There's no easy answer. I've bought a cell phone which topped our reviews,
and then performed so poorly in the long run that I had to trash it. I've bought
a Ford sedan that topped comparisons, but has been plagued by a chronic problem.
I've bought a snazzy BlackBerry Pearl that topped review parameters and
features, but makes a terrible phone-and guzzles battery charge like there's no
tomorrow. And take the king of gadgets: I'm surrounded by owners trashing their
iPods, because of a dying battery or other glitches that are unfixable.
tough for a reviewer to get beyond features and design, and to really get into a
buyer's, or an experienced user's, shoes. The problem becomes more acute with
enterprise-class products, like servers, where the cost of a wrong selection is
multiplied by the numbers and the mission-critical apps. But “more” is relative.
For a small business user, who's spent a hard-earned Rs 1 lakh on a laptop, the
cost of a bad selection is not just troubling, it's personal: it's his own
A reviewer faced with a server to test for a thousand readers can get
overwhelmed by the gigabytes and gigahertz. So can a buyer. We have to do better
than that buyer, and recognize that over a five-year period the server may be
used. Raw performance and cutting-edge specs would bring far less value to the
table than reliability and predictability.
One step we took as part of this
month's server shootout was to work with a user. A public sector organization
approached us for help with its server selection, ahead of a tender. We decided
to adopt the very detailed (but not cutting-edge) specs that this user needed,
to help us keep a focus on reality. So every spec was compared against what was
needed for this (fairly representative) application.
If a test unit is
expandable to 64 GB memory or has 16 hard disk slots, we compare that against
the headroom this user would actually need in the three to five year life,
demanded of the server. And so, top specs do not always get top brownie points.
Instead, fault tolerance, hot-swappability, overall disk performance, etc, get
What we could not do was really test the servers for long-term
reliability. We considered accelerated failure tests, such as heat, humidity and
vibration, in a suitably-equipped lab. We finally skipped those. Partly because
of the time, trouble and cost of these, and the fact that these are potentially
destructive-and we hadn't quite got the vendors to agree to destroying their
precious servers. And partly because enterprise-class rack-mounted servers,
including for this user, tend to be used, in fairly controlled environments.
as a buyer, what you get from our reviews is a report on what's the best product
based on performance tests, features, and price/warranty, tempered with some
real-world experience. You're still stuck with figuring out long-term
reliability and support. For that, most buyers fall back on brand, reputation
Meanwhile, we're still looking for the perfect test. How we do
we factor in things that obviously matter a great deal to buyers? Should we add
softer factors like support and market reputation? (And, then we need to figure
out how to test these, other than long market surveys.) Tell me what you think!