Third party maintenance is receiving more inquiring looks from IT professionals whose responsibilities extend to data center management and systems administration. Interest has grown so much that the analyst organization Gartner put out their first competitive landscape report on the industry.
But before IT leaders can begin making choices about providers, they need to understand what exactly third party maintenance is and what advantages it offers. In this post, we will define third party maintenance and provide in-depth information to help the IT community navigate this market.
Defining Third Party Maintenance
Diving right in, what is third party maintenance? Simply put, it is hardware support service that is supplied outside the auspices of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). For example, it is support for an HP 3PAR storage array not delivered under an HP Care Pack (now HP Enterprise Support).
Depending on the level of service selected, it can include everything from phone and online technical support to component coverage and replacement, on-site engineering assistance, remote monitoring, operating system support, global multi-vendor support, and even proactive maintenance and cost-management strategies.
Is it a Legitimate OEM Alternative?
Many third party maintenance companies define themselves in contrast with the OEM. And we would discount as true third party maintenance the various types of hybrid support programs the OEMs control—such as using channel partners to provide maintenance service—as they lack both the independence and advantages of the OEM-alternative market.
It is fair to say, however, that many aspects of a third party maintenance contract will be familiar to those who have tapped OEM warranties and extended support agreements for component replacements or other forms of assistance. Many third party maintenance providers aim to substitute that support with a more affordable and many times higher performing option.
So yes, third party maintenance is an excellent alternative to the overpriced and frequently restrictive OEM support contracts—as long as prospective clients do the research and select a top provider.
Clients shouldn’t, however, confine their conceptions of IT hardware support to what the OEMs have traditionally supplied. Some third party maintenance providers go much farther.ParkPlace Technologies, for example, has devoted itself to a highly personalized, full service version of IT maintenance that outperforms the OEMs in terms of cost-savings, uptime, systems performance, and ROI on hardware investments.
What Third Party Maintenance is Not
It’s important to note that third party maintenance is not data center outsourcing. It neither removes an enterprise’s protected information offsite nor brings in outsiders to manage technology resources while the IT department sits by and watches. Although either of those solutions have applications to certain types of organizations, third party maintenance is a way to retain full control over all aspects of the data center, remote offices, test environments, backup facilities, and so on—while bringing in additional IT expertise on your own terms.
The Gartner Perspective
We’re reluctant to allow another organization to define our services for us, but Gartner’s “Competitive Landscape” report (access it here) provides some additional perspective. Gartner makes a distinction between two primary types of third party maintenance provider:
- Traditional TPMs “have had more than 80% of their company revenue from annuity support contracts, and most providers have been around for many years.”
- Secondary hardware suppliers get 80% of or more of their revenue from other sources, usually system resale, and are just now “starting TPM practices.”
As mentioned above, these two versions of third party maintenance can be contrasted with OEM-direct and OEM-hybrid support contracts. Although the latter may involve third parties, they operate under the OEM brand and the OEM pricing structure, so they do not represent genuine alternatives.
It’s also worth noting that Gartner’s terminology is not meant to connote that experienced, support-focused providers are somehow old school and entrenched. Park Place was cited in this report as both a traditional TPM—meaning that we live or die by our excellence in this specialty—but also a market disruptor. This means we continue to leverage our knowledge and expertise to transform what third party maintenance means and can do for clients.
Top 5 Advantages of Third Party Maintenance
In short, third party maintenance is an alternative to OEM support for IT hardware. But what’s driving so many IT organizations to suddenly seek out new choices in the first place?
There is no question that third party maintenance is catching on. That’s because established providers have a long track record of outperforming the OEMs in many ways. Our clients’ top reasons for bringing us in for some or all of their IT hardware support include:
#1 Significant cost-savings
Most third party maintenance providers will promise savings of at least 30% off of the OEM support price. At Park Place, our clients’ average savings fall in the 40% to 70% range—at the more affordable end of the market.
This makes third party maintenance an excellent alternative to the OEM as soon as the first post-warranty renewal comes up. In fact, many Park Place clients are cutting back on the OEM support they purchase alongside new equipment, so they can move more quickly to a lower cost solution and make additional room in the budget for strategic IT spending.
#2 Meaningful service enhancements
Just because third party maintenance costs less doesn’t mean you get less—although it’s important to use a premium-quality provider (more on that further below).
At Park Place Technologies, we supply all the components clients expect from a maintenance solution—24/7 remote monitoring, online and telephone-based troubleshooting, on-site repair, full component coverage, and certified spare parts among them. But we go further by providing unparalleled access to IT hardware and O/S experts. We impose no restrictions on accessing help with any hardware, software, or firmware issue, and we integrate greater engineering resources at each stage.
An on-site systems analysis is conducted at the launch of any account, so a local engineer can get to know and evaluate the environment. Regular check-ins are used to review trouble calls and strategize proactive, outage-preventing action. Extra engineering time is even incorporated in our contracts, so that clients can utilize our Level 3 personnel for non-break/fix tasks and requests of their choosing.
When it comes time to call in emergency assistance, the process couldn’t be easier. We have eliminated escalation procedures, and we put clients in immediate contact with Level 3 support. And when on-site service is required, a quality engineer arrives and will work in tandem with the back-end engineer to resolve your issue.
Together, these service enhancements make Park Place’s third party maintenance offerings a maintenance solution clients actually use. That gives us more opportunity to reduce downtime and deliver value.
#3 Granular customization capabilities
Every client has different environments and different needs. The best third party maintenance providers offer flexibility in crafting a support solution that fits the bill.
Park Place is certainly among this group. We have clients who use us to support only one end-of-life system they can’t live without, or to fill in for one manufacturer’s lackluster support. Others cover a diverse, global, multivendor enterprise with us. By the same token, we have numerous clients who use Park Place to minimize their reliance on the OEM. With others, we’ve developed unique approaches that allow Park Place to leverage and complement the OEM support they’ve paid for.
The point is that we offer a suite of customizable services that clients can select “a la carte” on an array-by-array, server-by-server, router-by-router basis to create the precise solution they need. We still put it all on one easy-to-manage contract and give them maximum cost-savings.
#4 Extended hardware lifespan
Being able to keep IT hardware past the manufacturers’ end-of-support-life date is becoming increasingly important to IT organizations, especially when budgets are tight or certain equipment is highly reliable but non-strategic. Park Place delivers with post-EOSL contracts that enable clients to keep paid-for equipment in service for as long as they need it, without incurring added risk of downtime, spares shortages, and other problems.
Post-EOSL support is about more than just delayed capital expenditure—although that alone makes it worth the time to investigate. It’s also about reducing the headaches and costs associated with new hardware selection, purchase, installation, migration, de-bugging, and training. Taken together, these tasks drain the OPEX side of the budget as much as the hardware purchase does the CAPEX. Incurring them only for IT hardware that will deliver business value is, therefore, a smart move.
#5 Increased return on investment
Park Place provides a one-two punch to the bottom line. We provide more affordable support than the OEM, and we help clients keep the hardware in service until they’ve squeezed maximum value from their investment. Along the way, we also maximize uptime, reduce staff time devoted to maintenance, and provide insights that enhance performance, reliability, efficiency, and processes. It all adds up to a budget-friendly effect that our clients have come to depend on.
Finding the Right Fit
We mentioned briefly above the types of companies that operate in the third party maintenance market. The differences between them can play a big part in customers’ decision-making process and help them find the best-fit provider.
To review, the two primary types of third party maintenance providers are the following:
- Traditional TPMs which are support-focused companies that derive 80% or more of revenues from maintenance contracts. Most have been around for many years.
- Secondary hardware suppliers that earn the vast majority of their revenues from other sources, usually system resale but sometimes cloud hosting, IT consulting, and other services. They are mostly new market entrants with limited track records.
In its market analysis, Gartner also mentions the SKU-based OEM support that can be purchased from various resellers. There is also co-delivery, in which companies like Cisco use channel partners to provide OEM-branded support that can eventually escalate to the manufacturer’s engineers. For our purposes, both of these options boil down to OEM support; the only differences are in how various OEMs choose to sell and deliver on maintenance contracts.
Finally there is multivendor support, in which some OEMs, like IBM, will maintain other manufacturers’ hardware. It is important to note that such multivendor service comes in two flavors: The first is the expensive OEM variety that is usually limited to their competitors’ end-of-life gear. There is also a third party maintenance version that delivers cost savings and maximum flexibility and coverage. We’ll talk about that, too.
Assuming that you’re reading this series because you’re interested in non-OEM maintenance, what’s the difference in quality between a traditional TPM like Park Place Technologies and one of the secondary hardware suppliers? Here are some things to consider.
100% Support Focus
Jack of all trades, master of none. This saying applies to third party maintenance. Companies that try to add support contracts to other specialties are always making a trade-off. There is only so much corporate attention to go around. When a company attempts to excel in IT consulting, cloud hosting, and third party maintenance, they will inevitably fall short somewhere—and the customer loses out.
Clients are better off working with a dedicated third party maintenance provider, rather than one for which support is an “also ran” offering. That way, you know the company has survived based on its ability to deliver best-in-class maintenance service and you can have high expectations for your results.
Most important to avoid are hardware resellers. Like the OEMs, these companies obey two masters. On the one hand, they supply maintenance service to help clients keep existing hardware operating at peak performance. On the other hand, they need customers to lose faith in installed systems and upgrade to new gear, because they profit from these purchases. These two mindsets are in direct conflict, and as a result, the customer never knows which voice is speaking in the recommendations they receive from such a support partner.
Greater clarity and trust comes from using a third party maintenance company without such an embedded conflict of interest.
Experience with Premier Clients
As in other fields, experience matters in third party maintenance. Over more than a decade in the business, Park Place has refined our systems and processes in numerous ways, large and small, to ensure that we offer the most seamless, personalized, and effective service possible. Competitors that are new to the market simply haven’t had the chance to make these adaptations, and it shows in client outcomes.
We strongly recommend that any IT organization evaluating third party maintenance providers take a look at their history in the business, as well as their client list or references. The market has become very popular and some new entrants have thrown together a service offering that isn’t living up to the promises. Only due diligence can eliminate such risky options from the short list and focus consideration on companies with true reach, enterprise-level expertise, and reliability.
Innovation in the Field
Although an established third party maintenance partner is a plus, clients don’t want to work with a company that appears to be resting on its IT support laurels. It’s important to keep an eye out for respected providers that are still innovating.
We were especially proud to be cited in the Gartner report as a “disruptor” for this very reason. Park Place isn’t doing business as it’s always been done. We’re improving. Our focus has been to pair high-level IT expertise with personalized service. When some of the market is drifting toward analysis provided by smart bots, we’re giving clients unparalleled access to our Level 3 engineering humans. They respond to every trouble call, arrive on site for troubleshooting and repair, are available for questions and advice, conduct routine analyses, and are engaged with the client account at all times. This makes a difference.
What to Look for in a Third Party Maintenance Provider
So what does all of this mean in your search for a third party maintenance provider? Follow these guidelines and you’ll be headed in the right direction:
- Focus the search on 100% support-focused maintenance companies to help ensure you are dealing with a high-quality provider.
- Examine the client list—or ask for references—to make sure others trust the company as much as you will need to.
- Seek out third party maintenance providers that continue to innovate on features and benefits.
- Consider whether the provider can grow with you, in terms of supporting a wider variety of equipment and managing a larger proportion of maintenance tasks.
We’ve mentioned multivendor support a few times thus far and promised to come back to the topic—so here is our take on the OEM offerings in this area versus third party maintenance providers.
Multivendor from the OEM
Multivendor support was highlighted in the Gartner competitive landscape report we’ve been discussing. But they mentioned it in relation to OEMs, some of which will actually maintain their competitors’ equipment as part of a larger support contract.
This is where IBM, for example, will cover some NetApp storage devices alongside an IBM-heavy data center environment. As IBM is not Netapp, this is technically a third party solution—but it’s a far cry from the way Park Place Technologies and other third party maintenance providers do business.
The challenges of using an OEM for multivendor support are (appropriately) multifold:
- By using one OEM to maintain another OEM’s products, customers are missing out on the 40% to 70% savings that are available when engaging a true third party maintenance provider. Customers would do better to opt for the most cost-efficient solution, not an equally expensive choice.
- IBM’s engineers are understandably IBM-focused, HPE’s are similarly HPE-focused, and so on. Thus one OEM’s engineers will have limited commitment to learning other manufacturers’ hardware in depth. There isn’t significant reason for IBM to compel its engineers to become experts on EMC, HPE, NetApp, etc., so an OEM multivendor solution may result in reduced expertise, which leads to more problems and longer downtime when critical issues arise.
- Equipment limitations. Many OEMs offering multivendor support limit it to end-of-life hardware from other companies. That makes sense. They don’t want to help IT shops purchase a competitor’s products. But this is an OEM-focused, not a customer-focused, consideration, which can have negative impacts on maintenance complexity.
- Sales pressure. One of the key reasons OEMs want to offer a variety of maintenance options (beyond the revenues) is to retain their seat at the table. OEM support engineers are often quick to say that a given issue would not crop up if only the customer had X, Y or Z new product. The only thing diminishing that sales pressure is the OEM’s interest in portraying its own products as reliable, long loved, and high in quality. Besmirching a competitor? Well, there’s not much reason to avoid that. In a multivendor support situation, it’s all too easy for the OEM support provider to cast shade on competitors’ products and consistently pressure IT leaders to change. This isn’t helpful, nor is it the purpose of a purchasing a maintenance contract.
More Affordable and Flexible Third Party Options
At this point, it may seem obvious that a true third party maintenance provider, without any skin in the OEM hardware sales game, is likely to be the best choice for multivendor support. The premier companies in the market are able to take on maintenance for a diverse data center and even a complete global enterprise. And they get a lot of things right that the OEMs’ business model precludes.
For example, Park Place delivers high performing, efficient, and customer-focused multivendor support by:
- Saving clients 40% to 70% off the OEM multivendor support prices.
- Maintaining deep expertise in a full range of OEM equipment, so that support engineers recognize the difference between Hitachi’s approach to unified storage and EMC’s competing monolithic products, to take one example.
- Covering whatever equipment the client wishes. This certainly can include hardware that is end-of-support-life with its manufacturer. But it can also span equipment that is just post-warranty or out of contract, as well as systems for which the OEM has an ongoing commitment.
- Remaining agnostic about the client’s hardware choices. We are happy to contribute insights based on our broad experience with different manufacturers’ systems. But Park Place has no vested interest in steering a client one way or another when it comes to upgrade timing or purchasing decisions.
The Simplicity of “One Contract, One Contact”
Surprisingly, third party maintenance needn’t be limited to hardware without OEM coverage. Park Place can maintain equipment that still retains an OEM commitment—either a warranty or some form of post-warranty, extended support. This is a particularly attractive capability for clients who are looking to simplify their maintenance management with a multivendor solution. Park Place takes it to the next level with “One Contract, One Contact.” Here’s how it works:
- The client selects which equipment they would like to put under contract with Park Place. This can include new, warrantied gear, equipment with time left on a support contract, currently uncovered products, and end-of-support-life hardware. We’re an equal opportunity maintenance provider!
- The client sets a service level and support features for each piece of equipment, just like they would for any other Park Place maintenance agreement. This allows clients to fully customize their maintenance solution and get the best price.
- Park Place puts all of the hardware on a single, easy-to-manage contract with one renewal date. Making contract changes as the environment evolves requires just one call. The client benefits included the up-front systems analysis, periodic reviews of trouble calls, and extra engineering time for non-break/fix issues. This is a step up from OEMs’ premium level of service and can significantly improve the client’s experience with any hardware, no matter its age.
- When a question or a problem does arise, the client calls Park Place, and we take it from there. We track the products in the environment and spare the client the search for contract information and other details. If a given piece of hardware has an OEM commitment, we manage the call with the OEM so you can go on with your day.
From the client’s perspective, this is a seamless process, with just one contract to manage and only one contact to make whatever maintenance service is needed.
Not every client wants to engage Park Place for all of their maintenance needs, and that’s fine. Our goal is to offer options so that each client can develop a maintenance and support solution that works best for them.