% fortune -ae paul murphy

Back channel communications and blogging

Last week a guy named Ben Rockwood, whom many of you will know as a key player at Joyent, published a personal blog harshly critical of Sun's hardware and services delivery process. His title: Getting Fed Up With Sun: Can't Get Systems, Breaking Existing Ones pretty much says it all, but here's "the money quote" anyway:

I want X4100's, NOT M2 BULLSHIT. I want lots of them and I want them quickly. I want a SunSolve worth paying for. I want a docs.sun.com that has been updated and more easily navigated than what we had 5 years ago. And most of all, I don't want to keep hearing that Dell doesn't have these problems!!! Damnit Sun, lets get it together and fix these things and lets do it NOW.

His colleague, Mark Mayo, wrote a companion piece on the Joyeur blogsite. Here's the title and introduction:

How to completely ruin a great piece of server kit (regarding the Sun X4200 M2)

Here's how you do it. First, you take what is considered a pinnacle of x86 server design, the glorious x4200 where every single chip has been selected for maximum reliability and performance. Like, say, the quad on-board Intel Gigabit Ethernet chips. Then, you create a new revision called the x4200 'M2' and replace the first two Gigabit Ethernet ports with fscking NVidia NForce crap. That's it. Done. You've just ruined it.

The Intel GigE chip and (perhaps more importantly) driver are considered the best across all operating systems. Whether it be FreeBSD, Linux, Windows, or Solaris, the Intel driver rocks. It's understood. It performs. It's reliable. People go out of their way to build systems with these chips. The Nvidia 'nge' driver, however, is not exactly regarded as a top notch piece of software. Yes, I'm being polite.

On that same day, April 17th, Sun's president Jonathan Schwartz released a blog on the value and power of branding in which he traces much of that power to corporate evangelists - employees who respond decisively to bring enthusiasm and expertise to meeting customer needs.

Bill Bradford added a comment to that blog pointing Mr. Schwartz at the Joyent complaints:

Speaking of brand, one of your very-visible long-term supporters is getting pretty fed up with the inability to get the machines he wants to order:

Getting Fed Up With Sun: Can't Get Systems, Breaking Existing Ones

As far as I know, this isn't the first time that Joyent has had issues trying to do nothing more than purchase machines.

Ben is probably the biggest Sun cheerleader and "fan boy" that I know of, and a situation like this has to be pretty bad for him to talk about it publicly.

Now, to me, there are a whole bunch of interesting things here. The most obvious, and in some ways the most significant is the simple correlation of communications demonstrated.

I'd be astounded if Schwartz wouldn't take a call from Rockwood - but my guess is that it's better for both parties that this complaint get aired in the open. Why? because the normal organizational process that would have to kick in if Schwartz got such a call and tried to respond directly would ultimately rebound to everyone's dissatisfaction.

Thus the most interesting thing this use of blogging as a communications medium signifies is that people are using the technology to bypass the business processes adhering to traditional communications channels.

Basically Rockwood's talking to Schwartz here, but doing it in a way that doesn't align with Sun's organization and common practice to limit Schwartz's ability to respond. Instead the combination of Schwartz's blog about branding and corporate evangelism with Rockwood's complaint opens an opportunity for somebody at the service delivery level to respond quickly and positively on Sun's behalf - empowering his bosses to react positively instead of defensively to executive involvement and trusting Rockwood to ensure that Schwartz knows what action was taken, and by whom.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.