When Charity Ends

Spare a thought for companies that have no IT budget

April 7, 2007

4 Min Read
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When Network Appliance bought Topio last November, Hilary Croach, director of information services at Bay Cove Human Services, wasn't in the loop. No one phoned to offer him reassurance or guarantees of ongoing service -- despite the fact that Croach had been the subject of a Topio press release in 2005. (See NetApp Grabs Topio and Outpatient Svcs Firm Replicates With Topio.)

Croach isn't quite sure what will happen now his Topio product has become NetApp's ReplicatorX. (See NetApp Re-Releases Topio.) That's because he didn't actually buy the product. His Boston-based agency is a not-for-profit group, devoted to providing services to individuals and their families who face developmental disabilities, aging, mental illness, and drug and alcohol addiction. In short, with no substantial IT budget, Croach relies on technology handouts.

This means he's at the mercy or whim of any company that takes over a donated product.

"We partly used Topio because Topio donated their product," he says. Lots of times, similar arrangements have led to technology dead ends when he can't get the same philathropic relationship going with a second or even a third product owner.

NetApp spokesman Eric Brown says the company will contact Yoram Novick, Topio's ex-CEO, who remains with NetApp, regarding the disposition of the Bay Cove gear. "I'm sure [Novick] will contact Bay Cove to work out what can be done," Brown states in an email today.Croach has other benefactors. A couple of years back, EqualLogic donated two iSCSI SANs to Bay Cove, and Croach has been using their box-to-box replication along with VMware integration ever since. While he'd miss the Topio product if it were pulled, he's come to rely on the replication from EqualLogic as well.

He's also been favorably impressed. "If we were going to expand our hardware investment, we'd probably go with EqualLogic," Croach says. Because of the firm's generosity, he's had access to technology he couldn't otherwise afford.

Technology donations can be a boon all around. The customer benefits, obviously, and the donating company gets to tout a fresh customer. On the other hand, the absence of charity has sometimes backed Croach into a corner. "We've been forced at times to take less appropriate technology simply because we have to," he says.

Vendors differ in their approaches. EqualLogic likes to donate, and likes the publicity it generates. "EqualLogic has made other in kind donations recently. In 2006 we donated two storage arrays to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the state's largest non-profit land conservation organization. It helped them consolidate their storage and protect historical property records and GIS mapping information," says Peter Hayden, an EqualLogic co-founder and VP of operations, in an email today.

"Visibility from such efforts helps raise awareness for the organizations to which EqualLogic donates. It also highlights the principle of community support and involvement in which my co-founders Paula Long, Paul Koning and I strongly believe," Hayden says.NetApp's policy differs. While the company, its execs and employees donate generously, Eric Brown states, "We handle charitable donations of products and services on a case by case basis. And we intentionally do not have an official corporate program around this for two reasons: 1. The purpose of charity should be charity (and not publicity); 2. Having local field executives recommend charities for donations helps our broader community relations efforts and gives us exposure to smaller charities that could be overlooked in a corporate endeavor."

Charitable giving of IT products can be circumscribed. Some vendors automatically offer discounts on certain products, for instance, but not on others. Certain general-purpose software packages may be easy to get, for example, while more specialized applications may be off limits to charity. There may also be donations available for schools but not for other kinds of not-for-profit groups.

There are organizations set up to handle product and service donations, such as Gifts In Kind International. In addition, some companies have specific product donation programs in place, such as IBM's Shared University Research Program or Cisco's Product Grant Program, which is part of the cisco Corporate Philanthropy and Community Investment Program.

Some of these groups can help organizations like Bay Cove toward a better future. At the same time, the lack of guaranteed support and the whims of the IT market could put that future at risk.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

  • EqualLogic Inc.

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Network Appliance Inc.0

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