Barking Up the Wrong TreeBy Jim Rapoza | Posted 2007-01-18 Email Print
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Opinion: Purebred IT systems are in the doghouse these days.
I'm a dog person, and throughout my entire life, it's been muttsfrom the dogs my family had when I was a kid to the two dogs that are now part of my family. Which has been just fine by me.
Now, I understand the arguments that proponents of purebred dogs typically put forth: that there is this deep well of knowledge about all the quirks, traits and characteristics of purebreds; that the methods for training them are well-understood; and, often, that there is a certain aesthetic pleasure associated with a dog that conforms perfectly to a specific breed.
Of course, there are also plenty of good arguments in favor of mutts. The most obvious is the moral argument: In a world with so many unwanted dogs, it's better to save a mutt from a shelter than it is to pay top dollar for a purebred dog from a breeder.
But even if one eliminates the moral argument, I would still be highly in favor of mutts. Minus the generations of inbreeding that often go into creating purebreds, mixed breeds usually tend to be smarter. Some would argue that this makes them less predictable and harder to train than a purebred, but it doesn't make it impossible.
In addition, in my experience, mutts on the whole tend to be healthier than their inbred cousinsoften avoiding the classic health issues that plague many breeds of dogs.
This also means that, in almost all cases, it is cheaper to have a mutt than a purebred dog, starting with the small fees that shelters charge (versus the massive costs of getting a dog from a breeder) and then counting the fewer veterinarian bills over the years.
It turns out that my love of mutts extends to the IT world as well. The enterprise systems that I've had the best experiences with have been the technology equivalent of mixed-breed dogs. These systems employ a mishmash of open-source applications, Windows servers, major vendor databases and back-end systems.
Conversely, the systems that have given me the most headaches over the years have been those that have been purely bred from products and applications from a single vendor.
Come to think of it, a lot of people agree with me.
It wasn't too long ago that there was a raging argument between the proponents of homogeneous systems and heterogeneous systems. But during the last couple of years, it seems as if, very quietly, the forces of heterogeneity in IT have won.
Even Microsoft has conceded (at least for the time being) that most companies, and many of its customers, prefer to have heterogeneous infrastructures for their IT environments. Microsoft lately has made several moves to play nicer in these environments.
The most obvious move was its agreement with Novell, but there are many other small, less noticeable moves that clearly show Microsoft has learned that it can't simply push an all-Microsoft-all-the-time strategy on all its customers.
These moves include increasing the ability of its management products to work with non-Microsoft systems, expanding its acceptance of and interoperability with open standards and APIs, and even making it so that core Microsoft products such as SharePoint Server work well with competitors such as the Firefox Web browser.
I think these are all smart moves on Microsoft's part. It's getting harder and harder to find a company that is completely based on Microsoft technology.
Even the most Microsoft-heavy enterprises have some technology that is not Microsoft-basedeven if it is only Linux-based appliances or a hosted on-demand application based on Java. And it goes without saying that even a company that wants to be 100 percent Microsoft is going to have to integrate and work with partners that aren't.
Sure, all this could change. Big technology companies are, by their nature, designed to crush competitors. And if companies such as Microsoft can figure out a way to push customers to homogeneity without causing too much harm, they'll do it. But, for now, heterogeneous IT systems rule.
So here's to the mutts of enterprise IT. Sure, they're a little hard to train at first, but they're healthy. And, boy, can they run. Let's all give them a nice technology tummy rub. That's the good IT system; yes, you are a good little mutt.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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