs don’t want to add this complexity. All ISVs need to add is someone who can assume the responsibility with maintaining the relationship with the right sort of partner. There are partners out there who can help ISVs with everything they need to do so they don’t need to incur the costs of manpower, experience, infrastructure, and making mistakes since this is the first time they are doing it.

In part 1 of this 3-part series, DCIG met with Tom to discuss why ISVs should consider offering their software on an appliance and how appliances can improve their relationship with the channel.

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