They say we change our spouses more often than our bank accounts. I’m not sure whether that says more about the quality of people’s relationships than their banks, but it’s clear that changing current (or checking) account provider is a process not many choose to undertake lightly. When we look at technology, what inflection points make technology exchange a viable route to take, and how can we be aware when an inflection point has been reached?
Risk & Opportunity
Most of our decision making in IT boils down to two components; risk and opportunity. From a risk perspective, there are two paths take.
Risk of Change
Making a change from an incumbent technology provider is a big step for many organisations. If we use storage as the basis for comparison, moving from one storage vendor to another introduces risk on many levels:
- The need to learn new skills (operational, hardware/component)
- Changes to the operating model (scripts, process, automation)
- Changes to the support model (work with a new team, new people)
- Transformation (moving to use the new platform)
For each of these bullet points, there’s a cost of change and an inherent risk that the change introduces. IT organisations have to weigh up the impact of that risk versus the implications of doing nothing.
Risk of Doing Nothing
If we’re comfortable with our IT vendor, then surely keeping the status quo is the right move? This approach isn’t always correct. There are no guarantees that any individual vendor will continue to maintain the most aggressive and innovative roadmap of products and solutions. At some point, a wrong move will be made. Maybe the vendor doesn’t keep up with innovations around new technology, consumption models or automation. Perhaps the vendor decides to revamp a product line that means a change to another vendor is no different from adopting the new strategic platform. Either way, a stagnant or confusing portfolio offers the chance to gain benefits from making a change.
Inflection points offer a chance to do something new. When disruption is forced upon us, the event can be turned to our advantage. New technology products and solutions provide opportunities to change working practices, to consolidate and remove technical debt and to move the business forward in a more agile manner.
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In a recent Storage Unpacked podcast, I discussed the challenges of moving to alternative ways of working with guests from the vendor, solutions provider and end-user community. It’s clear from that discussion that the days of the specialist are on the wane as we move to a generalist model. In storage, this means deploying systems with greater autonomy that operate through APIs and CLIs. Systems need to be self-tuning and have fewer “nerd knobs”.
Infrastructure agility is definitely improving. Fifteen years ago, the standard process for building a new application was a project planning meeting and months of work deploying new technology. Today, we can spin up virtual machines or containers in minutes. Public Cloud has facilitated that speed but isn’t always the right answer. Instead, hybrid has become an accepted standard.
With so much agility in place, IT organisations can take the opportunity to run proofs of concept or skunkworks projects that look at new technology providers. These projects can eventually turn into the strategic direction that transforms technology from one vendor to another.
With all this in mind, how can we measure when we’re at an inflection point that justifies change. Whether for storage or a broader set of technologies, the following questions apply equally. Ask yourself:
- Does your current vendor continue to have a relevant product portfolio? In today’s storage market, this can mean features that enable self-service models, integration with Public Cloud, automation, adoption of new technologies, simplification, cost reduction, performance improvements and more. One important factor here is ensuring consistency of approach, rather than merely holding a portfolio of unconnected products.
- Does your current vendor have a roadmap that demonstrates an understanding of new IT & business practices? As we change from a traditional high-skilled 3-tier model to generalists (with many organisations using DevOps principles), does the incumbent vendor have a vision that leads, rather than follows the market?
If there’s any doubt in these questions, then a more comprehensive market evaluation is essential. Clearly, any new vendor needs to address the above points as “table stakes”, but in addition, I personally would ask:
- Do other vendors offer a more compelling portfolio or solutions? Are other vendors providing creative solutions to increase agility and reduce costs? Do these align more closely to your business and technology objectives? Is this portfolio aligned consistently across all products?
- How willing is any new vendor to engage in transformation? Changing vendors can be daunting. New customers need assurance on support and transition to new technologies. This process will include training, integration with support desk processes and “Day 2” operational processes.
- Is my vendor pushing me to a new (untested) platform? The adage of “wait until version 3” still has some merit. Being an early adopter has good and bad points. If the only choice going forward is a new platform, it may not be the right move. It’s worth noting here that historically we’ve seen vendors bring new products to the market that are not as fully featured as the ones they replace. This restriction also generates a conundrum – wait for the next version or flip to another provider?
The Architect’s View
In our podcast discussion, Kam Panesar highlighted that technology selection is an ongoing process. We’re continually evaluating vendors and solutions. The speed of technology adoption is greater today than it has ever been. Moving between vendors isn’t as (initially) challenging as it may seem, although the implications of a poor selection can be profound in the amount of technical debt generated.
This scenario represents a challenge not just for the end-user, but also for vendors. Vendor disruption is easier than ever, which means we expect those selling us technology to be on top of their game. In that regard, how does your vendor compare?
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