Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Supported doesn't mean you can get the same support

When you are down and dirty with a delivery project it becomes clear that there is a difference between when a vendors says something is support and the actual ability of that vendor to support you when you have a problem.

You often see this when a vendor supports "interoperability" with solutions from another vendor, even if they have a competing product. Sometimes this support is genuine and other times its what I'd call "sales supported" in other words you'll be able to get it running in the sales evaluation process but if you have a real nasty operational problem the level of support is going to go off a cliff.

So as a few "theoretical" examples.

Lets say Vendor A produces a product which is some sort of middleware thing and while they have their own rules engine product they also support products from a number of different vendors through "standard APIs". The demos work fine in sales and you choose an engine from Vendor B but in operation you start getting a really tricky problem

Vendor A says "its a rules engine problem, speak to Vendor B"
Vendor B says "its an integration problem, speak to Vendor A"

The problem is that you then waste a huge amount of time proving whose problem it actually is.

Next example would be where Vendor A produces a COTS package and says it runs on 20 different operating system environments. You have some older kit hanging around and its on the supported list so you go for it. Again the demo works fine and the first release is fine, you then try to upgrade and it goes horribly wrong.

Vendor A says "errr the support person for that is on holiday, he'll be back in a week"

The point here is that "supported" technically != "supported" operationally.

When evaluating products you need to be aware that there are preferred products that the vendor might not tell you about as they are worried about losing the sale, so they stand their saying "yes it will work" with a smile on their face.

Technically this is known as "grin fucking" as the smile is to cover the fact that they know in reality its going to go horribly wrong.

So when looking at product to product integrations and the level of operational support that you can get start asking questions

  1. What proportion of the support staff are dedicated to this product to product interaction
  2. How many people is that globally
  3. How many people is that locally
  4. Will you sign off on our operational SLAs around this supported product, including penalties
The objective here is to get to the stage where you have something that is as supported in operation as it is through the sales cycle.

do not believe supported product lists they are there to make you buy the product, what you want to know is what it takes to operate the product.

My preferred approach is to ask the following questions
  1. What OS do you develop on
  2. What products do you use to develop your product
  3. What are the standard integrations that the product developers use as a normal part of their day job
These are the things that will really work and which have the largest number and highest quality of developers ready to fix your operational problem. The less gaps you have between the people who code your product and the runtime in operation the better.

The best support you will ever get is when the product development team can come straight in because your environment matches theirs. This means your future requirements are more likely to match their thinking and your current problems are easier for them to recreate.

So again, don't believe supported product lists and find out what the product developers are using.

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