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‘One throat to choke’

Many developers will have heard this term used as a justification for buying all, or most, of an organization’s IT infrastructure from a single vendor. And it is, like most of these idiotic aphorisms bandied around IT management, a complete crock of excrement. It’s the sort of thing that salesmen must tell credulous IT management right after the second bottle of Grange Hermitage at the pre-sales, post-golfing, dinner and drinks.

I’m working currently for a client, building a portal which will serve tens of thousands of users. In order to deliver reasonable functionality, we have to integrate to about a half-dozen other critical systems. Email servers (two different types/styles). Calendars (three different sources of calendar information). ERP systems containing customised enterprise information, HR and payroll, content management, identity management, and a couple of specialised web apps. This is supposedly held together with a single-sign-on system. The Portal, SSO, and ERP system all come from the one vendor, I won’t say which one, but it’s a big, major vendor. One Throat To Choke, they say. Well I call bulldust.

The thing is, the only throat’s that’s got any damage on it is the poor client’s, who has managed to have it’s own throat cut wide open and lies bleeding money on the pavement.

The really big gotcha, the huge hole in the way things get pitched to clients from vendors with the “we’ll take the blame” line, is the downright lies that get told to the client about the ease of integration. The portal technology we have, simply cannot propagate identity information across to the ERP’s web services (it’s even more fundamental than that, really). The whole part of this shooting match all comes from the same vendor – portal, ERP and authentication mechanisms. There is a slide in existence in a powerpoint that I’ve seen which claims this integration is trivial. I’ve seen a document from the vendor that claims this is possible, and gives a detailed procedure. But when you try it, it doesn’t work.

Worse, after you struggle with this integration for several days, and log a support call to the vendor (who by now, having banked the cheque, has disappeared from the site completely). Well, that’s a whole new kettle of fish trying to tell each and every newly minted support technician who deal with your support requests just what is meant by WSRP (you can substitute your own appropriate acronym which is central to your particular technology if you like), or even, the logical sequence of what you’re trying to do, which things are of significance, the repeated asking for the same basic irrelevant information over and over, the failure to understand what the question is, ad nauseum. Oh, then and only then do the special “support notes” come out, the ones which which warn against the particular configuration of products that the client has been sold, when the sales slides, and available documentation, and the sales pitch, told exactly the opposite as to what you get after you actually try it and experience the massive whoosh of fail that gushes out the products concerned. I’m just lucky that mostly, it’s not me who is having to deal with this particular problem. I grieve for my colleague though. We’ve lost days and days on what is a completely critical integration. Sold on a lie by people who don’t even know what it is they are selling. Where’s the blame, where’s the throat being choked? The vendor won’t take reponsibility for their own damn product suite’s lack of interoperability!

Just the other day on a different and unrelated support call for a different problem I had to explain how to read a stack-trace, twice, to the support personel involved. Although we cleared the support problem ourselves, that is we found a tedious work-around that at least got us back on the path of writing code, we want an explanation as to what the product is actually doing, so we’ve left the job open. But in that case, the support feedback has been dead a week with no follow up on the matter with the job still critical, unresolved and outstanding, as far as the vendor should be concerned (because we told them so).  Hello? <cue cavenous reverb effect>. <tumbleweeds>.

The hilarious thing is, the funky little systems the client has already installed, with competent programmers in the client’s own employ looking after the other end, look like a joy to integrate against: trivial, almost. Developer on site.

I can’t believe in this day and age these big vendors sell anything to anyone. Hasn’t everyone been burnt like this one too many times? I’ve dealt with other similar big vendors in the past. They are all the same basically. Snake oil salemen selling an oily tar-pit of overcomplexification as if it were the acqua vitae.