In the IT world, momentum is everything. The past few months of talking to various start-ups have been an eye-opener for me; but none so much as talking to Bill Karpovich of Zenoss. Zenoss's story reflects one I've heard from many other start-ups of late; they have great software and are growing rapidly, but there's always that …
"make my life easier and allow me to get more done for a cheaper price. Ultimately, isn't that the point of IT?"
Why, yes, yes it is the original point of IT, but the train seems to have gone completely off the rails. Today the point of IT appears to be to keep users on the treadmill spending their hard-earned dosh.
"Today the point of IT appears to be to keep users on the treadmill spending their hard-earned dosh."
Isn't that what most economic activity is for?
I mean once you have food, shelter and clothing, the rest is basically consumption through boredom.
Organisations grow in size and that necesitates a growth in organisational complexity (Brooks Mythical Man Month for the IT angle on that). More complexity means the need to collect, analyze and use data. Data processing means IT systems. Hence monitoring. As you say the wheel turns.
Tramp icon because that is me sitting down the Bull Ring with a can of industrial strength brew laughing at the vanity of the world...
Getting more done at lower cost
Well yes, that was an idea behind IT. Way back when people still cared about it and people like you knew their systems in every detail.
Back then the flows of data were documented. They had to be, since you had to put the stacks of punch cards from machine to machine. You could probably still do most business work with punch card machines, probably even more efficiently. What you'll miss is real-time.
Today sysadmins happily install things they don't understand. They are used to computer being magical things. If you want them to do more you buy software and put it into it. Some of them cannot even program.
They have never learned that a 5 line program can save you hours of work. They have never learned that programming can be easy. How can they when they grew up in a Windows world where every little job requires extensive use of obscure API-calls.
For example ejecting a CD-Rom drive is simply a matter of issuing the "eject" command. This can be done from a shell script. It's trivial to build a little CGI-script which runs on a webserver, so you can press a button on a webpage, the drive opens and does some mechanical task. (like pressing a button)
Just like the people back in the punch-card days used a few quite simple machines, you could now be using a few simple programs, connected together by pipes. However you have chosen to not go that way, you (as a profession) have chosen to go the Windows route where you have large semi-multi purpose software packages, which may do some things right, and lots of them wrong. I'm sorry, but then you need to face the consequences.
Re: Getting more done at lower cost
While I agree with your comment, monitoring is one of those things where a GUI really makes sense.
Only one vendor mentioned - makes me suspicious...
Great bit of PR for Zenoss (who's tools aren't quite as great as mentioned above btw) but I always get a bit suspicious when reading articles that focus on only one vendor.
I thought Trevor Potts - or T-Pot - might have been a bit of a p*sstake at first but then found him at eGeek Consulting in Canada.
Do these guys have a relationship with Zenoss by any chance? Or is my natural cynicism unfounded in this case?
Re: Only one vendor mentioned - makes me suspicious...
While I respect cynicism, in this case I sincerely hope that your cynicism is unfounded. A few things should probably be addressed and I'm happy to do so.
First: yes, I am a part owner of eGeek Consulting Ltd. Yes, it does have a marketing arm, something I openly discuss here on The Register. For the record, Zenoss is not one of eGeek's clients, though it would be awesome if they were. I happen to like the folks I've interacted with at Zenoss so far; I think they would make for excellent clients. More to the point, I think the marketing geeks would happy to represent a client with a good product that they can get excited about.
The second item concerns the idea of bias and this is a far more murky topic. Again, it is also something I have discussed here on The Register. It's an important topic, and one I feel very strongly about. Given that I feel so strongly about this, I think it's not unreasonable at all to discuss my current approaches to recognising any possible biases on my part and coping with them.
So how do I try to eliminate (or at least minimise) bias in my writing?
First up: I don't do marketing on behalf of clients for eGeek consulting. eGeek's marketing director is Josh Folland. While I am willing to work collaboratively with Josh on projects pertaining to marketing clients, I provide support for his endeavours that is fundamentally no different than the support I provide any vendor (or user!) seeking my advice as a sysadmin or tech blogger.
Yes, some vendors come to eGeek for digital marketing, but the overwhelming majority of what we do is actually "market research." Vendors send us things; we test them, write up whitepapers or reviews and send them off to the vendor for them to do whatever it is they do with them. In some cases we are hired on to serve as a part of a "focus group;" providing some aspect of quality assurance but mostly saying things like "this will probably catch on well with your target market, but if you do A, B, or C the internet piranhas are going to eat your family."
That leads to the second potential bias in my life: completely outside of any involvement with eGeek and its clients, a technology journalist has relationships with vendors. Some vendors are great. Some vendors are assholes. I talk freely about my opinions with friends, colleagues, analysts, other tech journalists on twitter and forum denizens from The Register, Spiceworks, Ars Technica's Openforums and so forth in a constant attempt to keep my personal biases in this regard in check.
The last potential source of bias is that I get stuff for review from vendors. Sometimes it is even stuff I get to keep. I try very hard – again, by asking for advice from others, getting others to test the hardware/software in my lab and by working to continually refine my review methodology – to maintain as objective a stance as possible here.
As a freelance writer – I am not a Reg staffer – my test lab is entirely self-funded. In some cases I can afford to buy something off the shelf, in many cases I cannot. So I am faced with a particularly common dilemma in the tech blogging world: do I stick to reporting on the smart phone I just got and the free trials or open source software I can download, or do I work to establish relationships with vendors that let me test really cool shit and tell readers how this stuff works in the real world?
I chose the latter. Whether this makes me compromised is an exercise for the reader. It is however leading to a series of reviews that should be hitting The Register in the next few months that will be reviewing Serious Hardware and Serious Software that I think the readers will care about.
What price, objectivity?
So the question becomes how objective am I? How do you measure objectivity objectively? If you have a means, I'd surely love to know it. I have invested a huge percentage of my personal self worth in cultivating and maintaining objectivity. I feel that it is important to who I am.
I am very, very clear with potential clients: engaging eGeek will not in any way increase your chances of this occurring; I make decisions about what gets written about entirely independently of our client base. If you want marketing service, e-mail Josh.F [at] eGeek [dot] ca. He'll be glad to discuss your needs.
If you want me to review something send me a demo. If I find your product interesting, there is a good chance a reasonable percentage of my readers will as well. All you have to do is click the "email the author" link on any of my articles, and I will be happy to talk to you about the product you make, why it matter to systems administrators and see if it is worth my time or the time of my readers.
So why did you talk about Zenoss for this article?
Why I talked about Zenoss is simple: their PR people e-mailed me. They made a convincing pitch that intrigued the systems administrator in me and I agreed to do some interviews with some of the bossbots that run the joint.
The Zenoss folks convinced me that their product was worth the time and effort to install on my test lab and give a go. I rather liked it. I then installed it on some production networks and it has saved quite a bit of time. As it turns out, I had all sorts of questions, so I ruthlessly abused his PR nature to ask all sorts of not-very-PR-friendly questions of the folks who run Zenoss.
Those questions led to this article. It is the evolution, really, of discussions I have been having with the folks in charge of Puppet, Spiceworks and a half dozen others. Zenoss stands out for me as a "Difficult Challenge" for a startup specifically because monitoring software is Hard and breaking into the datacenter as a monitoring startup is harder still.
You talk to PR people! Blasphemy!
Yes. I talk to PR people. I've been writing for The Register for about two years now. I'm still a great big nobody in the tech journalism world. I am not Mary Jo Foley with deep-rooted contacts inside Microsoft, nor am I Jon Broadkin with a network of contacts spanning the globe. I'm not Chris Mellor with a decade some-odd's truly laser-focused experience in storage – and the contacts that brings – nor am I Matt Assay with real world experience as an executive in a truly industry-changing company.
I am a systems administrator that specialises in SMB and SME companies. I am a technology writer that writes mostly for systems administrators of SMB and SME companies. I have a deep, practical knowledge of the craft of systems administration that is rare amongst technology journalists, but am still at the point in my career where I am "building contacts."
As a systems administrator I run a test lab and turn the knobs to 11 before I write about something. I refuse to reprint a press release or say nice things because you sent me a demo…but I'll at least take your call which is more than most will do. The result of this is that I get to play with toys sometimes. I am building a reputation amongst vendors as someone who - while not pliable and "on message" – will work with the vendors and be fair about the items I review.
Some vendors won't talk to me because of this attitude and approach. Others are so confident in their offerings that they gleefully take advantage of it. It is the niche I have built for myself. It is niche I am proud I'm able to work on. It is work I enjoy.
It also means that I will write nice things about companies when I think they make nice stuff. I might even write nice things about companies that compete with eachother because they both make nice stuff.
I may also publicly eviscerate you, so maybe not being corporate dicks to your customers is a good plan.
You make the call.
So…am I corrupt? Should I only ever write negative things? Or should I only write positive things about companies that commenters like? Which commenters?
Each person must decide for themselves. No matter what I write or about whom, someone is going to be mad. If I write a nice thing about Zenoss, its competitors – and disgruntled former users – will be mad. If I trash Zenoss, its community will be mad. If I write something reasonably objective, both sides will be pissed because I didn't say what they wanted me to say. So I choose not to worry about that. I write about what I see when I use the thing. I try for that "objectivity" stuff.
I emphatically reject the idea that a vendor being an eGeek customer – or not – would have an effect on my willingness to write about their product. I have spent too long building up barriers to exactly that. Being a client of eGeek gives you a direct pipeline to Josh Folland; he works with me, and that could theoretically mean that you get my attention.
That seems a hell of a lot of effort to go to when my phone number is available on http://www.egeek.ca, and my email is available by clicking "email the author."
Cynicism is good; I have a lot of it myself. I do, however, like to think that the difference between myself and a truly bought-and-paid-for shill is transparency. That and, you know, actually retaining some shred of objectivity. I discuss these issues openly. I mention clearly in my articles when I have been sent on a junket or given a demo unit.
I hope that clears things up.