The uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is becoming a de facto sale for VARs. The increasing importance of applications, including relational database servers, thin-client applications, voice-over-IP and e-commerce has made network reliability and uptime a must on the corporate shopping list--and has pushed UPS vendors to offer longer runtimes and increasingly impressive specifications, as well as better software and more comprehensive technical support.
"We are seeing higher demand for 100 percent uptime," says John Donovan, North American reseller channel manager at American Power Conversion (APC) Corp. Among APC's most popular high-end solutions are the Silcon and Symmetra lines.
Best Power: 58.0
Tripp Lite: 56.0
A few years ago, VARs might have had to spend a lot of time teaching customers about the importance of power protection, but today, users are more savvy. "The role of VARs is much less educative today," says Stu Figenholtz, vice president of sales and marketing at Best Power, which manufacturers the FERRUPS line of UPS products.
The VARBusiness Product Report, a telemarketing survey of 225 VARs on UPSs rated at 2.2 VA and up and the vendors that make them, found APC ranked first of the three top vendors, with a 60.6-point rating and first-place rankings in six out of eight buying criteria. It was a close race for the rest of the pack, with Best Power coming in 2.6 points behind with a score of 58.0 points and Tripp Lite trailing two more points with 56.0. VARBusiness placed nearly 1,200 telephone calls to complete this report.
APC also took the lion's share of attention for product sales and overall improvement during last year. The company claimed 79 percent of the mentions for sales and 70 percent of the votes for product improvement. Best Power took second place for sales with 13 percent of the votes, while Tripp Lite claimed third with 9 percent. For improvement, Tripp Lite pulled ahead of Best Power, taking second place.
The amount of time a UPS will keep the network up and running is, logically, the most important concern of VARs and their customers--and one that is becoming increasingly important. "Runtime has always been seen as a more-is-better specification, but there are applications that have developed or grown in number where they are looking for extended runtime," says Dave Slotten, director of product management at Tripp Lite, which makes the SmartPro line of UPSs, among others.
APC ranked first for runtime at full load with a score of 7.8, while Best Power was a close second, just a tenth of a point behind. Tripp Lite was third with 7.3 points.
Tech Support's Role
Because UPSs are one wall of defense between users and downtime, technical support becomes increasingly important. UPS manufacturers offer a combination of toll-free and round-the-clock telephone and Internet support. In addition, resellers look at the expertise of tech support personnel. VARs reported somewhat significant differences in technical support offerings from UPS vendors: APC scored top marks with a 7.6, and credits those scores to the fact that it staffs its tech support lines with engineers. Best Power was half a point behind APC, and Tripp Lite was a full point behind the leader.
As in many hardware categories, software is becoming increasingly important, and users and resellers alike are asking for management software that does more. In addition to allowing access to the UPS through a Web browser, the newest management software must also be able to shut down application software, the network operating system and the server operating system gracefully.
VARs say they can leverage the capability of network management software included with UPS products to extend the profitability of the technical support contracts they sell. "We always try to take advantage of the software so that we can do technical support from an off-site location as much as possible," says John A. Kukulka, president at Alijas Inc., a Philadelphia VAR.
APC took a strong lead in terms of network management software with a score of 7.5. The next closest contender was Tripp Lite with a 6.8, while Best Power was third with 6.4 points.
Although currently rated the least important buying criterion, scalability and modularity promise to become more important as customers try to plan for their growing needs. Users are looking to increase the power of units, but also to add more plugs and other extenders. APC ranked in first place with a 7.5, while Best Power was second with a 7.0. Tripp Lite was a close third just a tenth of a point behind Best.
There also were a variety of technical specifications on which VARs and users judge UPS products: output regulation, VA rating, output waveform and input regulation. VARs report that the different specs become more or less important depending on how the unit will be used.
APC took the laurels for output regulation, with VARs rating their products with a score of 7.7 points. Best Power garnered a 7.5 in the category while Tripp Lite was last, coming in half a point behind Best. There was no differentiation between vendors in the category of input regulation--all scored a rating of 7.1.
APC pulled into first place with a score of 7.9 points for VA rating, one-third of a point ahead of Best Power. Tripp Lite scored a 7.2 for a third-place ranking.
Best Power claimed its sole solo first-place ranking with a score of 7.5 for the output waveform specifications. APC was one-tenth of a point behind, while Tripp Lite scored a 7.0.
Hailey Lynne McKeefry is a freelance technical writer in Richmond Hill, N.Y.
American Power Conversion Corp., West Kingston, R.I. (800) 800-4272, www.apcc.com
Best Power, Necedah, Wis. (800) 356-5794, www.bestpower.com
Tripp Lite, Chicago, Ill. (773) 869-1111, www.tripplite.com