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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.

  • Kill it with light mace: [windows-home-server] - or not? - 2012/01/19

    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.


tl;dr

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.

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    +1 - you should have run for a mod position – Mark Henderson Jan 23 '12 at 1:53
  • @MarkHenderson Haha, thanks! Maybe next year. – Shane Madden Jan 23 '12 at 2:01
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    I actually thought the FAQ covered this pretty well. – John Gardeniers Jan 23 '12 at 3:37
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One important point that a lot of us seem to be completely missing is:

Sysadmins do NOT always have the luxury of choosing the hardware/software!

It certainly is nice to be able to choose the best gear for the job at hand. But that is not always possible.

My situation is that our company is supporting on a professional basis, many small business clients running anything between:

  • WRT54GL
  • pfSense on an ALIX board
  • pfSense on a proper server
  • Cisco ASA 5505/5510

If I were to ask "DERP DERP how do i forward port?" on any of these platforms I would expect it to be closed/migrated.

But asking a properly researched and professional question should be treated with the same courtesy as the same question on professional hardware. (Hey, guess what? All those questions were about my home network.)

Also, in the case of properly done home-related questions, sometimes the knowledge gained is applied to a professional situation. (Guess why my home router is a Cisco?)

Of course, then we have the situation such as:

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.

My 2¢: Are you asking how to do the port forward? Get over to SU. Are you wondering why FTP transfers (and only FTP transfers) suddenly slow down to modem speeds across this port forward? You've got packet captures and strange things are happening? It's probably OK for SF.

Of course, you will get told that the proper solution is to get that POS router out of there. Fair enough. But you may also get a response that shows you exactly why you need something better.


TL;DR

Questions ought to be judged on the merit of the question itself.

Perhaps one of the metrics we ought to be using when there's doubt is: "What are the odds of a professional sysadmin at some point in the future finding this useful?"

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    Hey, that's great! Glad you were able t... wait... all those questions were about your home network?! DIE HEATHEN!! – Wesley Jan 23 '12 at 3:31
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    Exactly! DADT in this case has worked - I have asked questions regarding my home network (and answered two of them. Yay breadcrumbs!) in a professional manner. Professional enough at least. – MikeyB Jan 23 '12 at 3:55
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    You raise a very valid point. Instead of telling people to get that shit out of their network, we should be telling them why they should get that shit out of their network. E.g. "That Belkin router has a 25Mhz ARM processor and 2Mb of RAM, which means that it doesn't have the CPU power or RAM capacity to hold a 25,000-record OSPF routing table" instead of "OMFG wtf you're using a Belkin router? omg that shit is whack, my dad had one of them that melted. I'd suggest a Cisco CRS-1. Anything less and you're a faaggggg" – Mark Henderson Jan 23 '12 at 9:05
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    "OMFG you're using a Belkin? I can do better routing by adding bluetooth network interfaces to my cellphone and get better performance!" – MikeyB Jan 23 '12 at 14:11
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As I already stated in a comment: I actually thought the FAQ covered this pretty well.

Questions pertaining to "domestic/consumer grade" devices are not automatically off topic. Quite the contrary. The very vast majority of businesses use such devices. It's only the medium and upward businesses that can justify the expense of "enterprise grade".

It's not the device that should determine topicality but the context, as is quite clear in the FAQ.

As an example, I use essentially the same infrastructure, although obviously with differing scale, both at home and at work. That infrastructure comprises consumer grade modem/router, Smoothwall Express firewall (using surplus white box hardware) and consumer grade wireless point. It's really only the switches and the number of connected devices that differ between the two networks.

Questions regarding my work network are very much on topic, regardless of the devices used. Questions regarding my home network are completely off topic. I personally have no problem seeing the dividing line in my case, although admittedly other situations have blurrier lines.

Why should the hardware we use at work, all of which has been completely reliable and, perhaps more importantly, fit for purpose, determine topicality?

  • Can you clarify if your opinion has evolved since your answer on the Mac Mini question, or if you still feel that that would be off-topic? – Shane Madden Jan 23 '12 at 4:16
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    @Shane, yes my opinion has evolved and no, I no longer feel that would be off topic. Of course SF itself has also evolved quite a bit since then. – John Gardeniers Jan 23 '12 at 4:36
  • Indeed - it's been a long time since then, and a lot has changed. We're in agreement, then. Thanks for clarifying! – Shane Madden Jan 23 '12 at 4:42
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I have to admit that I am really really glad to see answers trending towards permissive on this question.

Frankly I am starting to get worried about a mindset that seems to want to find as many ways as possible to rule a question off topic. And then "burninate" or "baninate" or kill it with some insane amount of overkill.

We're starting to sound a lot like those old Usenet guys Joel spoke about in several of the podcasts. Tired of questions we have heard too many times, or think are too obvious, or dislike for some other reason, we decide to write long maze-like rule-sets that newbies must successfully navigate in order to have their question heard at all. Jaded and bothered by cluelessness, we must find more and more ways to bonk people over the head for being afflicted with it. Surely that will cause more cluefulness in the world, eh? A little Darwinian selection - with us as the predators.

I see questions with useful answers written - which are then closed. I've written what I thought to be useful answers, only to see the questions closed before I could hit the "post" button. Yes they could have been better questions, or more on-topic in some way, or perhaps written by people with awesome intellectual and word-crafting abilities at their fingertips. But even in their sub-optimal states, many of those questions reflect the way others will ask The Google for answers - and thus they make the Internet a better place. Not a perfect place, but a better one nevertheless.

I know that sounds like a rant - and in part it is. Sorry about that. But, that said, I think we must be very, very careful to avoid this syndrome. We're in danger of having a pretty large stick up our site-wide butt, and to be bluntly honest, the more of this I see, the less I want to be associated with ServerFault. Perhaps this is my problem only and I should leave. But it's something I've been thinking about for many moons now, and only now have found enough backbone and enough cohesive reason to speak my mind about.

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    Note for the person who down-voted this. One thing I did not make clear enough is, I do not think the syndrome I described has its roots in bad intentions. No, I think it has most or all roots in good intentions. But we know what the road to hell is paved with. – quux Jan 23 '12 at 8:55
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    SF is, as far as I am aware, unique in Stack Exchange for the reason that it is intended ONLY for professionals. This is mainly due to the fact that there is in reality no amateur analog of a system administrator. SF's value to professionals is limited quite significantly by the large number of posts by non-professionals. We DO need as clear a line as we can manage. Sometimes that line will piss people off. That's unfortunate but necessary. – John Gardeniers Jan 23 '12 at 11:33
  • +1 for "we decide to write long maze-like rule-sets that newbies must successfully navigate in order to have their question heard at all". I sometimes get the feeling that some people spend most of their time here hanging around in Vote to Close, looking to exercise what power they have, rather than their knowledge and intellects and answering, or improving, existing questions, or asking their own. – dunxd Jan 23 '12 at 11:53
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    I have to say that I agree with this, or certainly most of this answer - and also with John's comment. I'd square that circle by saying that I don't mind us having fairly strict entry criteria (in some ways at least) but I wouldn't want to see us have overly pedantic criteria. – Rob Moir Jan 23 '12 at 12:08
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    @dunxd: many (most) of the regulars in the VTC room have significant amounts of reputation and janitorial badges so they are answering and improving too. – Iain Jan 23 '12 at 12:18
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    I've upvoted this post because I do agree, but I also want to make clear that a real draw of this site was that it was specifically for professionals. It gives it a real edge over most other sites and it's why I spend my time here rather than SU. – Dan Jan 23 '12 at 12:31
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    I agree that I very much like the, erm ... 'professional bias' of the site and community. However I worry that this can at times exclude those who are curious about how professionals do their work. For instance: aspiring sysadmins. I most fear us propagating a BOFH-like attitude (I read Simon Travaglia as a way not to do sysadmin, though I giggle as I do this.) I am often worried by the sarcasm and glee with which 'kill it with fire' powers are wielded or asked for; I do not see this as professionalism. – quux Jan 24 '12 at 1:08
  • @quux Can't argue with that! It's certainly not how I'd speak to a customer or user etc – Dan Jan 24 '12 at 9:46
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I'd say we should go with the context of the question:

  • Questions about consumer grade equipment used in a professional setting are fine, although they can be migrated to SU if they're very likely to get better answers there.

  • Questions that happen to be about a home setup but are clearly applicable to a business environment are fine. I think that in order for a question to fall into this category, it should be easy to edit it to take out the reference to home equipment.

  • although they can be migrated to SU if they're very likely to get better answers there. - this is an important part of why we migrate I think. Regardless of whether or not its used in an office, questions about equipment that is quintessentially "home network" might get seen by more people who know the answer if it is migrated. The skill sets to fix a Cisco business switch and a belkin home switch are not the same. – Rob Moir Jan 23 '12 at 12:11

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