% fortune -ae paul murphy

Pigeons roosting and doing what pigeons do

I was just wondering what I was going to run on about for today's blog when the phone rang.... a guy I haven't heard from in this century.

"Bill XX? Really? Wow, I haven't heard from you for awhile, where are you working now?

"Still at XX eh? that's a long time - so, what's up?"

"Ya I heard about, according to the news about 6,000 affected PCs - really, closer to 15,000? and for how long? (surprised snort) you're kidding, and no one noticed?

[He explains that some top level executives want him to report to them about the problem]

"Well, If I know anything about how they work, they won't care much about the actual security issue, just about how the press got wind of it - trust me, talk to them about shutting down outside access to confidential data and that's how they'll hear you.

[He asks if Sun Ray would solve the problem].

"Well, I can try to answer that, but why call me, I don't work for Sun - "

[Turns out he talked to a client I helped install Sun Rays - and called Sun last week, but the guy said someone from Toronto would have to call him and that hasn't happened yet.]

"That's probably because you guys kick lots of tires but only buy from IBM"

[He argues that they buy from HP and Dell too]

"That's low bid PCs, Sun doesn't sell those - But on the specific issue of whether Sun Ray will solve your problem: sure, in terms of what to say when they ask you this afternoon what alternatives exist and how you're going to ensure this never happens again - but not in deployment, no.

[He rises to the bait, asks why if Sun Ray is a high security device using them wouldn't prevent future data losses to internet attacks.]

"Because Sun is selling more and more Sun Rays into PC environments where the buyers are looking for better control over what their users do: using PC servers to deliver PC software to those users -and that kind of server proliferation means you lose security control. Sure your exposure shifts a bit from the desktop to the server racks, but you still have the same people problem, the same x86 problems, the same garbage networking, and the same crappy software.

What's worse, the current product works well for PC apps, but that market is now driving design decisions with the next generation being prepped to be operationally indistinguishable from a desktop PC with DP style lockdowns in place - moving from smart display to some kind of half assed thin client. It's bad news for users, but just the kind of DP idiocy guys like your old boss; what was his name, bruce something? used to love.

"He's still there!? Are you serious? the guy barely made it through highschool and he's kept a senior IT job for like, what 20 years! it's no wonder you're stuck in 91 and trying to rediscover 1975. Look, Sun Rays are great - and if you've got national security class issues they're the only way to go. But you don't you've got a bunch of PC users who desperately want to believe that their PC empowers them do things for themselves - and Sun Ray's greatest strength is that it will let you give them the freedom to do exactly that, but its greatest weakness is that it will also let people like Bruce do the opposite, what you just said: more controls, less user freedom.

"You want to succeed with Sun Ray? use it to give users what they want - you want to fail with Sun Ray? use it give data processing people what they want. The technology works both ways, but if you do the DP thing you'll limit organizational flexibility and users will eventually sabotage you in all possible ways - until Sun Ray becomes the worst mistake you ever made.

"Don't do it - an architecture combines management with technology, it's not just hardware and software. Either change your departmental management style to something that works for users, or stick with the client-server crap - it doesn't work for them either, but they don't know that because everyone tells them how wonderful it all is, and they've never seen an alternative.

He wasn't happy with me - but what's truly shocking about this is that when I talked to this guy last, in mid 1998, his concerns were almost exactly the same: he had a few thousand PCs running Windows95 and wanted to know if Sun's acquisition of NetDynamics made buying into their identity server a good idea. Now here it is over ten years later, and he's still buying from the same vendor, still looking wistfully over the fence, and still fighting the same losing battles, with the same tools, and under the same restrictions - so, besides putting his kid through college, what's he achieved?

Professionally, I think, nothing. The buzzwords have changed. He's worked hard, cashed a lot of salary cheques, paid his dues to lots of other people, and probably sometimes learnt something - but what he's achieved in terms of contributions to his employer is nothing: every day has been a different day with different words but pretty much the same [four letter word] - for close to 15 years now.

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.