OPEN INSIGHTS Newsletter
Issue 47 – Change the Problem
Sep 14, 2008
by Sean Hull
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In This Issue:
If you can’t find a solution, consider changing the problem
I run into this situation over and over in consulting. The cards are laid out on the table, there’s this intractable problem, and the question becomes, what are we to do to solve it.
I find these situations are some where I can make the most impact. Partly this is because I am coming from the outside, so an outside perspective might be given a voice where someone inside the company might not be heard. Also I’m a bit of a maverick, so sometimes I may see another angle that hadn’t been looked at before.
There are a few different versions of this scenario so I’ll list them easiest to hardest to solve.
Developers following singular approach
By far the easiest situation is when the developers have been looking at a problem one way, and a different perspective needs to be tried. That’s because a new approach can quickly be tested, and if it works, and provides the results needed, everyone is sold on the solution, and then we simply need to go about making the change.
For example I had a client a number of years back in the education space. They had a client application that ran on a palm pilot, and teachers would upload data to the website periodically. So when they built the platform they were small, and had few subscribers, so they just synced data as it came in. As they grew to 10x and 100x their original subscriber base, they began to have big performance problems. All those subscribers uploading all that data, and as the backload built up, other subscribers suddenly had to wait for what was previously free and instantaneous.
So at a meeting discussing the problem, I stepped back for a moment. I explained this from my perspective. I said, look, you can spend a lot of money on lots and lots of new hardware, but don’t you see there is an assumption built into all of this. That every subscriber should and must expect instant always on data! I then went on to outline a gold, silver and bronze level of subscriber. The gold subscribers would pay more, and continue to get instantaneous uploads, the silver people would get their data, but available and collated in one hour, and the bronze would be twice a data. This turned out to be a simple and affective solution. Most subscribers it turned out, didn’t really NEED instant access to their data, and the ones who did, were willing to pay for it.
Again, because of the original assumptions, and how the application was built when the company was quite small, that assumption, that perspective had carried itself into the present when it was no longer practical or feasible to stick with it.
Already bought the hardware platform
I’ve run into many cases where this is a problem. Some time in the past a decision was made to go with deficient hardware, for instance a server with RAID 5, simply because those were the only servers available, or that was the shortest path somehow. I usually start with the analogy of Oracle. You buy a ferrari and then put economy class car tires on it because you ran out of budget. At that point your Oracle dollars are being wasted. Why not go with an open source database solution instead?
The best case in these situations is that a second server is available with different disk subsystem, where we can setup and test, and demonstrate the difference in application performance. It’s true, and hardware change can be expensive, and involved, which is why no one wants to address it. But remember internet applications are database backed, and usually the database is your bottleneck. And what is a database, but a sophisticated caching mechanism and SQL front end to a DISK!
Business committed to a path long since forgotten
By far this is the hardest case. I’ve had clients who built a platform basically for e-commerce, and then patched, and modified it over five or six years. In the meantime completely new platforms have come out, even some open source ones, that do everything that they wanted and a whole lot more. Or better yet there are web services solutions, that allow them to completely eliminate the software development side of the house, and concentrate solely on selling their widgets.
Of course when you’ve spent millions of dollars, and gone down one path for many years, this can be a very hard sell. But it’s a case of throwing good money after bad, and it’s a hard choice you sometimes have to make in business.
So in the back of your mind, when you’re looking at a problem in business, especially intractable problems, if you can’t find a solution, consider changing the problem.
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In our last interview we had the opportunity to talk with Norman Yamada CTO of Millburn Corporation.
Norman shares with us his experiences providing world-class computing solutions, and the pros and cons of doing it with open source.
When we think of cross-cultural exchange, we seldom think of the intangibles like personal space. Stand close to an American say, and they might think "who is this guy" or "I like this guy, I feel comfortable around this person". A Japanese might respond differently from the same personal space. Or consider a pat on the shoulder. Some european guys greet with a peck on the cheek, as you would greet a woman, whereas for an American this would be a big no-no. Handshakes, nuances of eye contact, Hall creates a science of proxemics (like proximity) to discuss this interesting topic.
A little inane humor to brighten up your day… Jessica Hagy has this cute little blog called indexed. She uses index cards to illustrate little truisms, often with funny comments on venn diagrams. Here’s a funny one the relationship of status to money.
We all want to optimize our sites for Google. I mean other than a select few, that’s where most of our traffic comes from, so the more our site plays well with Google, the more users, readers, customers, and clients will find their way to us.
Most of the SEO material I’ve read has been pretty sparse, and unclear. But I’ve been following the topic over at my good Felix’s #comments blog, and I’m starting to get it. So you can too! Take a read: Google loves me, again!
If you haven’t been following the news on the topic, take a look over at this NY Times piece: Silicon Valley Start-Ups Awash in Dollars, Again. Personally I don’t think there is much hysteria this time around, sure there’s some, but not much. The industry is more mature now, and computers in general have lost their initial wow factor, so people are general more sober, and able to step back and see what is actually useful, can make money, is making money, or might well make money. That’s the root of investing smart.
Issue 44: Gaining Legs
Issue 43: On Prudence
Issue 42: On Efficiency
Issue 41: Roshomon Effect
Issue 40: Self Taught
Issue 39: Reputation Management
Issue 38: Are You Fast Failing
Issue 37: A Real Open Book
Issue 36: Rarity of Excellence
Issue 34: Hindsight Is Always 20/20
Issue 33: Market For Experts
Issue 32: Different Heritages
Archive: Past Issues
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Tools for the Intrepid DBA: click here
Oracle9i + RAC on Linux/Firewire: click here
Migrating MySQL to Oracle: click here
MySQL Disaster Recovery: click here
In a nutshell, Oracle. Everything related to and surrounding the database technology we specialize in, but specifically setup, admin and tuning of Oracle technology. I have 10 years experience with Oracle, wrote a book on the technology, and write and lecture frequently. I’m founder and senior consultant of the company. In capacities where your company might hire Deloitte, AIG, or Oracle Consulting we can bring the same level of service and experience, at about half the price. Simple equation.
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