Why I Am Going to VMworld

August 25, 2011 Leave a comment

People go to VMworld for many reasons.  Some go because it’s their job to ”man the booth”.  Others go to party.  And still others go “just because”.  However, the most common reason why people go to VMworld is to learn about VMware products and its ecosystem.  If I were still in the position of IT Architect, that would have been my primary reason too.   This year is different.   I changed jobs at the beginning of 2011 and went from an IT position that held responsibility for the care and feeding of the virtual infrastructure platform to a Product Management position.   As such, my VMworld focus has changed from learning about VMware products to learning about VMware’s customers.


One of the basic tenets of Product Management/Development is to build products that customers want/need to buy.  So how does one go about finding out what customers want and/or need?  Simple.  Ask them.  I’ll be roaming the Solutions Exchange talking to attendees about their jobs, roadmaps, challenges, and desires (within the context of the datacenter).  I want to gather as much information as I can to help me excel in my new”ish” position.  I want to collect contact info so that I can reach out to folks later and see how things change as time passes.  I want to know if your efforts are successful or not.  Basically, I want to “know” and “learn” about you.


So if you happen to see me, introduce yourself.  Tell me about your company, your datacenter challenges, and more.  Help me develop a better product.


If you can’t find me, send a me a tweet  –  @ITVirtuality   – and let’s schedule a time to meet.



What about Tintri?

August 2, 2011 3 comments

I attended the Phoenix VMUG meeting this week.  The two main sessions were about vSphere5 and Tintri’s VMstore.  While vSphere5 is interesting, I have been working with it for over 5 months now so it wasn’t a “must see” presentation for me.  I was actually at the event to see Tintri and I have to say that the Tintri VMstore product intrigues me quite a bit.  For those who haven’t heard of this product, think of it as a purpose built storage appliance for your VMware environment.   This “appliance” is roughly 8.5TB (usable) and is only accessed via NFS.  The entire device presents itself as one large datastore to your hosts.  If you think about it, this really does simplify things quite a bit.  There is no zoning, no LUN creation, no disk grouping, etc.  Basically, all of your standard storage creation tasks have been removed.  Time to add capacity? Just add another appliance and add it to your vCenter as another datastore.  It’s that simple.

Management of the appliance is performed through a web interface and via a vCenter Plug-in.  The bulk of what you expect in a management tool is there with a few notable exceptions (discussed later in this post).

One of the VMstore design goals is performance.  To that end, Tintri has equipped the VMstore with 1TB of SSD storage.  Through their own internally developed magic, the bulk of “hot” data is kept in SSD.  The rest is stored on SATA disks.  You can imagine the kind of IOPS possible given the heavy use of SSD.  BTW, the SSD is deduped so you get more bang for your buck.

The folks at Tintri gave the standard “who we are” and “why we are different” presentation that we all expect at open events like this.  After talking about the product and walking us through the mgmt. interface the Tintri folks took questions from the audience.  All-in-all, a good showing.

There were no hard questions asked at the VMUG, but the after meeting was completely different.  I am also a member of Advanced Technology Networking Group (ATNG) and we met up with the Tintri folks a few hours later.  ATNG consist of hardcore techies and since many of our members are responsible for acquisitions and managing data centers, our meeting with vendors tend to be “No holds barred”, but in a friendly way.  Our goal is to get to know the product (warts and all) as much as we can during our meetings.

We questioned a lot of design choices and where the product is going.  One are of particular interest to me was the use of SATA drives.  Yes, the appliance uses RAID6 and has hot spares, but that did not alleviate my concern.  Drive quality continues to improve so only time will tell if this was a good design choice or not.

Another area questioned was the use of a single controller.  The general rule of enterprise storage is to have two controllers.  VMstore currently has one.  Notice that I say “currently”.  Future product will have two controllers.

There were a few questions and suggestions regarding the management interface.  One suggestion was to rename the VMStore snapshot function.  It is not the same snapshot feature as in vCenter.  vCenter has no visibility into VMstore native snapshots and vice-versa.  This can be a source of confusion if you consider that the target audience for this product is VM admin.

The lack of some enterprise features also came up in our discussions.  Notably, the lack of SNMP support and the lack of replication support.  The only way to get notified of something going wrong with the appliance is to either receive an email alert or see something in vCenter.    As for replication, the only option available is to perform a standard vm backup and restore the data to another appliance or storage device of your choice.

However, all is not doom and gloom.  Tintri is working on updates and improvements.  SNMP support, replication capabilities, and more are coming soon.   Keep in mind that Tintri recently came out of stealth mode and is on 1.0 of their product.   For a 1.0 product, it’s pretty good.  Just to give an idea of the performance and quality of VMstore, Tintri has a reference customer that will attest that they have been running a beta version since November 2010 without any issues.  In fact, that customer is still on the beta code and has not upgraded.  That’s a pretty good reference if you ask me.

So what do I think of VMStore?  I think Tintri is on the right track.  Purpose built storage for VMware is a great concept.  It shows a laser like focus on a particular market and it lets the company focus on capabilities and features that are specific to that market.  Generic storage has to cater to many masters and sometimes gets lost in the process.

I am going to predict that Tintri will either be copied by other storage vendors or that they will be acquired by one of them.  The product/concept is just too unique and spot-on that it can’t be ignored.

Links of interest:

Latest Thoughts on Training

Let’s talk training again.  I recently had the opportunity to attend two classes.  One was self-paced using pre-recorded content; the other was an online instructor led class.  Before I get into what I think about them, I want to define a few items:

Tutorial:  good for single item topics and are generally short.  Tutorials should teach how to do a task, not provide comprehensive knowledge.

Instructor led, classroom environment:  This is the traditional training setup.  With this style of training, you drive to some facility to sit in a classroom with a bunch of people you may, or may not know, and tell war stories to each other all week.  .  All the while you hope the training facility has some good restaurants around it for lunch.  Instruction gets in the way of all the kibitzing, but you find that you actually learned a lot when the class is finished.

There are two variants of the Instructor Led, classroom environment type that are becoming very popular with the training providers.  They are:

a.      Instructor Led, classroom environment, equipment somewhere else and

b.     Instructor led, online environment, equipment somewhere else.

Self-paced:  This is where you download videos, watch slideware, and more often than not, find yourself bored almost to the point of falling asleep.  This type of instruction can be so boring that a class that normally takes 40 hours might take two months to complete.

Now you may not agree 100% with my definitions and that’s fine.  But for the sake of this post, just pretend to agree with me.


A little over a year ago, I wrote about a Cisco UCS class that I took.  It was of the Instructor Led, classroom environment, equipment somewhere else variety.  One of my chief complaints about it was the lab environment and all the problems we had accessing it.  Well, my recent experience with an Instructor led, online environment, equipment somewhere else type class shows me that the access issues are still prevalent.

Not a day went by where we didn’t have problems with either the presentation tool or accessing the lab servers.  I can understand why training providers like the equipment somewhere else concept.  It means fewer dollars spent buying equipment.  It also means that you can get better utilization of the equipment that is purchased.  However, this introduces a dependency on remote access systems, your network, and the availability of folks in some equipment room/data center to troubleshoot when problems arise.  In my case, the requirement was for a perfect network.  Any slight hiccup and you got kicked out of the presentation software.  If you were unlucky enough to have this occur twice in one day, you were SOL.  The only fix was for the instructor to kick everyone out and reset the class.

I will say this though: my training partner learned a lot about communication tricks during our labs.  Towards the end of the second day of class, I got kicked out of the presentation software (which also acted as a softphone) and could not communicate with my lab partner.  Rather than having the instructor reset everyone, I just used various little tricks to send him messages.  Tricks such as changing the Message of the Day in vCenter, opening notepad on our vCenter server to write him messages, and using the old “Net send” command from a command prompt.  It worked, but was not very efficient.

Even if there were no technical difficulties, I can definitely say that I am not a fan of the Instructor led, online environment, equipment somewhere else delivery method.  More specifically, I am not a fan of the online environment component. I thrive on all the interaction that takes place in the classroom.  I typically learn more from the other students than I do from the instructor and official content. (As people are apt to say, nothing beats real world experience.)  With an online class, it is very hard to interact with the other students.  I can’t really describe it, but it’s hard to carry on conversations.  There are no facial cues; it’s hard to get people’s attention, etc.

I also missed out on the troubleshooting opportunities.  In a classroom environment, when someone has a problem, everyone will huddle around their screens and work together to solve the problem.  Not easy to do in an online class.

Unfortunately, I foresee even more training occurring online.  Why?  $$$.  It’s cheaper to have an employee sit at home or his/her office space than it is to send them to a physical classroom.  This becomes more evident if the class is held out of state.  I only hope that training providers get more resilient software and other infrastructure.  Otherwise we’ll have ended up going backwards.


As for my second class, it was a self-paced network training program.  All I can say about this class was that it was extremely boring.  It was so boring that it took me almost two months to finish a 40hr class. The class was basically slideware that read itself to me.   One peculiar oddity to note: If I accidentally clicked “Next” before the audio completed, it would pick up physically where it left off from the previous slide on the new slide.  Huh?  Yes, if the audio was in the middle of a slide and I clicked “Next”, it would then proceed to read to me from the middle of the new slide.  It acted as if it was a screen scraper of some sort.  You won’t believe how happy I was when I found I could turn off the audio.

At that point, I turned into a speed reader and went at a more comfortable pace.  I think I finished about 30hrs of instruction (according to student guide) in about 10 hours.  It’s amazing how much that audio slows you down without adding value.  I think I learned more with the audio off than I did with it turned on.

Remember what I said up above about interacting with fellow students?  Well, forget about it with the self-paced model.   What really killed it for me was the inability to ask questions and get answers in a timely manner.  Yes, there was an “ask a question” link, but I had to wait up to 24hrs for a response.  What should I have done while waiting for a response?  Continue? Wait?  Talk about a momentum killer.

I also have to add that I thought the content was fairly light.  It seemed to have a fair amount of business driver/marketing type slides as opposed to technical information.  It was also fond of rehashing them.  While there is value in having this info, I would have preferred more technical related content.


I know times are tough and everyone is looking for ways to save money.  But maybe we need to rethink how training is provided.  If the goal is to prepare the employee, then maybe saving a few bucks isn’t so cost effective.  While I personally feel that most training is overpriced (come on, $500+ per day for many classes), I don’t think saving a grand is worth it in the long run.  I wonder how much more effective I would be at my job if I got more out of the training classes?  Would it be worth that extra grand in two months?  How about three months?   Could the payback be even a month?  Think about it.



Categories: Philosophy Tags: ,

Book Review: Enterprise Network Testing

May 6, 2011 1 comment

For my next trick, I am going to review another Cisco Press book titled “Enterprise Network Testing”.  I think I can sum this up in two sentences:  “Holy Crap!” and  “This book has PLENTY of cowbell!”.

Now I am not currently a network guy by profession, but if I was, this book would be on my desk with copies on my teammates’ desks too.  It is literally THE blueprint for how to test your network.

The journey into network testing begins with a discussion on why you need to test your network.  Most people only think of one or two reasons.  This book provides a few more to help you make your business case.  BTW, the authors make it very clear that testing your network is not a one-time event.  Testing should be done whenever changes are made, for compliance, introduction of new technologies, etc.  In other words, plan on testing regularly.

One area where this book and I completely agree is where testing should first take place: in the lab.  There is whole chapter devoted to lab strategy.  Topics covered include staffing, facilities planning, test methodologies, power, and more.  I must say that I was surprised at how good this chapter turned out to be.  Most books give basic guidance on lab setup, but like I said at the beginning of this review, this book has plenty of cowbell.

So now you have your lab setup, what are you going to do?  Simple, read this book because it provides guidance for “crafting the test approach” (actual chapter title).  Briefly, this chapter discusses several reasons/objectives for testing and how to craft your strategies to set you up for success.  This includes setting your test targets, what tools are you going to use, writing a test plan, allocating resources, etc.  It’s a very well thought out approach.

Business case approved? Check.  Lab resources allocated? Check.  Test plan created? Check.  Great, now go execute your plan.  Need help?  No problem, this book will walk you through a sample lab setup, finding the appropriate tools, and a few different methodologies for measuring different network characteristics.  This is the point in the book where the authors stress the need to understand what you are testing, the tools you are using, and how to interpret the results.  In other words, if you don’t know what you are doing you will not be successful.

Speaking of knowing your tools, this book does a credible job discussing network toolsets that are available for free and for purchase.  Even non-Cisco products are covered which is something I am not used to seeing in a Cisco Press book.  Usually, these books are oblivious to other companies’ products.  Kudos to the authors for being thorough.

The next six chapters are where you will find plenty of test case examples.  There are individual chapters devoted to six types of testing.  They are: Proof of concept testing, network readiness testing, design verification testing, migration plan testing, new platform and code certification testing, and network ready for use testing.  They are written in a case study format and are quite readable.

Nerdgasm time.  This is where the book gets hairy…Are you too lazy to develop your own plans from scratch?  You want to cheat?  Just borrow the DETAILED test plans that are in the next seven chapters.  There is enough meat here that Cisco Press could copy & paste into a shorter book to sell.  We are talking over 200 pages of test plans covering seven areas.  That’s a lot of cowbell!

The book ends on a high note.  Since you went through the trouble of setting up a lab, why not use it for training/learning purposes. Step-by-step instructions are provided to setup a lab. This chapter may not be useful to a large number of folks since the equipment covered is pure Cisco, including UCS.  In fact, many of the directions provided center around setting up a UCS environment. I happen to like this chapter because one of my last major implementations before joining VCE was installing UCS for the organization at which I worked.  Sort of brings back memories.

To sum this review up:  If you are in the network field, you need this book.

Book Review: IPv6 for Enterprise Networks

April 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I just finished reading “IPv6 for Enterprise Networks”, published by Cisco Press.   All I can say is that unless you have the hots for IP protocol discussions, this book will not rock your world.   It’s not that it is a poorly written book, it’s just that I don’t find IPv6 to be exciting.   That being said, the authors do a very good job in covering the material.

As is typical of tech books, we start with the obligatory history lesson.  Why should we transition to IPv6?  Simple, we are running out of IPv4 addresses.  Lesson over.  There is more to it in the book, but let’s be real here:  The largest driver is the lack of IPv4 addresses.

With that chapter out of the way, the book covers the basics of network design.  This is a chapter that appears in a number of Cisco Press books.  It’s a good reinforcement of network design principles that we should all do well to remember.

Now that two basic chapters are out of the way, the authors delve into IPv6 itself, how it is different from IPv4, and how to get from here to there.  This is where the book shines.  It’s a great reference for making the transition from IPv4 to IPv6.

As part of making the transition, the authors discuss the pros/cons of many of the various migration strategies such as running a dual protocol stack, running a hybrid network, and more as they relate to the different types of networks (campus, branch, data center, and so on).  It should be noted that each network type has its own chapter.  There is simply too much information that the readers need to be aware of that it would be a disservice to cover them together.

The authors simply could have ended the book there, but that would have made for incomplete book in my opinion.  Thankfully, they kept going and included a chapter on managing an IPv6 network.  While much remains the same, there are differences that may arise that readers should be aware of.  In some cases, it’s just how to enable the monitoring/reporting capabilities of the equipment.  In other cases, IPv6 just handles things differently.

As with most Cisco books, there are plenty of screen shots, command lines, and such given that the reader should be able to copy from to get from point A to point B.  I like this.  Far too many books out there have too few examples.

The last item covered turns out to be my favorite: setting up a lab.  While it is not a monkey script type of chapter (type this, click this) it still gives the reader enough detailed information to be successful.  Personally, I think that if you need a monkey script, then maybe this is one area where you shouldn’t be working.  What really surprised me in this chapter was the inclusion of screenshots from an ESXi host showing how to configure it for IPv6.  Talk about timely and relevant.

Would I recommend this book?  Yes.  While not exactly a page turner for most people (again, we are talking IPv6 here), it is a very good reference guide for making the transition from IPv4 to IPv6.

Book Review: PKI Uncovered, Certificate-based Security Solutions for Next-Generation Networks

How do you rate/review a technical book?    I could go on and on about different methodologies, but basically, I think a technical book is good if I can read it without having to take a ton of breaks, if I walk away with an understanding of the technology, and if it meets the needs of why I read it in the first place.

What makes me take breaks?  Really dry, super-down-in-the-weeds writing.  I am not a PhD candidate, nor do I live for reading IEEE RFCs.  It’s been said that if you want to write for the masses, it has to be at an 8th grade level  (I may be wrong, it could be 6th or 10th grade).    Techies are generally not “the masses”, but we still don’t want to be bored.   Nor do we want to see if you can use every word in the dictionary that has more than six syllables.

Even when writing at a level that the masses can follow, a good technical writer still needs to be able to impart the desired information in such a way that it can be retained and be of value.   Good writers provide clear examples, use analogies when appropriate, and know when enough is enough.

One could argue that if I end up with an understanding of the technology, then it is a good book regardless of how hard it was to read.   But since this my blog and I am writing the review, my rules win.

Now on to the review…

I just finished reading PKI Uncovered: Certificate-Based Security Solutions for Next-Generation Networks from Cisco Press.  All-in-all, it’s a decent book.  Just for grins, I read the intro/preface to see who was the intended target audience and I think it misfired in that sense.  It’s not technical enough for the die-hard techies (thankfully – see above about taking breaks) and it’s too technical for the C-level (and other managerial types) it listed.

This book follows a traditional chapter layout approach: theory, examples, troubleshooting, and integration with other products.

The first chapter is a refresh on cryptography.  It explains what it is, characteristics, and the major components.  I would have liked more info in this chapter, but it really is just meant to be a quick refresh before delving into PKI.

The next few chapters focus on components of a public key infrastructure, how to set it up, troubleshooting, and design.

The final chapters deal with integrating PKI with other Cisco technologies/product such as VPNs, Unified Communications, and such.  As mentioned on the back cover, the book “offers specific, detailed guidance on using PKI with Cisco ..” products and it does not disappoint.

So what did I like about this book?  I really liked the fact that this book has plenty of examples and screen shots.  Being Cisco-centric, this book does a great job of explaining how to setup PKI on Cisco gear.  There is also a very good chapter on how to troubleshoot your public key infrastructure.  The authors provide numerous process flow charts, log parsing examples, and more to help troubleshoot a technology that can be very cryptic (no pun intended) to figure out.  If you are a Cisco shop, consider certain aspects of this book to be like a cookbook: follow the examples shown, you should end up with a working public key infrastructure.

This is also the book’s downside.  Once you get past the first few chapters, this book is heavily Cisco focused. This isn’t a problem if you know that before purchasing.  After all, it is a Cisco Press book.  I’ve only read about 10 Cisco Press books and I read them because I wanted to know about Cisco product.  And to be fair, the back cover does state that the book is for “Cisco customers”.

Another positive quality of this book is that it provides some very good design principles, such as having multiple/redundant certificate servers (in the proper hierarchy).  Too many times I’ve seen tech books provide designs that have many built-in single points of failure.  This isn’t one of those books.

In my opinion, there are only two areas for improvement: writing style and technical depth.  The writing style is dry.  If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you will undoubtedly have noticed that I’m very informal most of the time.  I also like to inject some humor into my writings every now and then.  That being said, this book could use some could use some lightening up.

As for technical depth, I would have liked a bit more on just a few topics.  Not super-techie, but a bit more.  For example, the book mentions Diffie-Hellman but doesn’t get into the workings of it.  Same can be said for a few other items.  I figure if you are going to mention something, then do it justice and not just cover it in a line or two.  I would hazard a guess that D-H isn’t discussed in much detail because it really isn’t germane to the book’s topic.  For those topics that are germane, the authors do a good job.  Deep enough, but not so deep as to put the average techie to sleep.

So would I recommend this book?  If you are a Cisco shop looking to implement PKI, then most definitely.   If you are not a Cisco shop, then half of this book may not be of value.  For theory and principles, I think you would see value in it.  It’s a judgment call at this point.  As for myself, I would consider this book a good buy just for the first few chapters.  The rest of it is bonus material.

Categories: Book Reviews, cisco Tags: ,

My First 60 Days at VCE

March 3, 2011 5 comments

Everyone seems to post a “My first 30 days” type article so I figured I would be lazy and wait 60 days.  What’s it been like?  Crazy.


Let’s start with some organization structure.  All the glory hounds, ahem, people you probably know are in some sort of sales/services group.  Names like Aaron Delp, Kendrick Coleman, Steve Chambers, and Ken Hui come to mind.  Those guys are customer facing.  They get all the training and they do all the partying, er, traveling.

I, on the other hand, am under the umbrella group known as Platform Engineering.  This is the development side of the Vblock. It’s doubtful that I will ever meet a customer unless it is at a trade show or a customer advisory board meeting.

Platform Engineering itself is broken down into three general groups: hardware, mgmt. & orchestration software (think UIM), and virtualization.  I’m in the virtualization group, where we are responsible for all things VMware in a Vblock.  My specific position is Principal Program Manager, which basically means I am a project manager.  I am also the technical relationship manager between VCE and VMware.  Notice I said “technical”.  I am not involved in the business relationship.  Instead, I coordinate with my VMware counterparts to get the VMware technical resources folks at VCE may need.  Part of this relationship management requires being the keeper of roadmaps, license keys, grantor of access to partner websites and materials, and so on.

Now every development company has their own version of a product development lifecycle process.  It just so happens that VCE formalized its process a few weeks before I started.  Since my project was the next to start, it gets to beta test the new process.  So what is my first project?  It’s a doozy.  I am managing the development/integration of the next major vSphere release into the Vblock.  It’s so high profile due to it being the first to follow the process and it’s subject matter (vSphere) that more than half my project team is made up of observers.  I would categorize project team members into three groups: folks with deliverables, folks just watching to see how the process goes, and folks who just want to be aware of our vSphere work.

You would think that it would be as simple as installing the next release and saying it’s done, but it’s not.  Decisions have to be made about what features to turn on/off, how they are to be configured, upgrade processes/procedures, etc.  It really is a lot of work.  Then all that has to be tested and documented.  At the same time, sales/services (including support services) staff needs to be trained, and marketing materials need to be developed.  All that has to be tracked and coordinated and that’s where I fit in to the picture.  Yes, I herd cats.

It hasn’t been easy because I don’t really know who all the players are.  Every week I get at least one email telling me I left so-and-so off the project list.  Part of the issue is growth (people changing positions), the other is based on organizational structure.  Some groups in VCE have names that sound like they perform internal work only and wouldn’t be interested in vSphere.  Nope, many are actually customer facing and perform technical work.

Once the first project is done, we (meaning myself and other project mgrs. in VCE) will have a better idea how things will flow.  Kinks in the process will be worked out, roles will be determined, etc.  It’s nothing that other fast growing companies haven’t experienced themselves.  In that regards, I am lucky because a number of people I am working with came from fast growing startups so I have their experiences to draw upon.

What else has happened in the first 60 days?  Acadia became VCE, which required all docs, websites, presentations, business cards, etc to be updated.  EMC released VNX.  Cisco released new UCS firmware.  VCE became participants in some of VMware’s beta programs.  The list goes on.


One last item to note: my last post touched upon the personal reasons I joined VCE.  Lisa Caywood said I was giving myself a personal stretch assignment and she was right.  I referred to myself as not very socially adept.  What I really should have said is that I do not get personal.  I can walk into room and strike up a conversation with no problem.  You want to talk computers, politics, or economics; easy-peazy.  Just don’t ask me if I am married and I won’t ask you.  I don’t know why, I just don’t get personal.  It’s not that I don’t care, because I do.  Heck, I don’t even know my wife’s favorite color, favorite song, etc.  Well I wanted to change that.   And I have.  I know the marital status and family setup of my immediate co-workers.  I even know some of their hobbies.  When I talk to people, I ask how they are doing and I mean it.  It hasn’t been easy getting into the habit of doing this.  My monitor is adorned with Post-It notes reminding me to be personal.  The good news is that I am starting to ask these question without the reminders.

I also mentioned my desire for order and control; two things I do not have at VCE.  I’m getting used to it now and it’s spilling over into my home life.  This is a positive because I don’t get annoyed as much when things are out of place and I don’t get as frustrated when things in my personal life go awry.

I am still working on recharging myself.  I didn’t expect it to be instantaneous and it hasn’t.  I am getting there though.

Categories: Life Tags: , ,