How to Be a Smart IT Customer?

This is the last note I took from LISA 2010 conference. It’s a great talk by Loren Jan Wilson drawing his experience with vendors while working at a super computer center.

The super computer, Intrepid, consists of 40,960 nodes on 40 racks. Each node has 4 core CPU. Of all the nodes, 640 nodes are dedicated for I/O. There is no local storage at each node. The super computer links to a very large tape library for archiving.

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While operating the super computer, the speaker had some issues with high-speed network switches, e.g. 6% random port death, 15% quad port flaky but never fail 100%. To complicate the issue, there is no log and CLI for troubleshooting, but Web interface.

I believe the trouble the speaker faced before is not a single case in the industry, and never be. As long as you have to buy equipment/software from vendors, there will be issues one way or the other. A great thing the speaker did is to summarize and share the tips on how a customer should work with an IT vendor for a successful IT project.

I find these tips are very helpful, and think customers and vendors should all know about them as listed below:

1.     Interacting with vendors should not start with a product issue. [Note: it should start from the earlier stage. IT operation team in the negotiation process not just business folks. This is very important for big customers which have multiple teams working on an IT project.]

2.     Know your system;

3.     Set realistic expectations;

4.     Don’t pay them [vendors] until it works;

5.     Don’t let vendors talk to each other through you;

6.     Don’t wait for the vendor to troubleshooting;

7.     Agreement in advance;

8.     Stay positive at all costs. As the speaker pointed out, put social skills before tech skills in the interactions.

I believe there are other tips for creating positive customer/vendor relationships. Please feel free to share yours.

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