Readers overwhelmingly voted Dell best in hardware—a special Readers' Choice Awards write-in category—citing the company's "great prices," Web site, and quality. Voters called Dell hardware "reliable," and one loyal customer noted that for hardware, the choice has "just always been Dell." Readers' Choice voters also gave Dell four other honors in the 2004 contest (see the Readers' Choice Winners index, page 39, for pointers to more Dell coverage).

Dell's success as a top-tier global technology provider rests on a direct-selling, build-to-order model that puts customer needs first. Neil Hand, Dell director of worldwide enterprise marketing, talked with SQL Server Magazine about what sets the company apart from its hardware competitors. "Our products have a great deal of transparency—customers know what they're getting," Hand said. "We deliver products that have quality and the right set of features for the customer's needs. We also provide the right number of choices and fair and transparent pricing."

Transparency is also the watchword for Dell's popular e-commerce Web site, which lets customers review, configure, and price systems. The Web site, powered by Dell PowerEdge servers running Microsoft Windows OSs, handles some of the highest volumes in the world. "Our site make it easy for customers to find information," Hand noted. In addition, the sophisticated e-commerce system lets the company perform constant analysis of what customers are ordering and configuring. Dell's direct-selling model leads to quality as well as efficiency. Every part of the company—sales through support—reports back into the engineers and product developers to improve products and processes.

Dell offers the PowerEdge server line, which comes in high-performance rack and tower servers for enterprise customers and competitively priced tower servers for small businesses. The Round Rock, Texas-based company provides the Dell/EMC and Dell PowerVault lines of storage products for external storage, tape backup, Network Attached Storage (NAS), fibre channel arrays, and Storage Area Networks (SANs). Dell also provides printing and imaging systems, workstations, notebook and desktop computers, networking products, software and peripherals, and a wide range of professional, deployment, training, and support services.

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