Steve's House of Virtualization and Waffles

16Feb/105

Bounded Rationality, Satisficing, and Hypervisor Choice

I was a little worried last week. In an internal roadmap meeting, I was reminded of a project queued up for Q3 under the innocuous name of “Virtualization Platform Assessment.”

It’s a good thing. We’re a VMware customer today, our EA is coming to a close next year, and we need to take a good look at other vendors to make sure that VMware’s suite is still the best fit for our needs.

What had me worried, though, is a conversation I had last year, around budget time, when I tried to pitch upgrading hosts in our main datacenters to Enterprise Plus licensing. The comment was something along the lines of “Isn’t what we have now good enough?”

It’s funny how that phrase only really comes up at budget time. Rest of the year, it’s ever-upward, best-in-class, cutting-edge—but come October, Good Enough often carries the day.

While vSphere is easily the platform that gives us the most flexibility and options going forward, I’m worried that the powers that be are going to crack under the pressure our MS reps are applying--“You’re already paying for Hyper-V and SMS-E—why pay twice for virtualization?” Truth of the matter is, Hyper-V (and a few more hosts) probably would be good enough for what we’re doing today, right now. But it’ll really put a damper on what we hope to do tomorrow.

Before I start to sound too petty, I’m not blaming anyone. After some thought, I realized that this is just how people are wired. In an ideal world, we’d take the time and effort to examine all options and select the one that maximized current and future utility. This is optimizing, the basis of the “Economic Man” model of decision making, and is pretty much a pipe dream. More often than not, we don’t have the time and energy for an exhaustive process—particularly with a deadline looming—so we settle. We satisfice, picking the easiest option that is good enough to get by.

This is not a new idea. Herbert Simon caught on to it around 1957, in a paper called “A Behavioral Model of Rational Choice,” packaging it into what’s come to be called “bounded rationality.” Bang your head against the concept too often, and it’s easy to get complacent, and let Good Enough become part of the culture. Complaining is an option—and fun, too—but that’s just tilting at windmills. The only way to get the right things done is to embrace it.

Satisficing choices are made due to lack of time and lack of information. The example above was my own fault—I brought it up too late in the year for it to get the consideration it deserved. That said, there’s an organizational issue to work through, too—proposals for the next year are solicited at a time when it’s nearly impossible for them to get the time and attention necessary to make an informed decision. Hence, satisficing occurs.

I’m taking a different route this year, talking loudly and openly about the projects that I know I want to do next year now, when there’s time for them to be discussed. I'm also trying to actively reach across the aisles, by forming an informal cross-functional working group that meets for lunch once or twice a month to talk through shared pain points and future aspirations. During the formal process in the fall, the good ideas will be old news and should coast through without too much trouble.

This also gets things like SRM and View established on the road map, and means that other vendors will need to be evaluated against those initiatives, properly framing this Fall’s assessment. I'm less worried now.

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