Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year

So I guess it's time for the obligatory 'Happy New Year' blog post...

Out with the old year - as frankly speaking it's pretty worn out now, and it's been a fairly mixed year with it's fair share of ups & downs both professionally and personally. Change is always good, but some losses are never good - John & JP you'll both be missed RIP.

But now we look forward and the bright star studded sky ushers in the new pristine year, which I guessing could be a pretty intense one given that it goes up to eleven :)

I could make lots of predictions, promises & resoltuions, but the only certainty among them would that they'd be wrong and broken! However given that I'll have finished my IT infrastructure tenders early in Jan 2011, I will try and update this blog much more often, and most definitely on IT Infrastructure related topics. Oh and of course I'll aim to be at each months #StorageBeers, and the other 'peer only' validation forums we'll be working on...

Right, I'm off to relax, have a take-away and a drink with family & friends to welcome in 2011, so I'll leave you with Nollaig chridheil agus bliadhna mhath ùr and spare you my rendition of a classic song...

Monday, 27 December 2010

Amazon - Masters of marketing or perfecting the art of customer dissatisfaction?

Now this blog is not about AWS (which I'm a big fan of) or cloud (which is being over-inflated by traditional IT vendor hot air), but rather it's about the Amazon online web retail shops and experiences.

To be clear I'm a big fan of Amazon retail, especially how they've defined, improved and driven online retail so well. Indeed in just the last 5 years I've place over 300 orders on alone - frankly I dread to think how much I've spent but my average order value appears to be well over £50 each time....

But like all good things, over time you come to notice a few items that start to irritate and then eventually if not treated they annoy. So it has come for me with Amazon, thus below is a list of current irritants & annoyances from Amazon...

Clearly the recent farce with Christmas deliveries hasn't done much to help things, no they couldn't help the snow that descended upon major parts of the UK & Europe - but they certainly could have handled it as least as well as other online retailers. I find it strange that despite 'the weather' orders placed with other retailers and also Amazon MarketPlace sellers can arrive next day, but expedited (at extra delivery cost) orders placed with Amazon still haven't arrived 10 days later...

Customer Services
Nor it has to be said has their handling of customer support over this time excelled - sorry but posting web messages saying "due to volume, we're having delays responding to your customer service phone & email enquiries" just isn't good enough, hire some staff (heck why not use ?). This is especially compounded when the return date deadline remains fixed despite the inability for customer services to respond - do the decent thing and extend the deadline if you can't handle the workload.

One could also be forgiven for thinking that Amazon also do their best to hide their customer support contact details - yes it's easy enough to contact & give feedback to MarketPlace providers, but for orders direct from Amazon no such easy actions exist. You certainly have to dig for a bit to find the Amazon customer services phone number of 0800 496 1081 compared to the ease of contacting their MarketPlace sellers.

Have you to tried to 'leave feedback' about an Amazon order as opposed to a MarketPlace order? Have you tried to chase up on a late delivery of an Amazon shipped order? perhaps they could patent & then impliment 'one click customer service'? ;)...

It disappoints me that they still lack of any form of customer loyalty scheme - I've been using & for over 12 years, and yet I get no different an experience or pricing to a brand new customer.  Yes their recommendations are better tuned to the types of things I want & like, but some form of recognition (ie early releases, limited editions or exclusives, discounts, gift vouchers etc) of my past business would be good.

It is very odd that there is still no Google Android application for Amazon one-click shopping in the UK - despite there being one in the USA, despite there being an Amazon MP3 download app in UK & USA and both of them for iPhone in UK & USA.

Information Management
Perhaps one of my biggest annoyances is that they still do effectively nothing with allowing customers to utilise the information about their orders & account history :-
  • They really do need to embrace products like iMediaMan or Gurulib that allow customers to do their own catalogue and inventory mngt - in the age of increasingly digitalised assets (eg MP3, Kindle etc) it's essential for the customer to be able to manage & report on their assets.
  • Ability for me to download an XML / CSV file re my order history and the products I've ordered? (useful for export into catalogue / library management tools, but also for keeping re household insurance records etc)
  • An ability for me to 'tag' wish-list items and orders (& line items) against my own defined metadata categories (eg 'for work', 'for home', 'kids', 'gift' etc) would be useful for improving recommendations further
  • Implement a simple warning if an order contains something you've previously purchased from them before, this is partially done in some areas of the site but certainly not complete or as a check prior to final order completion.
Yes their Personalisation, Preferencing & Profiling system is one of the best on the market, and having looked at this for VoD systems in the past I know just how complex and difficult this vital subject area is - and just how much IT infrastructure & data is needed to do this properly.

Some Enhancement Requests
  1. Ability to have sub accounts that I can give an allocated spend allowance to - bit like gift carding an account but for sub-accounts that I can give an age rating and spend ceiling limit to, and to which I manage, review & approve orders on, with payment being fixed to being made by my one-click payment method. Thus allowing me give my children Amazon accounts whilst still being safe.
  2. Capability to be able to place bids for products that vendors could then chose to accept, ignore or counter - a reverse auction if you like. This works on other sites, and Amazon use it well in their AWS business.
  3. Of course the ability to give feedback, and contact support just as easily with an Amazon direct order as I can currently with a MarketPlace seller order
But despite these irritants and annoyances, Amazon is still the first place I go to buy anything, even before the real high-street let alone other internet retailers - so they must be managing my customer dissatisfaction fairly well I guess?

So whilst I'm looking at what Amazon recommends for me today I wish you, Happy Shopping...

Friday, 22 October 2010

2010 - Some more travel observations

I'm not travelling as much as I used to - but still too often - and I thought it was time for an update on my thoughts as a business traveller :-

1) It's certainly clear that economy class on flights is gradually getting worse - with less seating space, less catering and lower standards of staff

2) The frequent flyer schemes are getting tighter and with less benefits -hey @British_Airways just how many economy class (delayed / often late) flights in Europe do I have to make in a year to get anything above 'blue' frequent flyer status???

3) The standards of business lounges - even within the same airline - vary so much it's ridiculous. Take for example @British_Airways business lounges at LHR T5, Chavwick & Tampa.
  • Heathrow T5 - full drinks selection, hot & cold meals, bacon butties, internet access, plenty of space
  • Tampa - there are drinks and sandwiches, and somewhere quiet to sit with power for laptops
  • Chavwick - there were cold snacks, cold drinks, an internet cafe and a dozen different alcoholic spirits (clearly a place where sadly alcohol is in more demand than bacon butties)
4) It's disappointing that a lot of long-haul Airlines have been so slow to add USB power points to seats - @Lufthansa_DE clearly have the lead here... Obviously it would also be good for the airline lounges to have similar power & USB charging points

5) Heathrow T5 has slowly improved with a lot of it's initial wrinkles now ironed out. But whilst the process & systems are getting a bit better there are still some material issues :-
  • IRIS reliability - appears to be broken more often than working, perhaps a 3rd machine would help?
  • Staff quality, engagement and care is still greatly missing
  • The other Heathrow terminals don't seem to have improved at all (other than counting destroying parts of them as a well needed improvement)
  • It continues to amaze me that BA staff buses operate at about 3 times the frequency of the buses for the business parking area
6) There are still some airlines that use a proprietary headphone connector - why? why? why? Oh and why put any type of headphone connector exactly where a person's leg goes - it's going to hurt their leg, break the connector or both...

7) Just how much easier flying was when only one bag was allowed on-board the plane, with no roll-on cases etc - really should make the rule one small item of hand-luggage and be done with it...

8) How very few hotels understand the need to provide :-
  • Mains power points near the bedside table - to charge phones that are also used as alarm clocks
  • Mains power points near to desk / table in the room - to charge laptops whilst they're used
  • A clock in the bathroom
  • A clock built into the TV (yes I'm always running late)
  • A free bottle of water - water should not be a profit source!
  • WiFi connectivity that's either free or reasonably priced (ie $2 a day)
  • If we're on a wish list, a few USB charge points would be good as well!
9) With regards to in-flight entertainment systems :-
  • It is rather surprising to see such small & poor selections of music given how little storage & bandwidth it consumes
  • Given such a controlled environment and simple IT setup & requirements, I'm staggered as to how often the system fails and/or needs to be rebooted
So what do I regard as travel essentials nowadays :-
But I can safely say that the most off-putting thing that can happen to a traveller is to have a member of an airline's staff greet you happily by name as you wander mooching around a foreign airport's shops waiting for check-in to open - this happened to me not so long ago one Friday evening 2hrs before check-in opened, and a) totally freaked me out, and b) made me realise I clearly travel too often...

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Churnalism - yet another evil in the field of benefits reporting

So @stevie_chambers decided to wind me up with this tweet yesterday morning :- 
Cisco Unified Computing System selected by Slumberland < saved $368k @ianhf :)
Now Steve is somebody that I regard as a friend and that I have immense respect for - despite us having differing views on the technology widget Steve's company sells I have more respect for Steve than the majority of his employers organisation put together.

So with that out of the way - I was simply staggered that he should choose to highlight such a terrible article & classic example of Churnalism to me - I can only put it down to 'new baby head', or perhaps a desire to see me off with ever increasing blood pressure? So let's just review the 'article' :) (note I'm not saying anything about the technology here at all - merely what & how 'benefits' are purported)

This is the kind of lazy, half arsed, factless, press release driven tripe that masquerading as 'reporting' that drives me (and I hope you) insane! So time for the usual list :-
  • How long did this take to achieve?
  • How exactly was it achieved, which how much effort & disruption?
  • Re "saved" - where did they start from re SLAs, technology, organisation & processes?
  • Compared to what & whom?
  • Where is the before & after comparison of TCO and TTM?
  • What was the investment required to achieve this?
  • What was the ROI & IRR?
  • What is the timeframe over which the benefit is calculated & reported?
  • How much more would be possible with other ways, priorities & measures?
  • What is the scale of the environment?
  • What is the scope of the environment?
I'm not arguing that Slumberland haven't benefited, and that they haven't improved things for themselves - but as with all case-studies, customer references or benefits reports it is absolutely imperative to have full & total contextual disclosure of the before & after situations, the objectives, the success metrics and priorities.

As I previously blogged about here it really is time for the IT industry to grow up and get some simple quality & disclosure standards about reporting and marketing... This current level of information just doesn't help anybody...

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Quick Thought/Rant - Storage Commodities

So just a rapid fire quick thought below :-

Now @chuckhollis make some good comments here about storage being a commodity - something of which I have some views on :)

Interestingly through the discussion Chuck still talks about the 'problem statement' from a storage technician perspective (with an introduction of diversity & complexity in the technology mix, which glosses over two major TCO cost elements - complexity & diversity of solution spaces) - until the closing section, which is where I agree with him.

You see, as far as I'm (and my CIO is) concerned storage is a commodity - however it's the physical storage that's currently a total commodity, the logical layer (software) still has a bit of a way to go to become a commodity. I think a lot of the sensible people have made the leap past caring about many of the internal storage service widgets & sprockets - and frankly, no longer care - 80% of storage products in data-centres are capable of supporting 80% of the requirements.

But I 100% agree that people around storage have to change - the processes, the eco-system, the value, the religion, the entrenched conservatism, the lack of transparency, the products, the "can't tell you in advance without a full PoC", the tools, the 'buy our magic beans' culture, the org structure, the "we're special, honest", the cost & value, the people, the sales model, the support model... All of this has to change in order to accept the fact that storage is now a commodity hygiene factor and no longer the king of the castle in the infrastructure space...

I just wish that more of the people involved would realise this!

(Oh and we'll leave the 'shiny new baubles' of mngt tool nirvana for an expensive (for anything re mngt tools is always 10x more expensive than you believe and always 0.3x the value you're told) rant another day...)

That's all for me for now - I'm still around building up a major backlog of rants, but current work (both volume and subject matter) prohibits me from posting much of it right now. Normal service should resume towards the end of the year.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Amazon Kindle v3 - Really Rather Good :)

So when I arrived home yesterday from my most recent week travelling abroad with work, as well as a happy wife and bouncing excited children, there were 2 new parcels from Amazon for me to open. (Well actually there were 4 parcels but that's about a normal week for me, and 2 new pairs of headphones for work aren't that interesting)

One contained a shiny new Kindle v3 WiFi+3G
The other contained it's Orange Leather Cover

Things I really like :-
  1. Packaging - there's a feel of value / quality about the simple cardboard boxes (not the usual Amazon wrap-around boxes), the internal packaging is clean purposeful, elegant, appears recycled (in a good way) and contains no clutter. Somebody has clearly though a lot about the feel, appearance & impact of the packaging as well as the environmental impact (no unneeded cable twists, or plastic bags, of marketeering pamphlets etc)
  2. The fact that it's pre-configured and setup with your own personal account before you power it on. This really was a surprise and a great customer touch, when I switched it on it already said "Hello Ian", was named "Ian's Kindle" and had the four books I'd ordered from the web site already available on it. Its a small thing, but shows a company totally focused on user experience - imagine if your next new phone already had all your contacts, settings, ringtones and applications on it the first time you powered it on without you having to do anything at all?
  3. The multi-platform seamless integration. With reader applications all running on my Kindle, NexusOne Android & PC - all showing the same content, reading locations and annotations etc. Shows how a proper 'cloud service' should work - mix of devices and always there synchronised content.
  4. Purposeful use model - in the same way I like and respect my Blackberry 8707 for clear and focused usability and design, the Kindle has that same brilliant focused feel, no clutter no tat no spamware just useful. In short it has engineered in simplicity & usability that many other products should rightly be envious of.
  5. Naturally you'd expect a world-leading retail merchant like Amazon to focus on the ease of content purchase & management, and they certainly have here. It's a 'one click' process to purchase content and it arrives effortlessly on the Kindle.
  6. Rapid nature of purchase & delivery - it's an almost real-time purchase from the web site (or device) to delivery of the content on the Kindle.
  7. The E-Ink screen itself - I genuinely thought the text show when it opened the box was printed on a transparent film, the clarity & contrast really are that good! It really is very easy on the eyes and as clean to read as a paperback book.
  8. The combined WiFi & 3G option means it's networking is always on & accessible, and downloads / purchases made have arrived perfectly - in the same way TonTom Live uses networking in a transparent and seamless fashion, Kindle makes the technology transparent.
  9. The power adapter - it's very very small, uses the normal USB cable to plug-in and connect to a tiny power plug. Just aesthetically nice :)
  10. The power off screen is a great touch - showing different images of relevant people / things each time it's powered down, I spent 10 minutes just power cycling it to see different images!
So what are the only down-sides so far?

a) The nice lady guide shown in the advert didn't actually get shipped by Amazon, disappointing for me but I guess my wife is rather happier about this :)

b) There still seems to be a minor 'gotcha' when loading many (ie 100s) books / files onto the device at the same time - in that the inbuilt search system then goes into index update/rebuild mode. This is totally a background process and doesn't impact any functionality or usage - except the general web consensus is that it drains the battery a lot quicker, and that some parts of the software platform are a little 'fragile' whilst this is going on.

c) The black-white-black millisecond screen flash when changing pages could be better if it were reduced or removed, but it isn't anywhere near as irritating or distracting as I thought it might be.

d) There is a minor mental / emotional frustration that I'd like to be able to see all the physical books I've purchased from Amazon available on the Kindle free and immediately, but I understand the content rights owner issues behind this.

Now I'm going to be interested to see :-
  • How quickly Amazon's recommendation platform moves me over to recommending eBooks rather than physical books
  • That Amazon list all of the physical books I've purchased over the years from them, and make it easy for me to obtain the Kindle eBook variant of each book (preferably at some discount price given I already own the physical medium)
  • If Amazon will buy MediaMan and really start to exploit the 'making metadata available to customers' as a differentiation and business opportunity (eg the obvious case of inventory listing for insurance purposes etc)
  • If Amazon will ever release a loyalty based reward scheme...
So the end of day 1 rating :-
  • Would I buy the same one again? Yes
  • Do I like using & reading off it? Yes
  • Have I downloaded content? Yes
  • Have I purchased new books? Yes
  • Has my wife looked at it and said "that's ok"? Yes

Some interesting web sites I've found relating to Kindle v3 topics :-

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

NotApp - Random thoughts

So as usual @chrismevans latest blog post here raises some good points that need discussing. In a previous post a while ago I highlighted some of these but I think Chris brings a number clearly to the fore.

FlexVols are inherently a good thing (although some of the sales use cases are rather flawed - eg copy prod to dev/test, which of course ignores all the information security issues), similarly so is the concept of Aggregates - but the issue for me is that these features haven't moved with the times. Some points below...

Aggregates limited to 16TB - this is an increasing issue for several reasons. Firstly the simple point that as disks increase in capacity we have fewer drives that can participate within an aggregate, impacting performance and risk. Secondly the first impact also impacts costs - as NetApp themselves are having to recommend smaller disk sizes with aggregates, which of course prevents any cost/gb benefits of larger disk sizes. Thirdly of course there are times when the actual capacity of an aggregate is just needed to be bigger than this limit.

Full support - so as Dimitris points out, in 8.0 a FlexVol can now be the same size as an aggregate (a good thing) but there is a new restriction, this cannot be a dedupe/ASIS volume (they are still limited in size). So a case of 'feature marketing' - in that most customers will now be using dedupe on their storage, meaning this new limit increase is pure theoretical at this point.

Mixed disks - The fact that today aggregates can only include a single disk type (ignoring PAM) is frankly painful, heck even EMC have understood this message and delivered upon it (still more work need Boston based dues!). But not to see this in OnTap after all this time is depressing to say the least.

Non-disruptive - for me this comes in two main areas that still appear to be missing :-

  • Non-disruptive move of volumes between disk types and/or aggregates within the same array
  • Non-disruptive in-place upgrade from 32bit to 64bit aggregates

NameSpace abstraction in the NAS area is still a major issue - primary for technology refresh & migrations, yes vFilers help for some of it but really just snowplough the problem around rather than actually remove the problem. I think NetApp certainly do need to spend more time looking at the migration & tech refresh areas, and spend time looking at environments where customers run a variety of ages of platform - to see what can be done to improve these parts. Otherwise they'll find that customers invest in the heterogeneous namespace virtualisation areas (eg F5 ARX, EMC RainFininty etc) rather than the persistence layer.

Reducing the size of an aggregate - hasn't been an issue in the past but will most certainly be an issue with larger aggregate sizes for companies with decent sized estates that need to move their storage hardware and/or capacities around within their estate.

Legacy Management - in talking of versions of OnTap we naturally get into the topic of estate management - by this I mean two key areas. Firstly the interop with & between various versions of OnTap - for many customers this will be a key factor, how to move over time to newer releases and how functionality works/is constrained by backwards & forwards compatibility. Secondly but related, is the equipment that the latest versions of OnTap are actually supported on, as much as vendors would like a new OS release to drive hardware refresh this just isn't possible or realistic in any well managed storage estate. So a key factor is that a current release is provided and supported on previous generations of hardware and that it is clear & flexible how the deployments of software interact with each other from a functionality perspective.

Multi-Protocol - yes this is interesting and can be of use, but reality is that is reasonable sized data-centres instance deployments of arrays still then to be protocol aligned (eg a 3160 for NAS, a different 3160 for FC etc). For me the bigger benefit is that the same interface and firmware/software is used over the different platforms as opposed to the myriad of platform software from other vendors.

But for me the greatest issue is that we're still discussing the same points re OnTap that we were 4 years ago, and little real progress has been made. I'm certainly not going to hold my breath for the v8.1 release that people allude to including lots of stuff that was needed 3 years ago. The talk of future releases is always bothersome, and is a standard sales tactic 'ignore the construction debris, look at possible the shiny future' - look at the disclaimers on any presentation on futures and then ask "why should I believe any of this is actually going to happen when & how stated?". I'm increasingly of the view that the OnTap code-chest is getting too old, too complex and too over-stuffed from an architectural clarity perspective for NetApp to be able to make sensible progression, and I'm wondering a) when it needs a tear down & rebuild with full architectural clarity? (as I don't believe 8 release is that) and b) what the next set of innovations are coming from?

Are they still better than the competitors? In a number of areas clearly & most definitely yes (eg MetroCluster, Failover between arrays, MultiStore etc), have they innovated ahead of others? yes (eg ASIS), but increasingly far too rarely & slowly and the market is rapidly catching up and will pass them very soon.

It's positive to see NetApp people commenting positively on Chris's blog, but NetApp if you want to improve things for the future? Run some a customer council sessions, listen to your customers discussing between them in a forum, take the information and act rapidly upon it - heck EMC did and they made big strides forward...

Overall - my view is that NetApp product management, particularly the WAFL & OnTap strategy teams have been asleep at the wheel for a few years and they, but more importantly their customers, are now paying a heavy price for this failure.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Still here!

Just a very short message to say that I'm still here, I've still got over 90+ blog posts in draft waiting to be completed and published, and still fighting the cause for transparency & honesty with IT vendors.

But that at the moment with my new role I'm very very busy right now working on some key programmes, and a number of critical infrastructure standards & strategy tenders (no if you don't already know about them you can't be added etc).

Hopefully I'll get some proper content published in the next week of so, in the meantime you can catch my ad-hoc, odd time rants on twitter @ianhf

Thursday, 24 June 2010

LiveScribe - Review and RFE

It's not often you'll see me do a product specific review or comment, but @JoeBaguley introduced me to a technology that has been really very useful and has no become part of my day working live in a positive way.

Both Joe & I were at a conference and started the first sessions taking notes, me on my tablet PC and Joe on his LiveScribe pen ( - needless to say 4 hours later my tablet battery was flat but Joe's solution kept on going without faltering for the entire day (and the next one for that matter). During a lull in the second day (and whilst my tablet still had it's new battery life that day) I went online and ordered my own LiveScribe setup.

I'm now starting to see people use these in many meetings (@mikiSandorfi being the latest) - everybody I show it to 'gets it immediately' and wants to know costs and where to buy it from, so here's the list of LiveScribe equipment I purchased :-

Mini Leather book
A4 Ringbound Notepads
Pen Refills


  • Great product, it just works
  • Simple to use - naturally being male I've never even opened the manual, let alone read it...
  • Love the variety of notepads - current I make the most use of the A4 sized ring-binder pads, feeling very natural in size, format and usage. But I also carry the mini leather notepad with me permanently in my jacket pocket
  • Makes maintaining an electronic version of your notes & records trivial
  • Battery charge lasts for ages and so it would appear does the 4GB memory
  • Its great to be able to sync & recall the audio directly against the areas you've written

So time for some Request For Enhancements (RFEs) :-

  • Gel nibs - it would be really good to get some replacement gel nibs rather than ballpoint
  • Coloured writing - it would be great to be able to 'set colour' of writing in electronic copy (ie select different pen colours when handwriting regardless of the nib's actual ink colour) - and have the electronic version show these colours
  • Re the desktop application :-
    • Need to have settings for the directory locations for data storage (at least I've not been able to find how to manage this)
    • Option to backup/recover data files used by the desktop application
    • Whilst the OCR search is great, it really does need a built in, and decent, OCR conversion to MS office formats
    • It would be useful to have integration with MS OneNote
    • The desktop desktop application really needs to be working via corporate firewalls and proxy servers

Overall? Sometimes even something so simple and basic as a pen & paper can be improved to a dramatic level that makes something so much more suitable to revised work requirements. Would I buy it again? Absolutely without thinking!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Respect the Tip-O-Meter

A fair while ago I spent a lot of time working & travelling with a founding partner of a serious change and programme management consultancy firm, now unlike most CONsultants I actually liked, trusted & fully respected Brad & Max and their team of ninja change consultants. This was mainly due to 4 factors :-
  1. Without fail they delivered on everyone of their claims and promises, and never gave excuses - rare then, unheard of nowadays
  2. They were truly knowledgeable, experienced, international in culture & utterly unflappable - these guys really were industry veterans having seen it all. Including people with pasts such as 'submarine commander' there really was little that could throw them of course or surprise them...
  3. They were to first people to introduce me to the value & importance of a graphic artist as part of any major project team - now as @mpyeager stated the other day, you don't hear me say "I was wrong" too often (although I'm more than happy do so when it occurs). However I really was wrong with this, at first I just laughed at why anybody in technology would want an artist - 2 weeks later I agreed I was 100% wrong, ate my words and agreed that one of the key roles in any project is the visualisation artist.
  4. They were really genuine, nice, honest, trustworthy people
Now with all the above taken into account, naturally this team spent a lot of time travelling, in hotels and dining out - and one of the techniques used when dining out was the 'Tip-O-meter'.

In essence this worked much like a chess clock, with a starting time (in this case a figure of cash that the waiter would eventually get as a gratuity reward at the end of the meal) - then at every point people were left waiting for for staff the 'Top-O-Meter' would be set running, each delay or issue slowly debiting the reward. If the servers or place was particularly liked they would be told re the process & value in advance, but not always. Funnily enough when operating on this clear feedback & measurement system service was generally better, particularly in the places not normally expected.

So here's my thinking, it's time to bring out the 'Hype-O-Meter' - this should work on very similar principles except the value on the clock is debited by :-

  • Unsubstantiated claims (functional & non-functional - eg uptime/reliability, performance, TCO etc)
  • Generation and/or promotion of hype
  • Non-delivery of promises and commitments, non-delivery of 'pre-announcements'
  • Whispering privately of FUD (including lobbying of unqualified customer mngt)
  • Vendor activities directed at sniping or negativity re a competitor, rather than engaging & serving the customer 
And whilst the 'reward' on the clock remains there is continued ongoing business, obviously when the clock runs out of time, so does the supplier...

So if you think this makes sense I'm happy to setup and run the 'Hype-O-Meter clocks of doom' on this site - let me know?

[Oh and Max L if you're reading - your wife's painting still hangs on our lounge wall...]

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Android recommends...

OK so I've been running Android since the day HTC released the Magic, and am now running both a Magic and a Nexus One. Having used lots of phones & mobile devices, with lots of operating systems and user interfaces I'm firmly in the 'Android is great' camp...

So I thought it might be a good idea to list a number of the applications I find useful, first a few web sites I'd recommend for people :-


   Essential Android Software
   HTC Desire Software

Naturally my Android twitter list also has some good people within it :)

Android applications that have lasted the test of time and are still installed on my daily Nexus One are as follows :-

Google Search by Voice, Google Translate, Google Sky Map, Listen, Finance, Bump, Floating Image, RealCalc Scientific, Unit Converter, Shopsavvy, Layar, SSI gTasks, chompSMS, Twidroid Pro, F1 Live Racing, London Tube Status, Stopwatch, UK Expense Checker, LED Scroller, Call Location, Phonalyzer, BeebPlayer, TED mobile, Exchange Rates, EboBirthday, Scoreboard, Ocado on the Go, Google Goggles, Gesture Search, Google Earth

GPS Status, Adobe Reader, Android System Info, Taskiller Full, Astro File Manager, Wifi Analyzer, MyBackup Pro, Antennas, RF Signal Tracker, Dindy, Power Manager Full, Autostarts, RoboTop, SMB File Sharing, Bubble, Turbo Mandlebrot, Save MMS, aTrackDog, No Signal Alert, Network Explorer, MagicMarker, Send2Printer, Upload 2 Nas, 

Ringer Toggle, WiFi OnOff, BlueTooth OnOff

Radiant, Robo Defense, Tower Raiders, Laser Reflections, iDemolished, Trap, Toss It Pro, Jewels, Replica Island, Age of conquest, Totem, Friction Mobile, Asphalt, Madagascar Puzzle

I also used to use :-

  • Locale - great for location aware automatic execution & scheduling of tasks useful but too expensive now
  • Lock 2.0 - but not sure need not re Android 2.1

So please let me know what Android applications or utilities you've found worthwhile :)

Friday, 4 June 2010

Claims Justification

So often we hear press releases, blogs, whitepapers, tweets, marketing powerpoints or spoken (or whispered) claims concerning IT technology or (increasingly) architectures, about subjective & relative statements (faster, cheaper, more available, better, sexier etc) BUT

How often is any justification, edvidence or proof given for this?

I'd go so far as to state that claims without justification aren't just unhelpful to anyone, they are downright dangerous :-
  • Sets false expectations, that can never realistically be achieved - thus positioning everybody for a dismal future of perceived failure
  • Wastes customers time having to evaluate the claims and justify what that actual possibility is and the context required in order to achieve such claim (if at all possible)
  • Detracts from the real positives that genuinely are out there in vendor land (honest there are some but you need to look very hard)
  • Ruins the credibility of the parties making the claims
  • Destroys the trust the customer has in the party making the claim, which means all future claims will have to be validated 
One of the better things of the evolution of humans is that in early times quacks made random & often fraudulent claims, however through scientific method we've moved into an era where claims made in that area are now fully validated before being accepted. Why does this appear to be so hard for IT technology providers?

So to be clear, if you make a claim on performance, availability, functionality, commercial benefits etc be sure to be able to justify the claim objectively with facts & evidence showing how the claim was formulated and any assumptions or prerequisites. Next you must be prepeared to share this information with exactly the same forum and audience you made the original claim to.

If you don't justify your claims expect me to a) shout loudly that you make fiction based claims, b) ignore your claims totally, c) regard your company & technology with considerable disdain...

There are words for people who make frequent claims without justification - and do you really want to have the life-span and popularity rating of a politician? If you can't, or won't, justify your claims then I'd very much prefer you don't make any...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Quickly catching up on recent announcements

So as those of you who follow my @ianhf twitter feed may have noticed I've been a little busy recently so sadly haven't had much chance yet to review & comment on the various (non)announcements from conferences etc

However just digging through my inbox I found one video release that really caught my attention, it appears to be an early NDA draft of some EMC, VMWare or HP R&D labs skunkworks project to move from IT hardware into more interesting engineering... The specific details are sketchy but it has all the trademarks of an IT presentation, and the hallmarks of a conference keynote speech...

A rapid searching of the interwebs & wikipedia lead me to this clarification...

Monday, 3 May 2010

Hey EMC? Rhubarb! I say Rhubarb!

Now contrary to popular belief I don't actually like calling out specific things or people, but I'm afraid I feel compelled to call out something. I shall do this using a recent CloudCamp by-law convention established by @swardley on Feb 8th 2010...

For the publication of the "Savings from their IT Investments" press release I hear-by shout a claim of "Rhubarb!" firmly in the face of EMC and their PR team.

Now to be clear my call of "Rhubarb!" refers mainly to the specific 3rd paragraph, namely :-
Optimizing performance and cost reduction for Oracle Database 11g deployments with EMC Symmetrix® V-Max™ or EMC CLARiiON® CX-4 networked storage systems and EMC FAST to automatically adjust storage tiering as Oracle workloads change. This results in up to 30 percent lower acquisition cost and up to 45 percent lower operating cost in hardware, power, cooling and management over a three year period.
Additionally @sakacc also makes reference to this in the 5th paragraph of his blog post here re :-
Oh – we also showed how using Fully Automated Storage Tiering, Solid State storage, and deduplication using Data Domain we could lower the acquisition cost by 30%, and the operating costs of Oracle 11g by 45% – while delivering equal or better performance.
I'd like to believe these papers were created by engineers with good intent and sound principles, and I can certainly vouch for Chad having those qualities, and it is positive to see such materials being published, however...

I do notice that the two percentage claims above have subtle but key differences in their content - the first stating storage technology acquisition and (mainly) environmental costs, the second referencing 'operating costs of Oracle 11g'.

I've read the PDF linked at the start of the above paragraphs, and re-read it, and I'm afraid I can't find any reference to a number of things :-

  • The actual cost savings percentage values called out in the press release text
  • The baseline that has been used for the comparison savings statements above
  • Costs of components, technologies & software used - clearly showing the standard FoC and additional cost elements for each option (eg cost of FAST, cost of SSD etc)
  • Any form of ROI and TCO models used to underpin the two statements in the document making reference to 'improving TCO'
  • The list of assumptions and/or pre-requisites used in the models re savings (re facilities costs, FTE costs, frequency & duration of administration or change tasks, support & deployment operating model RACI etc)
  • Savings for other alternatives (eg using thin-provisioning & wide-striping on the vmax rather than FAST, using a CX instead of a VMax, using both a CX & VMax etc)
  • Impacts of other technologies (eg Oracle on NFS, Database compression, Flash Cache etc)
  • Impacts of the use of two independent arrays and ASM "NORMAL REDUNDANCY" for the replication of data between the arrays (ie rather than the cost of SRDF), and then how the independent operation of FAST on each array may impact performance predictability under disk failure situations. (with different read & write IO profiles potentially driving the independent policy engines into different decisions)
  • Some context definitions as to what capacity the paper regards as 'large' Oracle databases (eg 10TB? 50TB? 150TB? etc) (page 5 of pdf)
  • How this is impacted by the capacity of the databases being handled by the storage structure?
  • Impacts of the rate of database capacity growth on the proposed model (eg a rapidly expanding DB, when the DBs exceed the capacities of each tier etc)
  • The RPO & RTO requirements & assumptions for these databases, and impacts / sensitivity of changing them
  • The support operational SLA context for the database services (eg permissible time for response, resolution and return to normal operation, performance & risk after an incident)
  • Any specific performance related numbers (eg actual response ms times required for SLA, throughput/sec, IOPs etc), and how they change (given we don't know much about the transaction being measured)
  • No details to the NFR (performance, resiliency, capacity etc) impacts during the FAST migrations, or indeed how long the migrations took to complete each time
  • A slight puzzle for me is the use of Raid 5 3+1 in the vMax, given all the previous statements from EMC re default preference for Raid 6
  • The on page 30 of the doc the SSD raid type is stated as R5 7+1, versus R5 3+1 of other disk types (impacts on performance, risk & perf deg during rebuild?) but at the bottom of figure 25 & middle of figure 26 the screen-shots appear to show the SSD as being R5 3+1?
  • I'd be interested in seeing how including the pool allowed to use the SSD would change the performance - given a lot of Oracle DB perf issues come from redo log bottlenecks
  • The more likely use-case for me would be migration of storage within a single database's data structure (eg some of the database data-files active some inactive etc hence some on SSD, some on FC and some on SATA for the same DB)
  • As a minor side point it doesn't mention the version of ASM being used
  • Sadly as usual with EMC there are no actual details of the reference benchmarks being used for the workload simulation - really would be good if they published their suite of benchmark tools
  • The paper makes reference to "we used an internal EMC performance analysis tool that shows a 'heat map' of the drive utilisation of the array back end" - why isn't this confidence validation view & tool available to all customers as part of all array type standard software? (after all at worse it would be a sales tool to help justify the purchase of the additional FAST software licences???)

Now I'm not saying the reports are wrong, but what I'm rather saying is that I think they are incomplete, and appear to have little or no direct linkage to the claims being made in their name by the PR teams and certainly don't give a full context picture. This additional context & information is needed for enterprises to get sufficient comfort in the technologies to perform their own benefit opportunity & impact assessments.

So marks out of 10? So far 6/10 with a caution for "unjustified PR marketing abuse" - but very willing to review the score upon someone pointing out what I may have missed, a revised draft, justification of claims & clarification...

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Communication maths or the little voices in my head?

Given the I see vendor claims and business proposals everyday I'm fairly used to seeing wonky maths that most certainly doesn't add up no matter how you look at it.

So naturally I was intrigued (and jolted from my commuter's daze) last week whilst listening to Chris Evans breakfast show on BBC Radio 2, during my morning 90minute drive to the office, when Father Brian D'Arcy mentioned he could prove how 1+1 = 6.

Now this kind of maths has always existed within a sales weebles commission spreadsheet, but this was Brian's simple explanation for how it may well exist in real truthful life :-
His statement was that whenever there are 2 people directly communicating, there were actually  normally 6 people involved :-
  • The person I think I am
  • The person you think I am
  • The person I actually am
  • The person you think you are
  • The person I think you are 
  • The person you really are
This struck a chord with me, having watched people (myself included) struggle with communication due to pre-conceived ideas, assumptions, not listening correctly or by trying to present an image. So it really does help me understand and explain why honest, aligned, clear, concise & open communication is so tricky (even in all groups) but also so totally vital.

Must say that I'd certainly like to believe that with spouses/partners/families we do manage to get the number to be considerably less than 6. However I think in business - both for communication between groups of individuals & groups of companies - this number is sadly regularly much greater than 6.

That all said, I don't believe in over-thinking/analysing communications, but I do think the simple memory prompt will be of help to remember when communications aren't going well...

And we all want some happy talking don't we? :)

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Feature stacks and the abuse of language

So the new financial year heralds the season of vendor conferences, and - as night follows day - over the horizon, like the four riders of the apocalypse, approaches the associated marketeering storm that always comes with such conferences.

Sadly one trend I'm seeing more of from the (increasingly desperate?) IT infrastructure industry is aspirational future feature stacking. Where endless features are announced haphazardly into the mix in an attempt to justify new revenue streams; naturally the delivery of these features is in a different year/decade to when they are announced, let alone when any actual benefit might be realised.

Of course the first challenge to this is trying to convince customers re the vital importance of features they haven't heard of before, often for problems they never knew they had. So some use fictional stories in order to try and paint a picture of utopia as a result of paying for their magic liquor, some just plaster the industry with noise, others use new abuses of marketing terms, some use all.

A common area glossed over is the 'initial ingress disruption' required to achieve such utopia features - especially given the likely useful life of 'nirvana function'© versus the duration of benefits case and lifetime of said feature.

The benefit's case is an interesting point in it's own right - remember these are the vendors that often still haven't a clue about the TCO or ROI for their products several years after they were announced. Naturally there is little or no mention of the financial costs involved, ingress & egress disruption, organisation & technology process changes, operating model changes, and increasingly, the business process changes needed to use this fictional future widget function.

Now you wouldn't expect otherwise, but of course there is little mention of either the existing abilities to solve this problem other ways, or that the effort & resources might be better invested elsewhere (ie higher up) in the technology solution stack? Or that the symptom cold be avoided entirely if the cause were addressed with better application design. My view has always firmly been that infrastructure can provide at best single digit % improvements, where as changes in the application layer can provide double digit % improvements.

Always just snow-ploughing the data problem symptom around rather than addressing the cause - of course you can't fault the bottom feeding tin vendors from offering this solution, there is always some legacy application that can benefit from any improvement; but frankly the infrastructure companies don't have many other options and there is always somebody that'll buy anything.

So there's plenty of noise, lots of definition and understanding confusion & plenty of widget functions, indeed it's nothing new for companies to start abusing words and terms in a desperate hope to generate excitement and differentiation - yet normally this just further confuses the market (remember when a word typically had one clear, obvious and innocent meaning???).

Some recent history of definition & language abuse could be :-
  • 'Cloud' NIST has worked to a certain extent but IT companies have abused the hell out of it.
  • 'Virtualisation' has some common understanding in the server world, but as usual the storage world is chaos.
  • Now along wanders 'Federation' as the latest word to be put through the hype & definition mangler.
I'd really encourage the use of the relevant standards body to help create common industry definitions for the terms used, always provide clear & transparent context and always detail the assumptions & pre-requisites with any form of benefits discussion. Rather than using hypothetical stories and definition abuse, I'd really much rather prefer it if companies explicitly list the: -
  • The specific customer requirements & problems this addresses & justify how
  • The use cases this feature / function applies to, and those that it doesn't
  • Why & how this feature is different to that own vendor's previous method for solving this problem
  • Provide clarity over the non-functional impacts of the feature before, during & after it's use - ie impact on resilience, impact on performance, concurrency of usage etc (including provide up-front details of constraints)
  • Provide the before & after context of the benefit position, clearly explain the price of the benefit change and any assumptions or prerequisites needed to use the feature

  • Provide some form of baseline & target change objective for entire process steps impacted
  • Confirm the technology costs and cost metric model for this feature
  • Naturally you'll also expect me to require TCO & ROI of the feature, and any changes to the models as a result of this feature
To take an example, one key element being touted by 'federation' is 'non-disruptive migration' - something I'm very much in favour of. However a) for many this can already be done through the use of the de-facto volume manager & file-systems, but b) the real issue associated with migration are 'remediation' and CABs. With most CABs nowadays been based on risk, and commonly used as process validation gates - it's hard to understand how 'federation' helps change approval boards (especially when you consider that lots of CABs still require engagement for moving hypervisor guest images). For the 'remediation tech refresh' use case of federation there will need to be a lot of changes in the vendor support & interop processes, culture, responsibilities and agreements for this to be of use. If the host still requires any material remediation (eg HBA change, firmware changes, OS patches, server model change, VM/FS changes etc) then moving the bytes stored on the rust, whilst good, does little to address the majority of the problem. Let's not forget all the other associated OSS processes that have to be engaged - eg ICMS/CMDB updates, asset & license management registers, alert & monitoring tools, networking planning & bandwidth management etc. Yes in the world of the automated dynamic data-centre these related issues will be improved, but that's a future state after a lot more of investment & disruption.

If this sounds overtly negative that isn't the intent. The issue for me is that any 'nirvana function'© is normally only of use if it makes a net positive change to the cost of BAU service or change. In order to prove that we need to understand how it impacts the steps, effort & duration for each item in the transition from 'desire to delivery' (eg when somebody thinks they may need some capacity to when they are able to actually use this). From my experience this sequence involves a mix of commercial, technical, political, emotional & financial steps - similarly very few companies seem to be able to show the steps in this sequence and how their function changes them.

Now I'm very much one for focusing on capabilities and architectures rather than point widget features, but the current trend of announcing aspirations as architectures and then products is a very dangerous and steep curve downhill. Like an iced wedding cake made from cards built on a sandy beach - this obsession with feature stacking promises everything but benefit delivery regularly lasts for only a few minutes before collapsing in an ugly mess.

Are suppliers hoping that by increasingly frequently hyping the shiny shiny baubles of the progressively distant future they will distract us from the factual reality of today? Remember today was the future of yesterday, and how many of the past's 'nirvana functions'© promised by these same charlatans vendors actually came half way true?

If only these vendors spent time & resources making the existing features usable, simplifying the stack, resolving the interop issue, given clear context and being able to actually justify their claims, rather than building their own independent leaning towers of Pisa from which they can throw mud at each other...

Thursday, 15 April 2010

NotApp takes a byte of objects?

So NetApp have finally shown their cards with regards to their previous press noises on cloud & object storage, with their acquisition of Bycast Inc here

Now eager followers (it's legit to use plural as there are at least 2 of you!) will recall that I commented about NetApp and cloud storage last year here (NotApp or NetApp) and here (NetApp cloud or fog) - so of course I'm rather interested to follow-up and hear how @valb00 carries through with his statement on my blog comments from Aug 2009 of :-
"- Finally we come to the highly anticipated Object Storage question. Without pre-announcing anything, I will divulge that our solution will prove the value of Spinnaker’s scale-out excellence, particularly beyond NAS or even SAN/iSCSI configurations. Priorities of REST, XAM, SOAP and others are really interesting to us at the early (pre-standards) market phase"
I must admit to being a little disappointed by the announcement - much like @StorageBod, I had been allowed to gather the impression that they were much further along with their own internal object work. One assumption would be that what was being alluded to was a whole bag of empty :( Of course the another possibility is that the internal work is going fine and this is an stand-alone additional product line?

Either way, the timing of NotApp & ByCost gives me a wry smile given length of time between 'object strategy' PR statements to actually starting doing something.... (let alone the GA/GD date of the final solution)

Fundamentally I still have the same questions plus naturally some addition new ones :)

Clearly there are some of the obvious questions :-
  1. How quickly they make this a native capability of Ontap and not just a standalone product or a bolt-on gateway? (frankly I'm not taking bets on anything earlier than the GD release of v8.3??)
  2. What pricing model & cost they sell the tech at - the object model will not stand NetApp's traditional COGs, let alone combined COGs of NotApp plus Bycost
  3. How NetApp intends to handle Bycast as a company? As let's face it, NotApp's acquisition history isn't exactly great, and their software dev trains are rather muddled and overly complex right now
  4. How will NetApp manage to hold on to the people & desire fuelling the drive and innovation at Bycast? Especially when they faced with the monolithic wall of spaghetti code that OnTap must be by now...
  5. How much did NetApp pay for Bycast? and thus how much additional value do they need to return to their shareholders over what period of time?
But there are some other questions that come to mind as well :-
  1. Would I have purchased from Bycast before? no. Would I now via NetApp? don't know - far too early to understand
  2. What's the product costs and the combined/revised TCO model?
  3. How will NetApp position this pure software only model, that allows for felxibility with hardware (eg server reuse, DAS pricing models, capex risk mitigation with repurposing etc), against their normal hardware + software model?
  4. When will they include compatibility for the AWS S3 object APIs standard? As this is most definitely the de-factor standard that people are interested in right now..
  5. What will Netapp do for globally local deployment skills & support?
  6. "Is this too little too late?" @RandyBias asks here - interesting question! All depends on things like the API model, product cost, time to deliver real integration, where it fits in sales proposition, roadmap integration etc...
  7. How will NetApp build upon Bycast and what is their 18mth roadmap for the Bycast technology?
  8. What difference will being part of NetApp make to Bycast? and how will this improve their products and services?
  9. How will NotApp adapt the waffle maker to be able to efficiently cope with the metadata needed in an object platform?
  10. How does it relate to OnTap 8 distributed file-system mngt? is this helping in-fill minds, technology, issues in that space?
  11. Does NetApp have the suitable culture to be able to connect and deliver in this space? interesting... in the enterprise market for internal object stores - maybe... for the web 2.0 uber scale developer lead object stores then no... They certainly are not the driving culture innovator they once were, just look how hard EMC have fround this area with Atmush and the squillions of $s & good minds that they've poured into CIB & Atmush so far... (and that's a not too bad a product - some material API standards issues but mainly internal culture, sales & cost issues...). Now given that NetApp are nowadays more like EMC in the 90s than any other company I've ever met (ie complacent, out of touch, expensive, slow to react, storage only player, rhubarb for ears etc - but interestingly still better NAS than the rest) - how on earth wil NotApp's sales-force get their heads around selling something at much lower costs, higher value and address the margin cannibalisation directly?
  12. Will NetApp want to get into the IaaS/SaaS market directly by offering an object store service directly to compete with AWS & EMC etc? and if so how will they handle the 'competing with their own customer' bit?
  13. How will the competition react?
  14. Who will look to snap-up the other software only storage cloud players out there?
  15. Will NetApp now finally calling 'any shared bit of tin' a cloud and use the term with a bit more respect?
Now - quick breather - time to comment on Bycast and their products :-
  • Prior to this I was aware of them, but they weren't somebody I was actively engaged in discussions with
  • I think it's good that they are working with the SNIA CDMI standards (I'm guessing this is where the acquisition discussions may have started from)
  • David Slik's blog here seems to have plenty of good content in it
  • Bycast certainly seem to have a bunch of happy customers so far
  • The fact that it already supports multiple types & staus of target media is very positive, as is the support of running under VMWare (and hence being hardware agnostic)
  • The data on the website is rather light on specific numbers (volume, qty scale, performance etc) and details on policy mngt & metadata
  • One thing that annoys me, is that to find any information out (documentation, technical, support etc) it would appear I have to register (and wait for an email of the document and for the inevitable sales droid to try and contact me) - big hint, you want me to look at your company & product? Make it easy! (especially when I tried it the system crashed with Siebel OnDemand errors all over the place)
  • Clearly the devil is in the details, I'll wait to find out more over time
So the big question is - "when & what are you going to do with your new baby now NetApp?", I'm grabbing a beer and going to sit, watch & wait... :)

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Large slices of pie do choke you!

So a new blogger called "Storage Gorilla" makes a few interesting and well reasoned points here about IBM's XIV (my views re XIV will be in a different blog post) - but a couple that jump out to me are the 'entry size' & 'upgrade size' points about half-way down the text.

Now anybody who's spent time working with me on my companies' global storage BOMs will understand that this is a major issue for me, and not something that is getting any easier. The issue is a complex one :-
  • The €/Per GB ratio becomes more attractive the larger the capacity within an array (as the chassis, interfaces, controllers & software overheads get amortised over a larger capacity) - however of course the actual capex & opex costs continue to be very sizeable and tricky to explain (ie "why are we buying 32TB of disk for this 2TB database??")
  • As the GB/drive ratio increases, the IOPS per individual drive stays relatively consistent - thus the IOPS/GB ratio is on a slow decline, and thus performance management is an ever more complex & visible topic
  • IT mngt have been (incorrectly) conditioned by various consultants & manufacturers that 'capacity utilisation' is the key KPI (as opposed the the correct measure of "TCO per GB utilised")
  • DC efficiency & floor-space density are driving greater spindles per disk shelf = more GB per shelf
  • Arrays are designed to be changed physically in certain unit sizes, often 2 or 4 shelves at a time
  • As spindle sizes wend their merry way up in capacity the minimum quantity of spindles doesn't get any less, thus the capacity steps gets bigger
  • Software licences are often either managed / controlled by the physical capacity installed in the array, or in some random unit of capacity licences key combination - these do not change re spindle sizes
  • Naturally this additional capacity isn't 'equally usable' within the array - thus a classic approach has been to either 'short stroke' the spindles or to use the surplus for low IO activity. However in order to achieve this you either have to have good archiving and ILM, or need to invest in other( relatively sub-optimal to application ILM) technology licences such as FAST v2.
  • Of course these sizes & capacities differ by vendor so trying to normalise BOM sizes between vendors becomes an art rather than science
So what does this all mean?
  • Inevitably it means that the entry level capacity of arrays is going up, and that the sensible upgrade steps are similarly going up in capacity.
  • We are going to have to spend more time re-educating management that "TCO per GB utilised" is the correct measure
  • Vendors are going to have to get much better at the technical size of software & functionality licensing that much more closely matches the unit of granularity required by the customer
  • All elements of array deployment, configuration, management, performance and usage must be moved from physical (ie spindle size related) to logical constructs (ie independent of disk size)
  • Of course SNIA could also do something actually useful for the customer (for a change), and set a standard for measuring and discussing storage capacities - not as hard as it might appear as most enterprises will already have some form of waterfall chart or layer model to navigate between 'marketing GB' through at least 5 layers to 'application data GB'
  • Naturally the strong drive to shared infrastructure and enterprise procurement models (as opposed to 'per project based accounting') combined with internal service opex recharging within the enterprise estate will also help to make the costs appear linear to the business internal customer (but not the company as a whole)
  • The real part though will be a vendor that combines a technical s/ware & h/ware architecture with a commercial licence & cost model that actually scales from small to large - and no I don't mean leasing or other financial jiggery pokery 
So I wonder which vendor will be the first one to actually sit their licensing, commercial & technical teams all together at the start of a product's development, then talk with & listen to customers, and actually deliver a solution that works in the real enterprise to enable scaling from small to large in sensible units? I'm waiting...

Friday, 9 April 2010

Vendor Partner Programmes - use or useless?

Most of you will know that many topics can make me a tad irritated, however a reoccurring one that never fails to wind me up is the topic of "parter accreditation" programmes.

You know, the ones where ISV XYZ says they are a 'gold partner' of technology supplier ABC and all the world is going to be hunky dory. Of course this applies equally to SIs, ISVs & OEMs.

This irritates me for a number of reasons :-

1) Mainly because it's never 'hunky dory' and given the devil is in the details, all these partner schemes do is set certain expectation levels in top management's minds that can never be achieved. Indeed if it was all so 'hunky dory' why the heck do so many SI managers drive around in expensive cars paid for through 'change control additions'???

2) Often the one 'partner' insists on the use of another partner, either in the form of a direct statement, or simply through the use of limited partners on the support & interop list. Of course it most certainly would be interesting to better understand any financial relationships or transactions between these partners ('finders fees' anyone?)

3) However the main issue I have with these schemes is that 90% of the time they are little more than joint marketing and sales programmes, which whilst sounding nice in reality they do nothing to actually help the customer. Once in, their accreditation schemes are often so light & flexible its daft, and this leads to lazy practices - which may in fact be negative for the customer.

But the real point of this note was to call out one specific area that vendors really could use these programmes for some positive value, namely tacking the issue of "supported versions". What I mean by this is that far too often, companies that have these schemes ignore a key issue - which is that they allow 'accredited partners' to either require the use of older technology versions or that they allow partners to support subsets of the products.

A couple of examples of this are :-

a) Cisco SAN switch interop programme for SAN-OS/NX-OS - where Cisco allow their partners to certify & support against a specific minor version of the code that is effectively unique to the partner. Thus making it more than tricky to get a solution between server, HBA, OS, disc array, tape library etc that actually matches all of the partner's specific certification requirements.

b) Oracle partners & out date/support software - where Oracle allow their certified partners to 'only support' aged versions of the database products. In the last month alone I've had one major billing partner & one major ISV both say that they currently only support Oracle DB 10.2.x and it will be mid-next year before they have anything that supports 11.x! Remember that 10.2 ends premier support July 2010, and 11.1 was released in Aug 2007!!!  (see here for details on Oracle support versions & dates)

So what do I want done about this? Frankly a simple starting point would be for these three items to added into the conditions of a partner scheme :-

1) If you offer a partner accreditation programme then mandate that members of the programme support the current version of technology within 90 days if it's GA release (after all they will have had plenty of notice & beta access as part of the programme) - this must also include providing upgrade routes

2) Partners are only permitted to do new deployment installs using non-current versions for up to 1yr of GA of the current version (and even then only n-1 release version)- thus allowing 'in-flight' projects to complete but preventing partners from proliferating aged technology deployments

3) If you allow partners to initially certeify against specific minor release sub-set versions, then require them to support the full major release version within 6 months of initial release (eg a 'terminal release' variant) - thus ensuring that the eco-system will converge on a common supported version within a period of time

Naturally companies that are not part of these partner programmes could carry on causing issues, but what this would mean is that those genuinely in such partner schemes would actually be helping their customer and have real differentiating benefits to offer.

Of course this would actually require companies to actively manage their partner programmes, and of course to remove those partners that don't adhere to the rules - something I doubt will ever actually happen. But you've gotta have a dream haven't you? :)