The symphony of SBS

It’s time for another Oferized blog post  The pearls of wisdom and thoughts of Ofer Shimrat.
Ofer talks about his views on Karl’s post –
http://smallbizthoughts.blogspot.com/2007/05/death-of-sbs.html
With his kind permission, I’ve reprinted his post to the SMBTN yahoogroup listserve here:

Greetings:

With all due respect to the author and my colleagues in this group – below is one man’s opinion.
 

SBS is not dead. Lets drop ALL pretenses here. Allow me to digress. 

Take a moment to think of your metropolitan symphony orchestra at the city where you live. Think of the violins, the violas, the cello, bass, trumpets, clarinets, oboes, the percussion, the piano, et al. Imagine how hard it is to MASTER just one – ONLY one – of those instruments your whole life so that you can be good enough to play at a metropolitan symphony level organization. Now imagine knowing EVERYTHING there is to know about those instruments and when EXACTLY they come in or when they stay quiet, how subtle their tone or how inflective their cadence.

Are you imagining all this?

Good – because that is what the orchestra conductor does – and in addition, he has to know the entire ORIGINAL symphony composition, as the composer WROTE it, by heart in order to REALLY excel at what he/she does.

Rhetorically, what sets symphony conductors APART? Why is the New York Philharmonic Orchestra better than the Fargo Philharmonic Orchestra (no offense to North Dakotans)?

Why?

Among other things, talent, practice, mastery of the subject matter, humility and passion – the conductor has to know it ALL – and it HAS to be BY THE BOOK – or score, in this case.

By the book.

Metaphorically speaking, as consultants in the SMB space selling, installing, deploying, implementing and maintaining SBS – we ARE conductors. And as good SBS consultants we are akin to good symphony conductors. We have to know MUCH more than the average MCSE in a single particular area of expertise. There are MANY more fields that we have to have robust knowledge of in order to be considered good at what we do.

On a business level we have to determine the business need, the desired outcome and the methodology to get there. On a technology level we have to master not ONE server product, but SEVERAL server products bundled in SBS. We have to master not ONE piece of hardware but SEVERAL pieces of hardware to corroborate the desired outcome with SBS. We have to master not ONE piece of software but SEVERAL pieces of software in order to make the client machines function PREDICTABLY with SBS – you get the picture.

Rocket science, perhaps.
RTFM, definitely.
Profit, no doubt.
Common sense, for sure.
Humility, always helpful.
The customer’s best LONG TERM interest at heart, YES.

What makes good SBS consultants like good conductors – what separates application developers from code monkeys – what differentiates people that are GOOD at what they do versus people who are charlatans?

What?

It’s the innate ability to recognize when the technology you are offering does NOT match the NEED of the customer NOR the outcome they desire. It’s the silly and somewhat unethical compromises that unfortunately many SMB consultants make in order to sell themselves so that they can cement the DEAL, irrespective of the LONG TERM interest of their client.

It’s the $ 399 servers – it’s the lets-not-install-all-the-features syndrome because they won’t use it yet so I-can-make-more-money-later – it’s the hardware/software/networking corners they cut at every juncture to maximize the almighty profit – it’s the ATTITUDE that they are in business JUST to make money and the client be damned – it’s the lack of imagination when confronting a tech support problem that almost ALWAYS has been confronted by someone before and SOLVED, and if not at minimum, addressed already in abundant detail in blogs all over the Internet.

Too often in the field I encounter previous deployments of SBS from people who had NO business even attempting to install it let alone deploy it – bad hardware, enterprise MCSE’s mindset, NO wizards, poor business judgment, just in it for the money, geeky friend-of-a-friend, apprentice-in-training, or SMB charlatans that simply do not take the time to learn and MASTER their trade and do not rise up to their own lack of knowledge.

That counter-productive behavior will yield lots and LOTS of tech support calls to Tier 1 support at Microsoft – lots and LOTS of frustration at spending HOURS with someone in China, India, the US or Belgium to de-construct BAD decisions made by the consultant EARLY on in the planning phase – decisions, TIME and resources that would have made all the difference had it been done early on PROACTIVELY instead of late-after-the-fact REACTIVELY – decisions that should have been tested in development before being put in production.

In a perverse kind of way it’s PAYBACK for poor judgment.

How?

As good consultants, we have to be able to correctly match the needs of our clients with technology offerings, stay within a reasonable budget and subsequently equal or in most cases strive to EXCEED the prevailing expectations – that enhances our reputation, brings us additional word of mouth business and sets us APART from other run-of-the mill consultants in our SMB space – or ANY space for that matter.

And for the MOST part, if we have followed Best Practices, did it by the book as Microsoft intended, had good hardware and had our client’s Best Interests at Heart – for the most part – the SBS deployments and server/network operation are flawless. Again, stuff happens, hardware fails, software get corrupted  – when it does the good consultant will exhaust the plethora of available resources – Susan, Wayne, Jeff, Andy, Chad, Anne, Vlad, Mariette, etc – before even THINKING about soliciting formal tech support from Tier 1 level from someone who is alarmed – ALARMED – at the fact that there is no users in the usual AD hive as part of the “troubleshooting” process in SBS.

I manage, by MYSELF, more than 70 servers in over 50 SBS customer sites with hundreds of workstations and I do it by the book – as the designers, planners, developers and programmers intended it. Just for kicks, at the risk of eliciting all kinds of comments from the community, I even have one customer site where their SBS 2003 SP1 server (Gateway hardware) has been up for 504 days – that’s a year and half – without ever being rebooted or going down – yes I did patch it for DST.

So I will have to agree with select previous posts from Susan, Tony, Anne, Jeff, et al and say that MOST of the issues encountered REACTIVELY are as a result of poor PROACTIVE initial deployment. Because just like a good conductor pays homage to the ORIGINAL composition, a good SBS consultant pays homage to the original designers by planning, deploying, installing, configuring and maintaining SBS by the book.

Can you imagine an SBS installation that is NOT done by the book and then what a surprise – needs tech support.

Can you imagine a conductor of an orchestra that is playing a Mozart piece suddenly digress and play Stravinsky?

Do you think the AUDIENCE or the MUSICIANS would REQUIRE tech support at that juncture?

SBS is not dead – it’s here and thriving Thank-You-Very-Much – what should be retired ASAP is the concept of poor implementations, lets-wing-it, bad judgment, incompetent work and arrogance.

My diatribe concludes by saying that it’s all about the BOOK, the WORK ETHIC and PRIDE OF WORKSMANSHIP – all of the other components will magically FALL into place and you WILL make money to boot – RARELY needing formal tech support.

Which is what separates a cacophony from a symphony and a bad SBS consultant from a good one.

Regards, 
Ofer Shimrat – BSIT, MCPS, MCNPS
SOUNDOFF Computing
TEL: (858) 484-0400
FAX: (858) 484-0491
EML: ofer@soundoffcomputing.com
URL: www.soundoffcomputing.com

“We welcome the opportunity to be of service”

4 Thoughts on “The symphony of SBS

  1. (copied from Karl’s blog)

    Ofer,

    So you’re under impression that the problems that people call Microsoft for all stem from poor deployment, unprofessionalism and lack of research?

    I could dismiss your arguments one by one quite easilly, but I think you’re missing the point of Karl’s article and the pain point that we are all experiencing: The technical support is not good enough. I don’t care that you don’t need it – great for you! Those that do need the support aren’t getting it. And thats the point, and the final undoing of SBS bundle – the complexity is skyrocketing while Microsoft’s (and ours) ability to effectively support these complex integrated solutions is being marginalized.

    -Vlad

  2. Ofer Shimrat on May 20, 2007 at 12:13 am said:

    [copied from Karl’s blog]

    Greetings Vlad:

    I am under the impression that MANY “problems that people call Microsoft for all stem from poor deployment, unprofessionalism and lack of research” – not ALL problems.

    I am under the impression that people should initially resort to the bevy of online resources before attempting to call Microsoft support, or any OTHER vendor’s support for that matter, because the answer may be closer and faster than waiting for 60 minutes before speaking with someone that may – just may – be competent in SBS matters.

    That is like going to the hospital emergency room for cold symptoms.

    I also have had to endure tech support calls to Microsoft and I concur that it can be improved. My experiences have varied anywhere from the level of incompetence that Karl was experiencing all the way to first rate “guru” level assistance from Microsoft in England, India, Texas and North Carolina.

    I am sure that Microsoft is aware of these issues of inconsistencies in their tech support line up – just like Symantec, Pervasive, Cisco, Netgear, Intel, Sage, Meridian Systems, etc – they ALL have room for improvement and are probably devising strategies to counter negative perceptions as we speak.

    Do you know ANYONE that is cheerfully happy on a CONSISTENT basis with their experiences with tech support with DELL, HP, AMERICAN EXPRESS or AT&T – to pick on a few. I don’t.

    Having said that, Microsoft could GREATLY improve its tech support specific to SBS by doing a better job of what exact SBS centric errors exist and how to solve them – if only the errors and other symptoms in the Event Viewer were a FINITE science that could be quickly looked up and resolved. Perhaps Cougar will address that better.

    But to say SBS is dead for these issues is a stretch – in my opinion.

    And after all this, Karl’s blog, is a forum of opinions, so go ahead and dismiss my “arguments one by one quite easily” – if I do not have a retort I will probably learn something new.

    Respectfully,

    Ofer Shimrat

  3. I agree with Karl and Vlad.

    My opinion is that, for MIcrosoft, SBS is still a “strange” product in the Microsoft line, it has been since 4.0 and it still is.
    There are no real owners of the product in the MS organisation because of its content. SQL belongs to SQL, Exchange to Exchange, Windows Server to Windows Server, ISA to ISA and so on.

    Therfore there are to few dedicated SBS engineers at MS, all over the world btw…

    Because we are dedecated SBS-ers and only want to best for our clients, our questions are most of the time real difficult.

    With the branding of Small Business Specialist this will not change, the scope here will be Vista and Office 2007. (I already read a MS article “How to build your network”, not a word about SBS….)

    So, if we have real questions, we have to stick together and I am very happy with you all. Many of my questions were solved by your input.

    Leen Kleijwegt
    lkleijwegt@corbus.nl
    CORBUS
    Dedicated Small Business Server Specialist
    The Netherlands

  4. I would like to mention another thing to consider, since I think that both Karl and Vlad have brought up valid points. Specifically it’s the issue of trying to do the best thing for the customer, despite the customer’s intentions to the contrary. Karl talks about how there are many people out there installing SBS who don’t have a complete grasp of the fundamentals of what SBS is all about. I believe that these people are out there and continue to operate because they are offering the customer a service at a price they can afford.

    Let me put this another way by using an example; we have a customer with a decent sized SBS installation with about 25 workstations supporting a 25 million dollar per year manufacturing business with about 80 employees. This is a customer that we’ve done business with for over five years, and for the most part they have been a satisfied but slow paying customer. One problem we’ve had with them is that they refuse to spend money on anything unless it’s already a problem. Last week a mirrored disk set on their server failed when the RAID controller and one of the drives failed (along with the RAID battery). We had submitted a proposal last year outlining three different alternatives for doing backups — everything from just buying a set of USB drives, to using a fancy dedicated backup appliance. Unfortunately the customer ignored advice, and is now facing a huge data recover bill because their backups were so out of date.

    My point here is that as knowledgeable and caring SBS consultants we have to work within the limitations that the customer sets, and in many cases those limitations are very narrow (financially speaking). We don’t really like recommending “low-end” server hardware to customers — rather, the customers demand the maximum functionality at the lowest possible price.

    And as business people, if we don’t do our best to accommodate them — then someone else will.

    And that’s the problem; you can stand up for all of your professional “ethics” and doing things “by the book”, but at the end of the day if the customer won’t pay what costs — then we’ve failed. We’ve failed both as technologists and as business people; and that’s not a pleasant place to be.

    In the end, for us it is a matter of being pragmatic and doing our best to ensure the customer gets the best possible result based on their situation and the financial resources they want to invest in their technology.

    What is frustrating about dealing with Microsoft support, especially in the SBS world, is that when things go wrong – they usually go VERY WRONG, and it often takes far too long (in terms of our labor hours) to resolve the problems.

    If we’re lucky – the customer picks up tab for our time, however more often than not we wind up having to “eat” substantial blocks of time because the customer is either unwilling or unable to cover the cost of our time to research, work with Microsoft, and eventually solve the problem.

    And lately, it seems like the amounts of time we’ve had to invest, without compensation from the customer, have been growing larger. This bad for everyone, but especially for Microsoft — although they probably don’t realize it yet.

    For example, if it takes a substantial amount of time (say several hours) over and above what it normally takes to set up SBS to integrate Vista with SBS — who will pay for that? Typically it’s not the customer, because most customers don’t really care about what runs on their desktop as long as they can get their work done. So if we have absorb the cost ourselves, then it makes our prices go up and then we’re not as competitive.

    And if we’re not as competitive, then we lose business. So to avoid this fate, we often find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having to suggest to customers that they DON’T RUN the latest and greatest from Microsoft. This is tough thing for us to do, because we like Microsoft products, and as technologists we want our customers (and ourselves) to be running the best stuff possible.

    But not if we have to do it our expense – and this is where the lack of Microsoft support is really hurting Microsoft (and us). Since we are not championing the latest and greatest, our customers aren’t as likely to rush out and buy the latest version of Office or upgrade their client workstations to Vista. And that’s where we all lose money.

    I realize I have probably written far too much in order to try make my point, so let me summarize by saying that being an SBS consultant is serious balancing act, and not one for the faint of heart, since it requires balancing the needs and desires of your customer on the one hand while managing the risk to your business associated with installing and supporting Microsoft technologies. As of late, this risk has been going up due to changes within Microsoft’s SBS support organization, and for everyone out there in front of customers, this has made a challenging job even tougher.

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