Occasionally I skim a whitepaper. I feel a little bit guilty saying that;
I’m not a CIO or CTO — I think of myself as a developer and author. Still,
there are sometimes a few really good pieces of data to extract from even
press releases masquerading as tech marketing whitepapers.
(Vendors, beware. This isn’t a plea to e-mail me more whitepapers. I said
occasionally for a reason!)
One of the benefits from a liberal arts education ought to be the ability
to analyze a piece of writing and to understand the point of view of the
author. It’s interesting doing this with whitepapers because of how it can
reveal a vendor’s strategy. For example, take the linked Novell whitepaper
(registration required, sorry).
The paper starts by assuming that its readers already believe that
Linux-based systems have a place on the edges of their network, running web
servers or DNS, for example. It also assumes that the readers are considering
using Linux for more important services, such as in data centers or for
“mission critical” services.
That’s a big difference from seven years ago, when I had to scrounge a
spare PC to run a custom program I wrote to collect statistics on Tier 2
customer support requests for high-end laser printers. (A couple of years
later, the company started its own dedicated Linux strategy and floundered for
a while. I stopped paying attention.) The question is not “Can I run Linux
on a box under my desk for something I need?” or “Is LAMP a good option for
our internal or even external web sites?” but “What do I need to do to migrate
our most important internal systems to run on Linux?”
Of course, it’s always helpful to consider the audience. My guess is CIOs
and CTOs, based on the arguments about interoperability and vendor support.
Keep that in mind.
Another point is the quick assertion — as if to believers already — that
capable vendor support is as important as the openness of Linux-based systems.
(Robert Lefkowitz recently argued that the
true cost of software is a small part of its price tag.) At first, these
might seem to be at odds, but the paper then goes on to compare Novell’s
support for heterogenous networks, running multiple Linux distributions, with
that of other vendors. While there are many free software business models
built around the idea of providing support, it’s interesting to see a vendor
take the idea of interoperability and offer support for competing products
without necessarily encouraging migration.
Interoperability may be the most important concept in the latter half of
the paper. While someone like me might argue that openness and freedom are
important reasons to choose free software and an open source person might
argue for improved development processes and quality, someone managing a large
existing network has more practical considerations — such as not replacing
everything all at once, or even much of anything in the near future.
That’s the image that the whitepaper tries to paint. I can imagine how
reassuring readers that this is not (necessarily) a migration path is very
important to keeping their trust.
The rest of the paper is as you might expect; here’s what Novell does and
can do for you. There are useful tidbits for trend watchers: the debate over
the purpose and goals of vendor certification and training, remote management
of multiple distributions from the same tool, and legal indemnification.
Maybe tracing through a whitepaper to uncover a vendor’s strategy and to
learn a few things about the intended audience isn’t the most fun way to spend
a Friday afternoon, but it can be enlightening. We have a few more
whitepapers in our Novell Learning Channel that I’ll skim and analyze. In the
meantime, you might pass them along to your CxOs and IT managers.
Linux-based OSes — fated to be one-of-many or open systems eventually render proprietary platforms irrelevant?