We spend an obsessive amount of time looking at the market and trying to lean toward accepted technologies. Seriously, when I was in IT management, there were an inordinate number of discussions about the state of market X or Y. While these conversations almost always revolved around what we were doing, and thus were put into context, sometimes an enterprise sits around waiting for everyone else to jump on board before joining in the flood.
While sometimes this is commendable behavior, it is just as often self-defeating. If you have a project that could use technology X, then find the best implementation of said technology for your needs, and implement it. Using an alternative or inferior technology just because market adoption hasn’t happened will bite you as often as it will save you.
Take PDAs, back in the bad old days when cell phones were either non-existent of just plain phones. Those organizations that used them reaped benefits from them, those that did not… Did not. While you could talk forever about the herky-jerky relationship of IT with small personal devices like PDAs, the fact is that they helped management stay better organized and kept salespeople with a device they could manage while on the road going from appointment to appointment. For those who didn’t wait to see what happened or didn’t raise a bunch of barriers and arguments that, retrospectively, appear almost ridiculous. Yeah, data might leak out on them. Of course, that was before USB sticks and in more than one case entire hard disks of information walked away, proving that a PDA wasn’t as unique in that respect as people wanted to claim.
There is a whole selection of technologies that seem to have fallen into that same funky bubble – perhaps because, like PDAs, the value proposition was just not quite right. When cell phones became your PDA also, nearly all restrictions on them were lifted in every industry, simply because the cell phone + PDA was a more complete solution. One tool to rule them all and all that.
Palm Pilot, image courtesy of wikipedia
Like PDAs, there is benefit to be had from going “no, we need this, let’s do it”. Storage tiering was stuck in the valley of wait-and-see for many years, and finally seems to be climbing out of that valley simply because of the ongoing cost of storage combined with the parallel growth of storage. Still, there are many looking to save money on storage that aren’t making the move – almost like there’s some kind of natural resistance. It is rare to hear of an organization that introduced storage tiering and then dumped it to go back to independent NAS boxes/racks/whatever, so the inhibition seems to be strictly one of inexperience. Likewise, cloud suffers from some reluctance that I personally attribute to not only valid security concerns, but to very poor handling of those concerns by industry. If you read me regularly, you know I was appalled when people started making wild claims like “the cloud is more secure than your DC”, because that lack of touch with reality made people more standoffish, not less. But some of it is people not seeing a need in their organization, which is certainly valid if they’ve checked it out and come to that conclusion. Quite a bit of it, I think, is the same resistance that was applied to SaaS early on – if it’s not in your physical network, is it in your control? And that’s a valid fear that often shuts down the discussion before it starts – particularly if you don’t have an application that requires the cloud – lots of spikes in traffic, for example. Application Firewalls are an easier one in my book – having been a developer, I know that they’re going to be suspicious of canned security protecting their custom app. While I would contend that it isn’t “canned security” in the case of an Application Firewall, I can certainly understand their concern, and it is a communications issue on the part of the Application Firewall vendor community that will have to be resolved if uptake is to spike. Regulatory issues are helping, but far better an organization purchase a product because they believe it helps than because someone forced them to purchase. With HP’s exit from the tablet market, this is another field that is in danger of falling into the valley of waiting. While it’s conjecture, I’ll contend that not every organization will be willing to go with iPads as a corporate roll-out for groups that can benefit from tablet PCs – like field sales staff – and RIM is in such a funk organizations are unlikely to rush their money to them. The only major contender that seems to remain is Samsung with the Galaxy Tab (android-based), but I bought one for Lori for her last birthday, and as-delivered it is really a mini gaming platform, not a productivity tool. Since that is configurable within the bounds set in the Android environment, it might not be such a big deal, but someone will have to custom-install them for corporate use.
But the point is this. If you’re spending too much on storage and don’t have tiering implemented, contact a vendor that suits your needs and look into it. I of course recommend F5 ARX, but since I’m an F5 employee, expecting anything else would be silly. Along the same lines, find a project and send it to the cloud. Doesn’t matter how big or small it is, the point is to build your expertise so you know when the cloud will be most useful to you. And cloud storage doesn’t count, for whatever reason it is seeing a just peachy uptake (see last Thursday’s blog), and uses a different skill set than cloud for application deployment. Application Firewalls can protect your applications in a variety of ways, and those smart organizations that have deployed them have done so as an additive protection to application development security efforts. If for some odd reason you’re against layered protection, then think about this… They can stop most attacks before they ever get to your servers, meaning even fingerprinting becomes a more difficult chore. Of course I think F5 products rule the roost in this market – see my note above about ARX. As to tablet PCs, well, right now you have a few choices, if you can get a benefit from them now, determine what will work for you for the next couple of years and run with it. You can always do a total refresh after the market has matured those couple of years. Right now I see Apple, RIM, and Samsung as your best choices, with RIM being kind of shaky. Lori and I own Playbooks and love them, but RIM has managed to make a debacle of itself right when they hit the market, and doesn’t seem to be climbing out with any speed. Or you could snatch up a whole bunch of those really inexpensive Web-OS pads and save a lot of money until your next refresh :-).
But if you need it, don’t wait for the market. The market is like FaceBook… Eventually consistent, but not guaranteed consistent at any given moment. Think more about what’s best for your organization and less about what everyone else is doing, you’ll be happier that way. And yes, there’s slightly more risk, but risk is not the only element in calculating best for the organization, it is one small input that can be largely mitigated by dealing with companies likely to be around for the next few years.