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Fri 1 Sep 2006 04:00 AM

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Help is at hand

If your business doesn't have its own dedicated IT staff, how can you keep your systems running at optimum levels? Should you rely on their respective warranties, purchase warranty extensions, or buy-in support from a third-party? Windows Middle East explores your options…

|~|Help-is-at-hand---m.jpg|~|Salim Ziade, commercial and consumer category manager of the personal systems group at HP Middle East, says all the firm's products come with built-in warranties, ranging from one to three years.|~|The factor most likely to influence your business’s approach is simple and that’s the make-up of the hardware you currently own.

Let’s say your firm is relatively new and when setting it up you bought in desktops, servers and so on from just one or two hardware vendors. In this case your products might, depending on when you bought them, probably still be under warranty, which in turn means that for you, extended support in the form of warranty extensions is one way of putting your mind at ease.

If however, as is the case with a great many SMBs, your IT inventory reveals all manner of printers, desktops, laptops and servers from different brand vendors and local providers (maybe some still under warranty and some not), then it’s possible that extending the warranties of the products you do have will run up quite a bill, whilst leaving older, out-of-warranty products still unsupported. Far from ideal.

As far as the former vendor support route is concerned, we spoke to two of the region’s key suppliers, Dell and HP.

Dell Middle East offers three distinct levels of product support. “We start with our default region-wide warranty, which is ‘return to distributor’, because some firms don’t want somebody to come to their site,” explains Dell Middle East’s regional services manager, Ben Boutalib. “Our second option is ‘Pick up and return’ - through which a support partner comes to your office, picks up the problem unit, fixes or replaces it, then returns it. Our third option, ‘next business day’ support, means that our support partner (a Dell distributor) will send an engineer over to you the very next business day. If it’s we call a ‘critical’ business, which means they need their systems to be constantly up and running, then four- or even two-hour engineer response times can be tied into this.”

In terms of costing Dell’s extended warranty support and on-site services, Boutalib says these costs are largely determined by the support partner, a.k.a. the Dell distributor, in question. “With anything over and above a product's standard warranty, it’s down to the discretion of the partner to offer that service at the price they set. Some of them offer these services for free, but some charge 20 dollars for instance, per product (servers might be more, expensive say $100), per year.”

If your business runs significant amounts of Dell kit then, talking to your relevant distributor will help you to work out the best support level for you and calculate its likely cost. With these figures, you can then assess how they might compare to third-party support, which will also cover any non-Dell kit you might have.

Salim Ziade, commercial and consumer category manager of the personal systems group at HP Middle East, explains his firm’s warranty approach at the SMB level. “All our products come with built-in warranties, of course. These differ from product to product,” he says. "The basic SMB products come with one-year warranties. Some of them have ‘return to base’ support, but others come with one-year of on-site support. We have up to three years of on-site support for some other products; those that are more designed for intensive use or application critical hardware.

“From there on, we have on all our HP PSG products such as notebooks and PCs, a full range of warranty upgrades. We call these ‘care packs’, which offer up to five years of warranty support. This type of five-year, on-site, next business day support is available on all our products. On some products that are really critical, such as high-end servers and storage products, we even have guaranteed 24/7, four-hour response time support.”

As with Dell, HP’s range of support offerings is implemented by its channel partners (in particular, the 35 that are in HP’s ‘Preferred Partner’ programme). “Those guys have a real understanding of our portfolio,” Ziade states. “They sit with the customer, understanding his needs, and then tailor the offering they give based on the extent of their needs. It can be really a la carte.” As far as which HP products come, as standard, with different length warranties, Ziade gives a couple of PSG examples. “In terms of notebooks and desktops, everything that’s ‘VX’ or ‘NX’ branded (in other words, our SMB lines), generally comes with one-year warranties, while our ‘NC’ and ‘DC’ ranges, which are more corporate, usually come with standard three-
year warranties.”

Buying more time

Whatever the standard warranty offered with a product, a business owner can pay a HP partner to upgrade these to either three or five years. Ziade also warns Windows readers to be on their guard against the unofficial ‘support providers’ out there. “If someone, without HP’s backing, is going to customers and telling them, “I’ll give you ten years’ warranty very cheap,”we can’t control this, but we don’t recommend it, because we cannot back these up.”

Coverage-wise, Ziade adds: “Our PSG warranties, at least on notebooks and desktops, are international warranties. The standard warranties and the extended warranties (‘care packs’) cover you for next-day repair, anywhere in the world, whether in the UAE or Brazil. We’re there in over 100 countries.” This factor alone is worth considering when buying company kit, particularly if your sales staff sometimes work outside the region.

For businesses with products too varied in brand and/or age to make traditional warranty support or extensions a non-starter, Windows spoke to several companies that provide ongoing IT support. Here then are some useful examples of the type of services on offer.

What’s first notable is that these providers don’t usually offer set, ‘off the shelf’ support products. Instead, the support they offer IT-laden SMBs is tailored to each customer.

Jivara Ramahi, the service centre manager at Alpha Data in Abu Dhabi, explains, “Typically our packages can be divided into hardware, software, printers and engineer support. We also offer consultancy services and prevention maintenance services; in fact most of our customers utilise these to ensure that wear and tear or software related problems are avoided in advance.”

Nauman Mehboob, the corporate sales manager at CompuMe LLC, details his firm’s approach: “We don’t offer any ‘off-the-shelf’ support packages, other than our accidental damage and extended warranties. For our SMBs we have tailor-made packages; annual maintenance contracts (AMCs), installation plans, consultancy (whereby if they want to implement a specific solution we figure out their requirements, make a proposal, and carry it out).”

Our third example comes courtesy of Delta Business Products, which distributes IT products across the Gulf and offers similarly tailored support. The business development manager of its IT solutions division, Suryanarayana Ramanathan, explains: “We offer AMCs, plus we also offer ad-hoc maintenace contract services that cover PCs, servers, laptops and printers. We also cover the installation and configuration of software. We simply produce a separate support package for each company.”

In the case of Delta, the package and therefore the cost of support offered is dependant on the customer’s number of systems, whether they want the package to include or exclude parts, the response time they need from Delta’s engineers, and to a degree how IT literate their users are. “We’ve traveled all the way to a client before just to find out that they’ve not turned on their monitor!” Ramanathan says.

Considering cables

CompuMe LLC’s approach is similar , although the age of a customer’s network is also considered. “Our AMC pricing is determined by the response time required (the time in which our engineer will be on-site that is, a fix is never guaranteed),” explains Mehboob, “the number of users, plus the age of the business’s systems. If they’re older, then we go a little higher. The value of the network however is the major point here. For AMCs, if a network is brand new, this should be around 12% of the hardware’s total value, per year. If it’s older, nearer to 15%.”

Mehboob’s colleague, CompuMe’s technical and corporate manager, Vojislav ‘Voyo’ Ivos, gives an example. “If we take the example of a 20-user new business, with a new LAN, which requires a 24-hour response-time, you would be looking at a figure starting from around US $2950 per year, paid up-front and based upon roughly four calls per month, or for a four-hour response time around 50% more than this; around $4090 each month.”

Alpha Data’s Ramahi says clients pay just once a quarter, whether they are large or small. “For companies with over ten and up to 100 employees, our support cost is calculated by charging a percentage of the value of each of the business’s machines. If for instance a company is running a brand new Dell machine, bought this year, then we’ll take a percentage of its value and charge that, which will cover the hardware, our engineer, spare parts, its transport to our base and so on.”

Delta Business Product’s approach is again similar. “It depends on the number of systems,” explains Suria. “For example, if you have 25 systems, then typically an AMC will be calculated on 10-15% of their value. If you have just ten computers however, it will be just a one-sum charge, maybe 10,000 UAE dirhams (US $3367) a month. It’s firms that have about 15 systems that tend to start thinking of going for AMCs rather than ad-hoc support.”

Windows recommends

• If most of your firm’s kit is from a big name vendor and is still currently under warranty, your best approach, money-wise and support-wise, is probably to extend the warranties on these products. This will ensure you get ongoing support from a company that is qualified in, and experienced at, supporting those particular products.

• Even if just half your firm’s kit is from one vendor, and the rest a mix of older products, consider the possibility of buying warranty extensions on the vendor-supplied models and then as you retire the older products from other suppliers, buying in replacements from this same vendor.

• If most or all of your solutions are out of warranty and you don’t plan to buy new replacements anytime soon, the more comprehensive the support you can afford, the better. In this case, sitting down to discuss your needs with third-party providers such as those mentioned here is key. They mightn’t be specialists with all of the product brands you have on-site, but the likelihood is they will have dealt with some of them and, in truth, many of the problems likely to occur won’t be brand-specific niggles.

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