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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

September 10, 2012 Leave a comment

OK, so I wasn’t really on vacation.  But it sure felt like it at times.  By some quirk of fate, I was able to attend both Cisco Live and VMworld this summer.  And I had a blast at both of them.

I was at Cisco Live solely to work in VCE’s booth.  For four days, I spent open to close talking to folks as they wandered the expo near the VCE booth.  I got to meet existing customers, potential customers, co-workers, past co-workers from other places where I’ve worked, and more.

Since I work on the Product Management team, I tried to get people to tell me their stories.  I wanted to know what their daily IT life was like, how was their infrastructure working for them, what were their plans for the near & long-terms.   I heard some doozies in regards to plans, but I am not sure they are appropriate for a technology blog 😉

Anyway….I heard a lot of recurring themes: need to do more with less, need better management tools, need to learn about cloud, need to learn how to operate (or operate better) in a virtual world.  Excuse me?  The last one threw me a bit, but after a little more digging I found that some folks thought virtualization would solve their operational issues.

 

/soapbox on/

Folks, you’ve read this before on numerous other blogs but I am going to repeat it:  if you have bad operational practices in the physical world and you don’t change them when you enter the virtual world, then you still have bad operational practices.   Fix your bad practices before virtualizing.  It will save you a lot of heartache and finger pointing.  /soapbox off/

 

What I heard a lot of was, “Please help me”.   There is just so much change going on in our industry now that it can be quite daunting to know what to do and where to go.  Do I go cloud? Do I not go cloud?  What is cloud?  Can I have my own infrastructure?  Can I just get my feet wet?   All good questions and all that have the same answer: It depends.    It’s usually at this point I would bring in one of our vArchitects to help me.  I can answer most of the questions, but when someone asks me how many switches will I need, or how much capacity needs to be reserved for sparing, it’s best to leave it to the more knowledgeable folks.

My highlight of Cisco Live was when a customer came to the VCE booth with a friend and then proceeded to try to sell his friend a Vblock.  It got so far as whiteboarding, drawing designs, and then some.    A few vArchitects were listening in to clarify statements when needed, but pretty much just left them alone.  The customer was doing an amazing job and was so enthusiastic about his Vblock he just had to get his friend to buy one (or at least into the concept).

It’s one thing for an employee to sell and be enthusiastic about products, it something else when a customer does it.

 

VMworld was a different story.  I got to go as a mighty ATTENDEE (cue angels singing).  I spent most of my time either in sessions or on the expo floor checking out all the other products.  There is a lot of interesting work going on out there.  I was surprised a few companies were still around from last year given that VMware entered their niche with some of the new features in vSphere 5.0.  But after talking to them, the surprise went away.  Some of these niche products do one thing, but they do it very well compared to VMware’s implementation and that keeps the customers coming to them.

As for sessions, I focused on vCloud Director and storage.  I hit about 10 sessions covering the two topics.  A lot for me to learn there.  I was decently versed in the storage side of vSphere, but wanted a primer on the new storage features of vSphere 5.1.  When it came to vCloud Director, I was fairly ignorant.  I’m still ignorant on this topic, just less so.  It’s definitely an area I want to learn more about.  Time to cozy up with a book or two….

While at VMworld, I decided to run an experiment and wear my official VCE logoed shirt during the sessions.  I wanted to see if people would stop me to ask questions.  You now what?  They did.  In almost all the sessions I attended, at least one person came up to me with questions about VCE and Vblocks.  There was one session where I had four people (non-related) stop me to answer questions.

So what did I come away with? 2 Kindle Fires, an Apple TV, and the VMworld plague.  Been sick almost a week now.  Awful stuff.

What else did I come away with? Some knowledge of vCD, some new friends, and a change in perspective on how VCE and Vblocks are viewed.  Good times indeed.

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Categories: Life, VCE, VMware Tags: , , ,

My Friend Needs a Product From VCE

Disclosure: I work for VCE so make of it what you will.

I had lunch this weekend with a friend of mine that manages the server infrastructure for a local government entity.  During the usual banter regarding business, he mentioned that a recent storage project (1+yr and still going) had suffered a series of setbacks due to outages, product compatibility issues, and other minor odds & ends.

The entity he worked at released an RFP that detailed quite a bit of what they were looking to accomplish, which in retrospect may have to been too ambitious given the budget available.  After going through all the proposals, the list was narrowed down to two.  On paper, both were excellent.  All vendors were either Tier1 or Tier2 (defined by sales).  Both proposals were heavily vetted with on-site visits to existing customers, reference phone calls, etc.  Both proposals consisted of a storage back-end with copious amounts of software for replication, snapshotting, provisioning, heterogeneous storage virtualization, and more.

While each component vendor of the winning proposal was highly respected, the two together did not have a large installed base that mimicked the proposed configuration (combo of hardware & software).  In hindsight, this should have been a big RED flag.  What looked good on paper did not pan out in reality.

Procurement went smoothly and the equipment arrived on time.   Installation went smoothly.  It was during integration with the existing environment that things started to break down.   The heterogeneous virtualization layer wasn’t quite as transparent as listed on paper.  Turns out all the servers needed to have the storage unpresented and presented back.  (Hmmm…first outage, albeit not a crash.)

Then servers starting having BSODs.  A review by the vendors determined that new HBAs were needed.  This was quite the surprise to my friend since the he provided all the tech info on the server & storage environment as part of the proposal and was told that all existing equipment was compatible with the proposal.  (2nd, 3rd, 4th+ outages…crashes this time).

So HBAs were updated, drivers installed, and hopefully goodness would ensue. (planned outages galore).

Unfortunately, goodness would not last.  Performance issues, random outages, and more.  This is where it started to get nasty and the finger pointing began.  My friend runs servers from Cisco (UCS) and HP.  The storage software vendor started pointing at the server vendors.  Then problems were attributed to both VMware and Microsoft. (more unplanned outages).

Then the two component vendors started pointing fingers at each other.  Talk about partnership breakdown.

So what is my friend’s shop doing?  They are buying some EMC and NetApp storage for their Tier 1 apps.  Tier 2 and Tier 3 apps will remain on the problematic storage.  They are also scaling back their ambitious goals since they can’t afford all the bells & whistles from either vendor.  The reason they didn’t purchase EMC or NetApp in the first place was due to fiscal constraints.  Those constraints still exist.

As I listened to the details, I realized that he really needed one of the Vblock ™ Infrastructure Platforms from VCE.

First, his shop already has the constituent products that make up the majority of a Vblock – Cisco UCS, EMC Storage (small amount), and vSphere. This makes transitioning to a Vblock ™ easier since less training is needed and a comfort level already exists for those products.

Second, the hardware and software components in the winning proposal were not widely deployed in the proposed configuration.  At the time my friend’s shop put out the RFP, there were more Vblocks in production use in the United States than there were of the winning proposal’s configuration world-wide.

Third, at VCE, all the hardware/software components in a Vblock ™ are thoroughly tested together.  It’s VCE’s job to find any problems so a customer doesn’t.  People think that if you take three items listed on an HCL somewhere and put them together, then everything will work fine.  It just isn’t true.   In fact, a number of patches put out by the parent companies are the result of testing by VCE’s engineering and quality assurance teams.

And finally, probably the biggest reason why my friend needs a product from VCE is to get rid of all the finger pointing.  When VCE sells a product, every component is supported by VCE.  There is no saying “It’s not our problem, call the server vendor”, or “call the storage vendor”, or “call the software vendor”.  I’m not saying that all vendors finger point. Also, your mileage with a set of particular vendors will vary, but if you are CIO/Manager/whatever, you have to admit that “one call, that’s all” is quite compelling.  You can either have your staff spend time managing vendors or you can have your staff spend time moving your business forward.

I’ve put the bug in the ear of my friend about going Vblock in the future.  It won’t happen any time soon since his procurement cycle isn’t conducive to purchasing all his infrastructure components in one fiscal year.  It usually takes five years to get through all three major components.  But who knows?  Maybe his recent experiences will accelerate the cycle.

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