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In Paris on a recent business trip, I went for a very late lunch after a rather successful meeting. As the lunch wound down, I started imagining the parallels between a restaurant and an IT department.

 

Both organisations exist to serve individuals, whether they be patrons or customers. However, there is a crucial difference in the way that the organisations relate to their customers. In the restaurant where I was sitting, after some minor negotiation occasioned by the lateness of our arrival, we were quickly able to order starters and mains, quibble over the vintages of wines (ah, Paris!), and then relax in the certainty of receiving our dishes in short order.

 

If the restaurant had been run along the lines of the typical datacenter, it would have been a different experience. I think it would happen a bit like this:

 

You enter the restaurant from the street. Although it is full of staff, there is no clear division of roles. Nobody welcomes you, so eventually you choose a table at random and manage to flag down what you hope is a waiter. He looks displeased and mutters something incomprehensible, which you take to mean that he is either not a waiter, or not the right waiter. After another failed attempt, you do manage to make contact with a waiter, who instead of presenting a menu, asks what you would like to eat.

 

Taken aback, you ask what he recommends. He explains that the chef specialises in a particular type of artisanal grain, grown by reclusive monks in a remote region, ground by hand between grindstones made of rock sourced from an inaccessible Himalayan valley, and so on. After he has finished declaiming the wonderful properties and pedigree of this grain, he looks at you expectantly. You inquire whether it would be possible to make this grain into a dish, perhaps bread or pasta. The waiter inquires what type of salt would be your preference for cooking the pasta, whether it should be cooked in tap water or perhaps bottled Evian, whether extra-virgin olive oil or sunflower seed should be used to season it, and so on.

 

Quite exhausted by the interrogation, you sit back to await the arrival of your dish. What eventually emerges is a gigantic tray of pasta, but unfortunately it has been served without sauce. When you timidly inquire about the sauce possibilities offered by the restaurant, your waiter explains that he will need to involve the condiment waiter, as he himself is not competent in this rarefied domain.

 

After another cross-examination on the various ingredients, eventually a tiny sauce-boat is produced, evidently insufficient to cover your mound of pasta. However, when you point this out, both waiters are irritated with you, and explain that you never once mentioned quantities to either of them, so they provided their respective standards.

 

Cutting the metaphor short at this point, what I have described is the typical experience of and end-user requesting IT services. First, they are left to themselves and are not guided in their choices in any structured way. Then they are deluged with unnecessary amounts of detail, which nevertheless manages to leave out or obscure some key points. Finally, they are handed off between different functions (systems, networks, databases, apps, security, ...), generally in a manner which makes it clear that no particular communication is taking place between those functions.

 

What IT consumers want is an experience more akin to mine in the restaurant: a clear menu of choices, each with an associated price. Customisation is possible - vinaigrette without mustard for the salad, or a different size of storage assigned - but starting from well-understood basics. This is not to say that patrons are uninterested in the artisanal grain or the custom Linux kernel, just that they are more interested in the results in terms of tastier bread or better performance than in the detail of how those results are achieved, let alone the choices involved. They trust the chef and the sysadmin to choose the appropriate ingredients and in the correct quantity to produce the dish or service which they have requested.

 

Would you not prefer to be served by the discreetly competent maitre d' at Chez Cloud, the IT restaurant that is so different from what you were used to?