STH Q1 2020 Update A Letter from the Editor

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Intel Xeon E 2276G Cover
Intel Xeon E 2276G Cover

We started the tradition of “A Letter from the Editor” a year ago. It has become one of my favorite articles to write every quarter. The reviews and content you see on STH are only 15-20% of the work involved with the site. This quarterly series is my opportunity to share a bit about why and how STH is evolving. I think it is good practice to call out some of the changes you will see in the coming year, along with sharing some of the challenges we face. As always, feedback is appreciated. This letter is going to be a bit different, as we are going to have an ask.

Previous Updates

If you want to check out how this series has evolved, here are the links to the first four:

This marks the fifth installment of the series.

STH 2020 Changes You Are Already Seeing

As you may have noticed, we have made a number of changes in 2020 already. I wanted to run through three big changes you are already seeing.

STH 2020 Change #1: Networking

One of the biggest is in terms of networking. We have a full pipeline of networking reviews including several series that are already being published. This is something we started in Q4 2019.

MikroTik CRS317 1G 16S+RM Internal Heatpipes
MikroTik CRS317 1G 16S+RM Internal Heatpipes

The early vision of STH was to be a place for storage, servers, and networking. The networking area is one that I opted out of for several years. I had close family member ties to someone at a networking company. As a result, I thought it was a conflict of interest to do heavy networking reviews. That conflict ended in 2018, so we are now bringing the networking side back to where I want it. You are already seeing Rohit’s switch, NIC, and transceiver module reviews on STH, often more than once per week, and he has an entire pipeline in progress into Q2 already.

STH 2020 Change #2: YouTube

Another change I wanted to highlight is that you may have seen our YouTube channel become more active lately. We recently ran a little experiment. My thesis has been that there are many people who prefer reading content, while there are others that like listening and watching. Earlier this month, while many were still away for New Year vacations, and on a Saturday which is STH’s slow day, we posted a single Threadripper v. EPYC article that was primarily in a video format. The reaction was mixed, however, it was fairly negative on going to video-only formats. That was the hypothesis, and your feedback was great supporting that.

From an industry perspective, there are a number of vendors no longer working with traditional web media. Many smaller sites are having a knee-jerk reaction to this and posting content like crazy to small subscriber bases. Although we cannot ignore this trend, you are seeing a big delta in terms of the larger web properties in each domain (e.g. Anandtech, Tom’s Hardware, and STH), who are probably doing more video, but understand their market to the point it is adding content rather than taking away. Smaller sites essentially need to either go to video fast, acquiesce and have a big vendor sponsor or two, or they will be gone by 2021.

At STH, we need to do this, but our team understands our readers. We are looking at video as an additive feature rather than replacing traditional content. Since I see our editorial calendar, I can tell you that usually articles are completed 7-10 days before I do a video segment. Then the video is shot, edited, and uploaded to go live ideally when the review goes live. When I say web first, except for that experiment, that is the way STH is executing.

STH 2020 Change #3: Photography

Since everything needs to be done in threes, the third item I wanted to focus on is photography. The new studio is dedicated entirely to product photography and video. We have an entire set of new cameras, lights, microphones, and accessories to make the studio work. We recently posted a review of perhaps one of the most basic products one can see, the StarTech RK8OD Review 8U Open Frame Rack. Here is a sample photo from that review.

StarTech RK8OD Cover
StarTech RK8OD Cover

By way of comparison, we reviewed the Startech 12U 19-Inch Desktop Open Frame 2 Post Rack (RK12OD) almost four years ago. Here is a photo from that review taken on the floor of my office at home. The comparable shot to the one from the 8U unit above was a stock photo with a plain white background that we did not even take.

Startech RK12OD starting the build out
Startech RK12OD starting the build-out

Hopefully, our readers can see the difference in our newer reviews. The primary photography camera we are using now is a Panasonic Lumix S1R which is shooting 47.3MP stills and when it is on a tripod can capture 187MP photos. Even a small review like the one above is generating several gigabytes of photos. I know we have some camera geeks at STH, so I wanted to give a bit of a glimpse into that side.

FlyFiber SFP 10G T C Web Cover
FlyFiber SFP 10G T C Web Cover

The bigger advancement has come from having a dedicated studio as well as upgrading the lights, tripods, and other components you will never see in the reviews. I value our reader’s time on STH, so making our photos great has been a priority and will continue to be one in 2020.

STH 2020 Change #4: William

William is taking a role as a Senior Technical Marketing Specialist at Sabrent. In this role, he is going to help the company build marketing messages around its storage products like the one he reviewed last year Sabrent Rocket NVMe 4.0 Review.

Since I know this is always a sensitive subject with someone transitioning from media to in-house marketing, we followed a procedure that we utilized at PwC whenever a client and a consultant (no matter the level) would engage in employment discussions. At the first discussion, all work with that vendor had to stop immediately. William and I also ensured that he was not working on any competitive storage solutions ever since the first discussion happened. That first discussion happened well after the review above was published. In fact, that unit was not supplied by Sabrent so we had never had a discussion with the company when that review was published.

Frankly, I cannot be more excited for William. Throughout the process, I have urged William to take the opportunity as I think it is absolutely great for him. As hard as it is personally, I know that part of the success of STH is having the folks that work on the site continue to grow and succeed in new ways.

William still has a few reviews of non-storage related products in the pipeline. The current goal is to have him continue his great work in non-competitive areas such as GPU compute testing so long as it does not interfere nor conflict with his day job.

STH 2020 Challenges

Part of this was our planning from Q3 2019. We knew that early Q1 2020 was going to be a slow time for server and embedded processors. New servers tend to follow socket changes for CPUs, although refreshes with new CPUs in the same sockets can also bring new platforms. Tied to these platforms are devices. For example, eighteen months ago we thought Intel’s Ice Lake Xeons would be out by now. With them, the mainstream Xeon market would get PCIe Gen4. Although the AMD EPYC 7002 Series already has PCIe Gen4, Intel will move the market. Right now, many vendors are implementing new features on their AMD platforms, but the big platform shifts happen when Intel catches up. We will see U.3 NVMe PCIe Gen4 SSDs, PCIe Gen4 accelerators, higher-speed networking, and more once the new generation comes out. Now, it is looking like that will be Q4 2020 at the earliest so the entire industry is in a holding pattern.

AMD’s next-generation Milan platform will use the updated Rome platforms, so realistically, this is going to be a relatively slow year for new servers. Intel, AMD, and some of the Arm vendors have some new parts coming out this year, so there will still be plenty, but the Ice Lake Xeon roadmap push has been challenging.

STH 2020 Call for Action

Something that is extraordinarily difficult for us is onboarding new writers. You likely have noticed that my contributions to the site amounted to something like 90% of the content years ago and now I get a byline in maybe 30% of the articles we publish. That number should be lower, and I completely point the blame at myself for not doing a better job.

Here is the call to action: if you want to write for STH, drop me a note (patrick at this domain.) It is fairly hard for me to action an e-mail that says “I want to write for STH”. So I want to put some guardrails in-place that will make it easier for me to follow-up.

Please include a proposal. Let me know what subject you want to cover. How many articles are you interested in doing per month, quarter, or year. It is absolutely fine if you have a day job, want to focus on a subject, and want to do a single post or four a year. Likewise, if you do not want to review products, but you want to do a series of guides once per week so that you can beef up your LinkedIn profile’s publication section, that is great as well. In the proposal, please also include some sense of format and length.

If you are great technically and are concerned about your writing, STH can help edit so do not worry on that front. Also if you are concerned because you think what you want to write about overlaps with what someone on STH already does, feel free to make the proposal anyway. As an example, we will likely need to add someone on the networking team in 2020 because Rohit will become overloaded.

In 2019 we had someone offer to write articles for $250,000/ year at a rate of 1 per week. We cannot support that model. For some context, other websites that do a lot of news posts pay between $8-20 per post. Our content is more in-depth, but as you can imagine, we have budget constraints. Most of our writers are doing this as a freelance passion rather than a primary career.

Please get detailed in your proposal. My hope with the above is twofold. First, it will help me tremendously in evaluating proposals and responding to them. Second, it will help you figure out if you can follow-through on this. If you cannot complete a proposal outlined above, then it will likely be difficult for you to follow-through on writing. As we have had folks ask to write for STH, we have seen a sub-50% success rate in getting the first pieces completed.

Notice for California readers: California passed AB5 this year. In that bill, there is a limit for California freelance writers that they can only submit 35 articles for publication a year and still be considered independent contractors rather than employees. For those who have not heard of AB5, that does mean that if a news writer spends 30 minutes per piece, they become an employee with under 18 hours of work per year. If you are based out of California, the answer to the frequency should be under 35 per year.

As always, I want to extend a big thank you to our readers, our team, and our partners for continuing to make STH grow.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for keeping the quality of your articles very technical and in-depth despite the constant challenges you’re going through. I look forward to read more of your works in the coming years.

  2. I appreciate the return to networking reviews. I may not be in a position to buy much of the hardware that is reviewed, but the reviews do help me to understand the current trends in the industry. After working in and around the networking industry for longer than I care to admit, finding an online review source that will delve into the details yet not sell it’s soul is a nice find indeed.

    I have also noticed the photography quality, especially when shots of device internals are posted. WOW!

    And if I ever stop being lazy I’ll check out the videos.

    I have read STH for many years now, since it’s early days in fact. I have seen a nice progression in it’s article content, detail, and topics. STH just keeps getting better and better IMHO. Thank you.

  3. I prefer the written word to video, I often have short bursts of time where I can get in some reading at work, watching video during that time doesn’t look particularly good to customers. It also requires too much focus. What I really find commendable is that you aren’t autoplaying the videos like so many websites.

  4. Nils – completely agree. You will notice the video and main site content are now more closely aligned. The goal is to give people the option depending on what they prefer.

    I do not like autoplay videos personally, therefore we do not have autoplay videos.

  5. I too prefer the written word to video, or to podcasts for that matter, for much the same reasons as Nils does. I just don’t have large chunks of free time which I can devote to videos or podcasts.

    In addition, it’s much harder to zero in on the part of a video or podcast that I’m actually interested in. When reading I can skip forward, repeat something if I need to, etc. It’s harder to do that with video or audio (for me anyway).

    Not that I would ever do this with a STH article since they’re uniformly interesting and just rivet my eyes to the screen, but I can also easily skim a written article and decide if it’s even worth reading more thoroughly.

    I remember when I first discovered that there were so many videos on youtube about technical subjects. Wow! I watched a bunch of them. They were like popcorn at first. Then I realized that I had just spent 4 hours of my day off watching videos and didn’t really learn anything new. That was when I stopped watching youtube videos. (Not completely. I still watch one guy’s videos occasionally because he does really good tear-downs of electronics.)

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