Why CIOs fear the O-word

It’s the oldest problem in the IT book: the PC you bought three months ago is Obsolete. (Your neighbor’s 1983 Ambassador is still current.)

Obsolete? Extinct?

The O-word doesn’t bother many end-users. Their PC model is no longer available, but they won’t throw it away just because there’s a new one out.

Enterprise IT managers don’t quite look at obsolescence so understandingly.

There are ten notebooks in my company that are over two years old. They’re beyond obsolete, but they can’t simply be thrown away while they’re working “fine”: it will cost Rs 12 lakh to replace them. Their 16 MB can’t handle the new Windows and Office. Upgrade? No longer supported. RAM modules are not available, hard disks, ditto, and we didn’t ask about video RAM or batteries.

I thought this was a bad deal until I met some angry CIOs at a conference. 

“Why can’t they stock disk drives, for replacements?” one asked. “Every time a drive goes down in a RAID array, I change the whole damn stack because the drive’s ‘obsolete’ and I can’t stick in one new drive.” 

“What paperless office?” another said. “How do I archive data for 20 years?”

I gave the stock answers: today’s tape formats are cheap, optical is nice, MODs and CDs last if treated properly…

“Yeah,” someone cut in. “But what about the drive that’s going to read them?”

“And the media format?” said another. “Do I get support for a format if I archive data on it?”

There were enough sad stories there. Companies who had archived data on one tape format, but those drives were dead–and obsolete. One user had bought phase change CD drives and archived data on PCDs. The disks were intact, the drive dead, and no replacements on the market. No way to read the data.

Users spent $25 billion on storage services this year. 200 million CD-RW and DVD drives sold, and they’ll touch 300 million in 2004. Storage software revenues were $6 billion. Storage is no add-on now, it’s a strategic issue for the enterprise. And for the industry. IBM’s US storage revenues are over $4 billion.

But it can get lots bigger: if enterprises go paperless. A big barrier is obsolescence. If the industry wants to really grow this market, it has its work cut out: Come together to define an archival format, standardize it, guarantee media and format support for 40. That’s the enterprise’s millennium challenge to the storage industry.

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