Silo can you go?

siloSomething caught my attention this week and got me thinking about why Enterprise IT accepts doing things that we take for granted as consumers… let me explain..

Last week I watched a show on Sky called O.A.P Internet Virgins – the premise, a couple of young “Internet Sensations” work with pensioners to show them how to use modern technology.

The first episode focused on 84 yr. old George, he had been an entertainer all of his life and still loved nothing more than, as part of the 4 piece act “The Nostalgics”, entertaining “The Old Folk” in the local care homes. Georges life had sadly changed though, his wife had become ill and he was now her full time carer.

George wasn’t completely new to technology, he had a PC and a printer and was using technology to help him learn to do things he hadn’t ever done before. He’d learned how to “Google” things, like recipes, the problem was he couldn’t get his printer to work – so he would then write them down… his technology was too hard and all silo’d and of course  no one had ever showed him how to break out of these silos and see what other things technology could do.

However, to the rescue came our “internet sensations” who present George with internet_heroesan iPad and a wireless printer – they show him how to use it, how easy it is to find things he needs, how easy it is to print, they introduced him to iTunes and he introduced them to a whole new world of music and heah presto George is the pin up boy for silver surfers everywhere.

Those who know me, know I’m no Apple fan boy, but, what Apple have done over the last few years, is revolutionise the user experience, by providing a simple technology interface and supporting fabric that just works, “George,this icon that says mail, that just does mail, this one says calendar and it just does calendar…etc” – and it was this simplicity that opened up a whole new world to George, culminating in him learning how to shop online, this was a game changer for him.

It really struck a chord with me how the simplicity of technology with a fabric that allows a simple integration of data, and a smooth transition between devices was key to him – this fabric, without spoiling the show (as I do recommend if you are in tech, you really should give this a watch)genuinely revolutionised his life, freeing up time for him so that he could return to doing things he loved, getting the very most from his free time. This is of course what good tech should do, the right tech, deployed in the right way should change for the better the way we do things.

This made me think, If we take this stuff for granted in our consumer lives then why in the enterprise, especially in the way we handle data, don’t we do this?

Part of the challenge is, it’s not really that easy is it?

For example if your making a data storage decision tomorrow, what do you consider ?, type of storage, type of disks, where we store it, on premise, in the cloud, a bit of both and what about where we get it from, current supplier, established enterprise player or even one of those super sexy new kids on the block… and we make that decision every time, it’s how we end up with a mish mash of solutions, and when we get that, the ability for us to tie this fabric together into something cohesive for our business becomes really difficult.

Is it a problem worth solving though?

Today’s business needs to be flexible to deal with the rapidly changing environments we operate in and one of the ways we do this is to utilise technology trends to our advantage, but often what makes that tricky is how do we get our data quickly and effectively aligned to a new technology. Look at cloud compute, the ability to quickly scale up our computing capabilities as and when we need them, is really attractive to many, but how the heck do we get our data there and is it safe and secure when we do… and when we are finished how do we get it back?

I mentioned in a previous post about choosing technology partners and how important it is, well when I was on my recent partner tour, one of the really compelling conversations I had came from the NetApp partner academy about their Data Fabric strategy.

For those who don’t know NetApp, they are an enterprise storage company and have been supplying storage solutions since 1992. But what NetApp have always done differently is focus on the software stack that sits on their storage hardware, the software that controls the data on and off the hardware, the integration with enterprise applications and management tools. In fact NetApp’s software focus has often lead to them describing themselves as a software company.

This software focus over the last 20 years or so, is paying great benefit for those looking at needing a more flexible and adaptive infrastructure today. How so ?.

NetApp’s main platform is known as FAS, with a range of hardware controllers and disk solutions, however what make a FAS what it is, is not the hardware platform but its storage operating system Data OnTap.

The benefit for us as users of this technology, is that OnTap as a bit of software, can be extracted from its hardware platform and put into a host of other places.

For example, you can install that software in a virtual machine (OnTap Edge), if you can install it in a VM, you can then install it into a VM powered by a cloud provider (Cloud OnTap), you can even pop a hardware controller in front of non NetApp storage, install OnTap on that and heah presto you turn your existing storage into something that can be part of this fabric.

So What?

Well if you can install this same operating environment into all of these locations then you can not only store your data in all of these places and seamlessly move between them, you can also use the same management and integration tools regardless of the location of the data.

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Doing this means I don’t even have to worry particularly about how it’s done, because my front end device, running OnTap can present that data in a way I can understand, regardless of the underlying technology.

Now that is an extremely powerful capability, if you think about it, when was the last time you worried about accessing data on your iTunes account, you just logged into one of your devices and there it was, because it worried about how to present the data to you, you just used it, quickly and efficiently.

As you can see in the above graphic, the NetApp data fabric eco system doesn’t end at OnTap, with a couple of other solutions in there to provide more scale and flexibility, including object storage and cloud backup appliances, but for me the flexibility of OnTap and the ability to present it in many different ways has significant business value, maybe not quite the simplicity that George had access to, but a huge leap forward from the silo’d approach that many of us find ourselves trying to navigate through. Imagine if you could have total flexibility in where you housed your data with the ability to move it to different technology platforms, even those that today we don’t know of, relatively simply and seamlessly, it has revolutionary potential.

When it comes to considering your next strategic IT decision, think about does the technology or the provider I’m considering silo my solution off from everything else or do they have a broader strategy that provides me with the flexibility I need to meet business challenges for today and the future.

Maybe consider, will your next technology decision make Georges life easier?

For more about NetApp Data Fabric click here

For more about OAP Internet Virgins click here

All together now

all-together-now-project-management-for-websites-358Pretty sure when the Farm recorded “All Together Now” they never thought it would make the title of an IT related BLOG post – well how wrong they where!

Last week I was on the partner conference trail, visiting a couple of our partners for their annual events, these events are an opportunity for those companies to share with it’s partner community some of it’s latest and greatest ideas, some of their future direction road maps and of course a chance to meet and greet.

Now both events where very good, for different reasons,WP_20150630_17_28_12_Pro one was with Fujitsu, a relatively new partner to me and it provided a great opportunity to find out a lot more about what they do, they have a full breadth of solutions, from desktops and laptops, through to cloud services, with some nice converged and hyperconverged infrastructure in between.

Then NetApp, a long term partner, providing a real good look at some of their new storage initiatives, some great stuff around flash, a good look at their WP_20150701_09_37_18_Prodata fabric story that allows you to store your data anywhere but manage and access it with the same tools, regardless of where the data is housed be it on premise, in the cloud, both public and hybrid or any mix of them.

That’s all lovely for me of course, both events held in really nice venues The Brewery in London (not as beer laden as you’re thinking!) and Twickenham Stadium, home of English rugby for those into the oval ball game.

My overwhelming view of these two events, very positive, what good partners we have in these two companies, both showing vision and innovation, both with a wide range of solutions that can help the businesses we work with and both companies full of good people we can work with to help define solutions for our customers and, for us as a commercial business, providing good business opportunities.

What’s the point of all this then? both of these organisations are really good partners, one continuing to deliver solutions as they have for us for nearly 10 years and one, as a brand new partner opening up a wide range of new ideas to us.

I’m really happy with these partner choices and that got me thinking – what is it that makes a good partner, not only for my company as suppliers of technology, but what is it that drives those who are a consumers of technology to select their partners?

With that in mind I thought I’d put down a few ideas of what drives the decisions in our organisation when selecting partners. maybe they’ll give you some ideas you can use when you are making partnering decisions.

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Do they have something interesting?

That’s  the starting point, does the partner have something interesting to say, is the technology interesting? Are they doing something to disrupt, are they doing something new… these are the things that catch my techie attention – if they are just doing more of a me too, or something we already have a bunch of partners doing – what value are they bringing?

Does this partner solve a problem for me?

Great, the technology is interesting, but does it actually solve a problem, one of the hardest things is when someone comes in with a great technology and they are enthusiastic about it, yet, I just can’t see how it helps us,or helps our customers, it’s not solving a problem that I’m seeing in our real world.

Does that mean it doesn’t work? no, not at all, does that mean it’s not a good solution? again, no, not at all.

But if I can’t see where this solution addresses an issue for me, then it is unlikely to go much further. If you’re someone looking to deploy technology into your business, think about what you are trying to solve, does the potential partner deliver against your business goals… do you know what you want from your IT platforms and partners? if not, remember the spice girls (check out my spice girls blog post!) and how they knew what they wanted, what they really, really wanted.

Oh and something to consider, does it do that without bringing a whole list of new problems?

Does the partner actually deliver something that works?

Now this is not about getting bogged down in the detail (see way to much of that, conversations getting lost in unnecessary technical long grass!), but I do want to see this thing actually delivers a solution that works and is usable and is something that does the thing I need it to and does it better than what I currently do.

As an example, I’ve looked at some storage technologies recently that promise to do some really different stuff, but they lack some of the basic enterprise integration that our customers need to have, so deliver something that works, but not something that works in such a way that makes it to unwieldy to be of use!

Now I’m not saying all the solutions we look at should be easy to use with lovely GUI’s because some solutions that I look at, by their very definition are complex and need to be so to do a complex job.

However, a solution has to fit the user it is aimed at, so don’t give me tools and solutions that make my life more difficult.

Does the partner bring me something that works commercially?

As a solution integrator my view on commercials maybe different from someone who is deploying a solution in their business, but probably not that different…for us, does the solution stack up, is it realistically priced for our customers and of course, is it something we can build a business on, now that doesn’t mean picking the solution we can make the most money on and hopefully for you it doesn’t mean choosing just the cheapest, we’ve seen that go wrong so many times.

None of the solution partners we work with necessarily have the cheapest solutions but we do want partners that deliver the best value.

If you’re a user of tech rather than a provider, it’s important to understand the value of what you are doing – what is it worth to you to solve the problem you have and then invest that money in the right partner with the right solution.

There is nothing more difficult than trying to put together a solution for someone when they don’t have or won’t share their idea of a budget…It means we all just end up wasting time!

And Finally….

I don’t think this matters whichever side of the technology fence you come from, supplier, adviser or user… is the technology partner you are talking to, someone you can do business with, do they give you a level of confidence, are they passionate about their solutions, do they truly believe in what they are sharing with you.

That doesn’t mean if someone leaves a tech company for another that they don’t believe in the company they’ve left..especially tech guys – what it means for me, if they’ve been a good partner with another technology and they have gone elsewhere, Is, I’ll trust that judgement and be really interested in what they have to say about the new technology they represent.

However, what always amazes me when working on a project is the times I’ve come across organisations who change the technology they are advocating at the drop of a hat because they don’t feel their initial technology solution was going to win a customer over… it just makes me think, if the technology you are turning up with now is so good, why didn’t you pitch that first… but that’s probably another post all together!

In the end we buy from and partner with people, if the partner you are dealing with is someone you can work with and they can solve your problem, then go with that.

If you have a good technology partner, then invest in them, share your requirements and what you are trying to achieve and a good partner will be able to bring value and potential solutions, the better you and your partner know each other, the better that relationship will be.

In Summary

When I look for a technology partner what do I look for?

  • Is their technology interesting?
  • Does it solve a problem for me?
  • Does it actually work?
  • Is the partners solution commercially viable?
  • Is the partner someone I trust and can do business with?

They’re the key things for me… I’m sure you have your own list, but maybe there are some things there you can add to yours…feel free to share any other criteria that you think would be useful, either in the comments on here or feel free to contact me…

Happy partnering….

P.s. as a slight aside, as I was putting this together a partner contact of mine posted an article about what vendors want from their partners, I thought it would be interesting to share, so if you want a view from the other side of the fence… have a read here