For our FAQ reshaping, I think we need to decide something:
Do we hurl questions over to Super User based solely on using a consumer-oriented product, even when it's clear that that product is being used in a professional setting?
The current FAQ has no provision for disallowing these questions, nor does the current draft (at the time of this writing, revision 35). However, questions continue to be closed or migrated on a rather inconsistent basis.
This has been discussed in the past plenty. I think that as a community, we have some conflicting opinions, and need have some discussion to see if we can come to a sensible consensus - whether this is a policy we have (and put it in the FAQ if so), and if it is, then we need to decide where the line falls.
Well, I use that in my office!
or: why this is way too subjective
Let's take a look at some of the discussions that we've had on the issue - it's an interesting mix.
why was my question about mac mini servers closed? - 2010/11/18
Both opinions were on display here; the votes on comments and answers favor those saying that Mac Mini servers are on-topic. The answer with the most votes is from Zoredache:
Calling Apple hardware non-professional hardware is silly, particular since Apple sells it with a server OS, and redundant drives. Being a professional is about attitude, not about your hardware budget in my opinion.
Virtualbox is losing the benefit of the doubt - 2011/08/15
We landed in the middle on this one; that we should examine each case and evaluate based on whether the question appears to be applicable. John Gardeniers summed it up:
Before rashly trying to eliminate all VirtualBox questions consider the context, as well as the content, of the the question. They are not all posted by hobbyists.
The consensus here seems to have been that home use products should not be tolerated. WesleyDavid wrote in the question:
Let's ban all WHS related questions regardless of if a consultant has implemented it on a small business network. By it's design, it is for home networks, regardless of how someone applies it.
And Mark Henderson wrote in the answer:
If you're trying to do a port forward on a Belkin Home Router, I don't care if that router is sitting in a 10,000m2 datacenter of a Fortune 50 company - it's off topic.
Ok, so that's essentially the same discussion on three different products, at three different times in Server Fault's evolution, with three different conclusions. The most recent decision came down on the side of disallowing these questions, so let's run with that for a second:
How do we consistently draw the line?
I'm going to argue that if this were our standard, then it would be impossible to enforce because everyone's opinion about what constitutes "professional" products is different.
At my last job, there were some (awful) Linksys switches at the access layer sprinkled among the Cisco gear, since they were cheaper. If I just said "Linksys" and left it at that, does it get a close vote? The devices were SRW2024s and SRW2048s - "Small Business" switches. Based on that, they're probably on topic - but they're not really "professional" equipment, at least not in my mind.
Personally, I'd be terminating Linksys questions on sight and blacklisting the tag if we're going to judge questions based on the products in them.
Along those lines, here's a discussion from the Mac Mini question:
It was migrated to superuser as that is a better fit. I'm sorry but mac minis are just not a professional server and you'll have much more chance of getting an answer at superuser. - Zypher
I strongly disagree with your bias against a particular type of hardware. Perhaps you have(had) the nice advantage of supporting huge installations, but a mac mini can be argued to be adequate hardware for a small office, for satellite office, or for performing some less-critical secondary role. - Zoredache
I'm sorry but a mac mini is a low end piece of desktop hardware. Just because it is adequate for a job doesn't mean that it's professional. Would you call a laptop i had sitting around a "professional server" ? because that's what a mac mini is on it's insides, a laptop in a pretty case without a monitor. - Zypher
By your definition of professional I wouldn't call custom built-equipment server either. Which would seem to exclude many of Jeff's initial hardware choices and questions for this site. The comment about being a professional is about the person, not the tools. - Zoredache
... well lets not get carried away ... I said low end desktop and laptop hardware i don't consider professional. I would say it has to do with both the hardware and the person. Also Jeff went from hosted dedicated servers to buying lenovo servers so ... no building there either. I mean for the ~1k a mac mini "server" + OS X Server costs you can get a real server machine from dell or HP. - Zypher
For another example, I'm going to pick on John Gardeniers. John, I'm not trying to single you out or anything, just demonstrating how for all of us, our opinions on what constitutes 'professional' in terms of products are way too varied to be able to shape them into a coherent community standard - and you've conveniently provided input into each of these discussions for comparison! ;)
On the Mac Mini question:
A key part of the FAQ that you have overlooked, and which is relevant to the referenced question is the bit about IT professionals. My opinion, which may or may not be shared by others, is that a true professional doesn't use cut-down workstations as servers in a professional capacity. If you act as an amateur you will be treated accordingly. For the record, I use a couple of old PCs to perform some server tasks but I'm under no illusion that this makes them servers.
Had I seen your question about the minis I would not have hesitated to vote to move. SF is getting swamped with non-professional questions and is suffering greatly under that load.
On the VirtualBox question:
Because VirtualBox is part of my toolkit I would see questions related to my use of it in that context to be completely on topic for SF. Before rashly trying to eliminate all VirtualBox questions consider the context, as well as the content, of the the question. They are not all posted by hobbyists.
On the Windows Home Server question:
Just for the record, we use a Belkin in our office. OTOH, if I have a support question I contact the ISP who supplied it as part of our account. I suppose that's the difference.
And, on the Complex Home Networking question, which I'm getting to in a minute:
As for someone asking why you're using consumer grade gear, just remind them that's the norm for most small businesses where it simply cannot be justified to spend the large sums "enterprise" class gear costs. e.g. Our office wireless AP is a D-Link DIR-615, simply because that's all we need.
What I'm trying to establish here is that what constitutes "professional" products is shaped by each person's experience - and that makes it hard for us to come to an agreement on what goes.
I'll also reference this question - I had an answer migrated to Super User on it, so I don't want anyone to think that I'm just complaining about that.. but I was a little surprised to see a question with an accepted answer with consumer gear but clearly in a workplace setting (one network for employees) migrated.
Don't ask, don't tell?
The other twist here is that the community seems to be just fine with wink-and-a-nod-just-don't-tell-us-it's-in-your-house standard.
This is because we have the standard in the first place to keep the questions professional-grade, first and foremost - and if we allow any questions to openly state that they're in a home environment, it will invite a flood of lower quality home environment questions.
The interesting thing with this is that for a well-informed user (one who doesn't say "home" in their question, wink wink), the fate of their question is, at the current time, completely dependent on what equipment they have. I'll hold my own home network out, for example:
- If I ask a question about my WNDR3700 wireless router? Off topic!
- If I ask a question about my ASA 5505? On topic.
- If I ask a question about the hardware on my home-built ESXi 5 box? Off topic!
- If I ask a question about the OS on my home-built ESXi 5 box, without mentioning that it's all consumer parts? On topic.
This seems like a strange state of affairs to me.
What I commented on the VirtualBox question still stands:
While I don't think we should be in the business of deciding what makes sense or doesn't in a business environment, I agree that anything tagged with virtualbox deserves the same long, hard, sideways look that most consumer-grade hardware and software questions get.
It seems that our opinions of which products belong in a professional environment and which don't vary far too much between members of the community for us even come to a consensus on what products belong, to say nothing of actually enforcing that standard effectively.
I'd like to propose that we stop judging questions on whether we consider the products referenced in them to be "professional", and instead judge whether the issue presented in the question itself passes muster - whether it seems that someone's working in a professional environment.
If someone's using consumer gear in the office, let's nudge them in comments about "doing it wrong". If someone's question seems like a thinly-veiled home networking question, let's press them on it. But let's not generate endless discussion and disagreement on product X's appropriateness for the workplace.