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.
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*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.