Get Over It

In the April 7 issue of ENT, I wrote a column titled, "Heroes or Horrors," that was about whether or not consultants, like myself, add any value. I wrote about the differences between successful and unsuccessful engagements.

In the opening paragraph, I told part of a story about a customer’s failed NetWare server. The machine's power supply had died, and one of our MCSE consultants performed some heroics to recover the customer’s data onto a new Windows NT Server.

I’m still recovering from all the letters we received -- universally negative -- on that one. ENT readers called the employees at Scott Consulting, especially me, everything from stupid to scam artists to criminals. I was accused of lining my pockets at the customer’s expense and of taking advantage of a naive end user by selling and delivering an NT migration when we could have simply replaced the power supply in the failed NetWare server.

I struck some really sensitive nerves with that fragment of a story. The column wasn't about NetWare vs. NT, but rather about bailing out customers from tough situations. I explained the whole story to every reader that contacted me. ENT also published a clarification in the MailBag along with numerous excerpts from letters that readers sent in.

For the record, the customer had already decided on an NT migration long before Scott Consulting Corp. arrived on the scene. We talked with the customer about replacing the failed power supply. But since the network was going to be replaced with equipment already purchased, it was decided that we should concentrate on getting the new infrastructure up and running with the old data. As consultants, one of our main competitive weapons is our reputation, and if we went around suggesting unnecessary migrations, we wouldn’t be in business very long.

Angry reader comments, especially from devoted NetWare users, suggest a deeper frustration. I can empathize with NetWare users' feelings because I’ve been there. For bald guys older than 40, this is not a new phenomena.

A long time ago, when PCs were first becoming popular, people I met on airplane trips asked me what they should do. I advised them to buy MicroVAX systems instead of PCs. Most of them wondered what planet I came from, and none of them listened to me. Good for them, especially considering what happened to Digital and VMS. I learned from that experience not to go against what people want. It doesn't matter which technology is "better." Customers want what they want, and if we don’t deliver it somebody else will.

As technical professionals we can, and should, argue passionately about which technology is best, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Had those people long ago bought MicroVAX systems, as I recommended, they would have enjoyed an operating system that didn’t crash all the time. They would have been pleased with hardware that was reliable and stable, and they would have been delighted with a computing architecture that still works -- almost 20 years later.

Those same people also would have been furious with me by now because the application software market for VMS -- now OpenVMS -- is virtually nonexistent, their support costs would be outrageous and technical talent to keep their infrastructure up and running would be nearly impossible to find. They would be cursing themselves and me every day. They would have paid dearly for making a technically sound, but unpopular, choice.

I don't meet many people who are interested in NetWare any more -- other than people that already have it. This is not a reflection on the merits of any particular technology, just a reflection of the market trend right now. Hardware vendors are pushing NT, and application software vendors are developing for it. NT is winning -- especially at smaller customer sites like the one I described in my April 7 column -- probably because it's easier for customers to buy NT than NetWare.

If you are emotionally attached to a product that is no longer popular, cry in your beer and get over it. NetWare people who feel wronged may be able to take heart if Linux really takes off. Then lots of NT people will join you with stories about the good old days when NT was king.

Always remember two fundamental facts about our industry: First, the more things change, the more they stay the same; and second, they’re all computers and they all do the same stuff. --Greg Scott, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), is chief technical officer at Cross Consulting Group. (Eagan, Minn.). Contact him at gregscott@scottconsulting.com.