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The Network Observer - The Failure of HSM, DSB, and oh yes, DAM

David Doering

July 2001 | Although one hopes that not many Network Observer readers have had to do any hard time, everyone has probably played the game of Prisoner's Dilemma at least once. That's where two or more prisoners would all benefit by working together to get an early release and everyone seems to agree that they will all vote one way to help each other. However, if one cheats and is the only prisoner to vote a different way, then that prisoner gets the lion's share of the reward–burning all the others. Unfortunately, if all the "prisoners" vote differently, then all get punished. Logic would dictate that we follow the first course, vote together. But, invariably, when the game is played, at least one–and likely all–vote differently, thus ensuring the maximum punishment for everyone.

Logic, then, is a poor second in the race for dominance in our lives. Take Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM). Most would agree that HSM makes a lot of sense. It makes sense economically, because you can store more data for less money by migrating less-frequently-used files onto lower-cost media. It makes sense for reducing latency, because the most in-demand files are on the fastest media. It makes sense for protection, since the archive system in HSM is usually optical, a more robust media than even RAID. So why haven't we heard much from HSM? Instead, we simply increased the size of the average hard drive: First to the gigabyte range, then to tens of gigs, and now rapidly approaching a 100GB local drive.

We also haven't heard enough lately from Digital Content Management (DCM). Logically, the reuse of existing content (either to make money on the resale of it or to reduce the time it takes to create new content) makes a compelling intellectual and logical argument for DCM. Yet there's not a whole lot out there.

Then there's Digital Asset Management (DAM). I'm pretty sure I get the difference between DCM and DAM. DCM is for cataloging what you have in the way of pictures, text, videos, drawings, etc. While DAM is for leveraging that catalog to make salable goods from it. (Or is it the other way around?) Anyway, be it DAM or DCM, it seems like a swell idea. So what gives? A friend of mine, Roger White, first introduced me to a concept he called "The Defector." As he explained it, there can be hidden rewards for under-performing or for taking a contrary, illogical approach to an activity. For example, suppose the Acme Video Center consolidates on a single high-speed photocopier in the Accounting Department. Accounting wants to monitor who is using the copier the most, perhaps as a way of determining cost and assigning the appropriate cost to the guilty department. Production doesn't want to comply, and so purchases its own copier.

In effect, Production has become the Defector. As such, it is rewarded because it does not have to comply with Accounting's requirement, even if Production's own surreptitious copier is less powerful and less advantageous than the consolidated one.

How does the Defector fit into networking video? Glad you asked. Novell developed a wonderful tool called ZenWorks, which allows network administrators to control, upgrade, and maintain workstations remotely. Most of these tasks can be automated, so that the admin only has to perform them once on a given system, then ZenWorks can repeat the process for one to a thousand systems, thus saving hundreds of hours.

You'd think that this would be a runaway bestseller, removing the tedious task of updating from the admin's to-do list. Nope. Problem is, there's this Defector. You see, too many of today's rank-and-file administrators are paper-certified with little or no field experience. So, to keep themselves busy, they like to update systems. They fill hours with "essential" upgrades and maintenance tasks, thus avoiding having to reveal how little they really know about solving complex network problems, such as designing and installing that long-awaited video conferencing capability or that streaming video training network.

HSM, DCM, and DAM all have problems comparable to the Defector. You see, HSM software takes the place of someone manually attempting to control storage; ditto DCM or DAM. All of that would be to take away hours of pleasure of perusing files and entering them into some type of spreadsheet. It would eliminate those hours of searching when the CFO asks for widgets for his all-important PowerPoint presentation to investors. A more logical system would eliminate having to frantically search for or create black and white versions of the company logo each time the boss wanted it for a presentation or P.R. wanted it in time to go to press for a network magazine.

Instead, the administrator or cataloger or whoever would then have to make the content easily available to people. Maybe make some money by, dare I say it, logically organizing the system into some readily retrievable and therefore reusable and resalable content. Creative content is the most priceless asset we have. So, as Star Trek's Mr. Spock would say, "logic dictates" that we seek out a new lifestyle and boldly go where no admin has gone before–DAM straight.

The Network Observer columnist David Doering (dave@techvoice.com), an EMedia Magazine contributing editor, is also senior analyst with TechVoice Inc., an Orem, Utah-based consultancy.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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