the velvet cage

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the velvet cage

In my opinion:  

Vendor lock-in is a bad term to start with.  It makes it sound like you've signed a contract to stay with a specific company for a given length of time.  Whether you are a 'Dell Shop' or any other the reality is that you can change the equipment you're purchasing at any time.  I don't disagree that the organization has bought-in to the brand at that point, but provided there's a reasonable argument to be made for switching there shouldn't be much resistance.  I feel like more often than not it comes down to the manager of the department having a preference for that brand.

Given that, the downsides are fewer than I think they were made out to be.  (for going with a 'big iron' vendor as you seem to imply vendor lock-in means)

In certain States there are contract pricing agreements between  the vendor and the State.  The hardware sets are even more limited than the off the shelf lines are, but the prices are dramatically lower.  This is made possible because the vendor is in a sense guaranteed to sell a large quantity of very similar, or identical hardware.  For a public institution to deviate from that list of 'contract vendors' would mean a huge jump in price.  IF the needs aren't met from the contract list, that's always an option.

You both mentioned that most of the large vendors had a greater compatibility with more software.  I have found this to be quite true.  The custom builds, of which we have a few from a smaller more local vendor, have had more ongoing compatibility issues than all the other hardware sets from the big vendor combined.  Maybe you're just lucky or more persistent, but the support from the small guy has been the same "oh well" answer that we get from the big guy.

As Shawn said there is most definitely something to be said for having a similar platform with mostly interchangeable parts, and at least a standard method of servicing.  Those 'contract pricing' units are also the ones most guaranteed to have a supply of replacement parts.  I think that no matter the size of your organization, efficiency is efficiency.  Being able to quickly and reliably service your fleet is important.

Good show overall.  Just wanted to toss in my 2 cents.