For the second year in a row, readers designated Dell PowerEdge servers the winner of the Best Hardware award. PowerEdge systems are highly scalable and make available almost as many configurations as there are people who need them. From the entry-level Celeron to the midrange Dual-Core Pentium D to the high-end 64-bit Xeon, numerous processor options exist. Internal storage capacity climbs as high as 3.6TB. Do you need memory? The high-end Xeon systems offer as much as 32GB of RAM. Small business PowerEdge models are designed to make implementation as easy and painless as possible for companies with limited IT resources. The line includes a variety of preinstalled and preconfigured OSs. Enterprise systems offer the user total control over OS and implementation.

Based on vote totals, it's clear that many of you use PowerEdge systems. Your comments ranged from "reliable and trouble-free" to "nice server, easy to operate and a lot of options." We interviewed a PowerEdge user to get insight about the appliance.

Jim Sloane is corporate vice president of IT at Mannington Mills, a commercial flooring company based in Salem, New Jersey. Mannington has been in business for almost 90 years, with manufacturing locations in Salem, New Jersey; Calhoun, Georgia; Epes, Alabama; and High Point, North Carolina. With approximately 1900 employees, Mannington in 2002 began a 5-year project to expand the business. The expansion required an IT infrastructure that could remain flexible, efficient, and scalable. Jim's task was to meet the company's business goals as quickly and efficiently as possible.

At the onset of the project, Mannington's infrastructure included a mix of customized applications that had been developed in-house for the company's very specific business needs. The customization had worked well but had a downside: Responding rapidly to business changes was not just difficult—it was almost unheard of. Because Mannington has multiple manufacturing locations, operations changes among the sites were complex and time-consuming. Back in 2002, "a simple change such as adding porcelain tiles to our product line could take several months to incorporate into our systems," Jim recalls. "At the rate we were planning to expand our business, we needed to be able to make changes fast. I became concerned about our capability to respond to the demands that we were about to face."

Mannington's IT department knew that an ERP application was going to have to be in place to bring all of the manufacturing processes together. After working with a consulting company to evaluate software options, an ERP selection team opted for SAP R/3 Enterprise. With the software decision made, the next decision was which hardware to use. To say that the hardware platform would have to be reliable would be a gross understatement. Mannington already had a longstanding relationship with Dell. In 1998, the company had standardized all its desktops to Dell. Mannington trusted the desktops to perform, and his company also trusted the Dell PowerEdge servers in the data center. So, for the company's expansion, Jim said, "Our extensive experience with Dell servers had demonstrated their scalability and reliability—and made Dell the clear choice."

Many of the benefits that Mannington plans to achieve through its SAP architecture are software-driven, but Dell hardware, and PowerEdge servers in particular, has played an important role in making the migration to SAP a success. Just because hardware runs behind the scenes doesn't mean it isn't critical. Any problem with hardware reliability affects the entire business process. It's the dependability of Dell servers that has kept Mannington's ERP system up and running. While Mannington's enterprise expands, Dell hardware and its capability to quickly implement cost-effective changes has become an invaluable asset.