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Canned Solutions are the Future of IT

There will always be those organizations and individuals that will buy hardware and software at the lowest possible price, assemble these pieces themselves and then support the solution in production. But the time where organizations have to assemble the underlying components for key applications such as databases, email, file servers and now even backup has largely passed. In its stead, canned solutions such as appliances, converged infrastructures and reference architectures have emerged as the future of corporate IT.

Every now and then I run across an individual or organization that still derives benefits from cobbling together an IT solution from available hardware and software. They search for used, discounted or off-brand IT hardware and software, put it together themselves and then support it once it is production.

On the surface, this approach appears to save quite a bit of money. Take backup appliances for example. You can go out to CDW’s website and buy Symantec Backup Exec 2012 for about $750, pick up an HP ProLiant Gen8 rack server for about $4,000, add-on a Windows Servers 2012 license and Voila! You have a backup appliance for around $6,000.

The savings associated with this approach even become more apparent when you start to do a little comparison shopping. Without ever leaving CDW’s website, you can see that a similar but preconfigured solution from Symantec, the Backup Exec 3600 appliance, list for between $12,000 and $22,000. On one hand, why would an organization NOT continue to buy and build as it has in the past?

Here are the reasons why most will choose the $12,000 to $22,000 appliances over the build-it-yourself solution every time.

  • Easier to configure. Even as I was writing this blog entry and selecting the components from CDW’s website to build my less expensive backup appliance by cobbling together the solution myself, a number of questions came to mind. Will the HP ProLiant8 server deliver sufficient performance and include enough capacity and cache to support Backup Exec 2012 and Windows Server 2012 in my environment? If it does not, then what? Buying an appliance minimizes these concerns.
  • Less time to configure. While setting up and configuring a server with backup software is not necessarily rocket science, it still requires time to complete and often uninterrupted time at that. Time is the one thing that the individuals responsible for installing and configuring these solutions sorely lack and uninterrupted time is a concept that they have only read about in some work of fiction. Using a backup appliance, it is almost as simple as plug it on, turn it on and start using it.
  • Configuring appliances adds no practical value to the business. An appliance configuration can go awry for any number of reasons. A component is undersized. The parts do not work together. The wrong component was purchased or shipped. Now one is wasting time working on a solution rather than having it in a usable state that adds value to the business.Using a backup appliance, these configuration concerns should be largely if not totally eliminated.
  • You know Support can actually support you.  In my career, I have been on both the dialing and receiving ends of a support call when there is an issue. Neither one  is a pleasant role to be in when you are not exactly sure as to what hardware components are on the solution, what software and firmware versions are running and if they all work together.

The realization that many organizations make too late when they build a solution is they may be one of the few if not the only organization on the planet running this solution with that exact mix of hardware and software. While you will likely find some people to help you out, you need to be prepared for a potentially long and painful process to fix the issue.

Using a backup appliance, the company who delivers the appliance should support all aspects of the appliance to include hardware and software. Further, when they deliver updates for one component, you can have a reasonably high level of confidence that applying an update will not break other parts of the solution.

  • Immediately experience the benefits of the appliance. When you buy a new backup appliance, the expectations at the business level are that it will solve their backup and recovery problems – ideally sooner rather than later. Yet if you go down the build your own solution path, backup problems will persist until it is built and deployed. Depending on how long it takes, do not be surprised if someone one day walks into the data center to find out what is going on. If they find components on the floor and computer manuals on the desk, their natural response will likely be, “What is taking so long?

The reality is this. Businesses want availability, stability, reliability and most of all, predictability, in the solutions they acquire and deploy. Real world experience now tells us that they are not going to achieve those results when they have their IT staff take the build-it-yourself approach, especially when these solutions may be better delivered in the form of backup appliances, converged infrastructures and reference architectures.

Even in cases where organizations do have talented IT staff that are perfectly capable of assembling their own solutions, the bigger question they need to ask is, “Is this really the best use of my IT staff’s time?” The growing consensus is that, no, it is not, which is why it should come as no surprise that canned solutions are here to stay and are likely the future of IT. 


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