Information Technology Dark Side

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What IT Should Learn From

March 17th, 2008 · 2 Comments

This blog is, at the time of writing, hosted by I didn’t choose GoDaddy because of their commercials, which I think are pretty stupid, but because they were the cheapest hosting I could find at the time I switched.

I wish IT infrastructure groups were more like GoDaddy in a couple of ways. Here they are:

Drive Consistency Through Cafeteria Style Product Offerings, Not Standards
Purchasing hosting services from GoDaddy is like eating at the high school cafeteria. You choose the options you want in terms of platforms, bandwidth, disk usage, and security, and you’re off. Within a few minutes, your new hosting platform is available for you to configure DNS routing and to start deploying code to it. You can manage your own users on the box, including FTP, database, and SSH users.

GoDaddy also offers third party products as well. With the click of a button, you can install any number of open-source applications, from blog platforms like WordPress to content management systems like Drupal and Joomla.

Did GoDaddy order a new server just because I signed up? Did they install new network devices or acquire additional database instances? I don’t know and I don’t care.’s engineers are the hardware experts, not me. I don’t know how many processors I’m using or how much memory I consume. I purchased the things I care about: bandwidth, disk space, web server configurations, etc.

IT infrastructure groups should work this way as well, but they usually don’t. I should be able to get a new TAL, LAMP, or WebSphere stack within minutes of securing the funding, not weeks or months.

Offering a limited set of core products that are easy to acquire is the best way to drive consistency across an organization. It works a lot better than a set of published standards that everyone is expected to follow but requires harsh governance techniques to enforce. It also makes it easier for development groups to like infrastructure groups. My observation is that there are few parts of an IT organization despised as thoroughly as infrastructure. Even PMO’s have a few people sticking up for them.

Automate the Core Products
If you offer a core set of products that are appealing to your development teams, you can start to automate the installation and configuration of those products. The fact that the installations are automated will drive development teams to your standard products and services. This means less work for infrastructure engineers, because the no-brainer projects will gravitate toward your basic offerings, freeing them up to work on projects that actually need help.

Infrastructure groups should make as many of the applications they support available for automated installs on the standard platforms, thus making the platform much more attractive than custom configurations. Development groups will choose these standard platforms when they are convenient to use and require very little time to acquire.

Provide Live Support that is Easy to Use
When I have a problem with my blog, I can call GoDaddy. The person on the other end of the line helps me, and I’ve never had a problem they weren’t able to assist me with.

As obvious as this seems, it’s not unusual for infrastructure groups to create barriers to support. Sometimes they have ticketing systems that have to be completed first, other times they have liaisons who need to be engaged first. Both of these approaches are intended to make sure you find the “right” resource, but more often than not they simply add cost and delays to acquiring support.

Cafeteria Style Products Come With Cafeteria Style Prices
Knowing what a platform costs upfront is a huge asset to project managers. Cafeteria pricing is easy to understand and predict, especially if it’s tiered based on throughput. It also allows project environments to grow incrementally – you can purchase a small environment while your in pilot, then upgrade to a better package as your user base grows. Or, you can build your dev, test, performance, and prod environments one at a time, which lets you learn and adjust as you go (it also allows more flexibility in project planning).

This is very different from many IT infrastructure processes. It’s not unusual to force project teams to buy all their environments up front and in one shot. This is problematic for PMs, because it means it takes a lot longer to get non-prod environments up and running (which delays testing or forces teams to use desktops as web servers until the “real” environment is procured). It also means you have to be pretty omniscient about the final prod environment at the beginning of the project, a difficult task that most people get wrong.

Provide Consulting Services for the Oddballs

Infrastructure engineers are very smart, but they’re almost always overwhelmed. For many organizations, 90% of the work they do could probably be automated or replaced by standardized packaging. How many times have you had an engineer spend days or weeks looking at your project, but ends up recommending a standard stack of some sort? If you could only have those weeks back…

I’m not sure why infrastructure groups are so un-like GoDaddy. It seems odd that infrastructure groups don’t seem to have learned a thing from their free-market peers in commercial hosting. I wish they would, or at least let me host my work projects on for a change.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Allen // Mar 17, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    I just got off the phone with their tech support for other reasons, and would say that was one of the more pleasant tech support calls I have had in a long time. Knowledgeable, helpful, and going the extra distance to help me out.

  • 2 j e s r u s h . c o m » Cafeteria IT: An approach to infrastucture management // Mar 24, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    […] Christiansen has a great post over at techdarkside entitled, “What IT Should Learn from“. In it, he argues that IT departments should offer pre-spec’d, preconfigured, […]

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