Forget PCTV – I want my TVPC

So after also 5 years of looking, I finally bought the one car I have always wanted to own. It is a 1959 Corvette, Tuxedo Black with Sliver coves, all original, matching numbers (car talk saying the serial number on the motor matches the body) including 2 tops and power windows. Here she is:


To me, the 59 and 60 Vetts were the most beautiful cars ever produced – truly timeless in their design. They are a design that will turn heads today as much as they did 50 years ago. The best designs never go out of style.

In buying this car, I also realize that my evenings will be filled with constant tinkering, adjusting, fixing leaks – what fun! Think about the difference with a car today; basically it is either running or not; there are basically no adjustments and no tweeking. When I bought a new BMW a few years back, the salesman was going through the car and we opened up the hood. I expected to see my usual array of caps, plugs, and dipsticks and things to tinker with – instead, I was shocked to see another plastic cover over basically the whole engine compartment. I thought “what has happened to all of my tinker points?” There was one yellow cap exposed so I asked him “Is that one still mine?” “Yes,” he answered “that is the washer fluid. You can fill that one yourself.”

But, while I like my 59 for what it is – you won’t see me ever getting rid of my new car (and it’s not because I love those new smog devices).

So, yes, there is a technology point to my story. Much of what we have in IT today is instantiated like cars of the 1960’s. While sincere attempts are being made so create “ease of use” for customers, we still must face up to the reality that we have a long ways to go and, I believe, that we not only need to improve our designs, we need to change how we interact with IT.

My family and I own 5 PC’s. We must administer across a constant stream of changes coming from OS, application, and security providers. Virtually not a single day goes by without some program notifying me of an “update” or that I need to reboot my computer, change my password or complete some other mundane task. Now we see things coming out like PCTV and I say “I just can’t take it anymore! I don’t want PCTV, I want my TVPC!”

I doubt that there is a lot of disagreement regarding the need for improved ease of use but I believe that what not be as obvious is what we need to do to get there. I believe that there are two fundamental changes that are precursors to making this happen.

  1. Give up some control
  2. Automate and auto-optimize

Even though my TIVO has an operating system, applications, and HW similar to a PC it acts much more like my TV. I turn it on and it provides me a service. It’s not because the TIVO uses LINUX (vs. Windows) or any other basic difference in software; it is that I have given up some control and allow the service provider the ability to administer the changes necessary to keep the system up to date.

At EMC, we have done this for years with the “phone home” capabilities in our storage systems. While many believe that this model will be replaced by more customer self-service, I believe that the opposite will happen. Web Services, SaaS (Software as a Service), Phone Home (remote services) and many SW appliance models that are emerging today are really moving the model back to centralized IT management – with the “product” focusing on the delivered service.

There really is a pretty clear divide. I want to control the application but I really don’t want to “service” it. With air travel, I want the most flexibility I can get (which is not all that much these days – but alas another story) but I clearly don’t want to have to show up to the airport earlier to check out the pilots and make sure the airplane has the latest code version.

The trick is here for people to overcome their fear of loss of control (which is really not even the case as you are really just having someone else support your system) in return for real ease of use and a greater ability to accomplish the task that you set out to do in the first place! While systems still need user control, base management automation must be transparent to be effective. Just like we all now take voicemail for granted, there was a time when it was highly resisted because the actual recording moved from a box on your desk to a “service.”

The second problem we fall victim to is the desire for what I call the “last 5%.” We get it from a car by tweaking the carb and tuning the exhaust to get that extra 5 HP. Again the problem here is that with most new cars, they do it just about perfectly, and the potential gain for adding a bunch of “knobs” significantly hurts the ability to make the product easy to use.

As we move push the PC and IT in general into our lives, we need to focus on the “service” and not just the product. As things like the TV and PC to merge, I would like the function of the additional applications but only if it actually turns on instantly and never asks me to check the web for the latest Software – hence the TVPC.

In the end, I believe that someday I will write about picking up an old PC or server that I liked so much so I can spend some time tinkering. Most folks, however, are more interested in how they can use IT to accomplish a task - and that, requires that move to a new model for IT – I call that “Flat IT” – more on that in future Episodes – stay tuned.


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