Steve's House of Virtualization and Waffles


“Game Changer”

Every now and then, I find myself in a conversation that just feels important. The kind you remember in third-person later, the backgound faded away into your own private black box theater production.

Been thinking about a recent one quite a bit lately. A co-worker (the guy responsible for remote access stuff--Citrix, SSLVPNs, etc) was pacing back and forth down our row of cubes, poking away at the "test" iPad, swearing under his breath. I asked him what was up. His reponse was something like this:

"This thing's a piece of shit. I've got Citrix Receiver on here, and it mostly works, but I keep forgetting that hitting the home button closes it, so I can't switch cleanly from published app to published app. I can do published desktop, but then if I want to check the iPad calendar or e-mail, same problem. Real users are going to hate this. We just got back from demoing this to [the guys that run the company], and they declared it a 'Game Changer.' Said it was going to change the way the entire firm worked. I don't get it. How is this kludgy, one-app-at-a-time POS a Game Changer?"

I agreed that the combination of an iPad and Citrix Receiver was somewhat less than ideal. But I could see where this was heading, and did my best to reframe the situation. Users showing up with iPads and saying "make it work" represented a new model for us. We had the rogue Mac user here and there, but the bulk of the userbase was content to passively consume whatever technology was made available. To have people go out on their own and find a piece of technology that seemed interesting to them, and then to ask us to help integrate it into their workflow, well, it would be fair to call that game changing.

Encapsulating the desktop experience into a scaled-down iPad app might be a reasonable place to start--it's quick, easy, and cheap--but I don't think that's really what the users are asking for. They want real integration between the tools they provide and the work they need to do. The iPad has a perfectly good calendar and e-mail app built-in, so why should we ask them to fire up a remote desktop session just to get to Outlook? Why can't they use native tools to produce and review documents, schedule meetings, and whatever else these guys do all day?

I think when the guys that run the company tell you that they want to reshape the way they work around a new piece of technology, there's an implication there that shouldn't be ignored. Help them do it, or they'll find people that will. So in that sense, yes, it's very much game changing. Now it's up to you to decide if it's still a game you can play.

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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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