Thursday, March 29, 2012

Constructing Your Ground Floor

In today's blog post, I want share something I provided for my team that I believe is the cornerstone for success of any IT organization. I am not talking about technology, although that is a key component to any IT professional's job, I want to discuss the personality traits that are critical for the people that make up a team that strives to rise above mediocrity.


As you look ahead in your career and advance into high ranks or management, consider this: Is any position or role in the company sustainable without honesty? If you are not a person of your word, you will quickly find yourself not meeting your business partner's expectations and it could have a lasting effect on yourself and your team. It is important to give candid feedback and ensure that you do not fall short of your intended goals. That requires providing positive and negative opinions on target dates, infrastructure needs, and work assignments. Of course, we have to be flexible enough to know when we have to move forward with the assignment after we have given our advice.

The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr states this message well:

Its simple, approach your colleagues and business partners with honesty, truthfulness, and an attitude to provide the best service possible, and then you have nothing to fear when something doesn't meet expectations.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Internal PaaS

I was recently asked "The discussion we are having right now is about whether anyone really needs a Platform as a Service. What kind of PaaS would be useful to you for hosting applications? Do you think there is a future for the Platform as a Service? Are PaaS offerings like Microsoft’s Azure and Salesforce’s Heroku simply doomed because they are trying to fill a niche for which there is little need? "

I actually think there is a future for "internal" PaaS solutions.It is an excellent complement to both private internal and external IaaS platforms.

Last year we deployed VMware Lab Manager as an IaaS solution for our internal developers. The solution was very well received because it provided our developers with their own virtual datacenter to deploy virtual machines when they need to test new applications. However, that also means they inherit the responsibility of maintaining those virtual machines. Here is the written clause we have in our development IaaS solution:

All the management duties of running the server remain with Lab Manager Workspace Owner. The Workspace Owner in this case, updates all application related software on their own, applies necessary application software patches, installs and upgrades applications, and monitors application performance.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

All You Need is Pixie Dust!

You have decided to go with a public cloud provider and your company has moved your enrollment system out to a third-party vendor. Three years down the road the relationship sours because they have doubled their hosting charges and you terminate the contract. How do you move the data back? Is that spelled out clearly in the contract?  Believe it or not, it can be extremely complex to move your data back in-house after you have decided to use a public SaaS or PaaS proprietary environment.

Let's think of it in the terms of last decade's outsourcing. In 2001 the insurance company I worked for decided to outsource with IBM Global Services. They kept all the infrastructure on premise, but the operational support was provided by IBM. After a 5 year marriage they decided the love affair had gone stale and operational support was brought back in-house. The transition back wasn't easy from a personnel standpoint, less then a 1/4 of the original staff decided to return back to our organization which was a significant talent drain, but the infrastructure was in our data center which ensured no disruption of service to the business.

Now that we have that in perspective. What happens when you deploy an application to a public SaaS or PaaS provider with proprietary infrastructure? There is a strong possibility that you will have to recreate your own system and all the development talent you had will be working for other companies.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Keep An Eye On the Horizon When Looking At The Clouds

Nobody can deny there are several benefits to public cloud offerings. But, when looking to partner with an outside cloud vendor you need to tread wisely.

Businesses should look at cloud alternatives when they are looking to implement a strategic solution they currently do not employ in-house or do not have the technical expertise to deploy. A good example would be a new company seeking to start a customer relationship management (CRM) system or an existing company looking to enhance its current capabilities.  In many companies CRM is often disjointed between sales people, regional office leads, and department executives. Sales tracking and customer relations for many companies are on antiquated systems, spreadsheets, and compiled through e-mails which can place a lot of pressure on sales forecasting.

In comes a solution like The well known cloud solution provider for sales reporting. Now company executives have real-time sales tracking and they can enable their sales force with's chatter for internal social media to provide sales tips, best practices, and leads. This type of 'dashboard' into sales can help corporate leaders make strategic decisions on current market data. 

A good analogy would be giving your corporate executives a Tom-Tom to help chart their path through downtown Boston instead of providing them a map of the city before the Big Dig. While the map delivers a general idea of downtown Boston, the street information isn't accurate which could waste valuable time when trying to navigate to your destination. In today's hyper accelerated business world that isn't an option.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Infrastructure IT Evolution Part 3 - Virtualization and Cloud Computing


Virtualization - evolution or regression? Strange question. But hasn’t virtualization taken us back to the same principles of the mainframe computing platform I discussed in the early days?
Think about it! Our physical servers are centralized in the datacenter. They have business continuity features like high availability, distributed resource scheduling, and fault tolerance.  There are virtual servers, desktops, and application instances running on them to maximize resource capacity. And now companies are starting to introduce thin client desktops with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions to help solve globalization and externalization. Hmmm.... Isn’t a thin client the same as a dumb terminal? And isn’t a virtualized ecosystem strikingly similar to the mainframe environment?
Considering "cloud computing" was originally coined in 1966 by Douglas Parkhill's book The Challenge of Computer Utility it shouldn't be surprising that some of the foundation is rooted in mainframe principles. The book  describes elastic provisioning, online delivery, and the perception of infinite supply. Sound familiar?
Infrastructure and operations focus now moves from data center consolidation to offering dynamic infrastructure as a commodity to ensure innovation helps meet business goals. This can be clearly seen in IaaS and PaaS strategic initiatives. Basically – IT consumerization. IT as an industry is beginning to clearly define the services it provides to the business, rather than the activities it executes to provide those services.  Defining and valuing the services it provides within infrastructure and operation services will help provide IT leaders with a realistic cost of operating the Wintel environment. And with a highly virtualized environment we can provide elastic provisioning, rapid delivery, high business continuity, and the perception of infinite supply.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

When I started on the server team at my company in the mid-90’s the client server model was in full swing. We were using Netware version 3.x. Our network environment was token-ring on a FDDI fiber backbone (that was considered very advanced at the time). The term distributed computing on the intel platform was born from the servers having to be distributed in the office. Latency caused servers to be located near the departments.
The Finance server was typically located in the Finance department. The servers were usually located in a locked closet with the network switch equipment. Whenever a server went down we need to know where the server was located (3rd floor south wing), we needed to make sure we had the key to the closet, and if it was a campus setup you had to walk over to a different building.
We have come a long ways since distributed computing was really “distributed”. The first step was going to ethernet for networking which allowed us to collapse the server farm into a single datacenter at a campus location. For many of us this moved our Wintel servers into the same raised-floor space as the mainframe. This provided a new level of centralization, but it was still necessary to host the server farm at individual campus location due to networking limitations. 
Then came the 2000‘s, through mergers and acquisitions our organization acquired three other datacenters. It also provided WAN speeds fast enough so that we could centralize all our servers to a single campus location. In our case the servers were in Columbia, South Carolina. This was a big change not only from a physical standpoint, but also from a operational standpoint. When the servers were hosted at each campus location the IT staff at each site had their own set of rules. The servers in Boston were built different then the servers in Chattanooga, Portland, and Columbia. The IT staff at each campus office location were very protective of their individual server farms and didn’t always have access to each others resources (this included the Half-Life server we had running in the datacenter for bandwidth testing).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Infrastructure IT Evolution Part 1 - The Early Years

I started at an insurance company in August of 1990; I was fresh out of high school. My first position was sorting mail for the customer service department. I decided to delay college (it has been delayed for 22 years now) and my starting salary in August of 1990 was a generous $14,000.00 a year.  That pretty much covered my car payment, car insurance, gas, and my weekend expenses.

I walked around in my dress shirt, dress pants, and tie (corporate policy even for mail clerks) with my standard issued mail cart delivering correspondence to customer service representatives, managers, and executives.

In a short period of time I was promoted to an associate customer service position.
The early 1990’s were an interesting time to be in corporate America. Individual contributors that were part of the day-to-day operations didn’t have cubicles, instead 6-foot high walls zoned off the department and all our desks were jammed together. There was no privacy, and even worse was the fact that smoking was allowed in the office. Every day I would come into the office and sit next to Liz and Holly; they were two pack a day chain smokers. My introduction to cloud computing was the cloud of cigarette smoke hovering over my dumb terminal. By the end of the day my eyes were watering and my cloths smelled like I had been at the Philip Morris convention.

This prompted me to seek other opportunities in the company. The first position I applied for was with the company help desk. Why you ask? The IT department had cubicles! Cubicles with FULL walls! It provided some level of privacy, nobody in the department smoked, and I was able to learn about computers. Score!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Socialcast Groups and Company Directory

Groups are a powerful way to organize topics, ideas, and departments. You can make a group either public or private.

Public groups are open discussion forums. Anyone can join the group to discuss their ideas.  Public groups can be on any subject; it can range from an open discussion on topics for a department quarterly meeting to best practices on a VDI solution.

Private groups are by invitation only.  They are good for sharing sensitive or confidential information amongst certain individuals in your organizational community. The creator of the private group must invite members to view and post comments.

To create a group, click Add a new group on the left hand bar under Groups.

Give your group a name, add a description, upload a photo, and then set your group permissions.

Here is a group I setup for my department called DIS Virtualization. I left the group public so that people outside our team could view the posts and share their thoughts.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Socialcast Part Deux

Socialcast is a real-time stream of ideas, thoughts, and comments from your organizational community. These can include links to documents, photos, videos, and information from external sites (i.e. technical blogs, RSS streams, Twitter). There are several different streams in Socialcast.  They act as filters for the stream engine so you can navigate to the information you are looking for when on the social networking site.

Home shows all the public streams that have been posted. @Mentions are streams that show anytime a colleague mentions you in a post.

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