Category Archives: General
Consultant, Contractor, or Staff Augmentation – Do You Know the Difference?
The world of IT is becoming remarkably complex, and companies grow increasingly reliant on outside knowledge and skills for assistance. But when you enter into really uncharted waters and need someone you can trust, who will you call? Unfortunately there are a lot of companies in the industry claiming to be technical experts for everything from “Big Data” to “Desktop Virtualization”. How do you identify the serious resources from the technical wannabe’s?
That is an interesting question. Every since the industry’s rush to identify and fix Y2K problems over a decade ago, the line between Consultant, Contractor, and Staff Augmentation has blurred. The recession of the past few years further masked the distinction between roles, since many laid-off IT employees simply re-branded themselves as “Independent Consultants” in an attempt to secure short-term project work.
So what are the differences between Staff Augmentation, Contractors, and Consultants? Let’s start with a definition. According to Wikipedia:
“Staff Augmentation is an outsourcing strategy which is used to staff a project and respond to business objectives. The technique consists of evaluating the existing staff and then determining which additional skills are required. One possible advantage of this approach is that it may leverage existing resources as well as utilize outsourced services and contract workers.”
“An Independent Contractor is a natural person, business, or corporation that provides goods or services to another entity under terms specified in a contract or within a verbal agreement. Unlike an employee, an independent contractor does not work regularly for an employer but works as and when required, during which time he or she may be subject to the Law of Agency. Independent contractors are usually paid on a freelance basis.”
“A Consultant (from Latin: consultare “to discuss”) is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area such as security (electronic or physical), management, accountancy, law (tax law, in particular), human resources, marketing (and public relations), finance, engineering, or any of many other specialized fields. A consultant is usually an expert or a professional in a specific field and has a wide knowledge of the subject matter.”
…Wikipedia Online Dictionary
Staff augmentation is based on the concept of a “faceless, replaceable skill” that is available for an entire category of labor (Administrator, Engineer, Programmer, Database Administrator, Web Designer, etc.). Since IT relies on a large labor pool of technical skills, these are relatively low priced roles. Since participants are required to have only prerequisite skills in their specialty and no other unique capabilities, they can be hired and released pretty much on demand. Rates are dictated by current market prices, and range from $35 – $95 per hour.
IT contractors are further up the scale in capabilities and value. They are typically companies that deliver a complete service or system to solve a clearly defined problem. This may be a particular operation, type of application, virtualized infrastructure, or network operation. In many instances it is delivered as a complete package, including hardware, software, utilities, installation, configuration, and testing. Contractor services may be purchased on a per-project or a time-and-materials basis and are consistent with similar projects. Bundled labor rates within a specified package or service are in the $125 to $185 per hour range.
At the top of the pyramid is IT consultant. This is a professional service offering highly developed skills and extensive experience in a specialized field. In addition to being a Subject Matter Expert for a particular technology or service, IT consultants typically have an extensive knowledge of related activities that include business operations, project management, associated technologies, industry best practices, quality assurance, security, and other operations. They are sought out by organizations for their comprehensive understanding of business-critical operations or other activity than can have industry-changing ramifications. Since these are highly specialized skills, they command rates from $225 to $450 per hour or more. Although consultants are expensive, they return value to the company that can far exceed their billable rate.
Clearly it’s in the client’s best interests to understand the differences and capabilities of each category. Unfortunately, these titles are frequently intermixed and tossed around somewhat indiscriminately by organizations. Unless due diligence is performed beforehand, occasionally some hapless company will think they landed a senior Consultant for $85 per hr. (plus expenses), when they actually contracted Staff Augmentation. This can quickly becomes the root cause of poor performance, lack-luster productivity, poor organization, missed objectives, and ultimately a failed project.
Technical personnel do not automatically become senior consultants just because that’s a label they’ve anointed themselves with. Buyer beware! Engaging the proper skill-set can either be a game-changer, or a “boat anchor” for the project.
Big Data – Data Preservation or Simply Corporate Hoarding?
Several years ago my Mother passed away. As one of her children, I was faced with the challenge of helping clean out her home prior to it being put up for sale. As we struggled to empty out each room, I was both amazed and appalled by what we found. There were artifacts from almost every year in school, bank statements from the 1950s, yellowing newspaper clippings, and greeting cards of all types and vintages. Occasionally we’d find a piece that was worth our attention, but the vast majority of saved documents were just waste – pieces of useless information tucked away “just in case” they might someday be needed again.
Unfortunately many corporations engage in the same sort of “hording”. Vast quantities of low-value data and obsolete information are retained on spinning disk or archived on tape media forever, “just in case” they may be needed. Multiple copies of databases, outdated binaries from application updates, copies of log files, ancient directories and files that were undeleted – all continue to consume capacity and resources.
Perhaps this strategy worked in years past, but it has long outlived its usefulness. At the average industry growth rate, the 2.5 Petabyte of storage you struggle with today will explode to over 1.0 Exabytes within 15-yrs! That’s a 400 times increase in your need for storage capacity, backup and recovery, SAN fabric bandwidth, data center floor space, power and cooling, storage management, staffing, disaster recovery, and related support items. The list of resources impacted by storage growth is extensive. In a previous post I’d identified (46) separate areas that are directly affected by storage growth, and must be scaled accordingly. An x400 expansion will result in a simply stunning amount of hardware, software, facilities, support services, and other critical resources needed to support this rate of growth. Deduplication, compression, and other size reduction methods may provide temporary relief but in most cases they simply defer the problem, not eliminate it.
The solution is obvious – reduce the amount of data being saved. Determine what is truly relevant and save only information that has demonstrable residual value. This requires a system of data classification, and a method for managing, migrating, and ultimately expiring files.
Unfortunately that is much easier said than done. Attempt to perform data categorization manually and you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by the tsunami of data flooding the IT department. Purchase one of the emerging commercial tools for data categorization, and you may be frustrated by how much content is incorrectly evaluated and assigned to incorrect categories.
Regardless of the challenges, there are very few viable alternatives to data classification for maintaining massive amounts of information. Far greater emphasis should be placed on identifying and destroying low or no-value files. (Is there really sound justification for saving last Thursday’s cafeteria menu or knowing who won Employee-of-the-Month last July?). Invest in an automated policy-based management product that allows data to be demoted backward through the storage tiers and ultimately destroyed, based on pre-defined company criteria. Something has to “give” or the quantity of retained data will eventually outpace future IT budget allocations for storage.
In the end the winning strategy will be to continually manage information retention, establishing an equilibrium and working toward a goal of near-zero storage growth. It’s time to make data classification by value and projected “shelf-life” a part of the organizations culture.
Exploring “Big Data” Storage and Related Technologies
We live in a world that’s literally awash in digital data. According to the research firm IDC, we will create 1.8 zettabytes of new data in 2011. That is one billion terabytes of data created in the current year alone!
In 2007 I’d written a paper about managing petabyte storage. At the time it was difficult to find any organizations with that amount of content on spinning disk. Today, a petabyte of data is relatively common among larger corporations and government agencies. It has almost become blase’. The scientific community is now looking at ways to process and store exabytes of data! Whew!
In the coming months I plan to use this forum to explore some of the issues and challenges storing and managing vast quantities of data present. Some of the emerging technologies and advanced methods for managing information in this brave new world. With a little luck it will generate a valuable dialog among readers as to what works and/or doesn’t work when faced with these challenges. We’ll also examine some vendor solutions and try to filter out some of the facts from the “marketware” to determine how effective a given solution may actually be.
If you have a moment, stop past our website, http://www.dc-ei.com and see what’s new. Anyway, please try to be gentle with me. This is my first blog. …And as Scottie said in Star Trek’s movie The Voyage Home, “Hold on tight, Lassie. It gets bumpy from here.”