31 July 2006
Every MindTouch [Managed Office Server] comes with a subscription to the MindTouch "Zero-Maintenance" Service. You never have to worry about installing, configuring, backing up, upgrading, patching, or anything else, because we take care of it all for you...

MindTouch - Learn More About the Managed Office Server (MOS)

One trend I noticed at OSCON this year is appliances. MindTouch is one vendor on display in the exhibit hall. It wasn't the software that interested me, which is what they demoed over and over. It was that the software was packaged and sold as an appliance.

Not that exciting, eh? I beg to differ. That is what they should have focused on.

Take a look at the list in the quote from MindTouch's website again. With the base price of $2995, an appliance gets the following services:

  • Automatic encrypted backups to a secure off-site data center
  • Hardware monitoring with next-business-day repair
  • Automatic software upgrades, updates, and patches

This is starting to sound like an advertisement. But stop and think about it. Is an appliance is the best analogy we can think of? If I buy a toaster, I expect it to work, but don't necessarily expect upgrades. It won't spontaneously add the ability to cook eggs, for instance.

On the other hand, I like to compare the appliance concept to my parent's swimming pool growing up a dozen or so years ago. Summers in Arizona were hot, so a pool was essential. I have many fond memories swimming with friends.

For a time, I was in charge of maintaining it. It was a beast. Chlorine, acid, among other chemicals are required more periodically than I would have liked. Often calcium build up required more than one person to maintain it. All my brothers would be in the pool with pumice stones, grinding away at the tile. It was a day-long job.

I often imagined what it be like to have a pool service do everything. All the fun, minimal? to no work.

Running IT can be the same way. In order to enjoy the fruits, labor is required. But there are some parts of IT that can be automated, if architected correctly. That is the promise of appliances. Purchasing an appliance should be much more than it "just working" out of the box. Like a swimming pool, an appliance should mean all of the fun with none of the matainence.