The need for software archaeology

What a vendor says is new and worth your consideration isn't necessarily true—especially if that vendor doesn't know its IT history

Having lived in the world of IT for a while, I often find myself having to "call BS" during a vendor briefing. Why is that? Vendor representatives start a conversation with something like "we are the only ones to offer this capability" or "we are the first in the industry to solve this problem" when there are examples of the same capability from technology offered in the in the past. They do this in the hopes of breaking through industry chatter and, as a result, booking a meeting with my team or me.

IT really hasn't been around all that long

When considered in the abstract, IT really hasn't been around all that long. In that short time, practitioners spoke of "working in the computer department," "working in data processing," "working in information systems" or " working in IT."

Workloads have moved from being monolithic blocks of code running on a single machine to highly distributed services that execute in several places to assure high levels of reliability and availability. Today, a complex, enterprise-wide solution might include data management executing on a mainframe somewhere in some data center, midrange systems executing a single-vendor computing environment supporting a specific application or service, industry standard (x86) systems supporting customer access, and herds of PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones and, possibly, smart vehicles or toasters out near the customer.

Considering this constant change, it is easy to understand why a vendor representative wouldn't remember what has happened before. They make bold statements hoping that their lack of research or lack of understanding what has gone before won't be discovered. Even worse, some really don't remember what has gone before or why things work the way they do.

Just saying 'we're the first' doesn't make it so

Any time a supplier makes such a claim, I pull out my "Computer Archaeologist" credentials, put on my field research coat and start digging. Almost every time, it is clear the vendor is building upon what has been done in the past or is merely re-implementing something—just on a new platform or using a new tool.

Here's an example from not all that long ago:

A company offering cloud-based backup and archival storage services targeting mid-market companies set up an introductory briefing. One of the first slides in the company's presentation deck touted that the company was the only one to offer such services. That claim was amusing, since that same week I had spoken to four other companies offering similar services that cited similar statistics and used similar marketing messages.

When I asked the representative if she knew of products offered by the other suppliers that do the same thing, she appeared to be taken aback and had to admit that she hadn't.

Invoking the word 'legacy' as if it meant something bad

I attribute some of this proud ignorance to the industrywide belief, among vendors anyway, that technology and solutions from the 1960s through the early 2000s are a problem that must be resolved immediately. To resolve the problem "correctly" means, of course, adopting something newer, e.g., their product.

This view is held even though the technology or solution in question is the foundation for most major workloads in the enterprise data center. Vendors often appear unfamiliar with the past—of what problems were found and solved in the past. So, they blithely go where others have gone without a map and fall into the same holes others previously discovered, never knowing someone already built a bridge over that hole or a street around it.

In short, vendors seem to believe enterprises simply live to buy new technology and abandon older things regardless of whether they work and the enterprise's business is booming.

Enterprise IT has a charter

Often these vendors don't understand that enterprise IT departments have a charter to keep established systems running and allowing the enterprise to do business in a cost-effective, safe and reliable way.

Resolving problems from the past that have already been solved, just for the joy of purchasing a new product, isn't a priority. Why? Because it typically means learning how new technology works, integrating it into the company's IT processes and procedures, moving data around just to "keep up with the Joneses" is a waste if limited and strained resources.

Ready to call BS

Watch this space for future comments on the industry. I'll be watching industry announcements in the areas of systems software, virtualization technology and the infrastructure for cloud computing—with an eye to calling BS when necessary. I hope to be of assistance in cutting though the smoke and the noise to help you understand when something is really new and worthy of your consideration.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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