TFD9 Review: Neverfail

Neverfail have a new product coming out, their first in 12 years. It’s called IT Continuity Architect, and it’s a backup and DR quality assurance tool.

What does it do? You tell it what kinds of systems you have and how important they are (usually done with Service Level Agreements, 99.9% uptime, that sort of thing), and then it will discover all the gear you have them running on: hardware, OS, applications, backups, replication, etc. Then, if the infrastructure you’ve set up doesn’t support the SLA for the application, it’ll tell you. You might be running payroll off a development box under someone’s desk.

It will also audit your environment ongoing, so if you change anything, like, say, moving a VM to a different node in the cluster, maybe that broke your ability to recover the application on it within your SLA. Maybe that node isn’t configured for storage replication. Maybe you meant to move it back, but something happened mid-change, and you just forgot.

As someone who’s dealt with disaster recovery plans, and periodic DR tests, and the world of (under-appreciated, under-funded) pain it is, let me clearly state that this tool, if it lives up to expectations, is incredibly valuable and super awesome.

It took a long time to figure this out on the day. Too long.

Too Much Exposition

Neverfail suffered from a common presentation issue that I’ve talked about before: too much exposition. It comes from mistakenly thinking that the audience is interested in the same things you are, and is combined with audiences generally being too polite. The Tech Field Day audience is less polite than a ‘normal’ audience, but even we let people run on for a while in the hope that they’ll stop by themselves and move on.

Note what Nick Harmer says, with his emphasis: “We’re really keen to hear your feedback.” So keen that we’ll spend 5 minutes giving you a bunch of background information. The surrounding phrases were telling: it’s a beta product, “please bear that in mind”, etc. This is nervousness about, as they say, Neverfail’s first really new product in 12 years. The reticence is understandable, and it’s just such a shame that it got in the way of the big reveal. It was over 5 minutes of exposition before a teaser of what the product was… and then back to talking about who Neverfail is again. Where their offices are. How many customers they have for their existing product.

Watching the video of the presentation, now knowing what the product is, I can understand better what Nick was trying to say. The trouble was that he knew what the product was, and none of us did, so most of what he was saying just flew over our heads. At about 9 minutes 40s, Nick actually uses the name of the product on the whiteboard, even though no one has told us this is its name yet. We don’t actually get told officially until 13 minutes 42s.

Weak Marketing Strategy

The chief issue with Continuity Architect is not the product, but the marketing. We had a long discussion about who exactly it’s for. A product has been built without a clear understanding of who will use it. That flowed through to an inability to clearly and concisely describe what it does. Is it for the small-shop, general purpose admin? Well, the distribution channel for those people is completely different to large enterprise buyers. The pricing will be different. The support arrangements will be different. Who pays for it and how will be different.

These are all vital decisions.

The weak strategy meant the communications about the product (i.e. the presentations) were weak as well. This is a problem for the product because it doesn’t matter how awesome it is if no one knows it exists because they stop listening after 8 minutes of exposition. It also colours the language used to describe it: lots of acronyms, initialisms, and abstract terms like “acceptable SLA violation”. These might be fine for people intimately familiar with the product, but for people who’ve never heard of it, it’s an extra layer of translation required.

My Take

I think IT Continuity Architect is of most value to large organisations with a lot of kit that needs DR, particularly those with regulatory requirements for regular DR audits/tests. Banks. Healthcare companies.

Backup/Recovery, Disaster Recovery, and Business Continuity is incredibly boring most of the time. When it’s not boring, it’s very, very exciting. That’s because something is very broken, and a bunch of Very Important People want it to be working again Right Now.

If you did the boring job well, the exciting period is very short. If you did it really well, there is no exciting period, because things don’t ever get that broken. Happily for Neverfail, people almost never do the boring job well, so there is no end of opportunity for them to help people get better.

Because the problem solved is boring and underfunded, any opportunity to save money will be welcomed. In many cases, DR or Business Continuity is like insurance: necessary, but people don’t want to spend more than they have to, and it’s tedious and dull. Frequently people are under-insured because humans instinctively avoid boring, tedious things. However, computers are very good at boring, tedious things.

If you use computers to do more of the boring bits, and free up the humans to do other things, you can save a lot of money in people’s time.

I think a big area of interest for Neverfail would be to partner with a consulting company to go into large organisations who spend a lot on DR testing and planning and maintenance, and show how you could save them a bunch of time and reduce their outage risks simultaneously. Those two things press the “spend money on this” buttons of banking executives pretty hard. The consulting company is there to build the business case for the organisation showing how many millions they’ll save by implementing Continuity Architect, and to open the doors to those organisations in the first place.

I hope Neverfail sort out their marketing, I really do, because I think this is a useful tool that could help a bunch of people who are currently doing a boring and under-appreciated job.


Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.