My brother-in-law David manages a mid-sized construction business, and owns seven or eight servers to handle the data. But don't bother asking him how much data they hold, or what processors they use. In fact, it's pointless to ask anyone in his office; they'll all give the same answer: "I don't know. Ask the Server Guy."
Who exactly is the Server Guy? To an SMB company like David's, Server Guy is the mysterious geek who crawls into a back-office closet clutching two cables and a USB thumbdrive, and emerges fifteen minutes later to declare that email is working again. Server Guy brings IT to the small- and mid-size businesses who either have a 1-man IT department, or depend on part-time or contractor help.
Tam Harbert notes that more and more of these Server Guys are approaching Ingram Micro and asking whether blade servers might be right for the 20-to-100 employee, server-closet crowd. And, Tam says, increasingly the answer is "Yes."
Why? Partly, Tam notes, it's the potential for saving money from their smaller footprint and higher power efficiency. But Arlin Sorensen, president of Heartland Technology Solutions and a Server Guy himself, nails an even bigger reason:
"A lot of our customers aren't equipped to handle the number of servers that they end up having...When you're dealing with 15 different stand-alone servers that were bought at 15 different times, then you have to deal with 15 different experiences in how those things are going to act. The beauty of blades is that the servers all respond and react the same way."
Blades make Server Guy's job EASIER. When you have a jumble of servers, switches, and storage wired together with a rats-nest of connections, the only cross-platform, intuitive management tool that you have is the main circuit breaker on/off switch. Blades change all that -- they give Server Guy a way to maintain servers in a quick, consistent, predicable manner.
Consider all the things Server Guy might be called upon to know. (Martin at BladeWatch did just that recently -- and to me his list is both accurate and daunting.)
But with tools like BladeSystem Onboard Administrator, Server Guy now has graphical, point-and-click tools that let him manage the IT hardware without two hundred hours of classroom training and three expensive industry certifications. Intuitive tools mean Server Guy is more productive.
How? Well, let's say my brother-in-law calls Server Guy and says "it sure seems hot in the server closest." Since most servers have temperature sensors in them, Server Guy could download a bundle of User's Guides, drive down to the office, figure out what settings he needs on a serial cable, plug it into each system, and -- if he remembers all the login passwords -- fetch the temperature readings on each piece of equipment. He could compare those to the tech specs on the hardware maker's web sites, then finally report to my brother-in-law that everything's OK.
Or...he could simply pull up a browser and remotely look at the Bladesystem Onboard Administrator status screen:
No manual needed. The green bar obviously means things are OK. There are little graphical orange and red hash marks -- nicely labeled with temperatures, and "Caution" and "Critical" indicators -- showing how much hotter it would need to be before there's a problem.
The BladeSystem team spends lots of their time developing tools like this, so Server Guy only has to spend a tiny amount of time using them.
Server Guy, if you're out there, let me -- or some of our colleagues -- know what other help you need. Also, call my brother-in-law. He says the Internet is broken again, and the "any" key is missing from his keyboard.
Eight years ago, we started touting blades to the masses. Do you remember the original messages?
More servers per rack! Save datacenter floor space!! Introducing the Density Optimized Server!!!
Now the bell tolls for me. These messages are the wailing echos I hear from my chamber bed.
Here's the thing. It's 8 years later and our marketing ghosts continue to haunt the entire blade industry.
We reviewed some customer research last week from June 2008 (yes, last month) with Forrester Research, and we asked a very simple question to people who still haven't bought a single blade system. "Why not?"
Can you guess what they said?
"I don't have a space problem." "Blades = space savings. I have lots of space, so I don't need blades. Done. End of story. Next question please."
Most of these folks took a look at early blades in 2001 and admittedly, saw a lot of holes. My, oh my how they remember the holes! Their mind was made up. "Blades are too hot." "Blades cost more." "Blades are under-featured." "I have a plenty of floor space." These myths continue to live on despite a remarkable transformation over the past decade of blade technology and a lot of data and experience to the contrary.
The fact is, no one changes their mind. A decision made, is a decision made. But you can give them a different perspective. In the tech world, if you get the introduction wrong - either the wrong message, the wrong product or at the wrong time, there is no turning back. Ask Microsoft.
My point today is not really about blades, it's about first impressions (and how the wrong one can keep you up at night for years). The beginning of every marketing discussion is all about first impressions. They are so important because they stick like microwaved duct tape.
If you get it wrong, or take a narrow view, or don't crawl inside the skin of the customer to find and communicate the real, felt need your solution solves - you will be haunted for many, many years with the ghosts of marketing past. Our mistake in 2001 was focusing on the product, not on the customer. We wanted so badly to show what an engineering marvel it was that we didn't spend enough time to understand how it could really help the customer. (I like to think we are learning.)
1. Don't launch half-baked. If you think you will have a killer product in 6 months, wait 6 months.
2. Talk to as many customers as possible. Do this well before you launch.
3. Test the message. Then test it again. (and I don't mean with paid analysts, but with real people in the real world)
If you nail that first impression and are crisp, clear and aimed at the root of that felt need, you'll have a great launch. But, you never get a second chance.
The good news for this insomniac technology marketer? There's still plenty of work to be had to help customers evaluate blades for their business and to articulate the relevant story behind blades. (Like I said, I like to think we've learned something.)