Archive for the ‘vendor agnostic’ Category

Magic Quadrants are good, but working equations are better.

21/11/2009

For those of you who know me well …or have joined me for a Chief Wine Officer event …you’ll know that my two favourite hobbies which I’m most passionate about are aeroplanes and wine.  Not always in that order, and never enjoyed together as the Civil Aviation Authority takes a dim view of such interaction.

But I’ll tell you a secret …I don’t actually have a favourite bottle of wine, nor do I have any silly rules like ‘no bottle under £20’ or some such.  I admit that I do subscribe to Decanter, read Jancis Robinson online, and subscribe to more wine blogs and Twitter feeds than I care to mention.  Whilst data can be very useful, you always run the risk of ‘analysis paralysis’ and, at the end of the day …much of what is written about wine is frankly someone’s subjective opinion.

No, I firmly believe that wine should be had for enjoyment …and I’ve tasted exceptional wine at £5 as well as wine costing much more which I wouldn’t clean Mrs. PL’s motor engine with.  Equally, as each one of us has an idea of the tastes we like and don’t like …who am I to tell someone else whether a bottle is good or not?  All I can do is tell you if I like it, although this does introduce the small problem of what to serve at dinner parties or when Mrs. PL and I are sharing a bottle.

So, what to do?  I do have a little formula in my head that I use which takes things into account when I choose a bottle …why are we drinking this, is it a celebration or a weekday? …how much does it cost, and is that a fair price? …what kind of food are we eating, or are we not eating until later? …and so on.  I want to get on to the crux of this post, but at the bottom of this post there are a few wines which make the PL Wine List.

What has this got to do with data storage and protection?

I’ll tell you another secret …contrary to what some might believe …including a few of our vendors …I don’t have a ‘favourite’ vendor or product any more than I have a favourite bottle of wine.  Without getting too Eddie Haskell about this, what is truly important to me …and I know I am far from alone in this within Computacenter …are our customers and how our solutions can help them remain competitive in their respective markets in the midst of a difficult economy.

Great, fantastic, huzzah.  But so what.  Isn’t that, you know …your job?  Indeed it is, but just as it can be difficult to select a wine for an occasion where it will be shared with others …how do we select a solution for a customer in a selective and demonstrably valuable way?

Some customers work directly with vendors and often use Gartner Magic Quadrants as a way to select their preferred solution.  Nothing wrong with that, but just as some winemakers and wineries are now openly criticising scoring systems they see as subjective scoring techniques such as the Robert Parker 100 Point Scale …so too are some vendors criticising the Gartner Magic Quadrants claiming the research methodologies are something less than scientific.  Indeed, a vendor recently brought a suit against Gartner claiming exactly this, with the suit having been initially thrown out but likely to be appealed.

Now, this post isn’t about criticising or having a go at Gartner or their Magic Quadrants …indeed, I applaud Gartner for being very open and transparent regarding their research techniques leaving folks to make up their minds for themselves.

That said, I believe research provided by companies such as Gartner to be but one part of the solution equation.

In an effort to inject more science into a solution decision, rather, I would argue that the solution equation should be expressed as [ROI] + [CBA] + [DPB] = CSS.

ROI, or Return on Investment.  How does our proposed solution return ROI within our customer’s stated period?  How can we leverage the existing infrastructure and investment to improve upon the ROI period?

CBA, or Cost Benefit Analysis.  Once the solution has been implemented, how much cost can be removed from our customer’s infrastructure and related budgets?  Exactly how will this be achieved (e.g. thin provisioning, data deduplication and/or data compression, storage virtualisation)?  What is the CBA not just for one to three years, but for five years from implementation?

DPB, or Disruption to Production Business.  What disruption is the recommended solution likely to have on the customer’s production business?

We give each of the above blocks …[ROI], [CBA], and [DPB] each a possible score of 100 such that a perfect solution would give us 300 expressed as CSS, or the Composite Solution Score.

How do we score each of the blocks such that we aren’t scoring subjectively?  Well, firstly we ensure that our data consultants retain the highest credentials in the industry …but we then couple their knowledge with a point system derived from IDC Storage v3.0 criteria as well as the Carnegie Mellon Capability Maturity Model.

The findings, CSS, are then presented to the customer in either a ‘leader table’ format or as an executive review comparative matrix based upon the vendor solutions the customer informed us they were most interested in.  In addition, the findings often form the basis on which we can offer to underwrite / gainshare the proposed cost savings for up to and including five years from implementation.

How do we do that, exactly?  Well, I can certainly provide you some samples but it does very much remain Computacenter intellectual property …and it probably doesn’t hurt to have a Practice Leader for Data Storage & Protection who studied neuroscience and Technology Leader for Data Consultants in Bill McGloin who studied applied mathematics.

Does it always work?  Yes …and no.  Just as people have reasons for liking or disliking different wines, so too customers will have reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with our findings.

But I believe this is just about the fairest way I know to present a proposed solution in an agnostic way …and, at the very least, absolutely articulates our value to a customer as a true service and solution provider.

As always, if you would like further assistance in taking this journey please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Have a great weekend,

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

PL Winter 2009/10 Wine List

If you like champagne as a pre-dinner drink or to celebrate, you won’t go far wrong with Heidseck Monopole Gold Top vintage 2004.  Always a quality drop, but at £19.99 from the normal £40 …or even £18.99 if you are near a Budgens …this is a steal!

If you are looking for something more ‘unique’ in the champers department, why not try Nyetimber?  Produced in Sussex, which has geographical features identical to the champagne region, this the the tipple good enough for Her Majesty to serve at the Royal Garden Parties.

I’m a huge fan of pinot noir from New Zealand, and you won’t go wrong with the bottle which won the International Wine Challenge for Best Red Wine, Wild Earth.  At £18 a bottle …and if you hunt around I’ve seen it as low as £13 …how affordable is the world’s best red wine?!

One of the most complex and interesting reds I’ve recently is Lillian Shiraz Mataro 2005.  At £11.75 a bottle, I challenge you to blind taste it and tell me it doesn’t taste about three times more expensive.  I’m stocking up on this one!

Finally, to round out the reds I give you Château Méaume ‘Château Matured’ 2003 Bordeaux Supérieur.  A bit of a mouthful for a wine costing a very affordable £8.99, yet if you open it 45 minutes before dinner I guarantee your guests will think you spent a whole lot more than that!

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What is Ray lashing now?!

09/10/2009

Mrs. PL and I have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Ray Mears.

If you have no knowledge of Ray Mears, or are reading this blog from outside the UK, Ray Mears is a ‘master of bushcraft’ …not the ‘I know everything about the former president of the USA’ kind but, rather, a wilderness survival expert. Ray knows an awful lot more about surviving in the wilderness than I ever will …even after having been a Boy Scout when I was much younger I respect Ray’s vast knowledge and experience …and has had several television series on the BBC.

Now, when I say that we have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Ray in Casa PL, I mean that he is known affectionately as ‘the guy who lashes stuff together’ …although we tend to substitute another word for ‘stuff’, but this is a family blog …as Ray always seems to be taking vines or bark or whatever to lash the daylights out of something to make a tool. To say that Ray ‘overcomplicates’ survival would be an understatement and therein lies our obsession. We watch not because we have any desire to become survival experts …Mrs. PL’s idea of ‘roughing it’ is a hotel without twenty four hour room service …but to see what new bit of overcomplicated nonsense Ray will try to convince us we need to survive in the wild.

Before we had PL Junior, Mrs. PL and I were known to actually go out for a meal *gasp!* and perhaps a bottle of our favourite wine …or two …and it was the morning after one of these outings when we happened upon a Ray Mears omnibus. Too knackered to bother with changing the channel, we were quickly sucked into the warped world that it Ray Mear’s overcomplicated world of survival and ended up turning it into a game …the one who couldn’t accurately guess the next piece of Ray ridiculousness had to run the next errand for the good of the order. I lost and had to go make the tea when I didn’t guess that Ray was cutting down a small tree and planing it down to make a bread board. Yep, you read that right campers …my man Ray decided that, what one really needs when lost in the wilderness after having sourced the ingredients to make bread is …a breadboard. Complexity, thy name is Ray.

What does this have to do with data storage and protection?

I’ve been talking a lot recently about the Computacenter Sharpen Your Business programme and I’ll share a secret with you. We’re not manufacturing secret Sharpen Your Business drugs in Hatfield, nor does Sharpen Your Business represent some kind of magic silver bullet that we’ve discovered and decided to brand for the good of all mankind. If we were manufacturing drugs in Hatfield, I’ve no doubts that folks would be asking me if I’m taking them by the pallet full …no, dear readers, this is an all natural technoweenie storage induced sometimes Starbucks assisted high!

At its core, Sharpen Your Business is about …simplicity. Whilst Ray Mears is introducing ever more intricate ways to make breadboards in the wild, we’re advocating our customers remove as much complexity as is possible from their IT infrastructures to reduce costs and optimise their business. If there is a secret to Sharpen Your Business, it is that it is our expertise and demonstrable breadth of experience with a broad spectrum of technologies within Computacenter allow us to introduce the reduction of complexity of IT into a customer without a disruption to their production business.

The seeds of the simplification movement within IT can be found in multiple places, and the race to remove complexity across the board carries on at pace.

VMware and related hypervisors have become ubiquitous within the technology market, and I believe it is just a matter of time until we see the death of the physical instance …everything will be virtual instance, from servers to desktops to software packages. It is this virtualisation of everything, including storage which will enable customers to make real use of cloud computing and remove major amounts of complexity from their environments.

Within storage we see vendors introducing simplicity in different ways.

IBM acquired XiV to give them a simple yet very effective massively parallel SATA array which no longer requires disk groups, RAID groups, and other barriers to simplified storage allocation and consumption. The use of thin provisioning and self healing algorithms in the array help to extend and amplify this simplicity. We were able to setup automated storage provisioning in a little under fours hours …on our very first try. Testament to how simple yet effective XiV can be.

EMC have introduced VMax and are currently working on a ‘unified storage’ platform with the CLARiiON with both platforms introducing a reduction in complexity. VMax, the EMC enterprise storage platform developed around CLARiiON controllers, allows a customer to scale out almost ad infinitum without adding the complexity of managing multiple arrays by hand. A unified storage platform within the CLARiiON range will introduce a ‘Swiss army knife’ approach to storage whereby a customer will have the ability to use NAS, SAN, virtual tape library, and archiving functions ….all within the same array.

NetApp were born of a mantra to remove complexity from storage and this philosophy remains very much part of their DNA. We have seen NetApp NAS devices become increasingly sophisticated in their approach to simplicity, and I would argue that their approach to NetApp storage platform’s tight integration with virtual environments [read VMware and/or virtual desktops] is wholly unique in the storage market and sets them apart from their competitors. When one adds the easy application integration with Oracle and Microsoft Exchange …admins who know nothing of storage can make backup ‘snapshots’ in no time at all using the NetApp integration …you could make an argument that NetApp understands the need for simplicity much better than most.

HDS introduce simplicity by allowing for storage virtualisation …that is to say, creating a storage ‘pool’ by virtualisation of other storage vendor arrays. IBM, EMC, HP, and other SAN attached storage vendor products traditionally don’t like talking to one another so you have to manage them separately. And if you have space on one vendor array, you can’t easily ‘share’ that space with another vendor product. Not so with HDS USPV which allows you to make a storage pool with just about any vendor product you can think of …simplicity in the form of a storage Babelfish! Throw in Zero Page Reclamation [ZPR] whereby we can reclaim unused space from traditional storage arrays as we migrate into the pool and you’re into simplicity amplified.

Not to leave out our friends at HP, I have seen time motion studies which clearly show that HP servers attached to HP storage can have storage provisioned in far fewer mouse ‘clicks’ and in about a third the time required for other products. Not to be outdone in the simplicity stakes, I am watching HP as they may ‘crack the code’ by introducing a massively parallel server/storage infrastructure in the future. Watch this space!

Each vendor introduces the reduction of complexity in a slightly different way, and who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is purely a matter of what the business problem is that we’re trying to solve.

In other words, how we apply this simplicity to demonstrably reduce costs and optimise a customer’s business is what Sharpen Your Business is all about.

Hacking down trees so you can make a flippin’ breadboard whilst lost in the great beyond isn’t.

Have a great weekend,

-Matthew

Click here to contact me.

On vendor agnosticity …and being selective.

06/09/2009

When I was growing up, I had an Uncle Malcolm.  Now …nothing unusual in having an Uncle Malcolm, save Malcolm isn’t a very common name in the United States …and he wasn’t my uncle.  To be sure, Malcolm was anything but common …some would call him an eccentric here in the UK, whereas most people in the States called him ‘weird’ …and my father insisted I call him Uncle Malcolm out of respect.  You see, Malcolm and my father worked together …and when I was a kid I thought Malcolm was the coolest guy in the world.  A mainframe programmer who has remained single his entire life, Uncle Malcolm taught me much of what I know of small plane flight and also how to play ‘Star Trek’ on the mainframe.  I spent a lot of time with Uncle Malcolm when my father brought me in to the office with him on weekends to verify mainframe backups and the like, and Malcolm was a bit of a minor rock star in my father’s company …there wasn’t much Malcolm didn’t know about mainframes, and what he didn’t know probably wasn’t worth knowing.

And then a young upstart named Bill joined my father’s department …indeed, he has been recruited and hired by my father as dad was beginning to develop solutions to his corporate ‘open systems’ requirements.  You see, the young upstart was …a client / server engineer!  GASP, egads!  It is de rigeur and not uncommon now, but back then?  Well, let’s just say that Bill and Malcolm didn’t exactly see eye to eye!  Bill didn’t do himself any favours by calling mainframes ‘dinosaurs‘ …but Malcolm didn’t exactly take the high road either when he continually referred to Bill’s servers as ‘not REAL computers’.  Things somewhat deteriorated after that, and really came to a head when Uncle Malcolm caught me playing Microsoft Flight Simulator on an IBM XT PC that Bill had setup for me.  In the end, my father made it quite clear to both of them that he wasn’t about to buy flak jackets and UN blue helmets …get on or get out …and thus began a computing cold war which carries on between them to this day.

What has this got to do with data storage and protection?

The problem with Bill and Malcolm was that they were both right …and both incredibly wrong.  Bill was right to highlight that the open systems movement was the evolution of corporate computing …but mainframes were hardly dinosaurs waiting for a hurtling comet to wipe them out forever.  Malcolm was right to highlight the incredible uptime and reliability of mainframes …but open systems were ‘real’ computers and offered corporate users options and flexibility that mainframes simply don’t.  And frankly …who cares?  Their job was to understand how to solve business issues without bringing computing religion into it …and they both failed …miserably.  As a strange circumstance, I got to work with both Bill and Malcolm after my father moved to Texas to take a CIO position and his previous company needed help completing a three tier client / server implementation …in plain English, an open systems infrastructure for their order and delivery system which leveraged the mainframe on the back end and brought the best of both worlds to their corporate users.  Bill and Malcolm called a truce, and I bump into Bill now and again at industry conferences …and Malcolm is making money hand over fist as one of the few people who still know how to reliably make billing systems work on mainframes.

Over the past twelve or so months, some vendors have described me at times …quite unhelpfully and inaccurately, as it happens …that I am either ‘in love’ with a competing vendor product at best, or a [insert competing vendor solution] ‘bigot’ at worst.  Now …they do have one thing right in that equation.  I am a bigot.  I am a customer bigot and …as I’ve stated before …I have a religion, and I can assure you that it is not storage.  Every vendor I talk to is rightly proud of their solutions …and their job is understandably to tell the world that their storage is the only solution to solve customer problems …but the simple fact is that each vendor solution is applicable and ‘correct’ depending upon the customer requirements.  And I’ve not met two customers yet who both had the exact same requirements.

I’m a customer bigot and am only truly interested in how data storage and protection can help our customers both save money as well as remain competitive in their respective markets.  Okay, now and again I will feed my inner geek and get into esoteric conversations with either our consultants or vendor partners by discussing the merits of NAS and NFS/CIFS with traditional database and OLTP systems …or how stable grid storage systems which retain thin provisioning and zero page reclamation in the frame with universal fibre channel, iSCSI, CIFS/NFS likely represent the future of data storage.  But this is not a message likely to excite a customer …customers spend money to solve problems, and nothing of what I’ve written in the last two sentences gives any hint as to how these systems would do this.

My job …and, by extension, the job of our consultants …is to use our consultancy equation* to evaluate our customer’s needs and requirements with a view to recommending what they need, not necessarily what our vendors have.

Please don’t misunderstand my messaging here …this isn’t a vendor bash, and we rely on our vendors to continue to make great products.  But just like Bill and Malcolm were convinced that they were both right, the simple truth was that there were corporate needs which open systems solve and corporate needs which the mainframe solve.  How much better and robust their solution could have been had they decided to work together as opposed to slagging one another off.

Our solutions are designed to solve customer issues as opposed to highlighting the ‘speeds and feeds‘ of a one storage solution over another.  Will thin provisioning solve the problem?  Perhaps, but should we access the storage via fibre channel, iSCSI, or CIFS/NFS?  And what about data deduplication …will that help?  Probably, but should we be looking at inline or post processing data deduplication …or both?

The only way to know is to listen to our customers and articulate our solutions in a way that makes it very clear how our solution helps to solve that issue.  Please don’t hesitate to  contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping you take our customers on this very important journey.

Have a great weekend.

-Matthew
Click here to contact me

*The consultancy equation we use is [ROI] + [CBA] + [Disruption to Production Business] = Composite Solution Score …return on investment plus cost benefit analysis plus potential disruption to the customer’s production business to give us a composite solution score where we can fairly and accurately measure multiple vendor solutions.  It’s somewhat complicated, but feel free to contact me and I will happily walk you through how this works in practice.

It’s about much more than socks.

16/08/2009

As many of you may know, the UK is my adopted home and not the place of my birth.  I spent the formative years of my life in the United States and, during that time, picked up both some good and, frankly, bad habits.  It took me a while to recognise that there are an abundance of words which should be spelt with an s and not a z …that z is pronounced ‘zed’ …that colour is indeed meant to be spelt with a ‘u’ …that a fortnight is fourteen days …that there is a difference between while and whilst …I could go on and on, but I won’t.  One of the most dramatic changes I have noticed in the ten plus years I have lived in my new homeland [beside the flattening of my accent!] has been the clothes I wear.  Now, I know that I still sometimes dress like a technoweenie [stop laughing Terry] but if you had seen me when I first moved to Ireland you would wonder as I often have just what Mrs. PL saw in me before we got married.  Yes, dear reader, I thought there was nothing wrong with a dark blue shirt, green tie, tan trousers, and tan tartan checked sports jacket.  Worn together.  And we needn’t discuss the fact that my trousers were shortened in that grand American style which would leave you wondering where the flood was that I was expecting.

What does this have to do with data storage and protection?

The Computacenter Sharpen Your Business initiative is certainly about how we can demonstrably save a customer money across the length and breadth of their organisation.  However, if we look deeper one could also argue that the Sharpen Your Business initiative also addresses a common flaw in the development of technology solutions …often, in my expereience, technology solutions can be patchy when it comes to customers …we’re virtualising their environment, but perhaps we haven’t asked how they will store or backup the data.  We have a great reputation for providing desktop support, but perhaps the customer has no idea of the other great service and solution offerings we have which could help them realign their internal resources away from simply managing ‘stuff’ and back to helping their business innovate and stay competitive in a difficult market.  And this got me thinking.  IBM refer to this as ‘clothing’…we sold them the socks but forgot to ask him about the suit.  Now that Mrs. PL dresses me properly [I do have my off days when she isn’t around … let’s not talk about the pink socks] I can more fully appreciate just what it means to be ‘the finished article’ and the importance of wearing colours that are not only found in nature …but are meant to be worn together.  It gives a much bigger impact to others, and with neuroscientists telling us that most humans make a decision within three minutes of meeting someone new as to whether they will work with and trust them I need all the help I can get and can’t allow my clothing to be a barrier.

Our customers are faced with a similar problem.  Virtualising their ‘stuff’ is valuable and has ROI and demonstrable long term cost benefit …but won’t help them achieve true end to end cost benefit which translates into their ability to be more competitive.  Neither does storage tiering.  Nor data ‘dedupe’.  No, these are all point solutions that, left in isolation, will only yield limited benefit.  Tie them all together, mix in a bit of enterprise content management …file virtualisation …virtualised backup …consolidated maintenance contracts …automated storage and server provisioning …now we’re talking!  Imagine taking twenty internal IT personnel who understand your business intimately and redeploying them to business units to help your business stay competitive in a declining market …would you talk to a service and solutions provider who could help you do that?  Yeah, me too.

So when you get dressed on Monday, remember …we need to buy the whole suit, not just the socks.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me

I need to learn Norwegian!

14/08/2009

I need to be brief with this Weekly View as it is PL Junior’s birthday today, and Mrs. PL has made it quite clear that I am required to help setup for his party …and ensuring I don’t bore our guests with analogies of birthday cake slices and how they remind me of data deduplication.

But with guests coming over later this evening, I got to thinking again about our recent holiday.  As I said last week, this is the second year running that we went to the same resort in Malta on holiday.  Last year PL Junior as just learning how to swim and, as he was just turning two, wasn’t yet to the point where he would play with children he didn’t know.  Equally, as only about twenty percent of the folks holidaying in this resort are British, there were many children speaking a multitude of languages that PL Junior didn’t understand.  This year saw many changes, from PL Junior spending nigh on six hours a day in the pool and, interestingly PL Junior developed a relationship with three Norwegian children whom he played with non stop.  Did PL Junior suddenly become a fluent Norwegian speaker?  Nope, didn’t understand a word of what the three children aged three, five, and nine were saying …nor they him …but between my German, my wife’s French, and the Norwegian parents’ English we were able to find enough common ground to enable us to go out to dinner together and generally enjoy one another’s company.  PL Junior continues to ask for Markhus, Khristof, and Nikolay and when we are going to go back to Malta to play with them …and Mrs. PL and I have a standing invitation to come to Norway with PL Junior to ski in their family chalet.

What does this have to do with data storage and protection?

The sale of enterprise [e.g. EMC Symmetrix] and modular storage [e.g. EMC CLARiiON] ‘crossed over’ during the last recession in 2000 / 2001, with modular storage sales overtaking enterprise for the first time and, since then, modular storage sales have continued to rise whilst enterprise have continued to decline.  There are many reasons for this, but customers realised that they could achieve similar performance and reduced complexity with modular storage at a price significantly lower to enterprise.  We are about to see a similar ‘paradigm shift’ as enterprise and modular storage converge.  You can tell your friends that you heard it here first, and there are storage products on the market today which represent the future converged enterprise/modular arrays as I’ve described …think IBM XiV and EMC Vmax …and trust me when I tell you that other major vendors such as NetApp, HDS, and HP aren’t far behind.

As the storage arrays converge we will be able to provide customers performance, high utilisation, and decreased management complexity without sacrificing quality and, perhaps most importantly, at a competitive cost.  But as this convergence occurs, how will customers be able to differentiate one solution from another to satisfy their business needs …or will they all look the same?

No, I can assure you that, whilst they will seek to achieve the same outcomes, how they get there will continue to be different.  IBM XiV solves the grid architecture question by using a massively parallel SATA array and using software to allow storage to be ‘written‘ across all the drives thus giving high performance to all applications equally …whereas EMC takes a different view with Vmax useing mixed solid state drives, fibre channel drives, and SATA drives with software to ‘promote‘ and ‘demote‘ storage as application demands require.  Equally, storage vendors will seek to differentiate their products with features …whilst they will all provide thin provisioning, vendors are now going to war re how their thin provisioning works.  To wit, they go to great pains to explain ‘chunklets’, or how large a thin provisioned block they will use.  It is now being argued that use a chunk too large and you may negate the very applicability of thin provisioning long term, whereas use a chunk too small and you may overrun the onboard storage cache and negatively affect performance.  HDS uses 42 MB chunk sizes to allow for their thin provisioning solution to execute zero page reclamation, thus ‘reclaiming’ up to 30% of previously allocated storage back into the storage pool as fully usable …thus equating to cost savings …whilst EMC uses 768K chunklets as this is optimised for performance on their systems.

Who is right and, more importantly …what to do?  Firstly, they are all correct …and all incorrect!  The solutions will all technically ‘work, however what matters is what the customer is trying to accomplish and the business issue(s) we are trying to solve.  This is where Computacenter comes in as our vendor agnostic yet vendor selective consultancy practice enables us to firstly understand how each of our vendor partners accomplish things like grid architecture, thin provisioning, and chunklet size …and secondly, which vendor or vendors can demonstrably solve the customer business issue(s).  Just like PL Junior and our new Norwegian friends, there are folks who can translate what is being said at the bits an bytes level into real world cost reduction and the solving of business issues.

What sometimes happens, however, is that the most applicable solution could actually involve more than one vendor …but as we’re trying to reduce complexity, not introduce more many customers decide to go ‘sole vendor’.  Again, this is where Computacenter come in as …just as we parents helped PL Junior and the Norwegian children understand one another …Computacenter can provide consultancy, implementation, and support services which span multiple vendors thus providing customers with the best of breed solution at a fair cost without increasing complexity.

Mrs. PL and PL Junior have already stated their intention for us to holiday with our new Norwegian friends next year, and I plan to work a bit more on my Norwegian before we go away.  In the interim, please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping to articulate the ‘why Computacenter’ for you  …our customers.

Have a great weekend.

-Matthew

Click here to contact me

A kneeboard for IT?

16/07/2009

I’m sure that I’ve spoken about my love of flying several times in this blog, but for those of you who don’t know …I’m a bit of an aviation nut.  To put that into context, I subscribe to ‘Airliner World’ (which Mrs PL tries to hid when it arrives each month) but I wouldn’t go so far as to be found ‘plane spotting’ near Luton or Heathrow.  I tell you this because 9/11 was certainly traumatic enough as it was …seeing a city I know intimately attacked using objects I love as weapons was horrible to watch, and I felt especially helpless having to watch from here in the UK.  My sister phoned from her home near NYC on the day (when the lines were finally cleared) in tears to say that they were broadcasting on all local TV channels ‘If you’re parents haven’t returned home, please dial 1-800-…..for help.’  That really brought the tragedy home, and it is something I won’t ever forget.

But I digress.  What upsets me terribly regarding 9/11, beyond the human tragedy of course, is that a handful of murdering eejits have ruined something I (and others) used to enjoy greatly.  Growing up in the States, flying had been no more difficult than taking the bus.  Get the the airport 30 minutes before your flight, hop on, fly off.  Easy peasy!  For a few months after 9/11, most people really didn’t mind the extra security measures but now almost eight years on …we mind.  A lot.  Flying now has become quite onerous and not particularly pleasant …I flew to Edinburgh yesterday from Luton, and as a Watford supporter I already had enough to dislike about Luton.  After yesterday’s security hassle I’m coming to the opinion that, in the not too distant future, the government is going to expect me to show up naked and wrapped in cling film to speed through security.  Now there’s an interesting mental picture for your Bank Holiday weekend!  And the hassle doesn’t stop there …no liquids over 100ml, unless of course you buy them from the vendors who just happen to charge £9 for a water after security.  Then we are herded like cattle just before being bused (and why a bus? I thought we were meant to be FLYING to Edinburgh, not driving!) to fight for seats which recline about 33mm at best and smell like someone’s been cooking a curry on them at worst.  And don’t get me started on the people who bring on ‘hand luggage’ the size of a cello case which could easily hide a dead body …all because the airline will now charge you for putting bags in the hold.  Eeeeejits.

I do sometimes wonder what the economic effect of all of this has been …do some folks simply decide it isn’t worth the hassle to do business outside of their immediate area?

What does this have to do with Storage and Data Protection?

9/11 changed the world in many ways perhaps forever, certainly within air travel.  But people don’t like change at the best of times, particularly when it complicates their lives or makes something which should be easy …difficult.  Humans like simplicity!  Airports, airlines, and governments have tried to respond to this by introducing ‘quick queues’ through security, priority boarding passes for budget airlines, and prescreening for immigration into places like the USA.  And there’s the rub …firstly, these aren’t free as customers have to buy priority boarding or priority queueing …and secondly, they aren’t ‘silver bullets’ as they haven’t solved the original problem, just made it ‘simpler’ to get through a complicated and unwieldy process.

There are many parallels in storage, and vendors are busy introducing ways of simplifying storage allocation [thin provisioning, storage virtualisation], storage migration [file virtualisation], backups [virtual tape libraries, deduplication], storage management, and so on.

But how can we make the sale of the Computacenter solution ‘simple’ as simplicity resonates with our customers?  Well, there are a few ways.  For myself, I’ve stopped producing slide decks which look like I’ve vomited up every thought I’ve ever had about storage …fact is, people find it difficult to grasp a concept and listen to me and read all at the same time …so I’ve started to use pictures to illustrate the concept I’m talking about.  For customers, we’ve already introduced some customer demo videos [e.g. automated storage provisioning] and we’ll carry on doing so for more solutions as a six minute video can often tell a customer mostly everything they really need to know.  For the market we’re openly talking about how Computacenter can underwrite the real savings our recommendations can bring in an effort to make is simpler (and quicker!) to engage for the implementation of a great solution.  And there’s one more ‘silver bullet’ I wanted to talk about.

Flying a plane is not the simplest thing in the world, and even vastly experienced pilots use a tool known as a ‘knee board’ …the knee board contains vital information about the flight [compass headings, expected airspeed, flight plan, etc.] as well as something most people don’t know about …standard procedures for just about everything.  Shouldn’t a vastly experienced pilot know how to land a plane?  Well, yes …but in the heat of the moment (or perhaps when we’ve done something many times before) we can sometimes forget things and so the standard procedures are there as a simple checklist to ensure that nothing vital is missed.

We have something remarkably similar and hugely powerful in Computacenter …which our competition doesn’t …known as Tempo.  The Tempo tools [e.g. Stages and Milestones, Workbook, Document Templates] are there to make your life simple whilst also leveraging the very best of what Computacenter has to offer …and also what we’ve learned works (and doesn’t!) when working with customers.  If you haven’t sat in a Tempo education session run by Andy Poole, I would highly recommend it as it is a great way to spend 1.5 hours and learn how to make life a whole lot more simple.

I do hope that these blogs, the Computacenter Storage Masterclasses, and related collateral are all demystifying storage a bit in addition to helping you understand how we can make storage …a challenging and potentially complicated topic at the best of times …‘simple’ for our customers.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any ideas or recommendations on how we can continue to make these decisions more simple for our customers …and have a look at Tempo if you haven’t already!

Is optimisation really that difficult?

15/07/2009

I absolutely love working for Computacenter generally and what I do for a living specifically.  I get to work with some amazing people, meet with interesting customers, work on challenging solutions, see fascinating technologies from vendors …what’s not to like?!  That said, I know that the most important job I will ever truly have is that of father and husband …and that time is the most precious and finite commodity we have.  I can easily and without reservation name the two best days of my life thus far; getting married to my wife Sarah [aka Mrs PL] and the birth of our son Louis [aka PL Junior].

I’m quite sure that I am not alone in this …and I always smile when someone boots up their laptop and their family is smiling back as the screensaver, but let’s be honest …none of us really truly knows how much time we have, and yet we often spend it like it was in limitless supply.

Now, I sometimes get the balance wrong, but truth be told I would like to spend more time with my family as I’m sure we all would.  Having a child changes things forever, and I have noticed that I am much more ‘precious’ with my time since PL Junior was born almost three years ago.  Indeed, I am always on the lookout for new and more efficient ways of doing things and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt in the past three years is that trying to find a half day here or a full day there to ‘make up’ time is next to impossible and has a low probability of success.  What does seem to be possible, and I’ve had much success with, is finding more efficient methods of doing things which ‘give back’ 5 minutes here or 10 minutes there …add them up and you will find the half day, full day [or more] that you were looking for.

Don’t believe me?  Why don’t people use VCRs anymore …because Sky+ is much more efficient and better quality.  When is the last time you heard the digital squelch of a dial-up modem …broadband gets faster with each year, and WiFi has made access remarkably simple in the home …and the time we spend on the internet trying to get information that much more efficient.  Do you still have a Sony Walkman or play records on a turntable  ….nah, me neither as iPods, iTunes, and Spotify have made downloading and listening to music ridiculously easy and far more efficient than popping down HMV to buy the latest ‘Take That’ album which will only play tracks in succession anyway.

What does this have to do with Storage and Data Protection?

I have been amused recently to have some vendors remark that they have heard I am ‘in love’ with this or that vendor’s storage technology.  For the record [no pun intended], I’m not ‘in love’ with any technology …I don’t give a badgers backside if vendor A can move a data bit faster from Edinburgh to London faster than vendor B.  Truth is ‘speeds and feeds’ are not really what impress customers, and I can see why vendor A’s solution would be applicable for a customer under certain circumstances and vendor B’s solution would be applicable given others …it is futile, in my opinion, to turn such things into ‘religious’ arguments …I’ve got a religion, and it’s not storage.

What I am ‘in love’ with is how a vendor solution can demonstrably reduce a Computacenter customer’s costs and optimise their business infrastructure.  The recent launch of our Sharpen Your Business initiative is hugely useful to our customers as it shows them how to demonstrably lower their IT costs without sacrificing functionality or putting their business at risk.

Picking up on this theme, I would argue that our customers in the current climate are both carefully controlling their expenditures as well as seeking ways to gain back time …in other words, trying to make sure that every minute they spend is useful to the bottom line without sacrificing quality or customer service with their customers in turn.  Equally, I’m quite certain that were we to walk into a customer meeting and state ‘I can show you how you could spend more time with your family without sacrificing any quality at work, in fact you might be able to increase your quality’ we would get their attention!

We often talk about the ‘what’ when it comes to technology …and I’ll put my hand up in that sometimes it can be confusing as to what, exactly thin provisioning, virtualised backup and zero page reclamation are for example.  Watch this space as I am working on some collateral which should, hopefully, make this a bit less confusing.

More importantly, however, we’ve begun to speak in earnest about the ‘why’ to consider implementing technology, for example the Sharpen Your Business initiative…and, to be fair, the decision makers in our customers want to know both why from a cost benefit perspective and from a return on investment perspective our solution makes sense to implement now.  We’ve plenty of collateral in this area, and again …watch this space as more will be released over the coming weeks / months.

I’d like to also see us ‘cut to the chase’ with customers around key storage technologies and how they can save them time by increasing their efficiency, understanding that the collateral exists regarding the ‘what’ and ‘how’ should the customer wish to know more.

Why automated storage provisioning? Because we can automate highly repeatable storage provisioning tasks, allowing you to reallocate storage admins to more meaningful work …because we’ve saved you time.

Why virtualised backup? Because we can optimise your backup environment from a pure tape environment to a virtualised backup environment, allowing you to reallocate backup admins to more meaningful work … because we’ve saved you time.

Why thin provisioning? Because it is a more efficient method of storage allocation and will allow you to buy far less storage following implementation and perhaps no new storage required for several years to come …and because we’ve saved you time.

Why data deduplication? Because you are storing band backing up multiple copies of the same pieces of data, and data deduplication can remove all of this inefficiency allowing you to reallocate backup and storage admins to more meaningful work … because we’ve saved you time.

Why ZPR [Zero Page Reclamation]? Because we can give you back 30% of the storage you think you are using but aren’t actually, thus saving you money and giving you in year ROI.

Just a few ‘starters for ten’, and comments always welcome for more!

Time is precious, let’s help our customers save every minute they possibly can by optimising their datacentres.