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Hard Product vs. Soft Product

How about physical vs. virtual servers or storage, hardware vs. software solutions, products vs. services?

In the IT industry space and data storage or computers and servers particularly so, mention hard product or software product and what comes to mind?

How about physical vs. virtual servers or storage, hardware vs. software solutions, products vs. services?

By contrast, in the aviation and airline industry among others, mention hard vs. soft product and there is a slight variation, which is the difference between one providers service delivery experience.

For example, two or more different airlines or carriers may fly the same aircraft perhaps even with the same engines, instrumentation, navigation electronics and base features, all part of the hard product.

Example of a Hard Product
Example of a hard product (Embraer 175)

However, their hard product could vary by type of seats, spacing or pitch along with width, overhead luggage room, Video on Demand (VoD) or In Flight Entertainment (IFE) as well as different cabin treatments (carpeting, wall coverings) and galley configurations. Even in scenarios where carriers have the same equipment and hard product, their soft product can differ.

Example of a Soft Product, that is service (or lack there of) being delivered
Example of a Soft Product (Service or lack there of being delivered)

The soft product is the service delivery experience including by the cabin crew (flight attendants and pursers), food (or lack of), beverage, presentation and so forth. Also part of the soft product can be how seats are allocated or available for selection, boarding process and other items that contribute to the overall customer experience.

This all got me thinking on a recent flight where the hard product (e.g. aircraft) of a particular carrier was identical; however given transitions taking place, the soft product still differed as was not fully integrated or merged yet. What the experience got me thinking about is that in IT, customers or solution providers can buy the same technology or hard product (hardware, software, services) from the same suppliers yet present different soft products or service experience to their customers.

Example IT hard product (hardware and software) delivering soft product services
IT equipment being used for delivery of different soft products

Im sure that some of the cloud crowd cheerleaders might even jump up and down and claim that is the benefit of using managed service producers or similar services to obtain a different soft product. And while that may be true in some instances, it is also true that different traditional IT organizations are able to craft and deploy various types of soft products to their customers to meet different service requirements, cost or economic objectives using the same technology used by others.

A different example of hard vs soft product is a site I have visited that has mainframes, windows and open systems servers whose business requires a soft product that is highly available, reliable, flexible, fast and affordable. Needless to say, in that environment, some of the open systems including windows platforms can have reliability close to if not equal to the mainframes.

Example IT hard product (hardware and software) delivering soft product services
IT equipment being used for delivery of different soft products

What is even more amazing is that no special or different hard products (e.g. servers, storage, networks or software) are being used to achieve those services objectives. Rather it is the soft product that achieves the results in terms of how the techniques are used and managed. Likewise I have heard of other environments that have mixed mainframe and open systems, using common hard products as other organizations yet whose soft product is not as robust or reliable as others. If using the same hard product that is same software, hardware, networks and services, how could the soft product be any less robust?

The answer is that good and reliable technology is important, however the technology is only as good as how it is managed, configured, monitored and deployed centering on processes, procedures and best practices.

Next time you are on an airplane, or, using some other service that leverages common technologies (hardware or software or networks) take a moment to look around at the soft product and how the service experience of a common hard product can vary. That is, using common technology, how can various best practices, policies and operating principals to meet diverse service requirements differ to meet demand as well as economic requirements.

What is your take and experience on different hard vs soft products in or around IT?

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More Stories By Greg Schulz

Greg Schulz is founder of the Server and StorageIO (StorageIO) Group, an IT industry analyst and consultancy firm. Greg has worked with various server operating systems along with storage and networking software tools, hardware and services. Greg has worked as a programmer, systems administrator, disaster recovery consultant, and storage and capacity planner for various IT organizations. He has worked for various vendors before joining an industry analyst firm and later forming StorageIO.

In addition to his analyst and consulting research duties, Schulz has published over a thousand articles, tips, reports and white papers and is a sought after popular speaker at events around the world. Greg is also author of the books Resilient Storage Network (Elsevier) and The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC). His blog is at www.storageioblog.com and he can also be found on twitter @storageio.