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Linux Consulting and Microsoft: Sleeping with the Enemy

Aug 02, 1999, 13:06 (15 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tom Adelstein)

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ]

By Tom Adelstein, CIO of Bynari, Inc.

Imagine a situation in which you have won a consulting engagement to help bring two moderately sized companies' IT departments under one roof in a post-merger environment. You signed the contract. Then you discover that the CIO's skills deny him access to technical knowledge. You also discover that you not only have to deal with the CIO but the package includes the attendance of his hostile Microsoft MCSE. Also, you find that the firm will migrate all their servers to Microsoft.They hired you to help.

Call this the engagement from hell. Think of the hostile MCSE as your worst nightmare. Regard the CIO with disdain. But see if Linux can win even if you sleep with the enemy.

The Engagement from Hell

When you began negotiating with the Company, the initial inquiry specified a need to upgrade older versions of Linux to newer ones. The documentation and purchase order you received indicated the company deployed Linux servers four years before to handle mail and web hosting. The Linux boxes went in when the company had NetWare 3.12 deployed in every one of their retirement communities and their corporate offices.

At first, you couldn't contain your excitement about finding such a large deployment of Linux machines. Then the other shoe dropped. You found the calls excessive from the community managers to your support line. You fixed problem after problem, updated security, cleaned up the password files and got the mail working. Late one Friday afternoon, one of the managers asked if you would be putting in the new Windows NT machine. You inquired further and found out that the new CIO had decided to replace the NetWare 3.12 and Linux machines with Microsoft's Windows NT and Exchange server.

You felt betrayed. You geared up for this new client. You hired staff, added a high speed connection to the Internet, bought workstations and furniture. Suddenly, you see your prize disappearing.

You then get a call from the CIO wanting to float an Request for Proposal (RFP) by you. He sent it via e-mail. The client wanted a quote on moving its Web site from Apache 1.2 running on Red Hat 4.2 to Windows NT IIS 4.0.

Somehow you sensed you were in trouble. You replied to the RFP and within a few days discovered you won the business. As part of your commitment to the client you had to fly to Memphis to begin planning.

Your Worst Nightmare

You arrive at the airport only to discover that the Network manager forgot to pick you up as planned. You take a taxi to downtown Memphis and sit in the company's waiting room for two hours. You feel bored, tired and frustrated.

Through the front doors to the waiting room walks a man dressed casually smart. He introduces himself as Mickey Magnolia. He apologizes for keeping you waiting, he had taken a late lunch. Meanwhile, you hadn't eaten since breakfast.

Mickey escorts you to a conference room and begins diagramming his network topology on the wall. He casually points out each Linux machine which he's planning to replace. The CIO, Harry Hamm walks into the conference room and sees your expression. He looks at the diagram and back at you and you know you've been had.

Disdain

The conversation shifts to Harry and he begins to spout the Microsoft party line about the enterprise and the seamless solution. You listen intently with the occasional thought of murdering the guy. You wonder when the change will take place. Mickey then asks if you can move the Web site by the end of the following week. That's the day all his servers can come on line.

Can Linux Win?

When we evaluate the situation, the following comes to focus:

1. The CIO has a vested interest in his hostile MCSE. He went on the line to get him hired. If Mickey looks bad so does Harry. Everyone has a boss and people have a greater interest in looking good than being right. You will lose if you go after Mickey and attack his knowledge.

2. Management charged the CIO with keeping costs low. The golden thread in this situation is the type of business the company operates. The patrons of the company live on fixed incomes. "Total cost of ownership" puts an Achilles heel on the CIO and his hostile MCSE.

3. Mickey convinced the CIO that having a single OS platform would reduce costs. The CIO feels vulnerable since he lacks technical expertise. He wants to insure that he can find and hire people to administer his network when Mickey leaves. You will lose if you go after this security blanket.

When you look at Mickey's topology map, find areas where a Linux solution can live within the NT enterprise. For example, Linux can reduce the cost of ownership when you factor in Samba. You will reach the CIO's hot button by comparing the costs of licensing Windows NT against Linux. Prepare a cost comparison for the CIO and get Mickey to assist you. Or even better, let Mickey tell you which servers Linux could replace. Let it be Mickey's idea.

Mickey also feels vulnerable because he only understands Microsoft products. If he understands DNS, Web services, fireballs, and TCP/IP we should all be surprised. If he hasn't worked in a UNIX environment, he can barely hold his own with these technologies.

You can turn Mickey into an ally by training him on simple administration skills and by gaining his confidence. If you have cross platform skills, you can tolerate Windows NT and help guide the network architecture. If you need a good rationalization then tell yourself that interoperability makes a difference.

Tips and Techniques

By doing nothing, Everything is done
In wanting nothing, You will always have enough - Lao Tzu

If you work in the Information Services business you know that clients do not like surprises. If a client has an expectation and you fail to meet that expectation the client will become upset. Thwarted expectations cause people to become upset.

In the same fashion, if you have an expectation and the client fails to deliver, you will become upset. In the scenario above, the client lied to you or at least mislead you. You should feel upset. You should also feel betrayed.

A Zen Master once told his disciple to catch a bird with his bare hands. The disciple wondered how he could do such a thing. The Master told the disciple to stand quietly by a bush and try not to catch the bird. The disciple stood next to a bush and two sparrows landed on the branches to eat berries. The disciple held still and in a motion that could not be seen by the naked eye, grabbed one of the sparrows.

When you work as a Linux consultant, then learn to manage the client's expectation and your own. If you had allowed strong emotions to sway you, you would have become defensive and angry. You probably would have marched out through the front door while swearing.

In this business many people don't have time to appreciate you, since they spend most of their time trying to keep others from finding out what they don't know. With Linux in the early adopter stage of the marketing cycle, we have to develop thicker skin. Let them have their games.

Conclusion and parting note

Many of us in the Linux world live in a state of denial. We want Linux to succeed so badly we lose our perspective. We tell ourselves that we're kicking Microsoft's butt. In fact, we're niche players in a niche market. Someday, we may have a level playing field with Microsoft. We have a paradigm that works. I find it healthy to remember that Linux is not an Apple computer and Microsoft doesn't sell Mainframes. Do not expect a mass market shift just yet.

Many of us start off as rebels and quickly learn that we can make a difference by working within the establishment. If you wish to call this sleeping with the enemy, please allow me to call it infestation.

Today, it's a Microsoft world. I started in I.T. when it was an IBM world and people said PC's would not last. They said the same about Elvis.

This article is the sixth in a series on Consultative Sales and Marketing. Linux Today has published the earlier articles and they reside in the site's archives. You can find them by using the search feature of the Linux Today web site.

Tom Adelstein is the CIO of Bynari, Inc. He's the author of several books and articles on business and technology and has executive management, consulting and hands-on experience in the Information Technology field.