Managing IT in desperate times

Managing IT in desperate times

Summary: If you're working on the fiscal 2009/10 budget right now and in the United States - expect the economy to take a few more double whammies, focus on keeping your staff together, and plan on doing absolutely nothing you can avoid, except migrating your wintel machines to Windows 7 - that's a keeper and just about worth the money.


It's hard to get your head around this, but lots of people are doing the impossible right now: revising bet-your-job IT budgets for fiscal 2009/10.

Unemployment in Michigan hit 15.2% last month, in California it's 11.5%, across the US it's 9.5%, and New York is set to try out for a new world record job loss rate by raising some tax rates to 58% of income - the only safe jobs in the United States right now are in government, and those have false floors because the tax revenues needed to sustain them once the stimulus monies run out simply won't be there.

So, some unhappy advice for my American friends in IT management:

  • if you can retire, or motivate others to retire, do - but be aware of the risks. There's nearly two trillion newly printed dollars floating around with nothing in the economy to back them. Covering that deficit will require some combination of significant inflation and vast new taxes: either way some disruption is inevitable, so retire if you can, but think twice first.

  • Windows 7 looks pretty good (it compares to Vista like 98c did to 95a). Any "Vista capable" PCs you may have can run it, and users will thank you for what they'll see as real and positive change.

  • On anything else to do with Windows, stop digging the hole. If it works, do any Win7 compatibility changes needed and leave it alone. Freeze anything you can that involves outside expenditures, especially for evergreen support, systems software, and consultants. If you previously brought in specialized expertise to help with something, find a way to train some of your own people to handle it instead.

  • If anything that costs non staff dollars or invokes risk looks avoidable, avoid it. This is not the year to move to DB2, experiment with network virtualization, merge some SQL-Server DBs, implement system wide identity management, or do anything else that's risky and expertise intensive. Have your people do what they do, focus on helping them keep their jobs, talk long and loudly about improving performance and reliability, but don't undertake anything that's new and avoidable.

  • If you absolutely can't avoid doing something, maximize your own staff involvement, incur hardware costs in preference to outside expertise costs, and be prepared to abandon previously ironclad corporate standards if that's what it takes to bring in cheaper and more functional stuff like Linux, open source applications, and Solaris.

  • Remember that the IT budget is part of the organization's expense portfolio and if you can get some of your people, paid for from your budget, working as users in user departments, everybody will be better off. The employees will have jobs, user management will have reasons to support your budget, your resume will show a smaller budget drop, and you can get those people back quickly if you need them.

    A good place to look for opportunities to do this is the user side dream projects list - look at the people you'd like to keep but can't protect in a budget crunch, match them up to user dream projects, and sell having your guys working for user management to user management and the staff involved by arguing that they're developing the expertise they'll need to really understand those dream projects.

    If next year's economic situation improves, everybody wins - and if it doesn't, well you kept them employed another year and helped them diversify their skills.

    And, bottom line? with today's economy the very best you can hope for is keeping most of your people while more or less holding the line on services - so focus absolutely on doing that, and let everything else go.

Topics: Windows, Government, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software, IT Employment, PCs

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  • Some good ideas

    But your treatise on the economy is not. I have read much on the US economy, and the "experts" seem to agree that there is a danger of DEflation - as all those newly printed dollars tend not to circulate - banks don't lend anymore - so they end up building the banks' reserves. In fact, it doesn't matter how much they print - it won't get into the economy at large.

    Waiting to purchase is the strategy for deflation. Vendors are forced to lower prices to get consumers to bite. Avoiding those high-priced consultants may be as easy as waiting until they are no longer high-priced. Theoretically you could get the same amount of work done this year as last - and it would cost you less.

    An aside;

    Move to the USA (from Iran) for (CS) graduate studies - $ thousands
    Buy Honda Civic - $2000
    Crash into gasoline tanker truck and melt a freeway overpass in the resulting fire - priceless!
    Cost to Michigan taxpayers - weeks to months of traffic jams and MILLIONS of dollars to fix.

    I doubt a "real" terrorist could do more damage . . .
    Roger Ramjet
    • Experts huh?

      Same people who thought exempting freddie and fannie from sec supervision made sense? who liked 0% down mortages? who refused to believe that their risk models contained systematic errors? Those experts?

      Or maybe the ones who thought that the 100% record of stagflationary disaster created by government stimuli (e.g. Japan, Canada) wouldn't be repeated in the US?

      The weird thing is that for all I know those experts may be right this time - things change, right? So far, however, the deflation being recorded is mostly coming from high unemployment - and when that changes we'll really find out who's right.

      As for the overpass - sometimes an accident is just an accident - but the scene is straight out of Clancy novel isn't it?

      • Analysts

        I like to read John Mauldin ( He writes on his own thoughts and also shares other analysts thoughts. He won't try to sell you anything - lest you have over a million and a half . . .

        His last article about Japan's stagflation was very interesting. Japan can't even devalue their own money when they want to - talk about inept . . .

        What's more dangerous than an Iranian terrorist? An Iranian Motorist!
        Roger Ramjet
        • Murph, stop replying to your own posts...nt

    • Thoughts.

      "Print" is a quaint term re: the current economy: only a tiny percentage of the stimulus money will ever see life as cash, but that doesn't mean it can't circulate. Most payments are simply bits swapped between computers. The fact that the banks aren't lending is the crime here... that stimulus money was specifically provided so that the banks COULD lend more. Now they've found other things to do with it, and have managed to avoid any detailed explanation of where it might have gone.

      On the waiting strategy... you forget that the act of waiting will cost you time, and you will never recoup the time. So, even if the work you get done is lower-priced, it's an iron-clad guarantee that you won't get as much done as you would have in previous years.

      I have to agree with Murphy that the proper IT strategy here (for most businesses) is to hunker down, armor up, and make no unnecessary changes. Make what you have as solid and stable as possible, and make it last. Every available dollar should be used to directly support revenue-generating business activities. If IT is in this category for your business, then obviously you're exempt from this advice; otherwise, be a team player, lay low, and free up as many resources for the business as possible. Help them generate revenue, and try not to suck up a lot of it while doing so. It's really just more of what you should be doing anyway.

      • OK, but Banks are being rational ...


        We all know that the Gov help intended to make banks lend again ...
        The problem is that Banks are Being Rational .. they Already have a Lot of Loans, some of which should never been made.
        But they have no way today to guarantee that new loans, even with more strict rules of concession, are going to be sustained and payed over time.

        The real problem is simple: there where too many loans for too many time on collaterals that are today of very "uncertain" value.

        So Banks will (too late for everyone and in the wrong economic moment) tight lending.
        That is actually the most rational thing for them to do.
        No one can ask them to commit more risk into an already Very risky portfolio. Actually their risk perception when translated to numbers, is misleading.
        Internally they do not even know exactly what they have got into !!!
        I know that if you ask any Bank some data over their current credit positions the majority could give you a number .. but that would not be the real one and everyone knows about it.
        This is really Amazing!
        How can those institutions that everyone trusted their life-earnings go to such situation!

        About IT ... well ... things will not go straight as fast as we intended, hence my moto ... prepare for change! Embrace Open Source everywhere in the company. Do not make the same mistakes ... Again ...
        this can be the assurance of your company future ... and even your job ...

        So major changes are out of the question ... but small continuous change are now a Real possibility!
        And above all ... a complete Change in Direction going forward !
        Open Source Solutions are now Better and mor mature them ever.
        They can replace with no problem many competing proprietary ones.
        IT department has all to gain from this, and also corporate finance.
        Just do it! :)

  • Not enough ...


    I am afraid that even as optimist as I am I was also a bit amazed at these recent economic events.

    I say several times this would last would be a nasty event, it would take about two years (like everyone is now mentioning ) to recover ?
    But things are not exactly that rosy ..
    If not for the short term effect of the huge cash influx of the Gov things would be really nasty ?
    But like Roger and Murph say, this is only a short term remedy ? and it comes with a very heavy price ?

    So taxes will increase unavoidably, inflation will come around big time ... my only hope is:
    (Side note as a joke:
    that the euro does not devaluate as much as the dollar :) sorry folks, no pun intended .. but in my case this exchange rate lower hardware and Software and oil prices a lot ;) .. )

    The problem is indeed no one knows How much and when that would happen ?

    The so called ?experts? ? well ? where were they Before the crisys ???
    It is amazing, some time ago, with my very reduced free schedule, I saw a CNBC report by Charlie Gasparino where he mentioned that the guys behind the big Wall Street failures are actually employed !!! Go figure!!! They are working as ? ROTFLMAO financial advisors and the like :) !!!!
    Outstanding !!! This really I could not imagine in my Life time!

    Can you guys imagine the interview ?.
    Big Financial Corp Employer : So ?. What is your best professional achievement like??

    Ex-Financial CEO : Hey!! I just Bankrupt the Biggest Bank in the US and one of the Worlds biggest, and , more importantly, several Multi-billion dollar Funds in Wall Street! I am good , Really Good at what I do Best!
    ? no more comments are necessary ...

    Apart from all the madness that there events generate I for one think the ?reaction? to the crisys is indeed a very bad one.
    But this would be another subject.
    The problem is that the recovery will take longer, Much longer! This is a granted scenario, experts or not experts.

    And this is where I may differ with Murph.

    Windows 7 is not good ? It is like saying to someone .. instead of an operation to cure your helath problem, we have a little better pill to lower your pain ? Oh, the future, yes you will continue to get worst if there is no operation ?

    It is not enough to ?stall? IT as if to try to settled the IT budget at a minimum just to impress CEO's ? and make small changes here and there ...
    The problem is that small changes to minimize cost have to be made, but the objective can not be simply to save some dollars in the short term.

    Right now the all idea behind a real IT department is to make a path in the IT decision process to reduce long term costs and approach IT in a way many times describe by Murph in this blog ? a real service to companies. Not a cost center with hundreds of different solutions mis-focused on departmental self-interest.
    And in practice that means really changing IT infrastructure in order to get as much Open-Source in the corporation as possible.
    This is already clear in many of the ?ITO's? day to day talk.

    Some of Murph's ideas are not bad at all ? working in-house is indeed a good idea. It must start there.

    Starting in-house training for IT staff to teach all others and deploy massively Open Source solutions for example would be good, as a progressive migration would be smooth and would REALLY CUT IT costs a lot. Not just make them a little smaller.
    Taking right now the road to telecumuting is a Must ? not Murph ? oil prices , Like I told once will not come down that much ? just wait for a single wistle on the news for ?recovery? ? and with the dollar lowering .., oil and maybe commodities will be a refuge for large cash ? is scarcity allied to speculation ? just watch.

    This is the scenario wise companies Should be taking.
    Replacing bad solutions at high cost by Low Cost by Open Source solutions that actually Serve the Company.
    And I mean starting even at the user level. The Desktop/laptop.
    Money spent with this move would:
    - Save jobs (you get to keep IT staff).
    - Keep IT staff morale High! Let them for the first time take control of their IT and interact with what the company needs.
    - Really lower IT spending face front.
    - Force suppliers to comply even more with Standards, and hence be more free and independent. More choice => even lower prices in the future.

    We could o on with this ...

    In this manner once things start to improve over time a change to make the infrastructure all Open Source would be a Huge asset on the company.

    Meanwhile the company get qualified personnel. More important, it becomes independent of outside Very heavy costs ? and becames clear that now IT ? finally Ha s a Choice.

    Otherwise small steps would inevitably led to small savings ? but would not cure the problem ?. investing in big changes is Never a good idea, but preparing for the Change and actually making it work in small steps ? that can be the difference in the medium / long term of a company surviving or not ?

    Prepare for ? change ? :)

    • Massive change drastically increases costs

      I think you are fooling yourself that changing to Open Source (if not already using it) will save money now or in the near future.

      At a time of lowered profits, expenditure is best kept low, which means minimising unnecessary internal system change, which typically involves massive diligence, deployment and transition expenditures. If Open Source is not already embedded in the business, now is not the time to think about, let alone do it.

      Any major change usually will require many contractors to manage and do a lot of what there is not inhouse expertise available for.

      Most businesses that want to keep staff will be trying to get them on billable work, not expensive and pure-overhead infrastructure work.

      Basically, if funds are short, changing any IT systems is a huge funds sink, regardless of the cost of the software.

      Thankfully, most businesses that do their initial due dilience will see through this FOSS FUD. To business, no software is 'free'.
      (It's not 'free' to individuals either, but many do not put a value on their time.)

      This is not to say that Open Source is not good or beneficial, but that changing to it is not without costs that dwarf the raw software costs saved.
      • A bit of Clarity ... not fud ...


        I made clear on my text that Major Changes are always ... always BAD in terms of costs, in an environment of cost cutting they should not be pursued.
        Either to Opens Source or, -> Even Worst, proprietary solutions.

        But you do not solve the problem of cost by Adding "ad-eternum" proprietary sky-rocket costs on the already high priced deployments of MS like solutions.
        That is why Now it Makes Sense To actually do the change ... progressively.
        I mentioned the Solution to the problem that actually everyone on IT is talking about:
        Slow change NOW for Open Source.

        That is why we disagree and that is why, I am sorry to say it, but your assessment of "most business" is pure mis-information:
        All Businesses Know this.
        And yes, they are talking about it! And some doing it.

        In this economic scenario the proprietary world Looses in both change scenarios:
        Big changes AND small changes (small proprietary change= maintenance of current inefficiency ).

        Another different argument is the impact on long term cost, or if you want TCO.

        TCO is Way favorable to Open Source. All studies, except those distorted and payed for companies like MS, point to this basic Fact.
        Lets be clear ... this is something that the overall majority of IT departments does not like ... they are all very well "tuked in" as it is right now .. why bother ... let the company pay fr this ...

        When I mentioned Infrastructure I was not talking about Software licenses only ...
        Hardware can be another point ... but it is by far the lowest one.
        And everyone knows that Open Source or not: No Software is Free.
        That is a distortion everyone makes trying to redirect arguments over Short term prices.
        Deployment of Any Software is Way More expensive then any License fee attached to it.
        Software has an intrinsic valued that dwarfs any license price it may carry. And there is always service associated whit deployments.

        The problem is that proprietary cost is not Only More expensive to deploy (up-front prices) as it brings another "problem" with it ... IT gets trapped by Very High Paying contracts ... The MAIN IT Cost .. much Lower on Open Source choices.
        Non-existent if you actually do some IT inside and train your personnel on OS solutions.
        Is is as simples as this. Training IT staff ...

        The issue is: A corporate computer network running a Windows environment, any version, with proprietary suites of productivity and company operational software is a cost nightmare ...
        That is why I wrote about "infrastructure": network services, databases, middleware, office suites and
        productivity software, hardware etc ...

        In a corporate scenario a proprietary solution for a example for a desktop can cost Several times the hardware price ... including anti-malware, office, support of always breaking OS and the like etc etc ... price jumps considerable more then Open Source solutions ....

        Your claim that Open Source is not free is correct.
        Actually it can even be more expensive up-front in some cases.
        But that is not the point!
        What I am arguing is about the Comparative price among solutions. And specially the TCO of both solutions.
        That is the real problem.

        Of course, I know I know I know ... some cases are not likely to be comparable.
        This is IT we are talking about, no single scenario is the same.
        If you run a company with say 10 desktops dedicated to personnel that only runs a workstation CAD program with only a Windows version ...
        Hey! and there are Millions of those has we all know ...
        Well on that case very niche scenario you have no gain changing your infrastructure ... you still have to pay fees and run the software even if you run it in a Windows vm ... there are no big gains there ..
        Except for this very specific scenarios things do not make sense economically.

        All other scenarios like: Banks, supermarkets, Malls, insurance companies, factories etc etc etc ... all enterprises that run several computers in that type of scenarios ... They are adding a massive cost to each and every deployment and that as to be pay for every year ...

        And I am not even counting down-times and operation disruptions ... that is not even accounted for.
        And that is by far the Biggest cost ...

      • Said it before

        90% of the cost of software/IT is in the MAINTENANCE phase. Think about that. Any switching would be done in that "first" 10% of cost - so YES you can afford it. Whether the long term maintenance costs would make the switch a smart idea is another question . . .
        Roger Ramjet
  • The sky is falling

    Rudy just said to leave Windows alone.

    But he still couldn't help introducing a sneer at government and a complete misunderstanding of tax revenues. No stopping you with the politics is there Rudy>

    When you consider the US spends more than most countries on a health system that must be the envy of third world countries, but is appalling in a modern western country, spends billions of dollars on a war based on lies and spends the rest subsidising various pork barrel schemes everywhere and propping up the financial criminals responsible for so much misery, then it has the money to support Government jobs and a whole lot of other projects.

    This is what happens Rudy when you move from ideology to science and pragmatism. I see you finally understand pragmatism, who knows at some stage you may even comprehend science, but I'm not holding my breath.

    Did it hurt to say good things about Win 7? and no it's not like XP to 98, it's just a sleeker version of good old Vista which myself and the rest of the millions of users had no trouble with, unlike bloggers trying to attract readers so they can eat.

    • Pragmatism

      [i][b]Rudy just said to leave Windows alone.[/b][/i]

      Of course he did. If you've got a cupboard full of turnips and no money, you don't go buying steak. You make do with turnips... they may be distasteful, but they'll keep you alive until you can afford something better.

      BTW, he didn't say "XP to 98". He said Windows 7 "compares to Vista like 98c did to 95a". IOW, it's just a sleeker version of the previous operating system. The sky is falling indeed, to see you adopting Paul Murphy's point of view!!
  • RE: Managing IT in desperate times

    Sounds like a good time to dump the Sun/Oracle/Solaris drama and migrate to a rock solid SystemP/AIX/Linux environment. Since Oracle is a hardcore Linux shop, Solaris obviously has no future.

    Lets count the score so far:
    Rock = Gone
    OpenSolaris = Gone
    VirtualBox = Gone
    MySQL = Forked
    IBM = a frickin' paragon of stability

    Choose wisely.

    • FUD as selling tool

      I'm afraid of what's happening to Sun too - but what you're doing here is repeating IBM's FUD sales line. Bear in mind, please that there has been no official Sun/oracle word on any of these issues.
      • IBM is highest costs period

        If stability is what you are after and price is no object, then IBM might be the way to go. AIX is the poorest excuse of an operating system out there and x86 is a poor hardware choice.

        I remember when FORD used to buy IBM (brand) PCs - at DOUBLE the price - because they knew that they were going to work. Even though Dell had good quality and a low price. FORD eventually did go with Dell, but IBM was a "security blanket" for them for a long time.
        Roger Ramjet
        • If AIX is the poorest excuse of an operating system out there

          Why is it gaining more market share (over the last 2 years) than Solaris or HP-UX. Is it because it has the most solid hardware + CPU roadmap or is it the fact that it's virtualisation technology walks all over it's competitors?

          If it's stable than why is it a poor excuse for an OS?
          • Sales force, ignorance and customers trapped ...

            I would not say it is the worst out there, but By Far it is the Most expensive by Several Magnitude orders ...

            Why does it sell ???
            The usual: once you get into being the ignorants role model ... you are able to open their wallets every single day :) !
            I actually think that is a very good thing ... that was missing from Sun management .... selling, passing the idea that they where Better them IBM ... making sure to cash money on the pockets of middleman ... reassuring their future... like IBM does ... and charging Even Higher for their systems ...
            Instead they opted to a low marketing profile tech only approach ...
            That only works for markets where there is actual knowledge, and even that was not their advantage as not only Linux is a far superior choice, outperforming anything they can offer, as the price problem still remains when competing at that level.

            When you sell to this big folks ... there is a all "ecosystem" to take care inside the corporation. And IBM does that very well ...
            I myself know of a recent case where a change even from a IBM system was very hard because it involved going from legacy AS400 to x86_64 ... and all that with IBM contractors (an in-house job)... the deal was only sorted because the person involved in the decision making, after my suggestion to the contractors, was fully reassure of his/hers continuity and smooth transition ...

            Also customers who buy into that "stuff" are hardly computer illiterates, decision makers are complete IT ignorants and follow what they perceive has being the status quo ...
            Hey .. What can go wrong with that??? Right ??
            (Just take a look at Wall Street and Madoff-like Standford etc scandals ... )

          • If market share were the barometer

            then Windoze would be the "best" by a few orders of magnitude. Don't use market share to try an prove a point here.

            AIX is "clunky" and is the worst "fork" of UNIX (QDAEMON?). If SMIT didn't exist, no one could administer the thing.

            I've seen so many "solid" roadmaps of future CPUs - they work for awhile and then fall apart. All IBM did was to put its mainframe virtualization stuff in HARDWARE - otherwise those "Power" chips are nothing but regular old PPC. There was nothing extraordinary about them - not like Cell ...

            You know I dislike everything about virtualization (save for using it for test environments). If IBM does virtualization BEST then that makes for a great target for my TEWNC arguments (hint the "C" stands for Clothes).
            Roger Ramjet
          • news flash

            AIX is far easier to administer than Solaris, or really even Linux. Plus with AIX you don't need to rely on immature technologies (ZFS) or bolt ons (VxVM) to just do basic system management.

            Remind me what part of old Power processors 'fell apart.' As in literally stopped working? Your argument is ridiculous. Thats like saying Nehalem is basically regular old x86. Doesn't Ford (and most automakers) use POWER processors as the CPU of choice in vehicles? Thats a testament to the platforms quality and stability. Plus, I feel a lot better about being on a platform WITH a roadmap, not just uncertainties about what Larry Ellison decides to do with my server environment of choice!

            Virtulization is here, it is currently achieving real benefits for implementers. Argument over. We have achieved the maturity in the hypervisor space where its main problem is trying to keep from becoming a commodity technology. Isolating workloads allows customers to easily provision standardized platform offerings to various LOB, yet still utilize a flexible pool of resources.
          • Agree

            As someone who administers both Solaris and AIX, I have to agree. AIX/Power has been on top when it comes to stability two years in a row according to independent surveys, it outclasses the competition performance wise, and has a road map that is to be trusted as opposed to Sun(no road map) and HP(road map laughable).

            The virtualization features on AIX is mature and consistant across the Power range and it is implemented almost everywhere. For SUN it is a mess with no options for their enterprise servers and LDOMS for the T2 just out the door isn't ready for critical environments. Virtualization IS important in a data centre nowadays but some people tries to deny that fact when their favourite company has next to nothing to offer in that area.

            And with AIX most tasks are easy to do and safe. With Solaris you have to plan down time for the most trivial of operations. No wonder that experienced Solaris administrators(or Linux for that matter) are positively surprised when they lay their hands on AIX for the first time.

            As for pricing I find Sun gear a lot pricier than Power. IBM has *done* something with their pricing policy the last 10 years as opposed to SUN.