by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, March 1992

This is a new column that will provide information on the products, people, news, and situations, encountered in the life of a systems integrator (yours truly). Since a large part of my work involves "rescues" of people after they've been victims of botched integration attempts or abuse or abandonment by vendors, the slant of this commentary may sometimes be a bit cynical. As an experienced street cop might tell you, that's a hazard of constant exposure to the seamier side of the beat.

Due to popular demand (via faxes to the Computer Guide -- Yes, we do read them!) LANs (Local Area Networks) and other connectivity issues will be prominently, though not exclusively, featured.

Upon reading this column, my dedication to defining terminology will soon become apparent. I would rather err on the side of over-explaining and have technically oriented readers skip over the explanations than leave some people in the dark. Even techies don't know every variation of every possible phrase (unless they cheat like I do and look them up).

I can still remember being baffled by the constant use of "BTW" in messages on BBS's (electronic Bulletin Board Systems). Eventually, I figured out that it was short for "By The Way". It was even worse for "OEM", an acronym constantly used in the computer press. It took an embarrassingly long time to find out that it means "Original Equipment Manufacturer". To add to my confusion, it's also used as a verb to describe two opposite sides of a transaction. Sometimes it refers to manufacturing and selling a product for another company's eventual resale under its name. Other times I've seen it used to describe the purchase side of that same transaction! I'd rather define terms up front to avoid this type of problem.

For my first news item, in the category of "You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks", Novell has finally confirmed the rumors about the future (or lack thereof) of Netware 2.2. With the allegedly "brain-dead" Intel 80286 chip taking the part of the old dog and Novell taking the part of the unwilling teacher, Novell announced that there would be no further development or enhancements for version Netware 2.2. Maintenance and support will continue (for now), but the product is now officially a dead-end. (Mechanical life-support will continue for the comatose patient, but his records will be tagged "DNR" -- Do Not Resuscitate.)

A 10-user ($2495) version of Netware 3.11 was released last fall and a 5-user ($1095) version is expected soon. Prices on the 50- and 100-user versions of 2.2 are being raised by $500 (That's the stick). Special upgrade prices from 2.2 and below to 3.11 are expected (And there's the carrot). Those considering a purchase of or upgrade to 2.2 should stop and estimate the future costs involved in buying into an explicitly obsolete product. They also should consider purchasing XT's, AT's, and an occasional 386SX-16 to keep with the "retro" spirit of their system.

Vendors of LAN-related hardware and software have long treated 2.2 as the poor stepchild of the Netware family making it an unattractive purchase option for those who monitor the industry. It's good to see 2.2's fate confirmed officially so everyone will know.

My first cynical observation (or incoherent rave out, depending on your point of view) concerns the use of the term "systems integrator". A common remark in the LAN world is that it's easier to get Netware than it is to get a Slurpee since there are more Novell Authorized Resellers than there are 7-11s. This is not a facetious remark - it's true! After hearing a client remark that there was a systems integrator on almost every street corner, I thought something must be wrong with the definition of systems integrator. Subsequently, I kept an eye out for an unbiased explanation of that term.

I found that explanation in a recent issue of VARBUSINESS, a publication for value added resellers (VARs), developers, and integrators. In it, 19% of the respondents to their "State of the Market" survey called themselves systems integrators while less than 1% actually qualified according to the magazine's criteria!

To use the term "systems integrator" the magazine required that at least 25% of the revenue of a company had to be from project management or systems integration. In their (somewhat pompous) definition, systems integrators "provide a comprehensive information processing solution through a unique combination of professional services and expertise in hardware, software, and communications technology." They emphasize that systems integrators must maintain full responsibility "for the entire project from design to post-implementation stages, including product selection."

That last sentence is the key. Computer systems, and in particular, LANs, are almost by definition, multi-vendor solutions.

For example, even IBM doesn't try to do everything anymore. They are currently abandoning their main applications programming effort, so applications software for their machines will have to be obtained from other vendors. Their main PC operating system (for now, at least), PC-DOS Version 5.0, was written by Microsoft with only minor tweaks by IBM. (Thank God! -- Their previous attempts at significantly modifying MS-DOS were versions 3.2 and 4.0, both unmitigated disasters.) That's another vendor. Also, most people end up with plenty of non-IBM hardware in or on their IBM computers, thereby adding more vendors.

When you can't get a single brand solution from a monolith like IBM the need for someone to take responsibility for getting all of these products to work together optimally becomes apparent. The government and big business figured that out decades ago, as evidenced by the success of EDS (Electronic Data Systems) and its kin. The appeal of systems integrators seems to be spreading -- why else would so many companies try to use (or misuse) this moniker? Oh, well, the computer industry has never been known for truth in advertising.

As mentioned above, questions, comments, and topic suggestions are always welcome.

�1992, Wayne M. Krakau