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vendors embrace marketing curves not technology innovation

January 5th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

As a company we have a heavy reliance on vendor support. Take a small IT staff and outsourcing to smaller vendors becomes invaluable to keep things running with few hands.
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The vendors however are not always on the curve of technology, or even looking ahead in technology. In many cases they have been caught behind the marketing schedule of technology. Some vendors seem reluctant to implement the new technology until it becomes an industry standard. By that time however, there is a new technology coming out and your decisions have more options available.

We found this out more than anything when we approached our virtualization implementation this past year. First of all, I had an instant love of virtualization. You will find very few people out there who don’t sit back and appreciate how it is changing the operations of everything, once they grasp the concept. Once you appreciate that how flexible it makes your ability to approach backups, disaster recovery, or even patch mitigation, it is almost enough to bring a tear to your eye.

We started virtualizing things servers just for the sake of doing it, almost because the act itself became easy and entertaining. There is this great episode of Malcom in the Middle, where Hal, the father, rents a chipper to take care of a fallen tree. Dewey (the youngest), throws a toy in the chipper on purpose. There is that uncomfortable pause by the father in anticipation of reprimand, but something changes on Hal’s face. The next few minutes are of the boys and dad running around finding everything they could, just to throw it in the chipper, out of excitement of their new found toy. At least with virtualization there is no risk if it doesn’t make it through the chipper, but the entertainment factor was still there. The excitement is over at the end where they throw a bag of confetti in the machine.

Our vendors however, were not so quick to throw their items in the chipper. When we approached the new Exchange 2007 server, there was no doubt we wanted to virtualize it, as it has made our operations so much easier. The vendor had a different plan, and coming from a proud group of Microsoft Certifications, they fell back to the Microsoft documentation to back their case. If you read the documentation, it is pretty clear that if you get to a point where Microsoft can’t troubleshoot a problem, they may be to require you to take your server out of a virtualized environment. To us, that was an acceptable risk, knowing the last time we really called Microsoft for support was years ago. For our vendor it was a sin beyond sins. They would not be part of such blasphemy and vagrant disregard for our own technological safety.

The story does have a virtualized ending, and we have been running Exchange 2007 just fine in VMWare, but there is a strong lesson to be had, when approaching vendors. Having a vendor certified in all of the technology is important, but not valuable to make your decisions. Getting stuck with a vendor that has one core partnership, may have a vested interest in only supporting that one focal point, as it is all they know. Recognize that their suggestions, recommendations, and policies are coming from one viewpoint, and use it as applied knowledge among the vast array of solutions out there. Also recognize that Microsoft was busy developing their own virtualization system, and had a stronger interest in not supporting everybody else’s.

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