Caroline pointed out that the last post was incoherent. I know what she means. Attempting to write spontaneously, it was blurt of mixed-up resentments laced with a few understated victories. Rather than return and straighten out that effort, I will unpick things and present a few short posts isolating some positive and negative thoughts.

What have I done these five years to make me feel proud? It’s been a team effort, but a few improvements to which I have leant my weight:

We adopted Red Hat Linux as default standard operating system. I arrived to a mix of Windows and IBM AIX. Nothing in particular wrong with Windows (it’s not my bag), but AIX was a liability. Application implementations were fraught with hard-to-find bugs. It became apparent that vendors such as Oracle and BMC placed AIX 4th or 5th in the pecking order for testing. Furthermore the IBM Power hardware was costly and headed for obsolescence. Linux allowed us to adopt commodity Intel-based hardware, and has been robust and well-supported by application vendors. Ubuntu or Centos might have been cheaper and braver choices, but would not have given the confidence of support by tier 1 application vendors.

We focused our application development effort on Java, specifically Pivotal’s Spring. The development team still has to support legacy Microsoft technologies, ASP and .NET, but they now have a focus on recruiting and developing the skill set for modern Java. Java developers are easier to find. The strategy has allowed them to progress into areas such as continuous delivery, and the rapid development framework Spring Boot. Again, there could have been cooler and braver choices (Ruby on Rails and its polyglot siblings) but, as much as I am tempted by the fast-moving, shiny toys, we are still an enterprise shop.

After a brief flirtation with MySQL, we have plumped for PostgreSQL as our non-Oracle database. Yes, we continue to use Oracle Enterprise Edition; we have no choice for many of the enterprise suites we (regrettably) are committed to. But we have placed a considerable bet on Postgres for some demanding bespoke applications.

And finally, in another bold move away from Oracle, we declined to pump a further £1m+ into Oracle SOA Suite and instead chose Red Hat JBoss Fuse. SOA Suite promised great things, but is the typical mega-vendor ‘kitchen sink’ middleware suite. I never had the sense that our developers understood it deeply. Furthermore, and the final straw, was that Oracle’s licensing prevented us from affordably deploying SOA Suite on our standard VMware infrastructure. We came close to creating an Oracle ‘ghetto’, a special purpose virtualised environment where Oracle software could be deployed without a many-fold increase in licence costs. But I couldn’t stomach it. JBoss Fuse is a packaging of Apache projects: ActiveMQ, Camel, CXF; with the commercial support the enterprise demands. It lacks the sophistication of the mega-vendor alternatives, but I view that as a positive. It allows us to treat integration as just another aspect of application development, with our Java team handling the complete task.

What’s the gripe about Enterprise IT?

This Enterprise Architect gig has kept me gainfully employed these past five years. So why turn on it?

I’m sitting in the auditorium of Gartner ITXPO, listening to Clean Bandit’s ‘Rather Be’. Superficially edgy, but ultimately tame. Grey-suited businessmen surround me (and yes they are men).

We are waiting to be told to embrace Bi-modal IT. The notion that it’s OK to let some aspects of IT implementation race ahead, agile-fashion, unencumbered by concerns of creating a chaotic legacy, with the associated high cost of ownership.

It’s progress of a kind. But this is 2014. When I joined The Firm as an Enterprise Architect in 2010, I encountered a sterile and deeply conservative landscape.

The strategy was “Buy Oracle”. Yes, we had a mission to tackle legacy. But the approach was to buy expensive mega-vendor packages, in the belief they must be best of breed, or better yet pre-integrated. No one ever got fired for buying IBM, right? They didn’t get fired, they just ran the company into the ground.

My mistake was to be too meek. I went along with this madness. Despite my hugely positive experiences implementing open source packages quickly and inexpensively for The Insurance Startup, I colluded with the Oracle strategy. Up to a point anyway. I recall making a stand with the IT Director to prefix the strategy “Why not Oracle?” with the words “In ERP”. It was a Pyrrhic victory. I was outnumbered by a conservative IT management team and forced to buy hugely expensive Oracle portal software. The implementation was horrible, the developers took against the programming model, we were forced by Oracle’s protectionist licensing to run on non-standard infrastructure, browser support lagged the industry. We are left with a million pound boat anchor.

On another occasion I spoke up for Linux, and a manager said “yee haw, the cowboys are coming!”.

We’ve made up lot of ground since then. The portal debacle was a turning point of sorts. Gradually it dawned that we were in hock to Oracle. Utterly objectionable licensing made it impossible to escape annual support charges, even for software we had never used, or found impossible to implement successfully.

I accept some responsibility for this. My role allows and expects me to lead the way. A braver soul would have decried the madness (but probably lost their head in the process, amid mutterings of “didn’t fit the culture”). A smarter corporate diplomat would have quietly challenged behind closed doors, and maybe won support bit-by-bit. My challenges were mild and inoffensive, we eventually changed course, Linux is is our default server platform, Oracle is regarded as public enemy number one, the CTO states in management meetings “we should use more open source software”.

The point is that this deep conservatism in Enterprise IT is anathema to me. It stems from management’s poor grasp of what the technology actually does, ruthlessly exploited by Enterprise vendors, who offer reassuring slogans but no real remedy. It has to cope with a community of lacklustre IT workers, who need hand holding. It clings to Enterprise Support as a fig leaf, of dubious real practical value when trouble strikes, but essential as a blame deflection mechanism.

I’ve clung on for nearly five years; the reasons, as I often joke, are “loyalty and stupidity”. In a candid chat with my boss this evening, he quoted a colleague who said “this company will suck the life out of you”. I crave an environment where effort-applied translates into progress-achieved, rather than being dulled by layers of management waffle and bluster. So I’m planning my exit… more later.