Myth conceptions about IT

There are many myths and legendary figures in IT and as Nick Booth finds some are still around trying to pull their own sword out of the stone

I remember the days when you had to pull a sword out of a stone to become a legend. These days the minimum requirement for legendary status seems to be an appearance on a reality TV show.

It’s the same with myths. Once they were about the early history of a people, often involving supernatural events as part of a narrative to explain the evolving culture of that civilization. Today, the word 'myth' is used to describe a widely held but false belief. Maybe we should amalgamate the two for cloud computing, because this is a culture in its infancy, in which supernatural events are taking place and misconceptions abound.

Brian Owen assumed legendary status at storage vendor X-IO, when he took his sword to all the company’s sales proposals – except one. The story, handed down through the firm, was that the company was chasing everything but not making enough kills. But CEO Owen halted before he smote all the revenue streams. Falling upon virtual desktops, he paused. “This is something we’re really good at,” spoketh Owen, “we’re going to concentrate on this.”

But before X-IO could rescue clients in distress, Owen was faced with many trials. Many of the people had begun to worship false idols, and some iconic service providers had feet of clay. Eerily, there is “so much hype in the virtual desktop infrastructure market,” spake Owen, in a recent briefing with Microscope, “people bought products on the strength of the marketing messages, many of which were misleading.”

Cutting through these falsehoods is one of the Herculean labours faced by X-IO and indeed all VDI resellers and service providers. Many customers are being misled into fatal traps by vendors, like sirens luring ships onto the rocks. “Some companies give end users the option to try out the kit, but then dictate the terms on which it’s tested,” said Owen. “Others offer a five year warranty which is completely meaningless, because they’ve only ever been in operation for one year, so they have no way of knowing the longevity of their systems.”

Owen has a three point plan. X-IO will cut out completely the storage management overhead. By collapsing storage into the virtualization layer, it has created a new mythical beast – half virtual half storage – which is completely self managing. And thirdly, he has vowed to counter the assumption that storage can only be managed physically, with those expensive and fiddly ‘engineer on the premises’ encounters. To this end, he has appointed Gavin Mclaughlan, vice president of marketing, to fight the good fight with his sword of truth, and vanquish any of the worshippers of false concepts. “De-duping is another very unscientific catch all phrase that needs to be questioned,” said Owen.

One of the other great myths in the emerging virtual world is that communications companies are great at communicating. The opposite is true. One digital company that has attempted to address this is data centre company Green Mountain. We all know that marketing people, finance and board members speak a different language, but Green Mountain is the first to address that problem. It’s launched a web site with three tabs, so you can choose which dialect you can read your story in – technical, finance or plain English. The marketing department seemed to have been banished. But as legend has it, they’ll be back, with longer, even more nonsensical words.

Meanwhile, the legions that fight the good fight for the IT industry continue to be depleted. It’s all the fault of the government and the universities for failing to provide a conveyor belt of highly educated graduates, runs the legend. But isn’t it the fault of the IT industry for constantly veering off in random directions and failing to impose any discipline or standards on its development? How on earth can training academies keep pace with that? Into this skills gap there are many ghouls and rogue trainers lurking, who make some rather unsavoury contributions to the talent pool. They seem to springing up out of the ground, like those aggressive skeletons in Jason and The Argonauts.

But Jared Wray may be the chosen one to help us. Maybe more IT companies should take their lead from Pocatello, Idaho, where the local ISP used to let 13 year old Jared do chores and teach himself about comms. This was in 1995. Folk tales have it that one task led to another, slightly more complicated job until eventually he had taught himself everything he needed to know about technology and running a service. He never bothered going to further education – as the ISP was his university and Tier 3, the company he launched when ISPs evolved into data centres, was his Harvard Business School.

“As an industry we need to do more to help kids get interested in IT,” says Wray. Now Tier 3 has been acquired by CenturyLink , it forms the foundation of the data center operator’s cloud based managed services. So Wray is effectively the CTO of a data centre company.

The legend of the IT industry skills gap is going to endure for many years. Only when the operators do something practical, themselves, will this terrible threat be abated. Never mind pulling a sword out of a stone, most IT firms need to get their fingers out.

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