BlogFest2: Dimension Data

This is part of a series on SNIA BlogFest 2.

First vendor of the day were Dimension Data at their offices in The Rocks, Sydney. SNIA very kindly bought us breakfast downstairs, and we all had a quick catchup before the session.

Rodney was excluded from the first session on account of working for a competitor, which was not unreasonable. It was a little odd though, given that Ben, Sachal and Chris also work for competitors. I declared myself winner of the “most independent” award, and we launched into the session.

Slightly ironically, we used the Cisco Telepresence suite to chat to people from Melbourne, which I’d just flown from to be at BlogFest in Sydney. A word on this technology: it’s much better than some of the older teleconference gear. You almost feel like you’re in the same room as the remote party. It’s quite a reasonable replacement for flying people all over the place, though I’m not sure how you’d go using a whiteboard to draw diagrams. I like to draw.

We spoke to David Hanrahan (General Manager, Virtual Data Centres and Microsoft Solutions) and John Farrell (Enterprise Architect), with Martin Aungle (Corporate Communications Manager, Marketing) acting as chaperone. It was a wide ranging conversation, but with a few key themes that I want to cover:

  • Industry Trends
  • Convergence
  • The Seismic Shift

Industry Trends

We covered quite a few significant trends in the industry during the discussion. DiData tend to engage at a slightly higher level in customer organisations than traditional technology vendors, so they get to see trends that others might miss.

Virtualisation Sprawl

The big push to virtualise everything is leading to what DiData called “virtualisation sprawl”. It’s easy to create a copy of a virtual machine, so that’s what a lot of customers are doing, and this is causing a host of problems when it’s not managed well.

The CPU load created by hordes of duplicate virtual machines is only matched by the storage demands of duplicate copies of data. Technologies like compression and de-duplication are just trying to stem the tide.

Infrastructure that was sized for certain capacity is filling up faster, so customers are having to upgrade or expand much earlier than originally planned.

Mobile Devices and Applications

The impact of mobile devices and applications is under-appreciated in most IT shops. The demands on infrastructure are much more significant when people have multiple devices instead of just a single PC. People was to access your website on their phone, tablet, work PC, and at home. At any hour of the day. Maintenance windows are almost a thing of the past.

This is also outpacing the capabilities of the infrastructure that was purchased before the explosion of mobile devices and applications.

Capacity Planning has Failed

Customers’ ability to capacity plan, which was rarely very good, is completely failing with the twin demands of always-on, multi-device computing, and the sprawl of virtualised systems. Dealing with the rapidly changing environment is going to require a complete rethink of the way capacity planning is performed.

But there’s little time.

Now, Now, Now

All these trends are accelerating the demands on IT. DiData spoke of deal that used to be 90-120 days from signing the order to operational running. Now CIOs want a proposal finished in under 2 weeks, and everything operational in less than 30 days. And they want all the bells and whistles. In the words of one CIO: “I know I want a unicorn. But I still want it.”

A solution to all this is appearing, but it’s not being driven by the IT department in most companies.


Convergence was a theme that ran through the entire hour-and-a-half discussion. Dimension Data, as a system integrator, don’t deal with just a single technology; they deal with the full “stack”. “The stack” was a recurring phrase, which describes the combination of a range of technologies (storage, networks, servers, software) that provide a technology service to end users.

The key here was that DiData see a trend in customers buying “the stack” as a chunk of IT, and all from one vendor, rather than buying bits and pieces of technology and then integrating it together themselves, or through someone like DiData.

This has all been driven by the “consumerisation” and “productisation” of IT. In days of yore, a lot of time was spent developing “best practice” guides, and prescriptive architectures. These “Yellow Pages” of guidance, as DiData put it, were massive tomes of information that few, if any, IT staff actually used. And when they did, it was a rare IT person who could resist modifying things, just a bit, because their company was ‘special’ and needed something customised.

That’s changing.

When you buy an iPhone, it’s a neat package that “just works”. Apple spend a lot of time making the user experience a pleasant one. The app store concept, iTunes, these all make the technology disappear so you concentrate on achieving things with the technology, not futzing about with drivers or cables. You buy a product, which does what it says on the tin. What’s not to love?

Now, it may not be perfect, but this approach is significantly easier on technology novices than it used to be. And business people are far more likely to be novices than the people in the IT department. Guess who has all the money?

Easy Trumps Better

So various vendors have latched onto this idea, and provide much more integrated stacks than they used to. There are validated designs, and some suppliers actually ship you pre-assembled kit (EMC vBlock was cited as an example), not boxes full of kit you have to assemble yourself, like some exotic sort of Ikea flatpack, only with 11 different kinds of screws, bolts, glue and nails.

Customers love this, so they’re buying more and more “stacks” of compatible technology, because it’s easier, particularly at the Enterprise end. Easier trumps IT’s notions of “better”, because the folks with the money just want to get stuff done. For them, worse is better.

When the business is buying stacks of technology, you need people who understand the whole stack, not just one part of it.

Cost Efficiency

Organisations are focussed on being cost efficient with the new technology they buy, and it’s not just about the capital acquisition costs. They’re looking at operational costs, and more than ever, they’re attaching metrics to them. One customer apparently created management KPIs related to how fast old kit could be decommissioned. As anyone who’s worked on a data-migration or decommissioning project will attest, this is a dramatic change.

And more customers are actually measuring the Return on Investment of their IT. They look at how much was spent on the last IT upgrade, and compare it critically to what they could get now. “Cloud” factors into these calculations. They ask themselves “should we host this ourselves, or go outside?” They look at end-to-end costs, through the whole stack.

Customers want to load up fewer racks with more powerful gear, and reduce their power consumption. And that’s if they decide to host gear themselves. Cost-efficiencies in the new integrated stacks are driving a desire for greater automation, and automation is a key focus for the vendors who are selling the new stacks.

The comparison other for all these ROI calculations is frequently the external cloud vendors. We’ve all had a discussion with a business person about why they can buy a 1TB harddrive from OfficeWorks for $70 (or is it $40 now?), so why does 300GB on the SAN cost 8 grand? Get used to it, because it’s only going to get worse.


When Amazon Web Services are showing you can rent a server for 8 cents an hour, you’ve got a ready and easy benchmark to compare internal IT against. It’s happening now.

Some customers have service catalogues, but few of them are automated the way the cloud vendors are. Can you stick in a cost centre code and just order a server? Or do you have to ring the helpdesk and fill out a form?

Some customers are at least getting as far as showback, where they attempt to report on the actual costs incurred from business units running applications on Windows NT 3.51 and writing a new accounting package in Fortran. But most aren’t. Actually charging business users for what they consume, aka chargeback, is a pipedream for most.

Most customers aren’t ready for this new world internally. They still have silos of technology teams, where the storage folks don’t really talk to the virtualisation team, and the networking team are in another building. It takes weeks to order a server, let alone get it installed and working. It’s a world where IT are a problem, not a solution.

The Seismic Shift

The session with DiData has reinforced the concepts I’ve been talking to my own customers about for years.

IT is changing, and surprisingly quickly now that momentum has taken hold. The days of technology based silos inside most organisations are numbered. If you’re not a technology vendor, system integrator or outsourcer, IT isn’t your core business. So why do you have DBAs?

As customers start to buy pre-assembled chunks of IT, designed to provide a service, they’ll have less and less need for technology specialists on a permanent basis. They care about owning “Unix Servers” in the same way most companies don’t own the floors of the building their staff work in. They employ a Facilities Manager to handle the contractual relationship with the building owners, and they rent the number of floors they need.

DiData say their customers are more likely to buy staff augmentation or upskill training for key staff. They say the productised offerings from technology vendors, coupled with their own increased knowledge of IT means that the “Black Magic” of IT is gone.

The non-IT parts of companies now have a much better idea of what it takes to get the IT they need to get their jobs done than they used to. They’re getting a much better handle on what it actually costs to do it well enough for their purposes. Having your own private wizards just isn’t cost effective any more, so companies will stop doing it.

Customers are actively de-skilling their internal IT departments, and buying a few hours of a wizard’s time when they need it, instead of keeping them on staff. Packaging and standardisation supplied by external vendors is solving customer problems where years of having an IT department failed.

Adapt or Die

I’m going to go ahead and make a prediction, which as we all know is terribly difficult, particularly about the future.

The number of staff positions for technology specialists within most companies is going to decrease. Specialists will still have a place inside technology consulting organisations like Accenture, IBM, HP, or system integrators like Dimension Data. A few companies will have specialised IT needs, and will need a few key specialists of their own, but there’ll be fewer of them.

Most won’t.

Companies will instead have a fewer number of generalist IT staff, and some low skill staff who keep the machines fed and watered, if the customer still hosts their own kit.

The generalists will understand how all the different pieces work together to provide IT solutions, but won’t know, or care, about what sort of RAID the SAN uses. They won’t try to craft complex and clever technology solutions, they’ll just use commodity hardware and software to do 80% of the work the company needs. The simplicity will aid automation, and mean things break less often.

The generalists will spend a lot more time talking to the business about what sort of IT they need to make more money. They’ll buy “just enough IT” and use “just enough process” to get it online quickly, and let the business get on with making money.

For people who love playing with cool technology, it will be dreadfully dull indeed.

I think it’s just a matter of time, and if you’re currently a technology specialist, I’d encourage you to practice really hard at being one of the best, or find something else to do.

What do you think?

Merch disclosure: Dimension Data provided us with morning tea, which I declined, having just had breakfast an hour before.

We also received a branded writing pad (one of those tear-off kinds, in A5 size) and a branded plastic pen. The pen writes quite nicely, and I used the pen and pad to take my notes for the day.

Giving us writing material seems to be a tradition for the first vendor of the day: EMC did the same thing last year. DiData’s pen is better, though.

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