You Should Push Back on Your Software Vendors

Published On: 2020-07-09By:

I’ve seen two twitter discussions in the last two days about terrible software vendor practices. The first was a vendor who wanted to install binaries on the C: drive (and only the C: drive) of the server hosting the SQL Server database for the application. The other was a vendor who didn’t support using replication to another database to report against their database. Both of these scenarios are terrible–database servers should really only run database services, and it’s none of your software vendor’s business as to what you do with your transaction log.

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Speaking of the software vendor’s business, let’s talk about the business model of software vendors. For the most part, smaller vendors don’t make their profits on your initial purchase of your licenses, instead they charge an annual maintenance fee (sometimes they have different names for it, like support, or in the case of Microsoft Software Assurance), As part of this agreement, you are typically entitled to patches, security fixes, new versions of software, and in some cases support tickets. In order to stay supported, you need to agree to a certain set of requirements from the vendor.

This is a lucrative business–software has very high profit margins, making it a target for investors, private equity, and venture capital. The latter two of those can do bad things to otherwise good companies in order to try to extract every penny of profit out of them. This can include laying off core engineering staff, and replacing them with much cheaper offshore resources, who while good engineers, aren’t familiar with the core architecture and more importantly use cases of the product. They may also cut testing resources, so the program is only “certified” on older versions of database and operating system software. Private equity has done terrible things to a lot of businesses and software isn’t exempt from that. Read this article about a company that has acquired a bunch of zombie independent software vendors (ISVs) and just milks support fees for profit. Seriously, read that article.

While there are some good ISVs out there, they are few and far between, but at all times you need to remember that you are their customer, and they work for you. That doesn’t mean you can yell at a support engineer on the phone, but when they tell you that you can only run their software on SQL Server 2005 running on Windows 2003, and oh yeah, they need the SA account for their application to run, you should push back.

A lot of DBAs I encounter are too timid to do this–the business needs some app for manufacturing widgets, and the widget team just wants that app even though the vendor insists that the backups need to be shipped to a server in Russia. I will say this–pick you battles–it’s not worth to argue about something like a MaxDOP requirement (unless there’s an obvious performance problem there), but when the vendor says something like you can’t use Availability Groups with their app, or wants to trap you onto a legacy version of the RDBMS, you should push back. The other #sqlhelp thread I saw was where someone wanted to build a log reader to apply transactions to a secondary database for reporting, because the vendor didn’t support replication. That’s stupid–you’d be building a very fragile system, when SQL Server has a perfectly good feature (transactional replication) to do the same thing. Or even the vendor who wanted to install software on the SQL Server. No. Just say no.

In summary–you own your software, and you manage your database environment. You shouldn’t do anything that puts your business’s data at risk, but at the same time, you want to manage your environment in as consistent a fashion as possible, while adhering to best practices. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2018/11/19/how-a-mysterious-tech-billionaire-created-two-fortunesand-a-global-software-sweatshop/#38fe205e6cff

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