Feb 292012
 

With each highly popular new technology, after the initial period of its adoption among IT professionals there’s a tipping point when it becomes well-known in public and using both the word and the technology becomes the matter of prestige. This makes it a good contract-luring tool in hands of skilled vendors and consulting companies with political connections, or at least an easy, low-hanging fruit to pick as a way to show your shareholders or the board of directors that you’re doing something.

Throughout my years in the IT office I got used to a revolving door of various buzzwords which made us geeks roll our eyes whenever they were consistently and repeatedly thrown out in front of top executives as a solution of all their problems. First it was the cell phones, and the PDAs, generations after we started using them. Then wireless turned WiFi and became a buzzword again, and big dogs were trying to make our bosses believe these are ultimate solutions to all their problems while we were listening and doing what we were told. However, after some time we were left to manage the new technology on our own and I can’t complain – some of these (particularly WiFi) worked out quite well in spite of this rant of mine, but here’s several more examples of great shiny new technology that has or will result in deceiving sales tactics.

The iPad

Once it became a hit, the iPad with its measly phone OS all of a sudden became the platform of choice and a magical solver of all problems. The bosses wanted to use it because it seemed very convenient and intuitive in the warmth of their home, forgetting how arrogant or money-wasting it can be to expect your students to buy (or to supply them with) a toy worth more than a half a grand when they can buy an excellent and far more versatile laptop for that kind of money. Tablets are great devices, but only if you already own a computer. Most of our students didn’t.

When tablets became popular, service offers started pouring in. If you’re still dealing with this, you need to make your people in charge understand that if you have browser-based applications, you really don’t need to pay big bucks to either have an app devised or to perform a market study, because all that your users need to do is place a bookmark (internet shortcut) on the tablet. Just like other types of computing devices, the tablet is just another vehicle to get you where you need to be, be it either reading, writing, calculating, designing or watching videos (and watching a video on a 7″ or even a 10″ screen is a pretty poor replacement for a full experience on much larger screens). As much of a technophile I am, I don’t believe most of our solutions will come from technology, which should be just the means, not the purpose. But fancy sales teams are always hunting for kool-aid money using smoke, mirrors and vaporware to build a perception that your success depends solely on technology. It does not. It depends on how well you use some of it in the big picture, which can most likely still stand without all the bells and whistles.

Widescreen

The reason why all monitor manufacturers so gladly and quickly accepted the widescreen technology once it became a buzzword is purely financial: at same diagonal length, a widescreen format (aspect ratio 16:9 or early 16:10) has nearly 12% less surface than the standard 4:3 screen, what translates to less pixels and lower production cost. Widescreen is good only for watching newer movies (the older original academy format is 4:3) but as long as web browsing and document reading goes, the good old 4:3 format beats them all, hence if you’re reading this post on a widescreen device you’ll see a lot of empty space to the right and left side of this text, same as on most other websites. I just quickly checked and it’s really hard to find a website that fully utilizes the widescreen. If it does, it gets in trouble when all the iPad, TouchPad and other tablet users turn their tablets to portrait mode. So in the beginning we were paying even more for widescreen systems with less pixels and screen surface at same diagonal size. A great widescreen rant at Activity Workshop shows the outrageous examples of the undermining effect the widescreen has on everyday work and browsing (see them at the bottom of the article). With this one we should all feel like a Hawaiian who’s been sold a snow blower. Kinda stupid, isn’t it?

The Cloud

“The cloud” has become a huge buzzword during the last few years, getting glorified so much that everything had to be moved into it regardless of the pitiful bandwidth most cloud services usually offer. As I stated in my Reasons to Stay off The Cloud post (part of a series of articles, one of which actually shows the opposite reasons why the cloud may be the option of choice for a small business), attending some cloud presentations and round tables I learned that all these big companies that have huge systems in “the cloud” cannot transfer large files from and to the cloud (the Internet) quickly enough and their only fail-safe strategy was to ship the hard drives overnight via Fedex or UPS. This can’t be instantly improved because this great country is so incredibly widespread, with many places still using Ma Bell telephone wires from many decades ago.

We couldn’t explain to some of our new managers that we already had a great load-balanced cloud, spread around different data centers and colocations, because they came in predetermined to move most services out of our private cloud and into THE cloud, of course owned by a small software company from Redmond. So the moves started and then people learned that the “cloud” email will have limitations like in number of messages someone will be able to send per day, or the amount of storage they will have available, and it turned the most important users would be losing most (their files and functionality). I’ve read some articles showing how some places that outsourced their email “to the cloud” suddenly brought back (at least their power users) to a new in-house systems. Just like in the article that describes issues moving from an on-premise email system to the cloud, although our systems were different, we also encountered a number of problems and unexpected side effects.

The Cloud = The Internet

Before it became a buzzword, we used to draw “the cloud” on Visio diagrams of our networks for ages, but we used to call it the Internet. In spite of all the buzz about cloud services (Amazon has a huge farm that can host any applications), they are nothing else but a set of high end PCs at a handful of data centers running virtualized machines on top of them. When you demystify it, it looks pretty trivial, and it’s not the safest thing at all. In the recent past there were security and service problems with Microsoft (T-Mobile Sidekick phones losing data), Amazon outage, then Google, Sony, Dropbox and there will be many more security breaches and stolen accounts worldwide before people find more secure ways to protect sensitive data on the internet.

Going Green

Then there was (and it still will be around) the trend to go green with everything. I can’t deny the extensive number of global warming proofs and I really do tremendously appreciate the going green trend. I have had no incandescent light bulbs in my home for over a decade and I’ve been walking to work for well over eight years. However, suddenly it seems it’s time to be afraid of “green” solutions when they are used as a buzzword without holistic approach. When you look how green it is to use some technology, you should also consider all the factors needed to get to the final product and once you do that some of the green technologies don’t seem so green any more. Fluorescent bulbs save energy but have mercury in them, some batteries are horrible for the environment and even some solar panels are so “ungreen” when you count in all the production stages and dirty technology used to make them.

Some of my past bosses wanted to outsource our server rooms and all the possible technology for apparently good reasons on paper (as presented by corporate giants who smelled blood). In public it was because it looks like you’re minimizing your carbon footprint (while actually you’re just moving it outside of your building to an external data center, and killing many degrees of control in the process), and because when you neglect the accompanying cost of pouring one thing into another, millions of dollars of consulting and years of man-hours, you look good on paper and get good publicity and more money. But when you do that you also move many jobs from your own city to who knows what shores that host your data. When done by public servants, this shows pretty poor social awareness in a blatant move against job creation in your own city, feeding the budget money (and my property taxes) into who knows which shores. I would have rather kept more local experts employed, but some people may have buddies in other places.

In the long run, it all works well for us, IT professionals. With every new buzzword you spend more resources to move to new solutions, then one day when people realize things didn’t really work much better, you decide to switch back and spend more to move data or systems or location to the yet newer systems, representing it as the next big thing. More of the technology gigs thus go to the consulting companies of your buddies, so first you spend the taxpayers’ money to outsource to go “green”, then you spend it to in-source and get jobs and both times it looks great on paper. In the long run mostly nobody notices the millions wasted in the process, but it’s important to feed the greed machine, isn’t it?

We can’t avoid all of the issues that new technologies bring into society, nor can we stop them like the Luddites tried in the 19th century. But we can be critical of the new buzzword trends and use them the proper way, with caution. Every action we take is voting with our wallet. It takes technically savvy people to lead technology efforts, but they have to be well versed not only in science, math and physics, but also in management, psychology, sociology and philosophy, otherwise they are an easy prey to those whose only goal is to make a commission. With home-grown systems you get highly customizable solutions and if you treat your experts right, you get far more flexibility than with external solutions, meanwhile sustaining old and growing new jobs in your community.

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