Outsource It: Part II

February 8, 2008

Wow, I like all of this feedback guys! Really! I had been chewing on that blog for a while. I was basically trying to decide how to write it and apparently the format worked and got some juices flowing on our forums. I was going to post this on the Forums but I think it is a bit too long and isn't using the forums standards. So here is my follow up to TheRabbit in Blog format.

A bit about me; I am an old guy (shh don't tell the guys I play Racquetball with) and I have been in LOTS of different companies of various sizes and types of business. Back when the internet was young and dial-up was the name of the game, I played in that field. In fact, I see a lot of familiar faces here every day. They all stayed in that field and honed their skills and are the guts behind SoftLayer today.

I went out into the world to see what it was all about. I decided I wanted to be technical and since I was a Windows guy it would have to be Microsoft. So I took the tests and got my MCSE and then worked for Alliance Data Systems, a Cargo Airline, A college in Dallas, Cement Company, and a small Outsourced IT company, then I met back up with these guys and here I sit.

So I used some of my experiences with all of those places to write the last blog. Here are a few of those experiences so you can see where it came from.

Alliance Data Systems had great DC's and lots of cash, they didn't need to outsource because they spent the money to do things correctly and had their own raised floor DC's and connectivity, etc. It was a cool place to work and I learned quite a bit. They did things right.

Cargo Airline - Well they tried. We built out a new office building at the airport and we had an office with no carpet, and extra cooling for our server "room". We had some old boat anchor HP equipment and a single IBM server for the JD Edwards accounting box and boy was it slow. We were using Windows 2000 with AD and DHCP to hand out IP's. Funny story, we merged with a really "smart" software company and part of the merger was that the powers from that company got the reigns and could run our IS department. Maybe they are reading this... (evil grin) - So the first thing they did was pulled DHCP out of the mix and went all static IP's because they were easier to track. "You can just enter them in a spreadsheet!" I was told. "Then you know that a 10.x.1.x is accounting, and a 10.x.2.x is sales, etc, etc." I still laugh about that decision today. Ok, back to the real subject. This company didn't spend the kind of money needed to have a good core of systems, and network and therefore the applications suffered. Most of the apps they wrote or used were Web apps and could have been housed in an outsourced facility.

College in Dallas - Believe it or not, the college had some pretty cool DC's on the Campus. They were secure and if I forgot my jacket I froze my butt off. They used Compaq 1u's like sliced bread. Server after server for student access, student records and it was all Citrix apps that students and faculty could connect to. To me it SCREAMED outsource. Think of the electric bills they paid to freeze my butt off, think of the purchasing department that had to buy all those machines. Think of how much they paid me to un-box those servers and rack them, and cable them, and install the OS from CD, and install Citrix and the apps. Then the accounting department had to track them and make sure they were paid for and depreciate them. Granted, even if they outsourced them the purchasing group still has to order them online and the accounting department has to give us a Visa but that is the extent of it. We have Truck days of joy and do all the manual labor for you and we automate the OS install. Then it is just down to the Tech installing Citrix and the apps from the comfort of his desk remotely.

Cement Company, one of my favorite places to work. I was in charge of the Citrix farm, Exchange and RightFax. Oh what fun. They had over 40 home built apps that ran on Citrix. We had 3 DC's, Dallas, Midlothian, and Virginia. They were Top of the line! If you were a rat and liked chewing through cables and you are into Liebert cooling systems from the early 60's! Ok, it might not have been the 60's but they were old. The DC in Midlothian was the best. We finally boarded up the windows facing west because we figured a lot of the extra heat was due to the Texas sun baking them. Ok, funny story #2. While un-boxing and racking a few Dell 1U servers (again they paid me a pretty good salary for my Citrix and Exchange skills, and here I am un-boxing and racking again) my helper decided that it was time to drop test a Dell. I was behind the rack and there was really nothing I could do except watch this brand new Dell server go crashing to the floor from above his head. After reseeding all the cards, CPU, and memory, we crossed our fingers and it fired up. It was a bit warped and bent but we strategically jammed it in between 2 straight servers and it took some of the flex out of the bent box and it worked great, might even still be working today. As you can tell some outsourcing by them would be good as well; Even if it is just the Development and test systems. We lined up like ants at a sugar sack begging for servers for Dev and Test but they were NEVER in the budget. Another great point I think, Capital Expense vs Monthly Expense. For a huge company it is MUCH easier to get them to sign off on a monthly expense.

Outsourced IT - Here is the one that wins it all. My job was to go around Dallas to small and medium sized businesses and be their IT guy. My main focus of course was Citrix and Exchange but you just never knew what you were going to walk in on. One plumbing company had their servers in a barn. An auto parts supplier had theirs in the back of a storage building behind the restroom. Use your imagination. But the ones that got me the most were Doctors offices. Broom Closets, Office Managers offices, just in the hall out in the open, you name it and I saw servers there. Most of the offices already had a T1 in place so connectivity wasn't the real issue. An interesting point is that I always had to sign a Hipaa form to be legal to work on the systems. It amazed me that these systems were so accessible to anyone that might have had access to the office. I wonder if the maid service had to sign Hipaa forms since the servers were right in the open. Sometimes right behind the trash cans. 90% of the medical software I came in contact with was WEB software which is easily outsourceable. And the number 1 complaint I heard from office managers and Doctors was, "I want to connect from home. Can you help me?" So of course we would setup remote access. But it never failed. During Storms they would lose power or connectivity. Or the building power would drop for construction, or a car would hit a pole. There were always issues. I swayed a few high tech Docs to finally consider and try outsourcing and they loved it. A few even use thin clients in the office now and everything happens in a DC. They love it.

I still say that no matter what size business you have OUTSOURCE IT! Maybe not all of it, but for DEV and Test, a hot site AD controller, Web App Servers, Giant DB Servers that live behind those web app servers, Web Farms...etc be the ball and give it a try. We won't argue!

-Skinman

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