Appliances not the enemy

The `fridge’ won’t take your job

When HP CTO Russ Daniels blithely talks about the Neoview data warehouse appliance being the size of a big fridge not toaster it is easy to miss the point in the dismissive quip. In essence, what he is talking about is some fiercesomely complex data management software being shipped in on a pallet and dumped in an appropriate corner of the datacentre.

For applications developers, this has the potential to be one more marker along a trail that is leading developers away from their reason for existence and on to …..where, exactly?

That box is an example of an important trend that I feel we may see a lot more of in the coming months and years, for it packages up and removes a whole raft of work from the IT department job schedule that would normally fall to developers. When their employers decide upon the installation of a data warehouse, everything from initial commissioning and tuning of the application through to on-going management and support of the system in the production environment would normally fall largely in the development team’s lap.

Now, HP engineers will turn up with their pallet looking for three connections – the mains, the company network and the Internet. The latter will be needed because HP will be managing the system remotely as well. From a business user’s point of view I can see it makes an interesting sales message – the potential for quick and clean installation of an important business tool that can be earning money much faster, with (one assumes) fully trained rocket-scientists supporting it from the word go. Finally, there is also the benefit of having one clearly defined backside to kick if it fails – HP’s account manager.

This approach to delivering applications functionality, either as a physical appliance like the Neoview or a virtual software appliance, is going to appear a lot more. This means that developers may find their traditional jobs disappearing over time.

What it can also solve, however, is the long-standing complaint about the amount of IT resources devoted to maintenance and support, coupled to the pittance that is available for innovation and real development work as a consequence. Such machines could, in fact, be the liberator of many a developer’s potential as a real creator rather than an artisan of road-mending.

It will be only the most parsimonious and narrow-minded business managers who see this as an opportunity to claw back on the IT budget. Instead, the trend towards appliances should free up resources for the real role of developers – developing: and developing at a level of abstraction that exploits the appliances as functional process components rather than bits of `technology’.

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