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Left in the Dust August 21, 2014

Posted by audiomatron in Uncategorized.

Last year at the VMunderground party I recall standing around a table awkwardly struggling to make conversation. It was going well, but as more people gathered around this table – IT people from big city governments, service providers, and large businesses, the conversation turned to things that I’ve never heard of and may never get any exposure to. I had nothing to add to the conversation. Granted, Working for a technologically well endowed small business, I enjoy the benefit of being able to get my hands on technologies that many of my small business IT brethren don’t get a chance to ever touch. Still, each year around this time (that would be VMworld time), even though I wouldn’t trade my job for anything, I stop for a moment and consider all that I am missing out on because I am a small business IT manager.

I imagine that I’m in a race, or better, a group bike ride. I’m on my tricked out single speed Wal Mart bike, and everyone else is rolling on their Specializeds, Cervelos, Treks, Giants, and Bianchis (actually, that’s not imaginary, that’s real). It’s a no-drop ride, and no one is trying to leave anyone behind. Yet, due to the very nature of what’s involved, I get the feeling of being utterly left in the dust. I mean, these guys serve hundreds of users and maintain hundreds of VMs. At my last count, I have 38 users, and between our two companies I have about 30 VMs. However, this is not simply a matter of size. You see, with this size comes a new set of challenges and requirements, thus a more expansive set of tools with which to meet those challenges. Also, these larger organizations usually have more money and bigger IT budgets.

Quite often when I hear about, say, one of VMware’s new products, I can imagine a use case for it – until I see the price. At that point, I hang it up. It’s not going to happen. The advantage there is that I am forced to use my brain and find more creative and cost effective solutions to the same problems. Still, there are products and features that I’d love to put to use, but simply can’t (like storage vMotion… how many times could I have used that!). I understand that these companies have to make money, but I feel that in their efforts to cater to the large enterprises they leave us small businesses at somewhat of a loss when it comes to getting the most out of our IT assets.

A prime example that comes to mind is storage. Why, oh why is storage so expensive? Seriously? If I had to name the number one hindrance to small businesses in going all virtual, it would be storage. There was a ray of hope not too long ago by means of a certain software defined storage vendor. Their product is amazing! You build a server and load their storage OS on it. As long as you use hardware on their HCL, you can even buy support. Their product leverages RAM and SSDs for caching resulting in some insanely fast performing storage. Now, they’ve ditched their old HCL in favor of a reference architecture that includes a very small selection of servers, JBODs, disks, and controllers, thus pricing their solution out of reach for many small businesses. I actually use this storage platform for our other company, and was going to use it for our main data center. However, in a phone conversation with one of this company’s representatives (a super nice guy who took a fair amount of time to talk to me) I was informed that they were moving more towards focusing on large enterprises and away from small business. I looked elsewhere for storage.

Another very large storage vendor (I’m not naming names on purpose here) wanted $91,000.00 for a storage array to suit my requirements. I laughed. My boss laughed. Let’s get one thing straight – most small businesses will never, ever, ever spend that much money on anything. Ever.  I did eventually happen upon the right solution for the right price. However, the price of said solution would still be prohibitive enough that many small companies would simply opt not to virtualize. After all, you still have to buy servers, switches and VMWare licensing.

I apologize for going off on a storage rant there. That’s been on my mind for a while. The point was that the cost of many of these technologies causes the careers of many of us in the SMB world to become stagnant compared to our big IT counterparts. Please don’t take that to mean that we small businesses are broke, poor, or struggling – quite the opposite, but we still have to make sound choices relevant to our business’ goals. However, cost certainly isn’t the only issue.

While cost may be one of the larger hindrances for small business IT, valid use cases would be another big one. Although, these two really go hand in hand. Many times, I’ll go through a list of features for a product, and from a practicality standpoint, we simply don’t need any of them. This becomes a double edged sword for the IT person making these decisions because on the one hand, you have to choose the right products and services that fit your business and your environment and your budget. On the other hand, though, you, as an IT person who desires to further his or her career, quite often miss out on the opportunity to be exposed to technologies that can potentially enhance your skill set and make you more valuable as an IT person.

And so, each year as I scroll through the schedule builder for VMWorld, making sure I build a schedule that is pertinent to my goals as IT manager for my company, I bypass a good many sessions that I’m sure are packed with great content, but that I struggle to see how they relate to my job with my current company (who is paying for me to go to VMWorld).  It is for that reason that even though I have had an amazing IT career so far, I sometimes feel like I’m being left in the dust.

In closing, I’d like to ask, do any of you reading this have a similar experience (or a different one for that matter)? I’d love to hear about it. Does anyone else feel like an oddball in a group of people with the same job as you?




1. Grant - August 22, 2014

Yep, totally know the feeling. It’s great that this stuff can handle huge Fortune100 enterprises, and that there are “free” versions with limited capabilities. But you can’t get full functionality and features on a small scale at a corresponding price. Then you find a vendor that does hit that sweet spot, and they’re acquired by one of the big guys.

audiomatron - August 23, 2014

Grant, thanks for commenting! My problem isn’t so much with the free version, in the case of VMWare, but rather with the huge gap that exists in the feature sets between the kits geared for small business and the enterprise editions. I feel like there should be an intermediate version in there somewhere.

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