Dec 142010

Few times when I actually had a choice to purchase an automated solution or to hire a person, I chose to hire a person.  Why? My or my company’s money is thus flowing back into my local economy, instead to some who-knows-where software developers and to some nobody-knows-where investors.

Whenever I have a choice between some fancy and complex commercial vs. equally efficient and proven open source solution which would require investment in human resources instead of in support and maintenance fees, I’ll go with the open source option.  If you carefully hire good people, you’ll be able to use them for other tasks, and they will help you and your company build the very solid foundation.  If you buy support and maintenance, that’s good only for the software you are buying and you will either:

a.) most likely use it extremely rarely, or

b.) try to use it and get frustrated when you discover it will take you so much time that an open source subject matter expert would have fixed it sooner.

c.) overpay in all of the above.

By hiring open source experts, you are hiring and supporting people like you, helping the local fellow IT experts instead of the Microsofts, Oracles, Symantecs and similar money makers. This way you are also investing in your neighborhood, city and state, as these guys will spend a great portion of their income close to the place they work.

Whenever I had a chance to bring a system in house or host it externally, I brought it in house.  Why?

1. Full control.  Yes, specialized hosting providers have higher numbers of nines.  On paper.  However, I’ve seen them focus on paper statistics rather than our experience.  Does this look familiar to you:  There are some problems with a system, telecom service, or hardware and support techs show up and detect no errors, or in best case tell us that the problem cleared during the testing.  What happened?  They may have fixed something, but this way they don’t have to represent it as downtime/failure, so their numbers stay great on paper. They also have far less at stake here than you and your gurus – if they can’t fix it, they lose only one customer while you can possibly lose your jobs in any case, so then why not choose the option where you have more control, which is with in-house experts.

2. Known resources – the entire process of interviewing and looking for a good human resource is focused on eliminating risk when hiring a new person.  If you have already done your hiring and if you’ve done it well, you have risk elimination behind you and you will have more good human resources at your disposal when a problem or service order occurs, thus you and your team are more likely to shine.  If you’re relying on someone you don’t know who claims he or they can do miracles, you won’t sleep that well, wondering whether they were telling the truth and checking every detail of their work.

3. Confidence – if you’ve done your hiring right, once you have a team of knowledgeable people you trust and who trust you, your work becomes rock solid.

4. Alternative solutions: In the past we have saved hundreds of thousands each year by cutting support and maintenance agreements for many hundreds of lower level Cisco switches and by purchasing some spares instead.  This required our teams to be ready to quickly load a config file and replace the failed device with a spare when needed, but their response AND replacement time was shorter than the manufacturer’s response time (without replacement). Were we the only ones using our brain and doing the calculations before signing?  Possibly some of few. Many just go with the flow and buy full support without being creative.

Build relationships whenever possible.  You will build a world on them (or fail if you don’t).  Why do I pay extra cash at the local convenience store instead of buying everything at my favorite Costco (more about this one some other time)?  Because I want that store to be there when I need it.  I hated the times when our building had no store – it was a miserable 8 months or so.  So, I guess we found out the hard way why it’s called a convenience store – life without it gets quite inconvenient.  If you like the people who work there and you’d like them to be there when you need them, support them.  There were days at work when I’d stop by at the same store just to support their owners and see their friendly smile.  Yes, I know the name of the game, but when they treat me with a smile and they’re intelligent, hard working and honorable, they deserve to make some money on me.  Similarly, if you believe in your local IT geeks, hire them. I’m sure there’s a lot of good people available who can do better than you think and even better than they think when properly managed and supported.

Remember that you are making a statement with every dollar you spend.  If you choose to spend it elsewhere without a valid reason, people around you will have less money to spend and you are depriving your local community, which is also gradually depriving yourself of a good living environment.  If you’re a young unmarried professional or a person who has 5 houses at different parts of the US or the world you may not care, but if you are married and if your kids live there too, it’s important where they’re growing up, isn’t it? This is why I will always choose open source when it’s a viable alternative.

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