fighting the lack of good ideas


I have been deeply involved in data center management and automation for well over 5 years.

Most companies still view automation the Wrong Way™, though – and it’s a hard mindset to change. Automation is NOT about reducing your headcount, or reducing hiring.

Automation is used to:

  • improve the efficiency of business tasks
  • improve employee productivity
  • reduce human error
  • ensure consistency, and auditability
  • improve/ensure repeatability
  • replace “fire fighting” with planning and proactivity
  • ensure an organization can pass the bus test (which disturbingly-few can)
  • free engineers to work on interesting, engineering problems – not day-to-day busywork

Cringely has an article on this topic this week, entitled “An IT labor economics lesson from Memphis for IBM“.

How can a company 1/100,000th the size of IBM afford to have monitoring?  Well, it seems DBADirect has its own monitoring tools and they are included as part of their service.  It allows them to do a consistently good job with less labor.  DBADirect does not need to use the cheapest offshore labor to be competitive.  They’ve done what manufacturing companies have been doing for 100+ years – automating!

Even today IBM is still in its billable hours mindset.  The more bodies it takes to do a job the better.  It views monitoring and automation tools as being a value added, extra cost option.  It has not occurred to them you could create a better, more profitable service with more tools and fewer people.  When you have good tools, the cost of the labor becomes less important.

Any company that fails to realize that throwing more people at the problem is rarely the answer (something former IBMer Fred Brooks wrote about as a post-mortem of the OS/360 project in The Mythical Man-Month), is doomed to fail – consistently, and tragically.

And yet IBM is still in the mindset of the 1960s and raw, manual labor in an increasingly-connected, -compliant, -complex, and –cloudy world. They are still trying to solve problems the Risk way – throw a gob o’ guys at the problem, and roll over your opponents through sheer numbers.

In many ways, it is sad to see the demise of once-great companies like IBM. There’s the loss of competition, the passing of the Old Guard, etc.

But it’s also a huge opportunity for new businesses to come in, compete, and clean-up in sectors the Bug Guys can’t (or won’t) touch well.

asking the wrong question

A recent question (“Is it possible to trace someone using Google during an online exam?“) on superuser had me thinking about asking the right question again.

I want to design an online exam for over 1000 students via around 50 computers right after the vacation ends. Now the problem is that I have heard that many students use Google on a different tab to find answers when no invigilator is around.

I want to know if there is a way to backtrace it after the exams via some kind of history or any other possible way.

Here, already, the premise is WRONG!!

The asker is a professor. Sadly, that means he’s likely even more skewed in his bias than most people (after all, he is an expert at his subject). He should have asked a more fundamental question, since he is asking for support, but he didn’t.

Instead of trying to catch a cheater, which is what his question is going for, he should have asked how to structure an exam for open-book responses – many/most of my instructors and professors at college had open-book, open-note tests: and those of us who either knew the material, or knew where to find it, did great. Everyone else? Not so much – they viewed “open-book” as “don’t study”. Personally, I loved open-book tests, because it meant the questions were going to be hard-but-answerable … if you knew where to find the answer.

Mr Professor: please just learn how to structure a good test, and not how to slap your students for doing what they’re going to do when they get to the “real world“.

2 years

Two years ago, at about 1430 EDT, I married the girl of my dreams – I love you, Christina 🙂

credit cards

If you overpay a credit card, they should be required to pay you the interest they would charge on a balance.

THAT would help the ratio of consumer debt to assets.