I clearly remember the story told to me by my staff when the IT staff received a hard drive delivered over night by FedEx. The only issue: No one had ordered it. Instead, the storage system had notified the vendor that a disk was at risk of imminent failure, and a replacement part was automatically shipped and a technician magically appeared to replace the disk.
The overall involvement by the IT staff? Looking at each other trying to figure out why they had received a disk they didn’t order. To be fair, it was the first hardware event that storage array had experienced, and in that day hardware vendors that provided that level of support were few and far between, and many charged large sums of money for such concierge-like service.
Times are changing
Today’s CIOs and executive teams are demanding that IT organizations become more nimble and focus less on routine operational activities and more on business ones. The old 80/20 or 70/30 rule is being challenged in a big way. If you’re not familiar with these ratios, it’s common knowledge that most IT departments have to spend 70% or 80% of their time on “keeping the lights on” activities such as data center maintenance and software patching, which leaves only 20% to 30% of staff time devoted to creating new business-facing solutions that complement the bottom line or advance the organization’s mission.
Realizing that there was an opportunity to differentiate itself through automated advanced replacement service, one storage vendor’s great idea was quickly replicated by others and became all but a standard offering. Today, many storage vendors’ arrays “phone home” to report health information and items that are at risk of imminent failure to help customers better manage their storage arrays and to avoid what could be catastrophic data loss events. In the best case, the vendor then automatically ships hardware and dispatches a technician as in the scenario outlined at the beginning of this article.
Expansion of automated support services
Now, what if the same kind of support came from other elements of the environment, and this support was ubiquitous? If HP’s new Gen8 server support services take off and get replicated by other vendors, that’s exactly what will happen, and it’s a wonderful thing. I recently wrote an article on the Wikibon blog that outlined what I learned about HP’s Gen8 servers while I spent a few days in Houston.
HP has added significant telemetry to its Gen8 servers. This telemetry is connected directly to HP's new support portal, and the information gathered is used to help customers maintain systems at a high level of availability. By the time a customer gets around to logging a particular support request for a hardware issue, it's more than likely that HP already knows about the issue, knows which server is affected, knows the warranty status of that server. and knows exactly which component is failing or in danger of imminent failure. Because this capability is baked into the server at the system level, it works even with just bare metal, although additional capability is enabled through the installation of an operating system shim, which provides additional support details.
Several storage vendors offer organizations the option to buy into this service, which relieves IT departments of the need to constantly monitor what is a critical infrastructure element. Although the IT department remains accountable for the proper operation of the storage environment, the execution for as large part of the support operation is automated and lies in the purview of the storage vendor. Similarly, with the new Gen8 servers, HP has automated a good chunk of the support burden--from gathering telemetry data to checking warranty status to opening a case with support--so that IT staff don't have to do it.
These kinds of support services have incredible implications for the IT department. Now, administrators can focus on improving their services and routine administration and not have to spend as much time on one-off or anomalous work. Those tasks have been offloaded to the vendor's automated systems. Although a server failure will still require intervention by an IT staff member, that staff person doesn't need to spend hours on data gathering and can focus instead on service restoration. When you consider the cost of downtime, this is a good thing.
Move “lights on” operations to an exception-only service
I think the key here is the fact that these kinds of services mean that IT staffers can handle such issues on an exception handling basis rather than having to make constant monitoring a part of routine activities. It's a form of outsourcing that is baked into these products and can help to streamline the IT organization.
I fully expect to see other server vendors very quickly develop such capability for their product lines and expect to see HP expand the service to more of its products.
Expanded opportunities for vendor partners
Before reading thi, please refer to http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/tech-manager/understanding-and-fixing-the-disconnect-between-vendors-and-the-cio/1978 another article] I wrote on what I feel constitutes a “partner” in a vendor/client relationship.
Now, let's take things one step further. HP's new system provides the ability to channel partners to gain insight into customer environments as well. This partner portal access requires customer approval and allows partners to see support information for all of their clients. For companies that depend heavily on VARs, this unprecedented level of insight into customer environments can help these VARs provide much better service to their customers and can increase customer reliance on VARs.
With all of the customer’s telemetry at its disposal, a VAR can now gain major operational insight into how its client is operating. This can provide opportunities to forge new and deeper relationships between the local VAR, who presumably sees the customer on a regular basis, and the user. Such opportunities may enable an organization to continue to shift “lights on” activities to others to enable IT departments to keep the business moving on.
Action Item: Action items abound for both CIOs and technology vendors and manufacturers. CIOs need to consider whether or not such information-sharing services will work for them -- some will understandably shy away -- and work with vendors and manufacturers that can help their organizations focus on business. Vendors and manufacturers need to continue to develop the kinds of value-add services described here and price them in a way that makes sense. HP, for example, bakes the service into its products. When doing an ROI analysis, a CIO should be able to look at the self-support vs. vendor/partner support model and have the decision be a no brainer.