Free and Frictionless – A Series

One of the most common statements I’ve made to vendors over the years is “why should I pay to test your software?”. To this day I still don’t understand this; if I’m going to purchase software to run in my production environment, why should I have to pay to run this software for our development and testing needs? It seems counter-intuitive; in my mind having easy access to software which IT can test and develop against increases the probability of choosing it for a project. Having software be free in non-production allows developers to ensure that it is properly leveraged, as well it encourages accurate testing and facilitates operations ensuring it’s ready to be run in production. In my experience not only does this result in more use of the software in production (which means more sales for the vendor), but more operational knowledge (which means less support needed from the vendor).

Companies offer difference solutions to attempt to solve this. Microsoft does it well with TechNet and MSDN subscriptions; which for a small yearly fee you can license your IT staff, rather than the servers; you get some limited support and recently even cloud credits. Many companies will provide time-bombed versions of the software; this helps in the evaluation phase to test installation, but falls short in ongoing development needs, not to mention operations teams gain no experience. Some vendors will steeply discount non-production; though most of them only do this through during the purchasing process, and I’ve seen a wide range of how well this gets negotiated (if at all).

There is no doubt in my mind that this challenge is a significant factor in the growth of open-source software. With the ability to easily download software, without time limits and without a sales discussion; the time to start being productive in developing a solution is dramatically reduced. I’ve made this very choice; downloading free software and beginning the project while things like budget are still not finalized. The software can be kept running in non-production and when moved into production, support contracts can begin. You don’t need to pay upfront, before prototyping, before a decision is made and before any business value is being is being derived.

This is why I’ve been ecstatic EMC is making a movement towards a method that allows the free use of software in non-production, even in products they are not using an open-source license model. They refer to this approach as ‘Free and Frictionless’. It doesn’t apply to all their software, but the list is growing. Currently, products like ScaleIO, VNX, ECS and recently added; Isilon. The free and frictionless products are available for download, without support, but without time-bombs either. In most cases there are restrictions, such as the total amount of manageable storage. These limitations are easy to understand and work with and fully deliver on my age old question “why should I pay to test your software”.

I’m going to spend a little time with these offerings, many of them I’ve run in production, at scale; so I’m interested how well they stack up in their virtual forms. I’ll also explore some products I haven’t run before.