Opinion: How About a Surcharge for Crummy Technology?

How About A Surcharge For Crummy Technology? Fighting obsolete tech with fees

October 13, 2005

5 Min Read
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A fellow troublemaker recently sent me a news clip regarding a bill just introduced into the Oregon Senate on behalf of the Committee on Environment and Land Use. The bill, if passed, would require "sellers of certain electronic products to charge first in-state buyers an advance recycling fee to cover the costs of a program for collection, reuse and recycling of products."

Basically, the measure would add $10 to the price of every computer and monitor sold in the state, and more for other electronic products "not yet identified." The money would fund the Electronic Product Stewardship Account that would in turn implement the recycling program.

As I looked at the list of products to be included in the $10 surcharge program, which included "central processing units whether sold alone or with accessories,computer monitors, laptop computers, televisions with video displays having a viewable area greater than nine inches when measured diagonally, and computer printers," I found myself wondering about storage components.

Perhaps I was feeling the pain of technological bigotry, having hung out with lowly storage folk for too long and listened to their incessant complaints of being treated like second-class citizens responsible for inconsequential peripherals. Doubtless, I am sensitized to the fact that storage administrators, where such a formal designation even exists, are the poor stepchildren of IT. Although they are tasked with managing and protecting an organization's most irreplaceable non-human asset--data--these folks often labor in isolation and without formal education or training. You could argue that leaving out any mention of storage components from the Oregon bill was just another snub in a long history of snubs.

Now, this might be as good a reason as any to be put off by the wording of the Oregon bill, but that wasn't really my concern. Actually, I wondered why the environmentalists didn't include storage in their list of stuff for a completely different reason.Not only are we producing an awful lot of disk drives every year, and deploying them in a boatload of internal server slots, arrays and fabrics, the industry has been delivering a lot of bad storage product to market of late. These are the solutions that don't really solve anything and end up getting tossed a lot sooner than the consumer originally planned. All of these products must be crowding the landfills too.

Heaven knows, the vendors aren't making it easy to recycle them through productive use. Here are a few examples:

In the Northeast, a client wants high-availability network attached storage and buys from a leading network attached (NAS) vendor. Within 18 months, the vendor comes out with a new high-availability NAS and insinuates that the customer's original gear is no longer as highly available as it once was.

Can the consumer recoup his losses and sell the old less-highly-available gear on eBay to buy the new more-highly-available stuff? Nope. The software embedded on the NAS filer he currently owns isn't transferable, so he is basically selling a box of Seagate drives that can't connect to a network via NFS or CIFS/SMB anymore. So much for network attachment, high availability or resale value. The box goes to the dump.

Another guy works in a state government data center. Unsolicited, he received a shipment of a "reference data" storage platform (several dozens of terabytes of capacity) for which he has no use. A leading storage vendor had pitched him on the product, touted it as a solution for really long term data storage, but he refused.His rationale? The way that the gear encodes his data for long-term filing requires him to only buy that vendor's archival storage platform for the many decades that he needs to keep the data on hand.

But someone up in the corridors of state government overrode his rejection. My guy said that the vendor made a large campaign contribution and, lo and behold, the storage product crates appeared on his raised floor anyway. He asked me what to do with them. I told him to dump them at sea somewhere and make an artificial reef. A greenie notified me that this practice is not ecologically sound. The chips and wires and circuits in the array are poisonous to sea life for a few years after they are dumped. So, the guy is either stuck with the gear or he can sell it for scrap: 19 cents a pound is what he can get for it in China, but it will cost him 43 cents a pound to ship it there.

Add to those cases the many instances of storage products that don't deliver on their brochure promises or that deliver their promised value only if you rip and replace all storage with only that of the vendor, and you begin to see where I'm heading. I agree with Oregon, but I think they haven't gone far enough.

There ought to be a surcharge for bad storage technology, not just environmentally bad, but bad bad.

There, I said it. I think you ought to know what you are buying before you buy it. Perhaps an extra upfront cost levied in anticipation of early product obsolescence or in recognition of gutted resale value might be one way to differentiate products early on.Following the Oregonian model, we could use a surcharge to tell us what storage devices are more likely than others to end up in the trash heap. That surcharge might steer even the most brand-loyal customers away from their preferred vendors of junk gear by helping them to realize that they are getting a really bad deal, not once, but twice: first, when they have to shell out money for the bad gear in the form of a surcharge and second when they deploy the wares and discover that they have no real business value to offer.

Another thought: Refund the surcharge on gear that is refurbished and redeployed into other shops. This might encourage vendors to stop with the licensing scams and to extend the useful life of their products.

Don't get me going about the surcharge we should start putting on most storage management software. We may need to get even more creative there to handle the avalanche of demo disks and shrink wrapped packaging.

Bottom line: A surcharge could be just the thing to force a little sanity into storage purchasing. It has to be better than checking an analyst's magic hexagon or whatever customers use for advice about what to buy.

Your thoughts? Drop me a line0

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