Orlando Fla.—Customers need to pit one vendor against another to get the best deals on servers and storage, Gartner analysts told an audience at the annual Gartner Inc. Symposium and IT Expo here on Oct. 11.

“Empower yourself to negotiate. Obtain line-item pricing. Because that’s how you’ll do upgrades,” Gartner analyst Paul McGuckin said.

He urged customers to separate raw hardware costs from software and service costs and to make sure that all are included in total cost estimates.

Above all, the Gartner analysts stressed the need to maintain competition among vendors in order to prevent lock-in and get the best pricing and service.

In storage trends, thin provisioning—or assigning storage to specific applications—is just past the peak of the hype cycle, meaning that it is about to fall out of favor before rebounding among customers, said Gartner storage analyst Stanley Zaffos.

The leading vendor in thin provisioning is 3PARdata, they noted.

Zaffos said the best way to get the best deals on storage was to create a dedicated storage team and invest in training team members.

“The vendor’s job is to sell you stuff. You need to avoid being an amateur playing against the pros,” he said, advising attendees to motivate the team members with bonuses based on how well they do versus the vendor.

“The return on investment in training is remarkably high,” said Zaffos.

“You need to have two vendors competing for your business at all times and be willing to change vendors. They’re competing and you’ll have more knowledge. Create a credible threat,” said McGuckin.

In analyzing various vendor strategies, McGuckin said Sun, despite a remarkable resurgence in 2006 that largely reversed five poor years, still will have a hard time achieving profitability by mid-2007.

Survey: Enterprises and storage vendors are not on the same page. Click here to read more.

“It will be hard to do. Sun might have to make more cuts,” said McGuckin. He said that Sun’s software business is unprofitable.

And despite the company’s embrace of Linux and Windows, Sun is still pushing Solaris-based systems ahead of all others.

“It’s difficult for Sun to tell a simple story,” McGuckin said. “SPARC products are coming to end of life. SPARC 4 is reaching the end of its evolutionary cycle. The question is what’s next?”

McGuckin said Sun’s so-called “Rock” processor is due in 2008, but that’s too far off for customers to plan effectively.

He also urged customers to get in writing where Sun’s work with Fujitsu in merging their SPARC product lines is headed.

Check out eWEEK.com’s for the latest news, reviews and analysis on enterprise and small business storage hardware and software.