A few years ago we were researching cloud-based CRM tools to replace our homegrown system. It came down to two vendors.
One was extremely simple. Few clicks, clean interface and fast. It lacked many features though.
The other one was more complex and many functions were not that obvious. You needed to immerse yourself in the product for several hours to “get it”. But it had a lot more features. So we had to make a choice. You know where this is going, right?
We chose the complex one. Usability is not everything.
Back in October I was with our Intel friends manning a booth at the AFCOM Data Center World show in Orlando, pitching our new power and temperature monitoring, and as the event was winding down I walked to the other end of the aisle to say hi to one of our competitors. I just wanted to socialize in a “camaraderie of fellow DCIM vendors grinding out the exhibit hall” sort of way.
Well, it seems he had less of a floor and more of an axe to grind, because the first thing he said was something like “yeah, you guys from Graphical Networks… the issue I have is that your top level looks like ours!” Why is that relevant, I wondered. And our top level doesn’t even look like that. Then it hit me: like most DCIM vendors, they had hard coded that top level as part of a fixed hierarchy with rigid object definitions.
“Our top level looks like whatever the user wants: a custom dashboard, a NOC picture or maybe that world map with those pins you have. Just create your objects and hierarchies in minutes. Images, properties, behaviors.” – I replied.
He decided to switch topics. Something related to netViz. Usability is almost everything.
Reading the rants of some of the experts and opinion makers, apparently DCIM has a perception problem. I think that it is in part because DCIM is the new OSS inventory. Let me explain.
Back in the late 90’s Inventory Management Systems, which were part of the so called OSS landscape, were the talk of the town. It seemed like every week there was a new player. After the internet bubble burst, inventory systems never really recovered. The problem wasn’t the bubble though, it was that these systems were not only expensive, but also hard to implement and use. Most of them ended up as shelfware. DCIM could suffer a similar fate if it doesn’t get its usability act together.
Most other DCIM tools require the customer to ask vendors for new device models. “Device modeling is complex, you can’t simply have the customer create them in the library”. Give me a break. It’s the DCIM tool that sucks if customers can’t create their own models, not a problem of complexity.
Also, having customizable hierarchies, object types, unlimited custom properties and behaviors should not be science fiction. We have been delivering this flexibility since day one. I am talking about truly customizable. Not the “our-consultants-can-create-that-for-you-if-you-sign-this-SOW” customizable, which may let you tick the “compliant” box on an RFP, but will cause your users to hate you afterwards.
Why did we then choose the complex CRM system? It wasn’t complex, in a few hours you could learn it (just like netTerrain ). But we needed the features. Without them, we could just have stuck with one of the simplest possible interfaces there is: pencil and paper.
Too many DCIM vendors on the other hand have created software that resembles the 90’s “we’ll stuff the PO with tons of services” mentality, which is not good for the overall market. We politely disagree with this philosophy, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out for other vendors in the next couple of years.