Tomorrow, IBM will be launching their response to the HP Gen8 Server launch of last month. Or are they? If one watches their pre-announcement video one might be forgiven for thinking that it is in fact an infomercial for Oracle’s app-to-disk engineered stack (And to be frank if you were to overlay a heavy (or heavier) rock soundtrack and increase the amount of red used in the visuals it would be pretty difficult for the casual observer to tell them apart). But those similarities aside, will their alleged “Next Generation Platform” really be capable of managing itself? Will it truly redefine the IT Operations cost equation? Will it make support services redundant? Nah! I am as yet unconvinced. While we await the details with bated breath, my hunch is that the IBM announcement will probably overly focus on the technology and its inherent capabilities without fully considering the associated ongoing support services and IT operations impact. Both Oracle and HP are actively investing in and promoting their proactive support credentials to compliment and enhance their “intelligent” hardware improvements. IBM has not done this so far. Will this change tomorrow? Maybe. Although the trailer to the announcement doesn’t hold much promise. Nor does their launch landing page. Smarter systems are undoubtedly a welcome technical improvement. But they can not and will not deliver the 100% availability, reduced running costs and increasing return on investment nirvana that is promised in isolation. Technology on its own is not enough.
The long term reliability of, and return from, any device will always be directly related to the type of environment within in which resides and the day to day processes and procedures that are used to operate and manage it. Hardware does not operate in a vacuum. A multi-million dollar device can be brought to its knees through a few inadvertent key strokes. Even the most “intelligent” of machines can be rendered into little more than an expensive heater in the data centre relatively easily. Providing upfront deployment guidance and pre-configured devices based upon years of best practice identification and refinement is great. But we MUST remember that this becomes increasingly irrelevant as time passes. The price of reliability and continuous return on investment is eternal vigilance.
Twenty questions that every support provider should ask themselves regularly…
- How are our customers using our stuff?
- Are they (in our opinion) making best use of its capabilities?
- How well are we making use of the capabilities of our stuff to add value?
- Could we help them to use more of it or use it differently to get even more return?
- Are they using our stuff in ways that we hadn’t even thought of?
- How are they maintaining and running our stuff?
- Are they following our recommendations and defined best practices?
- Are they consistent in their implementation?
- Have they developed their own operational practices that we can learn from?
- Do they have the appropriate mix and volume of skills necessary?
- What can we do to help them get even more value from their investment?
- How is their business environment changing and what are the effects of these changes on their requirements?
- What are their future plans and how will these impact us and our stuff?
- Can our stuff readily adapt to their changing needs?
- How can we help them to make sure our stuff remains relevant (or becomes even more relevant than it is / was)?
- How well is our technology maturing within their environment?
- What can we do to help extend its useful lifespan and/or redeploy it to another role?
- What is the nature of the ongoing relationship that we have with them? Who do we have relationships with within our customer’s organization?
- How has this changed? Do we need to invest time and resources to improve the relationship?
- Are we our customers first port of call for ideas and suggestions on how to improve how they use our stuff?
Support services should be the Jiminy Cricket of the IT world. Continually reminding customers of what they (hopefully) know that they should be doing already and pointing out when they fail to do what they know that they should. Support is the conscience of the internal IT Operations team. A gentle but firm guiding force for good. Or at least it could and should be…