Picking Your Battles: Infrastructure?

So here’s a dirty secret: I don’t have near enough time in the day to worry about everything that I want to worry about.  If the day had 40 hours in it, there would still be too much to do, and as an admitted workaholic (just ask my wife if you need confirmation) I need to be smart when picking my battles.  My personal challenge is also one of my issues as the director of a managed services practice.  There are a ton of places to provide value to our customers, but as a small, private company we can’t be everything for everyone.  We have to look at which services satisfy the most customers, and we have to look at which services are best for the business.  Defining our core and staying true to it is a central belief of our business.

One of the battles that we are being asked to fight more and more is on the infrastructure side.  My challenge is that it’s not the customers asking us, it’s the vendors, and it’s taking an increasingly large amount of my time.  The frustrating part is that after thinking through it, I’m not convinced that it’s a battle that provides a lot of value to my customers.  This was really driven home in a call I had earlier in the week with a vendor.

As most of the readers of this site know, my company has been working with VCE for a few months on building a reference model for our Enterprise Cloud based on a Vblock design.  As soon as we made this known publicly, I was inundated with calls from all over the spectrum.  Current vendors were distraught I was considering a move away from them, system integrators were asking who we were working with on the purchasing and install side and vendors we weren’t working with were asking if they could provide alternatives.  Some of these calls have been a waste of time, but some have been very interesting.  One of the most interesting was from the company Xsigo (www.xsigo.com) going over their I/O Director platform.  If you are looking at a refresh of your virtualized environment and you don’t talk to these guys you are doing your company a disservice.  The product is proven, has a great group of champions (VMware being one of them) and has some obvious benefits when it comes to I/O scalability, especially in large environments.

In this meeting, a comment was made to the effect of “If the Vblock is the same everywhere, how do you differentiate your offering from another provider using the same infrastructure?”  I thought about it for a minute, and realized something: this is the wrong battle to fight.  As a service provider, we don’t differentiate with the infrastructure.  We want the infrastructure to be flexible and reliable, and if the vendors we use are respected such that our association with them doesn’t slow down the sales process, that’s all we need.  I’ve said it before, but the value in a service provider is in the relationship, the solution, the people and the processes.  If any service provider is spending time or money making the case that infrastructure is their differentiator they are going to be that much easier to beat in the market place.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely infrastructure providers that I prefer over others, and not all providers have the same reliability or functionality, but the infrastructureisn’t the secret sauce that has led to our success.  Because of that, it’s not a battle I’m going to spend a lot of time fighting.  Out work on the Vblock is, in part, because it is the most efficient way I’ve seen to make the management, support and procurement of the infrastructure a non-issue, allowing us to focus on our business and our customers.  Any other vendor who can make a case that their product does the same, please give me a call.  I don’t want to fight this battle any more.