108 posts • joined 11 Jan 2011
Is this actually warranted?
I work for a large multinational organization (nowhere near IBM-sized.) Like IBM, we do have a huge "operations" team that, by our estimates in Engineering, is extremely bloated and overstaffed. Our team does pretty good work but never gets extra headcount or budget. Our operations team gets whatever they ask for in terms of people and budget simply because they play the right political connections. And their work product is absolutely horrendous. I just got off another extremely frustrating conference call with some of these folks -- it's amazing how much effort they go through to avoid doing work.
So here's a question. I know this is most likely IBM trying to quietly fire US workers by making them angry enough to quit. However, having seen something similar to what the memo is describing, I wonder if it's even partially warranted. IBM has been doing some pretty nasty underhanded things to its "expensive" onshore resources lately. But I do see how easy it is for someone to carve themselves out a quiet little niche in a big organization and stay firmly planted there for 20+ years. Maybe they're actually going through and cleaning up that part of the dead wood. That said, it looks like they're trying to "retrain" people to be social media and cloud consultants. I'm not sure that's a good strategy if these people are the scary smart folks who quietly keep zOS or DB2 puttering along.
Does any IBMer have any insight on this? Are these just people who haven't gotten "outstanding performance" or whatever on their reviews and they wound up on some HR list? Or is there an actual reason beyond rehiring US workers in India?
I wouldn't want to be the storage admin who, even after triple checking the backups and praying to the array gods, lost data after this upgrade. If I were EMC, and had absolutely no way to make that update non-disruptive, I'd be sending teams of people and tons of free loaner units out. Not really knowing what's involved here, this kind of update must be so drastic that there would be no way to read data from the "old firmware format" disks. How could that be possible? No matter what form you store the data in on the physical disk, it still has to be in a logical format that can be interpreted. How hard would it be to write firmware that can read the old disks and do the conversion when the array reboots?
I don't know, maybe EMC should just give away disks and have the customers migrate the data to a new array and give them back the old one when they're done.
Retail bankruptcies are never fun
I remember when Circuit City went belly up last decade. Admittedly, their strategy of "Let's fire our experienced salespeople because they're too expensive" was one of a string of failures on their part, but they left behind a big footprint. There are still old Circuit City stores in my neck of the woods that haven't been rented by anyone else, leaving a blighted empty big box store that really can't be used for anything other than another big box. All the brick and mortar chains are going to be releasing lots of real estate onto the market when Amazon finally brings the hammer down. Home Depot is built right across the street from Lowe's. 4 supermarket chains all coexist basically right next to each other in some spots. I've seen street corners with a Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid all on the same intersection. Best Buy is right next to....oh wait, there's no other large electronics retailers anymore and they're still on the verge of going under. I remember reading that the reason Sears is still in OK shape is because they either own or have ultra-long term leases on their stores, which is apparently a rare thing nowadays.
Radio Shack is just in a bad spot. Fewer people are learning about amateur radio, analogue electronics outside of audio is just not the thing to tinker with anymore, and it's not really possible to do board-level repair on gadgets. I do remember growing up in the 80s, and seeing them selling lots of stereo equipment, electronic gizmos like clocks, CB radios and radar detectors, and of course the Trash 80 and Tandy PC clones. Since anyone can buy a cell phone cheaper from Amazon or a carrier's store, there's really not much left for them to sell to people. I go there very occasionally when I need a cable or something that I can't wait for, and they're always very expensive with a limited selection.
The funny thing is that I do remember when they were at least a reliable choice when you wanted something electronic, and they even had their own factories making components back before that got offshored. That's kind of the only reason they're not bankrupt yet...those early years let them build up huge reserves. Kind of like Dell, or to a lesser extent, IBM...still plugging along but a shadow of their size and influence during their "golden age."
Can't we just pop the bubble now and get it over with??
The flashbacks to the dotcom bubble have been getting stronger lately, and I thought they had peaked with the WhatsApp purchase by Facebook. But this just sounds like some investment banker whispered in Microsoft's ear that they need a cloud-enabled gamification platform combined with a social media property with synergies in the pre-Millenial market demographic to monetize revenue streams via integrated immersive infotainment apps. Oh, and Big Data.
I'm not saying it would be great to wipe out all this stock market value, after all, my retirement's in there too...but it might shock people back into focusing on fundamentals like actually producing a product or software that isn't driven by fads in mobile, social media, an app ecosystem, or The Cloud. I do think that deals like this, the WhatsApp deal,. the Instagram deal, Snapchat turning down a $3B buyout by Google, and the Twitter craziness are going to be remembered as the end of Bubble 2.0.
Expect more of this soon
Microsoft's commitment to rapid product releases and bundling security patches with behavior changes is going to assure that we have these problems more frequently. In The Real World, it's not uncommon for an "enterprisey" business system to be deployed that takes advantages of certain "features" in an OS, browser, etc. Said system is usually one-off, costs tons of money to replace or fix, and can't easily be extracted from day to day business operations. Yes, running something like IE 6 or unpatched JRE 1.4 is awful, but sometimes it's necessary. The consultants who build said systems are already long gone and often demand huge sums when they are called back to update these kinds of applications.
I'm hoping that if Microsoft stops releasing discrete "versions" of their products, as they're rumored to be considering, they'll at least do a Long Term Stable branch like some of the Linux distributions do. That LTS branch can have the old patch framework -- patches are patches and feature updates are optional.
We're currently dealing with this fun combined feature/patch...identifying and fixing this on a universal basis for everyone in our organization is going to be fun.
Hardware is here to stay
The problem for HP and others is what kind of hardware will run all this software-defined stuff. If you believe all the Gartner pundits, who are breathlessly pointing at all the social media startups who have eschewed traditional hardware, then HP and the like are toast. However, like everything, I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. Large cloud providers like AWS, Azure, and so on won't be buying HP hardware -- they have their own reference designs they ship off to Joe's Server Shack, and they order 50,000 of them at a time. They also have the people to maintain said hardware in the absence of a warranty. Huge Internet properties will also follow a similar course -- Google and Facebook are always held up as examples of this.
The things I do see becoming less relevant are extremely expensive managed storage (EMC, NetApp) and possibly networking (Cisco.) But even with that, vendors are trying to lock people into software-defined networking and compute on their blade chassis. Expensive storage will live on, but it won't be the only choice like it was in datacenters...only workloads that need that kind of uptime or performance will get it. Others can deal with software-defined storage controlling disks on a less expensive platform.
For the average business with on-site infrastructure, HP et al still have plenty of people to sell to. Some margins will take a hit, but the business will be there.
This is (or could be) pretty cool, but doesn't the name sound something like one of the hyperbole-laced feature names of the 60s? Sounds kind of like Positraction (independent rear suspension) or Hydromatic (automatic) transmissions.
"Super Cruise" sounds a little like one of those.
Re: Well said
"A $10K Rolex on somebody under 40 means that daddy is/was rich."
Usually, but it can also mean they're in sales or senior management. Talk to high-end salespeople in very status-conscious industries...guaranteed you'll see a lot of gold Rolexes. $10K is part of a monthly commission check for some of these folks. And salespeople don't tend to save, they blow their money on flashy toys.
Switzerland still has plenty of other industries...
Someone saying that Rolex is doomed because Apple is rolling out a really fancy Timex calculator watch is a little silly. The author is right in this case -- even above Rolex, there are higher end watchmakers like Patek Philippe, etc. whose watches command even higher sums. And never mind that these luxury timepieces are insanely expensive, they're also throwbacks. Mechanical watches are actually less accurate than ones with quartz movements, but they cost way more due to the workmanship. You're paying for the 15 watchmakers left in the world hunched over a table hand-assembling micro-scale mechanical watch parts..Look at a couple YouTube videos about watchmaking...I have no idea how those guys don't go insane working with such tiny, fragile metal parts. (Also, luxury watches need to be serviced periodically which is extremely expensive (and labor intensive.)
Mind you, I think buying a watch that costs as much as a car is a very strange way to blow one's money. But I guess if you're at that end of the market and you already have everything else, why not go for it?
I think the iWatch will find a place with most of the Apple faithful, but I doubt any executive is going to give up their Audemars Piguet or Rolex.
Just a contract renegotiation?
Lots of big companies go through this whenever a service contract is up -- they put it out for bid again and whoever is cheapest wins. Microsoft used to have 2 providers (Prometric and Vue) but something tells me they don't want to support that anymore. In the late 90s/early 00s, certification and training were huge businesses and made a lot of money for Microsoft. I don't have any data, but I doubt people are getting certified at the rates they once were, so they need to cut the costs. I know I haven't taken a cert exam in a while (since 2003 actually,) but I might end up doing it for the new Server 2012 R2 stuff just so I can keep it on the resume. People knock certs, but I know that lots of large companies use them as a first resume filter.
The other thing they could be doing (though I wonder about whether they would) is leveraging Azure to build up a full system environment for a test taker. So instead of the stupid memory tests you get now, you would just be told to complete a series of tasks within a given time allotment. If the environment resembles what they're looking for at the end of the test, you pass. I'd actually like this a lot more. My memory is awful and not having access to Google during a test makes me turn in (IMO) lower scores than I otherwise could have gotten.
Re: Another solution
"It's definitely not only men, either. In my line of work there are more galz than doodz, and the ones behaving in an inappropriate manner are more often women "
OK, I know women aren't perfect little snowflakes, but I'm assuming you've never seen something like that the article describes in the workplace. I would assume women are much less overt about it. Unless I'm mistaken, of course...
Re: Men AND women
"Thinking before they speaking seems to be considered a weakness."
I think a lot of it is the kind of environment you work in. If you work IT in an investment bank, I'm sure a lot of the arrogant asshole banker culture rubs off on people. If you work for a startup, well, that's where the brogrammer meme came from. If you work for a more traditional employer, you still might wind up in a department full of stereotypical basement dwellers.
That said, any of the stuff in this article would have probably gotten the offenders fired for fear of an harassment suit if it occurred in the workplace. Interesting how conferences are considered out-of-office when they're really not.
This is why people treat IT like a bunch of kids.
Obviously, not everyone acts like this. But the ones who do really set a bad precedent for those who wouldn't even think about it.
I think one of the things to remember about conferences is that everyone who isn't an attendee or a technical presenter is connected with sales in some way. Salesmen can be some of the sleaziest people in the world...I've worked with a bunch that fit the descriptions in the article. Conferences used to be the only way a company could advertise their new products with reasonable success, so they deploy their best salesmen to try to reel in unsuspecting attendees. And while it's not 100% accurate, the best salesmen also tend to be the most likely to engage in behavior like this. Think about it -- an introverted techie isn't going to be attracted to a sales career. The entire job is acting like your mark is your best buddy in the entire world, and doing anything it takes to get them to buy something from you. Ex-fraternity guys make good salespeople because of that outgoing personality. Unfortunately, "outgoing" can often end up "offensive" given the wrong set of circumstances.
I'm a guy and wouldn't even think about engaging in some of what the author describes. It is surprising that a "professional" conference turns out like this. Something tells me physicians' conferences or scientific symposia don't have nearly the same problems.
Good idea if they don't mess it up
I'm sure the Linux community would sneer even harder than the Windows community at "paper MCSE" type Linux certifications. However, there is something to be said for an absolute minimum standard for candidates.
The problem with doing this in "Linux" is how they get around the fact that every distribution does things slightly differently. Red Hat has its own certification, and so does SuSE. So, hopefully a certification like the one they're talking about transcends testing how to drive the admin GUI and modify the RH or SuSE tree of /etc files to make system changes.
Any sort of vendor-agnostic qualification is a good thing. Skill sets vary so wildly that hiring someone means giving them ridiculous tests to see if they're lying about their experience. Being able to stop that might be a good thing.
More bubbly goodness
The fact that these Bubble 2.0 companies are on such an acquisition tear that they can't be bothered to go to an investment bank is pretty clear evidence that everything is going to come crashing down very soon.
That said, it sounds like the investment banking industry is experiencing the same contraction that other service/agent/middleman sectors have been. Now that online real estate listings exist, it's harder for the agents to justify charging 6% (both on the buying and selling end). It was easier when they were the only ones who knew houses were for sale and had the huge binder of Polaroids. The only places that still have high-priced liaisons involved are car dealers (legally protected market in the US,) and the medical industry (private insurance in the US ensures a huge staff of office managers/billing and coding people, etc.) I know no one is going to shed too many tears for the banking industry, but it's just the continuation of a trend.
The one thing I do worry about is the loss of these liaison positions in the economy...millions of people in the middle class are in the middle class because they have a nice stable job being the agent/liaison/whatever. This has the potential to kick them out the same way de-unionization and offshoring kicked factory workers out.
Re: In other news...
Companies get around this because the rules go something like "you need an email retention policy." I've seen a lot of companies interpret this as "OK, we have a retention policy. No emails will be saved older than 90 days, no backups beyond that time are available." That way, when the lawyers come calling, demanding email discovery, the company can legally say they don't have anything of value to give.
Re: Why is this an article?
Maybe it's kind of like the stories about Google's mythical fun-to-work-in workplaces The tech press has produced more than a few stories about the Chocolate Factory giving an insiders' view to outsiders who "wish they could work there." I've never worked there, don't really have a desire to, but I'm sure a lot of people do, and it makes for good page impression numbers.
Explains a few things.
The fact that everyone gets indoctrinated in that minimalist design philosophy explains a lot of the product decisions they make. I know that they're designing for simplicity, but IMO Apple software and products are too simple now. I'm not going to go back to the 90s for the single-mouse-button joke, but the fact that the iPhone doesn't even have fixed soft keys makes some operations harder than they have to be.
The original NYTimes article had a good comparison -- 78 buttons on a Google TV remote vs. 3 on an Apple TV remote. Having only 3 buttons means you have to rely on a complex menu/gesture/whatever interface built into software. I think I'd rather have the simple interface for dummies, but also have the other 75 buttons under a flip-out cover kind of like the 80s/90s remotes did for power user features. Mac OS does have this in the form of the terminal and the UNIX kernel underneath all the shiny, but you really do have to hunt for it. I want my 78 buttons. :-)
Why are so many celebrities depressed and/or suicidal??
It's a sad thing when anyone feels they need to kill themselves to feel better. But one thing I don't understand and just can't get my head around is why celebrities, star athletes, incredibly rich people, etc. are prone to suicide.
If you're a celebrity, making even one blockbuster movie or TV show will set you up financially for several lifetimes. Business owners who sell a successful company or cash out at an IPO never have to worry about working ever again if they don't want to. Given how much of a worry money is to most people, you would think that these people would have absolutely nothing to be depressed about. And even if they did, they would have nearly infinite resources to buy whatever they wanted, travel wherever they wanted, etc. to make up for it. On top of all that, celebrities have millions of people following their every move and hanging on their every word.
It just doesn't make sense to me. If I had the kind of resources that these people have access to, I certainly wouldn't be depressed.
"Making things is so last millennium."
Don't you get it? Virtual software-defined hardware is the new new thing. In the cloud! This time it's different.
Fun with integration...
This kind of stuff is actually my job (software/hardware/systems integration.) I don't work for VCE, but I deal a lot with this all-too-typical situation. It's often a huge headache being the "make this stuff work together guy" and adding multiple vendors to the mix all blaming each other just takes it to a whole new level. This job does keep me out of 24/7 ops mode, however I can't tell you how many hours have been spent literally refereeing vendor fights over late night conference calls.
The problem with these integrated stack vendors is that, often, they're so big and unwieldy that Group A who provides the storage array firmware doesn't know that Group B just changed the iSCSI NIC firmware to a rev that's incompatible with Group C's latest compute node hardware rev. The problem rolls up at a human-visible level as "server can't see the storage array" and it takes a lot of troubleshooting to walk back through the entire connectivity tree. So when you get an Oracle Exadata stack, or a VBlock, you get "This recipe worked when we shipped the units." It's slightly easier than trying to marry an HP blade system with a NetApp filer over Juniper switchgear, but you can often run into the exact same problem. If you run into a problem in between recipe releases....that's where the whole "converged system" thing breaks down.
Sometimes the IT exec crowd doesn't realize that there are humans at these companies doing all this work behind the scenes. Humans make typos in documents. Humans also can't test every single little corner case. And when things blow up, you're still relying on humans (a combo of yours and the vendor's) to sit down and figure out what needs to be fixed. One thing that people don't realize is that the squeeze on salaries and entry level IT work dries up the pipeline for truly good systems people. I'm no genius and would never claim to be a "rockstar" or other idiotic term. but doing these kinds of systems integration tasks does require a highly developed troubleshooting skill set. It takes someone with a lot of experience to pull apart a mess and figure out what broke without making the situation worse or losing customer data.
A vendor can sell you a rack-in-the-box, but they need to back that up with talented integration people...and nothing is foolproof. Stuff like this will always happen.
Times have changed I guess
"No one ever got fired for buying IBM." I guess that quote isn't going to mean much anymore...
It's too bad, because it's basically a self-fulfilling prophecy. Customers see IBM trying to sell off anything that involves making physical equipment and realize that there isn't much reason to pay the premium for the IBM name anymore. I'm sure low end storage is the next thing to go. We have a fair amount of IBM stuff in our labs and datacenters. It's insanely expensive, and very hard to maintain, but one of the things they do offer is very good on-site service (in my opinion.) We've had situations where they would bend over backwards to get things working again as long as you had a service contract on the equipment. I know most people have had different experiences, but that's what we saw. The problem is that everything is such a disorganized mess from a firmware/documentation/driver perspective that even the service people have trouble finding any information.
It will be very strange to have no physical equipment with an IBM logo on it in a generation, given how completely they used to dominate the computing world.
Looks like they're pulling an Adobe
My assumption is that the next version of Office isn't going to be available stand-alone. It's unfortunate that Microsoft is taking this route. I work for a company that deploys IT stuff in very remote corners of the planet where cloud just doesn't fly. I'm the lone guy sitting in the corner asking server vendors to keep optimizing at least part of their product line for physical OS deployment, and software vendors to not tie their software to the cloud.
The comment about SQL is spot on. We use a systems management tool that requires SQL Server (not System Center...) and the licenses for SQL dwarf the actual cost of the tool, even in Software Assurance SPLA rental mode. Not to mention the fact that Microsoft changed the SQL license terms so that deploying it on physical hardware is obscenely expensive. We had to add ESXi into our customer deployments for that very reason -- it was the difference between licensing 4 virtual cores or 12 physical ones.
Software vendors do know that people are stuck on various applications. Windows and Office are just 2 examples -- Adobe knew they had a lock on the creative market and decided to exploit it. Microsoft is still hybrid for now -- but we'll see what happens!
Brogrammers and women don't mix
Yeah, the "brogrammer" meme is a little silly. But it is appropriate in this case. Especially during this current bubble, these web startups and other tech companies seem to attract this weird hybrid techie-fratboy-salesman type. Maybe it's because that's where all the money is, and you don't have to be a complete nerd to throw together an iPhone app connected to a Ruby backend.
It'll be interesting if the VCs just sweep this under the rug and give this woman a huge payout. Otherwise, we'll probably see some very entertaining emails come to light, and then we can judge who gets most of the blame. The fact remains that tech, especially startups, are overwhelmingly male environments. And there's lots of opportunities for misogynistic behavior...undersocialized nerds on one end, whose only contact with females is in an adult entertainment context, coupled with hypersocialized ex-fratboy "executives." Look at all the allegations with Mark Hurd and various other Oracle slimeballs -- that's probably amateur hour compared to this.
We'll see what happens...should be interesting.
 Read the account published in the Mark Hurd case. Granted, it's the victim's side of it, but that guy overloads the creep-o-meter...
It'll calm down eventually.
AWS, Azure and the other cloud hosting services definitely have their place. If you're a startup looking for a way to instantly spin up 20,000 web servers serving monetized cat video streams, there's no way to economically do that even in a colocation scenario. Even if you're an established business and have something that can tolerate downtime and isn't mission critical intellectual property stuff, I can see a use case.
The problem is when people doing the infrastructure architecture job in whatever size company begin treating the cloud as a hands-off completely maintenance free resource. I'm in end user computing and have dealt with a few different companies/customers moving their stuff from local desktops to Citrix and VDI. It's the same thing I always tell them -- the problems don't go away. They're shoveled up into the data center, and in the cloud case, into someone else's data center. You need to be prepared to invest the money into smart people who can keep the service from falling over. You may not have to fix as many PCs, but you'll have to deal with the potential for massive outages with hosted application upgrades. In Code Spaces' case, they didn't realize that they had a vulnerability from a security standpoint that would allow an attacker to destroy their entire VM infrastructure plus backups. In AWS' defense, they do warn people to never use the access keys that the attackers use for day-to-day sysadmin tasks.
So many companies are being sold the cloud as a way to get rid of IT staff and synergies and onboarding of opex revenue streams. When you're a startup growing too fast to properly design an infrastructure, or an established company that jettisons all the smart IT people who know how things should work, this is what happens. The truth is that IT infrastructure is brittle, constantly changes, and requires a lot of brainpower to design correctly. Just because AWS or Azure gives you a console that lets you fire up any possible configuration, doesn't mean that you can't use it to design a complete mess.
On-premises installs have the same problem, but can be a little safer since (a) it's under your direct control, and (b) you don't have to get in line with all the other customers when a failure at your provider occurs. Having someone local who knows your particular environment may be more expensive but you're always better off when a disaster happens.
 Patent pending on the monetization of cat videos, sorry guys...
I'm currently working on getting CA's horrible management suite working in an on-premises environment, so I can definitely relate.
All of these systems management tools (SCCM, Altiris, CA IT Client Manager, Tivoli, etc etc etc) are a huge amount of work to get working for most environments. The other problem is that some of them are designed as consultantware -- 60% of the functionality works out of the box. When you go try to set up the other 40%, it's either so poorly documented or has layers of complexity that just aren't worth figuring out on your own, that you need to call the vendor in.
The only two products I've seen that you can get to about 90% functionality without severe teeth-pulling are System Center and Altiris. This is mainly because they generate human-readable log files and the vendors publish OK documentation. The CA tool I'm currently working with is...interesting. Remember Unicenter from the 90s? That product is still there in the core of it all, complete with a fully proprietary communications protocol that only CA seems to know how to debug. Like I said, most of it works, but trying to figure out some of the stranger bits is an absolute pain in the butt (and wallet, if you have to go the consulting route.) Bottom line is that systems management tools are all complex. Some of the newer entries might have less legacy crap gumming up the works, but it's actually a lot of work getting a tool to distribute software, pull inventory, etc. reliably across platforms.
Re: Political Hatred
> But everyone works that way today in the list of top firms that are over 10 years old.
It is a little crazy. However, it does bring up an interesting thought exercise. What would happen if you suddenly cleaned out _all_ these kinds of positions from large companies? I don't think society could handle that kind of shift overnight.
The entire US middle class economy is based on people collecting a steady paycheck over 30 years to pay back a mortgage on a house. We're starting to see major cracks in that model. The vast majority of people aren't building software startups in their basements. They're getting up every morning, driving to work and performing one of these cut-and-paste jobs. They get paid, pay their mortgage and taxes, and buy things, which makes the larger economy go round. Individual productivity is insane compared to the 60s or 70s -- before computers and email, secretaries were typing memos for managers. There was a whole fleet of management that existed simply to route reports from one layer to another, since there wasn't any email or word processing. I'm guessing that a lot of these previous occupations were absorbed into the cut-and-paste work, but for those who can't even handle that, the options are pretty bad.
As the number of well-paying jobs decreases, I doubt people are going to become wildly successful entrepreneurs overnight. Most don't have the skills or work ethic necessary. I think for now we should be glad that there are people in these jobs so that the economy doesn't crater overnight. Until we somehow get beyond the necessity to work for money to buy stuff to get companies to make more stuff, I think we're stuck with some inefficiency.
Wow, PC sales actually grew?
We're HP customers -- we buy a fair amount of PCs, printers, laptops, servers, etc. from them, and I'm sure this latest layoff round is just a small correction. I don't know how many rotating account managers we've had in the last few years, and it seems that anything sales-related that doesn't involve clicking Buy it Now from a reseller has a massive internal bureaucracy attached to it.
The news about the server division isn't so great though. Despite all things cloudy, we're still purchasing a good number of standalone servers, PCs, etc. for applications that actually need on-site stuff. I'd hate to see them abandon this market, because not everyone is on public cloud or has a data center full of white box servers with the maintenance staff to take care of them. I'm guessing a lot of the bleeding is from the Itanium thing. HP needs to cut its losses and just port HP-UX and the NonStop OS to souped-up ProLiants. Now that they've basically been outed by Oracle for funding the development of Itanium after Intel realized there was no future, I'm sure there are a lot of large customers deciding to go with another vendor while they wait this one out. (It's too bad - I can't imagine the amount of sunk cost HP would have to swallow for abandoning Itanium.)
The other thing that might be happening with the extra layoffs is knocking off a few layers of management at EDS, or cutting loose some of the people from bad acquisitions like Autonomy. Hopefully they make the right decisions about where to cut -- when you get down to the "individual employee" level, there are some very smart people still working at HP. But like any big company, they collect a lot of dead wood. (That's my unofficial goal for the second half of my career -- don't end up dead wood.) :-)
It'll only take another generation
One thing that I've noticed is that Millenials are used to ad content and most of them don't seem to mind it. I guess it makes sense when you consume most of your media from an advertising-supported Internet. So, I give this future one or two more generations before it at least partially comes to pass. Crotchety 35 year olds like me apparently don't represent the future. :-)
Personally I find advertising very annoying, but I can ignore it. I also don't see the effectiveness. I can't think of the last time I actively paid attention to an ad, and I've never bought anything based solely on an advertisement. Even the "vendor deep dive white papers" that the software/hardware companies love to pass off as educational material aren't effective -- You look at the title, read the first paragraph, and see "Oh, here's an introduction to BYOD, OK, it must be an ad for Citrix or some mobile device management platform."
Does anyone buy stuff because an advertisement tells them to??
PM? Not if you actually like doing the work
You mention your generalist status as something that prevents you from getting work. And in a "traditional" company I'd say you're right. However, why not seek out a company that needs your kind of skills? You have lots of strengths as a generalist -- I can't believe how many people I know and work with who have been pigeonholed into an extremely specific job function at a large company. True IT generalists, defined as people who are flexible enough to learn new things fast, are sought after, but unfortunately the flashy "SAP genius" or "Oracle performance tuning rockstar" gets all the glory in most companies. This is because most companies don't do IT as their main business...they prefer to bring in the rockstars as needed, so they advertise for them.
IT services companies love people like us. Well, maybe not "love," but they do staff most projects with a couple good people to offset the wastes of oxygen that the customer sees. My employer values my skillset and that of our group because we are the sorts of people who will dig into a system and figure out what's what, regardless of whose job it's supposed to be. I've been with my current employer for almost 10 years (I even left and came back!) and my job has never been the same for more than a few months. Since I'm the kind of person who likes to get involved with everything, I get assigned challenging work and it's always different. My experience over my career has been that you really can't learn everything about all aspects of technology, but you _can_ work on one aspect, do a project or two with it, move on, then come back later. I've done this with Citrix, working on 3 different versions of the product, and jumping to something else when the time came. Being a generalist, and knowing enough concepts and fundamentals makes it easy to pick up new stuff. I'm currently fixing a horribly broken implementation of CA's client management tools for a customer, and it's clear that these tools are so poorly documented that they could generate several full time jobs' worth of effort to maintain them. Specialists would relish this, because they could just implement the same tricks over and over again once they learned them (cough SAP cough). The problem is that being a specialist could mean you're stuck when the product isn't useful anymore, and you don't have the flexibility to adapt.
Some people are suggesting PM work. I strongly recommend against that if you actually want to keep doing technical work. PMs, although incredibly important, are glorified secretaries that beat you over the head with Gantt charts. You just boss around the people doing the work, and don't do anything yourself. I would say you should find a consultancy / IT services firm (preferably small to mid sized) and sell yourself as a flexible fast learner. Just because the SAP guys are billing $300+ an hour doesn't mean you can't make a decent living doing more interesting stuff. Bonus points for you if you can actually talk to the execs in their language.
Re: 1999 called...
You forgot to mention social, Internet of Things and Big Data. All on a Hadoop cluster.
(And yes, I'm well aware that there are plenty of actual uses for "Big Data" outside of marketing buzzword land, but it just used to be called Data Analytics or something boring like that.)
This time it's different.
...and they want their bubble back.
I seriously didn't think, even with all the available capital out there now, that we would do a complete rehash of the dotcom bubble, but here we are. All that's missing are the sock puppets.
I understand this is just the investment banks, VCs and startup founders trying to not be the last one holding the bag, just like last time, but stuff like this is pretty crazy.
Worked great for Windows 8, right?
I figured that an iOS-ification of OSX was coming, but I didn't know it would be done in one shot like this.
We'll see what happens - one of the strengths of the Mac, even with recent drastic OS changes, is that the basic user interface elements work the same way. The keyboard shortcuts, etc. haven't changed since 1984. Apple had always been willing to break backward-compatibility but never backward-familarity.
Maybe they haven't been listening to the vocal complaints about Windows 8's redesign. Even among those of us who don't mind the Start screen and all the Metro junk, some of us miss the Windows 7 user interface chrome. I want Aero Glass to make a return in Windows 9, but I doubt that's happening.
Re: Oracle did this with JRE 6 for a while.
True -- if you're a paying customer who bought a support agreement. My Oracle Support has the non-free JRE 6 patches, but the last public one was 45. So it's true that they haven't stopped -- they just stopped giving them away for free.
Oracle did this with JRE 6 for a while.
When JRE 6 went end of support last year, Oracle released a few more security patches for the more serious bugs. They eventually stopped, as I'm sure Microsoft will, but just like XP there's a huge installed base. And in the case of JRE, some crappy web applications limit a company's ability to upgrade the Java that's providing the browser plugins for fear of breaking said crappy applications.
If they keep going with this, the people who bought custom support agreements at full price are going to start getting very upset...
Bye bye x86 server innovation...
So basically, they're taking a white box server chassis, slapping "ProLiant" on the side and selling it for 10% of the price of a real ProLiant? Interesting strategy.
I hope HP continues to build good kit for those of us who have distributed deployments and can't throw everything into the cloud. Boxes that come with a warranty come in really handy when you're a few thousand miles away or don't have an army of little yellow minions swapping out parts in your 1000 acre data center. It seems like they'll continue making high end boxes, but I wonder how low they're going to go for customers who really don't care about reliability.
Outsourced IT strikes again?
I've seen stuff like this happen at both public and private sector companies. The IT is outsourced then sub sub sub subcontracted out to the absolute lowest bidder. And in the process, all the management and monitoring that the customer is paying for gets lost along the way. We just had the IT outsourcer for our company ignore a couple of device failures for a key server, and it was only noticed when people started saying "Hey, I can't get into XYZ application anymore." Going back through the logs, a drive failure happened 8 months ago, followed by another one just now. Combine this with the fact that the server's backup was being written to a full NAS, and the logging clearly indicated that.
It's not just big government contracts -- it's the whole outsourcing process.
Some good points, but missed the mark a little.
I would say that comparing working at Microsoft to being on antidepressants kind of misses the mark. Not everyone is lucky enough to be in a situation where they can just start up a business and if it tanks, oh well. People with lives outside of work and obligations like the idea of stability. Not everyone is a single guy in their 20s with no ties to anyone or anything else who wants to do nothing but work on their startup.
Also, the comments aren't just applicable to Microsoft -- any large corporate entity is like this on the "official" side. I work in a product engineering group of an extremely large, extremely bureaucratic organization. Things happen quickly around here, but getting anything we do out to the rest of the world is a very slow process. Some people can't handle that -- I admit that some of the stuff I've seen drives me nuts sometimes. We sometimes lose people hired from outside because they just don't get the fact that they need to work within a very strange framework if they want to get stuff done. But...I get to do interesting product design work, I still work hard (and get rewarded for it) and I get a regular paycheck as a bonus.
Some people can do good work in a large organization -- if they're motivated and stick with their tasks when the processes and procedures get maddening. Others who are naturally slackers or get fed up easily learn quickly that they don't have to try too hard to stay employed as long as there are no major staff purges. Look at places like HP and IBM who routinely blow out thousands of people in a shot. Some of it is corporate stock price stupidity, but I guarantee there are tons of people who get laid off simply because they're dead wood. Everyone's seen situations where a department has been wiped out or is now irrelevant but people who were there are still working.
I just think it's the wrong metaphor. Startup culture isn't for everyone. And as you get older, stability starts looking really good as you collect responsibilities along the way.
Holy bubble, Batman
Seriously, all we need is the pets.com sock puppet and it'll be early 2000 all over again.
Except now it's not just "do xyz on the Internet," it's "do xyz on the Internet, but...social media!!!!! Facebook!!!! Twitter!!!!!! Instagram!!!!!!!!!!!! Pinterest!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
This is completely unbelievable, and I'm really surprised that people haven't learned their lesson from the dotcom crash. Oh well, I was fine last time when the dust settled.
No Aeron chairs or dirt-cheap hardware on eBay this time though...
Wasn't HTML5 supposed to save us by now??
It's always amusing to watch software companies try to shoehorn a rich client interface into a web browser. Every enterprisey management tool I've used that has both options has had a Web client that's a big ball of fail without something like Flash or Java to prop it up. Most usually roll out a web-only client for a version or two, then realize they need some client-side intelligence and use the easiest option available.
I'm not saying it can't be done (Microsoft's Azure portal is actually really nice...for a web client.) But it's rare that you see a web client that's preferred over the desktop version. I've used VSphere's rich and web clients, and unfortunately I still like the Windows client better. With 5.x, unless I use the CLI for everything I really don't have that option anymore if I want to configure anything "new." One of the nice things about a local client is feedback when you're accessing something over a low-speed or high-latency connection -- you can be sure you clicked something rather than thinking "Is that Flash acting up again, or did it actually go through?"
Maybe I'm just old, but I like the responsiveness of a GUI that has at least some local intelligence. HTML5 is a good step in the right direction, but it's amazing how much the traditional GUI application is being stuffed into the confines of a web browser.
New York's facilities are next
IBM's original home state of New York is probably going to get hit too. They have a huge research facility in Poughkeepsie which may or may not get killed, and a chip fab in East Fishkill that will almost certainly go when they dump their semiconductor business. Pretty soon all they will actually manufacture is mainframes and UNIX boxes, so they don't need as much research or chip capacity for that. I thought one of the reasons they were keeping non-Chinese manufacturing facilities was for customers in government/military/intelligence who demanded US-made, US-assembled equipment. Maybe something similar was happening with this UK facility?
They're well on their way to becoming Accenture/KPMG/PWC...and it's too bad. From what I've heard IBM used to be a very good place to spend an entire career. Not so much anymore.
It's not just side loading!
As a previous poster mentioned, MS got greedy and started pulling "enterprisey" features out of Pro to entice people to sign Software Assurance agreements. This is actually a good thing for us. Enterprise supports these features that you no longer get in Pro:
- Windows to Go
- RemoteFX support (for VDI stuff)
- NFS services
They did something similar with Windows 7, but more features were available in Pro. In 7, they reserved multiingual OS support for the Enterprise Edition -- which we need to support some of our customers, since we're not all native speakers of the languages they use. We really don't care about side loading apps (and I doubt most companies do at least at this stage) but we really need some of these features for support.
Maybe this means Microsoft is realizing that not everyone is going to jump on the software rental treadmill. Next thing I'd like to see is MDOP available to purchase outside of SA...we need it!
...Microsoft also reduced prices on OS licensing to woo low-end tablet manufacturers. I think Cisco is just coming back down to reality and noticing that people aren't necessarily selecting their stuff as the only choice anymore. Maybe this means no more insane list prices for basic network hardware? Naah...
The things I see Cisco, Microsoft, HP, etc. providing to businesses that they can charge a premium for are:
- Service and support
- A stable platform with a known release schedule that doesn't throw in the latest new cool thing just for fun
- A well-known product supported by many IT pros with a training and certification program to at least give you a starting point evaluating candidates
The problem with all these vendors is that these things have been watered down over time in pursuit of higher license profits. Cisco can't just keep commanding the premium pricing it does and not give businesses what they're looking for. Eventually even the execs start noticing.
My personal favorite with Cisco these days is that they ship equipment that's intentionally crippled until you pay for feature licenses. One set of SSL VPN license features I saw at work cost almost $25K for a piece of paper with a serial number on it...in addition to the actual hardware which was incredibly expensive for what it was. We haven't even started looking at the Cisco UCS server hardware yet just because we know it's going to be insanely expensive and require $$$ in ongoing maintenance contracts.
There is something to be said for having a source of trained individuals though...if that training program is decent. I work with a very niche-market systems management product from a very large enterprisey software vendor, and it is very difficult to find anyone who knows about the particular quirks of the product. It doesn't help that this particular vendor doesn't provide good documentation or even a product that can work out of the box with most environments, or that the core of the product is almost 20 years old and all the top-layer cool stuff is wrapped around a completely proprietary protocol stack from the 90s. If I were using something like System Center, there's Microsoft certified individuals who know the product, an active user community and easy access to help. Right now, our only source of help is the enterprisey vendor's "professional services" teams...groan.
New downward price pressure on PCs...
As someone with family members who insist on buying the crappiest, cheapest PCs and laptops they can find at Best Buy, this worries me a little. I wonder if manufacturers are going to try to shoehorn a working PC into a less-than-$250 price point.
The horrors of the low end PC market like the HP Pavillion range are what I'm thinking about. Some of this stuff reminds me of the Packard Bell PCs from the mid-90s. Every single corner will be cut to force it into that magic number so they don't have to pay as much for Windows. My mom, for example, never listens to me and keeps buying these pieces of junk every few years because it's too frustrating to even try to make a warranty claim. Plus, the most I've ever seen on these is a partial 1-year "ship it to us and maybe you'll get a working PC back" warranty.
I also have to deal with these things when small-business-owning friends ask me to "look at" their office PC. More often than not, it's one of these 11-pound 17" "media laptops" that was $499 at Best Buy, loaded with crapware and with very poor driver support.
Enterprise software licensing is so much fun...
It sounds like these guys were just taking advantage of Oracle's very liberal _access_ to their software, but not paying for the _support contracts_ that need to go along with it.
In my experience, Oracle and CA have the most open access to their software. If you have any sort of support contract, for any product, you can download the major point releases of any other product. So if anyone has a burning desire to run an instance of PeopleSoft in their basement, they can do it as long as they're not making money off of it or benefiting from it at all. You need support contracts to access the (usually required) patches, fixes, and documentation corrections to get anything working.
The problems come when you actually need to use the software in production. If you aren't 100% licensed, and need help, you're in trouble. Oracle and CA's software almost always needs an army of "professional services" folks to get things tuned properly because the documentation is so awful. These guys will do the work, but they'll also scan your environment and see what isn't licensed properly. It's one thing if you're a company and, oops, you installed Oracle Enterprise Edition when you only paid for Standard Edition, but when you're reselling access to unlicensed software, I guess you wind up in court like these guys did.
With all the IP cases going around about hardware vendors locking up access to firmware, software companies denying patches without support contracts, etc. it will be interesting to see whether cases like this one will keep popping up. Other enterprisey vendors like SAP totally lock everything down now -- so I wonder if Oracle and the like will follow suit.
Maybe it's just the cloud marketing?
Even if it's not the reality for many companies, I think that a lot of the traditional server vendors are spooked about the rise of the whitebox cloud data centers. When Joe Random CIO of a 100-person company reads a magazine article or Gartner report about Open Compute Project, and Facebook running on thousands of no-name servers, maybe HP and IBM are afraid that they'll ditch their gear for better or worse. Then, they declare that the cloud wins, and stop innovating on the standalone server market. After that, it's a race to the bottom to see how cheaply they can put out the latest System x or ProLiant box...we're already seeing this in my company that buys low- to midgrade servers for projects.
Just like the PC world, however, there is still some innovation going on at the high end of the market. IBM and HP have some interesting things in their 4+ socket monster boxes. But IBM just sold that business to Lenovo, the ultimate low-margin box shifter. Cloud economics aside, you always get what you pay for. Whitebox stuff is fine as long as you pay a fleet of people to keep them running and invest in your own management tools. Vendor backed stuff gives you the luxury of a warranty and the research they pour into new hardware designs.
Re: Is there some master plan in Wall Street...
"Suggesting that IBM don't have the required in house talent suggests that you have no experience of IBM in house."
Admittedly I don't, but from the outside, it looks like IBM is trying to become another Accenture, BCG, etc. I find it hard to believe that the market can absorb yet another snake-oil peddling "consulting firm" as well as losing another hardware manufacturer. That's one thing I worry about in the PC and server markets -- fewer companies fighting over lower margins means they'll just stop doing anything cool and figure out the best way to squeeze a $299 price point out of a 4-socket Xeon box with 2 TB of RAM.
Watson is really cool technology, but how is IBM going to make money selling "decision support" and other stuff? More importantly, where will the next hardware innovations come from? Startups are cool and sexy, but sometimes you need a company as massive as an IBM to invest the kind of money needed to make huge changes. Oh, and keep half a million people employed...
I've read elsewhere that IBM is doing all of this bloodletting simply to get their earnings per share to reach $20 by some target date. I guess my question is what will be left of the company after that's done.
The thing that's a little scary about all this "let's get rid of those pesky Machines our International Business division manufactures" stuff is that they're really betting that software and services will be more profitable. IBM has been known in the past to be right about some of its predictions, like the commoditization of the PC marketplace. But they've been known to be wrong too.
The other thing that might happen is that their Research division will be clobbered because there will be no physical products or manufacturing processes to improve. And if they farm out semiconductors, they lose control of their ability to fab mainframe and POWER chips themselves. IBM's one of the last companies with enough resources and (I thought) forethought to support basic research.
I don't know, core competencies this, brave new world that...but divesting yourself of any physical products just to chase software profits doesn't seem like a good long term strategy. I guess I'm an old fogey, but I do remember when IBM was completely unstoppable and they employed way more people than they do now. It's going to be very weird having the next generation not seeing anything with an IBM logo on it and associating them with crappy outsourcing and WebSphere.
Hope it goes smoothly
I've had very good luck with System x support. Actually doing business with IBM is very difficult and it seems you need to contact an army of reseller staff just to place an order. Maybe Lenovo can fix this. I think that swapping out all those "expensive" US support folks I talk to would be a very bad idea, since being able to talk to a knowledgeable CE and support tech is one of the main reasons to spend the extra money on a System x machine. I know a lot of people have different experiences, but for me, once I get through the nightmare of firmware and driver hell, the equipment itself seems to be well made and just run forever. As long as you don't touch firmware. :-)
If you buy a "real" ThinkPad with an onsite service warranty from Lenovo, you still get IBM's support model. And I think Lenovo has done a decent job turning around IBM's PC division. It's only recently (last 2 generations) that they've started messing with the original design of the laptop. I'm not a big fan since it's obvious they're just trying to copy Apple. But I'm not alone in not liking the new designs, so hopefully Lenovo will NOT be like IBM in the sense that they'll listen to customer feedback.
Lenovo: I want my physical trackpoint buttons back on my new T540p!!!
Hope they don't mess it up...
Well, I guess it was inevitable, but it's definitely a shift. Now that IBM is out of the retail POS business, the printer business, the disk drive business, the PC business, AND the server business, it's going to be very hard to point to an end-user facing "business machine" that would convey the IBM brand.
I hope Lenovo actually plans on innovating at the high end of the server line like IBM did rather than just dumbing everything down to commodity boxes. There are still quite a few workloads that don't really belong on a cloud, and having some of IBM's monster System x boxes to virtualize stuff on is helpful.
One thing I did like about IBM was that, even though their support site is crap, if you had a contract they would bend over backwards to make sure things worked. Lenovo did keep business support for their non-consumer desktops in the US, and I've had nothing but good luck calling up and asking questions. IBM's System x phone support has been some of the best I've dealt with and I hope Lenovo keeps those knowledgeable guys in Atlanta employed. Plus, it's nice having a CE who actually knows about the equipment they're working on.
I'm mostly happy with the way Lenovo handled the PC transition, but I sharply disagree with their consumerization trend on the high-end ThinkPads I love to use. My last IBM-style ThinkPad died (the T510) and I just purchased a T540 from them...they're chasing Apple and the low-end consumer laptop crowd at the same time with this new design. Let's hope this doesn't spill over into the System x line.
So what does IBM actually do now? :-) (Yes, I know they do a ton of stuff...but your average consumer now will have no idea who they are. Kind of like Accenture or their ilk.)
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