Kate's Comment

Thoughts on British ICT, energy & environment, cloud computing and security from Memset's MD

Horribly expensive hardware

“So, do you use Cisco firewalls as well as routers?”, asks the client; “No, actually.” is our response. Why, you might ask? Surely if you are running over a thousand servers and managing hundreds of individual firewalls you must be using Cisco or some other branded “firewall appliance”? But why must we?

What is so great about a horribly expensive box that is has no more reliable hardware than, say, a £1,000 Sun Fire X2100 doubled up with an auto-failover twin for extra peace of mind. We can achieve the same functionality as the software a Cisco box runs with an enterprise-standard open source solution such as ShoreWall, so why pay the premium? In fact, because we can get in under the skin, we can heavily customise the latter to give our clients more features and it means we can save them a lot of money by avoiding having to give every one of our Packet Patrol managed firewall customers their own hardware firewall. We are certainly not in the business of selling our clients stuff they don’t need!

The same applies to things like storage servers. There are some fabulously expensive system for mass data storage often costing in excess of £20,000. Or, you can do as we do with our storage solutions and take a simple, solid, reliable machine such as DNUK’s TeraServe R420, which filled up with 10 750Gbyte disks will give you a whopping 6 TeraBytes of storage for only £2,500. If you need more than that, well, you could perhaps buy two? 😉

There are plenty more examples. SCSI vs. SATA – Western Digital Raptor SATA drives are just as fast, just as reliable, and just as tested as the old & much-vaunted SCSI drives, so why pay more for older, less compatible technology? Blade servers vs. a pile of cheaper Dell or Sun 1U rack mounted servers – are you really that short on space, and if you fill a rack with blades are you really going to be able to get 8-10KWatts in, let alone cool it? Lets not even think about the 2 tonnes per square metre loading you are putting on the floor. Why spend the extra on something that, basically, just sounds “cooler”?

There are enormous savings to be made without compromising quality in the slightest by using a little bit of common sense and a little bit of know-how. Sometimes, yes, the horribly expensive solution is the right answer – but only at the very highest end, and it always saddens me when I hear of companies spending an order of magnitude too much one some IT solution or other, just because they have heard the name or think it is the “accepted practice”. I am afraid that there are lots of hardware and IT service providers quite happy to take advantage of unwary businesses’ lack of technical know-how.

I am certainly not suggesting that those businesses should need the know-how either (that’s our job!); I just think that ICT suppliers should be a little more morally upstanding, and educate their clients rather than fleecing them.

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