Richard Tocci

Richard Tocci
Just when you thought it was safe, I show up...


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Thursday, June 16, 2011


This post is a Geek Post mixed with a little business opinion. If this bores the crap out of you, you might want to move on...

In my job as a Technical Support Analyst, I deal with a wide variety of business units in an organization. I have talked with everyone from a senior vice president all the way down to a desktop technician in IT. Just because my job is mostly technical in nature does not mean that I ignore talking with an end user because we don't "speak the same language." A customer wants to know what's happening, or what I'm doing to fix a problem, and I need to keep them informed. Communication is key to how I work, in addition to my computing skillset.

Part of my job is also to keep up with trends in my industry. Although Corptax sells software and services in the corporate tax space, information technology is my trade, and is critical to my success.
A recent trend in computing is the concept of virtualization - converting a physical machine into a software-based virtual machine. This does a number of things for an IT department, but it boils down, as it so often does, to money. Virtualization saves money in hardware, power, and administrative costs by consolidating servers to a smaller area. It also can facilitate moving a bunch of servers from one location to another - the less physical servers, the less the need to physically pick up a server, and all of it's cabling, and move it to a new site, which is sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles away.

I have no problem with this concept; in fact, I embrace it and use it on a daily basis. Microsoft has a virtualization platform called Hyper-V, which is built into their Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 server operating systems. At work I have a server that runs Hyper-V, and on it I run a self-contained domain on which I can test any number of scenarios that a customer may report. It also gives me a place to practice skills in Active Directory, networking, on the Hyper-V platform itself. VMWare is the other big player in the virtualization market with their vSphere and ESX Server products.

So, what does this have to do with communication? Well, my case, everything.

Because the cost savings are so large (and in the case of Vertafore and other companies, their vehicle by which they moved their data center and closed their College Station site a little while back), IT departments are moving quickly to virtualization. In the case of some large corporations, the mandate comes from the senior executive levels. IT is important, and is expensive, and anything that will save in the order of millions of dollars is not ignored.

When the mandate begins, systems have to be reviewed. Systems are reviewed by tracking resources used on a server. The general consensus is that if a server is not used that often, it is a prime candidate for virtualization.

Yet, while IT has domain over servers in an organization, business units within an organization own the machines and generally pay for them in one lump sum, or over the course of their existence. This means that the business unit ultimately is responsible for what happens to those servers.

But the trend in IT is to do analysis and virtualize what they decide can be virtualized - and generally, without telling the business units. This is where the communication process breaks down, when it should be at its most stable.

This happened to a customer of mine in the last couple of months. The server on which our product was installed was targeted for virtualization. Because the server was idle while analysis was done, it was assumed that the server's hardware resources were not needed, and as such were scaled back once virtualization took place. And of course, what happened was bound to happen - when the application was used more and more, performance suffered.

My support organization worked with the customer for 18 months prior to virtualization to work out many performance problems. This customer is a rather large client so we did a lot of work at their request, but in the end we resolved everything. And in mere days, it was all undone.

So, what does all this have to do with communication? Everything. What should have happened was that the business unit that owned the servers should have been contacted, by email or, better yet, by direct phone call. That never happened. IT took the mandate and did it's job, but without alerting the business unit. Not communicating a plan to departments that are directly affected by your work is always a mistake.

I've performed server replacements where, when all was finished, users did not know that the server had been replaced, but the head of the business unit was at least alerted and was fully aware of the changes to take place. In most cases, the business unit initiated the work I did, so it was not a surprise. But large enterprises tend to lose sight of communication. And that makes problems, for everyone.

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