Sys Admins Make the Worst Customers

It’s a vicious cycle: sysadmins can find a wealth of shortcomings in just about any technology that crosses their desk. Vendors completely ignore sysadmins as a market for their technology, in part because they’re impossible to please, and in part because it would cost too much money to even come close, which would mean that the masses wouldn’t be able to afford said technology. So they strip their products down for the masses, and piss off the sys admins. Such is the world in which we live.

I guess the reason for this is that, as administrators, we’ve been well trained by both hardware and software vendors to look for the ulterior motive, the compromise, the lock-in, the angle, the catch, the rub.

When Microsoft wants to sell you something for $4 per client, it’s only because it will eventually give you no choice but to buy the $150 per client system upgrade to run it.

When Lexmark sells you an all-in-one printer for $60, it’s because they know you’ll be back to buy the $30 ink cartridges.

When ABC broadcasting let’s you watch TV shows for free online, it’s because they control the broadcast and can force you to watch the ads that they get paid for.

When Apple comes to sell you a server that’s alleged to be the best thing since sliced bread, further discussion with the sales people will reveal that you have to administer it from… an Apple Mac.

When a software company says they’ll provide experts on-site to perform all the integration and customization you could possibly want, it’s because they know that if you take it, you can’t do it yourself, and therefore won’t be able to easily leave the platform. Cha-CHING!

When a bank gives you free online bill pay, its because they know you’ll create 25 payees and set up 50 automated transactions, which makes it extremely difficult to leave, even if you hate them.

When Verizon says they’ll give you phone, tv and internet for $40 a month, its because part of the installation process includes the complete removal of copper from your house, which means you can’t go back to DSL (which only goes over copper phone lines)… and by the way, Verizon doesn’t allow you to do anything with your bandwidth but be a drooling, mouth-breathing, content consumer. Open up port 25, 53, 80, and probably any of a number of others, and they reserve the right to cut you off.

When a company says they have a product that does anything that sounds like “Deep packet inspection” or “content verification” or any kind of filtering, what you’ll quickly find is that in a lot of cases they want to charge you for a locked down proprietary black box version of Squid running on Linux, which is free, open source software.

The point is that these are the sorts of things that are in the forefront of the minds of many, if not most, if not all sys admins.  We’re masters at picking out shortcomings and compromises, because so many people are trying to sell us so much stuff in our day-to-day lives.

Sys admins mostly hate the iPhone because it does a metric assload of things poorly. Sys admins mostly aren’t fans of Microsoft because it’s a system that turns more or less open, commodity hardware into a black box that they have very little control over. They mostly don’t like the idea behind the Zune or even the iPod because of the vendor lock in and DRM involved.

We still buy things. I hardly know an admin who doesn’t own an iPod (I don’t own one, but my wife does). I attended OSCON and LISA in ’06, and the number of iPods and Macs I saw was astounding. Black box hardware like packet shapers and proprietary intrusion detection hardware, and Google appliances enjoy brisk sales.

The difference is that sysadmins in general are a breed that are bound to be acutely aware of the compromises they’re making, measuring the cost against the amount of time it would take for them to build a solution themselves, or against the amount of time it will take for this solution to become obsolete, or how long it’s under warranty for, or any number of other factors… simultaneously.

Seriously. If you’re a sales person, the last thing I’d want to do is get a job with a company that sells to admins.

Admins even hate deploying services for other admins. That’s one reason admins all hate the state of documentation in their environment. It’s not that they can’t write or spell or whatever. The problem is that there are 5-10 guys in their group, and two guys refuse to use anything but vi, another guy creates his own man pages, there are two guys who only use Front Page, and want to know where the FTP server is, and they will defend their preference to the grave. Good luck getting a whole team of admins to agree on a single tool to do any specific task.

So that’s my rant about admins for the day. Thanks to my buddy and coworker Steve for uttering the words that make up today’s entry title, and prompted me to think more about the topic, and blog about it. :-) Happy Friday!