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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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One Year with VCE

February 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Early January marked my one year anniversary with VCE.  I was hired to be a Program Manager on the virtualization team and my first project to lead was bringing vSphere 5 to the world of Vblocks.  I didn’t think this would be as difficult as it turned out to be.  I knew I would be herding cats, but I didn’t plan on herding cats from outside the herd.  About midway through the project, both Cisco and EMC informed us that they weren’t going to certify vSphere 5 on older levels of firmware.  In the case of Cisco, this meant the we were going to move all the Vblock platforms to UCS 2.0.  For EMC, it meant upgrading the firmware for all our supported storage arrays.  In essence, I was actually leading a project to upgrade all the components in a Vblock platform.

If I do say so myself, I did a great job.  But it wasn’t just me.  I worked with a great team of engineers, tech writers, product managers, trainers, and more.  This was truly a cross-functional project and involved over 50 staff across three companies by the time the project completed.

In this same one year, VCE had gone through tremendous change.  When I hired on, VCE was basically a startup.  About midway through the year, a certain level of operational maturity was needed.  We had achieved significant growth, both in sales and in head count. Thus began a series of reorgs.  There was basically one large reorg and a series of refining reorgs.  In my case, I went through two refinements.

The first reorg moved the virtualization team in with the rest of the Product Management team.  It also moved the bulk of our engineering staff into one engineering group.  This was a smart move as it removed barriers to introducing new product. Unfortunately for me, all Program Managers were moved into a formal Program Management Office.   While I did a great job on the vSphere 5 project, I found that this wasn’t the position for me.  Luckily, my managers recognized my talents and kept me on the virtualization team, which was now part of the Product Management group.

As the vSphere 5 project was winding down, the virtualization team was disbanded and we moved into the direct chain of Product Management.  Again, not a bad idea but it did leave me in a bit of limbo since Product Management does not have a need for a Program Manager.  Again, I got lucky.  The director of Product Management recognized my abilities in the areas of process management, barrier breaking, and general mayhem.  A product management operations team was created and I was assigned to it.   Our charter is simple: keep things moving.  Think of us a “fixers”.  If a project is in trouble, we show up and get it back on track.  If someone is not getting things done in a timely manner, we will.  We are also developing various policies, processes, and procedures for the Product Management team as well as working with other teams inside of VCE to develop company-wide policies and processes.

It’s been interesting to me because I am being exposed to areas of the business that I have not had previous exposure to.  For example, I am working with the marketing group on website redesign and developing launch materials.  I am also working with our supply chain managers on setting appropriate stocking levels.

I’ve had an exciting first year.  I’m betting the second is going to be even better.

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: , ,

Why VCE?

February 9, 2011 1 comment

I was recently asked why I went to VCE.  Not why I left the City, but why I went to VCE, specifically.  After all, there are plenty of other companies out there looking for infrastructure types like me.  It’s a good question and here is my answer.

Before I can say “why VCE”, I need to provide some insight into my personality.  I have many traits associated with the stereotypical “computer guy”.  For starters, I am not the most socially adept.  Very few people would say that they would be friends with me based on first impressions.  I’m more like a fungus in that I grow on you.  It’s not that I have a bad personality, it’s just that it takes a while for people to “see me” (ala Avatar).

The second reason I’m that “computer guy” is that I like order.  While I don’t claim to be a neat freak, I do believe that most things in my house have a place, and when not in use, they should be in that place.  Even dust has a place in my house; on top of everything. 🙂   First comes Step A then comes Step B.  Order brings peace and harmony.

I also like the illusion of having control.  At the City, I was responsible for determining work assignments for my team, determining our server technology roadmap, and more.  While I truly didn’t have control, there was enough semblance of it to provide me a sense of serenity.

While on the topic of serenity, one word NOT used to describe me is excitable.  My wife will attest to the fact that I don’t get excited.  Now get your mind out of the gutter.  I am referring to high-energy when I say excitable.  I am pretty much on an even keel all the time.  I have my moments of emotion, but they are short lived.  You will see me smiling and laughing during conversation, but don’t expect me to yell at a bad call during a football game or scream out at a concert.

Do the words order, peace, harmony, and serenity describe VCE?  No, it is the exact opposite.  When my manager was recruiting me, I don’t think he realized his description of the position and company scared me.  He aptly described VCE as a startup.  And common to most startups is confusion, high-energy, and a bit of chaos.  Pretty much the exact opposite of my personality.

So why VCE?

If you read my last post, you’ll remember that I felt like I was becoming a “Day Tech”, something intolerable to me.  Due to the City’s high tolerance level for mediocrity, it became difficult to avoid becoming complacent at doing work that was “good enough”.  I don’t think that the City realizes that it doesn’t have high expectations of its employees.  Too many people get by on work that I would call subpar.

In my previous post, I also said that three areas of interest were virtualization, Cisco UCS, and storage.  When I was approached about joining VCE, I realized that I would be involved with those three technologies and I would also be thrust into an environment that was completely outside my norm.

So “Why VCE?”  After all I have said above, I am expecting VCE to “recharge my battery”.  By being in an environment that is constantly changing due to growth, has high expectations of its employees, and plays in the areas of my three interests, I figure I’ll find my motivation and passion again.  Either that or have a nervous breakdown  🙂

So “Why VCE?”  VCE also appealed to me to as an agent of change, a provider of the future, a blah blah blah (you get the idea).  Think about what VCE does.  It doesn’t just provide a hardware/software package.  VCE provides the next generation of computing, aka the cloud.  Even at the City, we talked a lot about the cloud and the future it holds.  I figured that if I was going to join a startup, I wanted it to be in an area where I thought the chances of success would be extremely high.  And of all the cloud computing companies out there, only one has the best servers, the best storage, and the best software.  That’s VCE.

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