Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Six things IT shouldn't do

Top six things IT shouldn’t do

1.       Cloud
2.       Reduce costs
3.       Architecture
4.       Itil
5.       Security
6.       Business alignment

Now my boss, Dan,  was out at DreamForce last week along with thirty thousand of his closest friends, so he’s going to cringe when he reads this list. If our CFO reads this list, he’ll have some questions too about why I think we shouldn’t reduce costs. I’ll get to that soon but there are some things that we in IT rush into when we shouldn’t.

I doubt I’ll make it through these six in this post but out of respect for DreamForce I’ll start with the cloud.

Now we do a lot in the cloud,, BigMachines, even our Email gateway is in the cloud, but never did we decide to do it because it was in the cloud.

I mean when we decided to go to Salesforce many years ago, it wasn't because it was hosted. It wasn’t because we didn’t have to buy hardware. It wasn’t for a monthly subscription model, or because it was opex instead of capex. We went to because the application was so much better than the one we had. It fit our needs. The fact that it is hosted in the cloud really wasn’t part of the equation.

Now there are many times we didn’t go to the cloud too. We looked at storage in the cloud 18 months ago and looked at the major players at the time. They all claimed a reduction of 30-50% in our storage costs by going to the cloud. It sounded like a great idea. We can grow on demand, reduce costs and avoid big capital expenditures.

That is until I asked about bandwidth charges. As it turned out we had to pay each time we did a read/write per Mb. The real kicker was that they didn’t backup the data. So we would have to pay to copy all of the data over, pay to copy all of it back, still pay to back it up and pay for any usage. It quickly killed any cost savings so we didn’t do it.

There are a lot of reasons to go to the cloud. People rave about the cost savings, ease of use, speed of execution and if you really get those benefits the cloud may make sense. But going to the cloud just because something is in the cloud is stupid. IMHO of course…

Monday, November 29, 2010

So you want to sell me stuff?

I recently had a sales team ask me for a reference and after thinking about it, I agreed, but they had to include the entire reference. After reading it they could decide if they wanted to use it or not. It was a fair critique and I highlighted many of the benefits or working with their company. I also pointed out what I didn’t like.  I don’t think they used it.

I work with a lot of vendors. In an average week I will get 25 calls to my desk phone. I would guess 90% or more, I let go to voice mail. People who I work with a lot and that I want to talk to, have my cell number. For a small few, I’d recognize their phone number and pick it up. Of course the ones I work with a lot also know to email me since I’m in meetings most of the day.

I’ve got all my emails organized. People and vendors, I work with a lot have their own folder, other vendors have a generic bucket. In theory I would search my generic vendor folder when I need to purchase something that I don’t need that often, or that I didn’t need then, but do now. In practice though, I could delete that folder with no impact, except a reduction in my inbox. The question you, as my account team should be wondering is, “Am I in the generic bucket, and if so how do I get out of it?”

A few questions to ask yourself.

When was the last time you found something wrong on my bill?
I have vendors, in fact most of the telecom vendors I work with, who have never gotten a bill correct. I guess they should get points for being consistent, I mean even a stopped clock is right twice a day, always being wrong seems to defy the law of averages. So I have someone whose job it is to review the bills and to then open disputes for the errors. I would have expected once in the last few years for my account team to have glanced at my bill and called to say “Hey, we noticed an incorrect number on your bill and opened a dispute on your behalf”. How cool would that be?

When I say the bill is wrong, I mean very wrong. We may have a contracted rate of $2500 per month, and some months it‘s $7800, the next month it may be almost right. I don’t expect them to review my bill in detail every month. The bills, if I were to get paper ones, would come in a box and get wheeled to me on a two wheeler. If it suddenly doubles or more though in cost, let me know.  How hard would it be to flag an account if the bill varies by more than 50% from previous months? Offer to review it with me, anything to let me know you are not asleep at the wheel.

When was the last roadmap discussion?
Did you just release the best product of the year? Did I know it was coming? Heck did I just buy 3000 from your competitor because I had no idea you guys were working on one?

Could I tell you what all of your products are?
I’ve had vendors that I never would have called for something because I had no idea that they did it. For example, did you know AT&T is more than phones? Did you know Dell does professional services and can help you move a data center? Many vendors, especially the larger ones, do more than what you think. If you don’t know they probably won’t get your business right? Likewise if your customer doesn’t know you do something, you probably won’t get a call either.

Is it a single account team, or one per product? Do I even know who my account team is? I recently made some change on my team and we ended up meeting with all of our telecom vendors again. One rep showed up and introduced himself as our account rep. “I’ve been your account rep for two years. This is a nice building. It took me a while to find it since I’d never been here before”. Anyone see an issue with this? No one had ever met the guy, but he was our rep for two years?

Is the mode of communication correct? I’m pretty much an email guy. I hate talking on the phone. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s easier for me to type than talk. Who knows? I recently built out our data center and none of the contractors were email people. If I didn’t call them or meet them in person I never would have gotten anything done. I had to adapt my communication mode to match theirs.

New technologies such as IM, Twitter, and Facebook are also available. In some cases they are a better way to communicate. I regularly read a blog post that a local recruiter has. She updates it weekly-ish, and has, of course, job openings, but also comments on the economy, hot skills, interviewing tips etc. Though we have never met in person, I read her blog religiously and when I have an opening, or know a good employee I always refer to her.

Did you get my name right? Calling me Mitch when my name is Rich is bad enough when it is a cold call. If I’ve been working with you for 2 months, it’s inexcusable. Heck if Chilis can get it right when I’m spending 15 bucks on a meal, an account executive should get it right when I’m spending a few thousand or more.

When my last order shipped, did you follow up? Why any sales person would pass up a chance to talk to a customer I would never know, but most times when I order something, I never get a follow up.  Something simple like an email asking if I got the order and was it correct, will go a long ways to getting the next order, and moving from the generic vendor bucket to a trusted partner bucket.

When something went wrong, did you call to see if it got resolved? Did you even know I had an issue? Hey issues are a part of life. I’m OK with things going wrong. When things happen though, it is a time to shine if you are in sales. Call me up and check to see if it got fixed, how it got fixed and how it can be avoided in the future. The worst case is if you don’t even know I’m having an issue.

I’ve actually had my phones turned off and the sales team from the telcom provider, never even knew, until we dropped the contract with them. Where I work our sales team gets notified any time a customer opens a ticket. This is 2009, integrating sales and support systems isn’t anything new.

Can you tell me when my contract is up, or if my products are under maintenance?
What a great opportunity to come back in and talk to me? “Hey I noticed your maintenance is up. Can we get together to go over what you need for maintenance, and what new features are included in upcoming releases?” Talk about a great excuse to upsell.

Have I ever sent your boss an email telling you what a great job you did? Would I even know who that was?
I actually make a point to do this for a few account teams that I truly think are good. In the past year I sent two. One was a linkedin recommendation and a cc to her CEO, the other was an email directly to the team’s manager. One of my account teams actually puts in their signatures “My manager is XXXX, please contact him with feedback on how I am doing”.

Are we connected?
Sites like or plaxo are a great way to stay in touch. Use them.
Being connected though is more than sending me an invite on facebook or linkedin. Try to know something about me. For example, though this may be blasphemy to some, I hate golf. If you come in every time asking me to go play golf when the last four times I said “I hate golf”, I could get the impression you aren’t listening to me.

My hairdresser manages to keep track of things I like and don’t like and never misses a chance to ask if I’ve been skiing, or boating, depending on the season. Granted I see her every six weeks or so, but I’m also not spending half a million on a haircut either. If she can remember a good sales team can too.

Have I ever called for something not directly related to you?
If so that’s a good sign that I trust and want to work with you. If I call you and you brush me off, that’s not a way to help yourself. If you can’t help me, refer me to someone else and then follow up to see if I got what I needed.

I was once talking to one of our vendors that we buy monitors from and happened to ask if they also sold TV’s. It turned out they don’t, but she called me back later that day and told me Best Buy was having a sale on 50” LCD televisions. Did she need to? Of course not, but that is what a good partner does.

Do I know what value you bring over your competitors? For that matter, do you even know?
Many vendors come in and assume because they are the biggest in the space, I should just go with them? Huh? Seriously does anyone ever do that? If you can’t explain why your product, solutions and company is better than your competition, don’t bother signing in. You’ll just waste my time and yours.

If you left your company and went to a competitor, or different technology, would I call you?  Would I even know you left?
I’m starting to think sales is as much about relationship as technology. Since I stay in touch with the really good sales people I’ve met, I often times call them at their new company to see if they can help me again.

Did you ever recommend I use one of my competitors? Do you even know who my competitors are?
I once had a recruiter call me trying to get me to work with them. He went on to explain how they worked closely with my direct competitor and that he could get me all sorts of people experienced in their product and then went on to explain how great my competitor’s products were.

After about 30 seconds I interrupted. “Do you even know what my company does?” His reply was priceless “Well, no. I was going to research it but didn’t want to waste my time so I figured I’d call you instead”.  Interesting, he’s OK wasting my time, just not his.

If I need to hear bad news, I should hear it from my sales team.
I have two stories, the first one was horrible. I actually received a letter from a vendor terminating my contract. It came from their legal department and gave me 45 days to move my data center. Needless to say I was annoyed and called my sales rep. His comment “Oh yeah I was supposed to call you last week and let you know that was coming.”. No kidding.

Another sales rep called me to let me know that the maintenance price was going to go up significantly. He worked with us to review our options, including upgrading our older gear, switching to 8 X 5 support instead of 24 X 7 and even suggested other lower cost competitors. We ended up staying with them and going to the lower tier service to keep the costs in line with our budget. His ability to work with us definitely put him in the “trusted advisor” role.
Do you know how my business is doing?
If you call me with a great solution to quickly bring new sites on line, the day after we announce we are closing 30% of our offices, I’m probably not going to be interested and I could think you are an idiot. Not that I expect you to know every detail of my company but you should have a basic feel of how we are doing. Probably if you are listening to me, you already know.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tips to build and move a data center

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to move our data center twice in six months, or three times in two years and learned a few things. The last two times it was back to an in-house data center so we were responsible for the build out as well. This includes working with contractors to build the walls, the power company to upgrade the service, inspectors and of course the in house facilities group.

If you haven’t experienced the fun of loading your entire company’s infrastructure on a truck in February in New England and watched it drive away, hoping the roads aren’t icy, you may be able to learn from some of the headaches I’ve gotten.

Building the data center
  1.  By assuming the risk of time and materials, you can save a significant amount of money, however unless you truly have the time to manage the project closely a fixed bid price may be best.
  2. Used equipment can be a good way to reduce costs, however for large ticket items, a professional inspection and service check is a good insurance policy.
  3. If a vendor promised something three times and for whatever reasons had to back out, cancel and go somewhere else. You’re getting the run around.
  4.  Don’t forget inspectors. If you are doing anything that requires an inspector to sign off, make sure to include them at the beginning of the project. It’s much easier to change the design on paper than when it is all built.
  5. Make sure you have time to test and resolve power and cooling issues, preferably not the same weekend you are moving.
  6. The last week is the worst. Everyone will be stressed out, trying to hit their deadlines. Part of the job is keeping everyone from getting on each other’s nerves.
  7. Don’t get oversold on “green”.  Super energy efficient is great, but not always worth the extra money. We had planned to design our data center retrofit to leverage a very efficient cooling layout, but to do so would have cost $150,000 in demolition and ductwork. The ROI just didn’t make sense.
  8. Meet often, but with the right people. We spent close to $5,000 because of people interrupting the  HVAC mechanics to ask when the cooling would be ready.  One person needs to be the point person and everyone goes to them. Otherwise you get rumors, distraction and all sorts of technical and political issues.
  9. Construction is disruptive. To avoid upsetting one group, make sure you annoy everyone equally.
  10. Plan for other damages and issues to crop up.  Something as simple as carrying piping materials can cause damage to the walls. It’s real easy to damage sheetrock walls with a 10’ long metal pipe. Expect to spend some money to fix these later, or make sure it is in the contract that the vendor will do it.
  11. Always get at least three bids. Unless it is so small it will cost more in internal labor to go through the bidding process, take the time. The easiest way to save money is to negotiate for it and the best time for that is before you assign the work. Plus different vendors may suggest ways to cut costs. If so suggest them to the other vendors to see if it makes sense.
  12.  If possible ask your vendors for the parts lists and comparison shop. Many times they work with a favorite supply house that may not always get the best price, especially if they just mark up the price and pass it along. By comparison shopping you show you are involved in the project, plus shows you are very serious about saving money. Typically contractors will mark up the materials 10% so if you find a better price and ask them to order it, expect a slight increase. 

Moving the data center
1.       Plan every detail of the move. When we plan we have it down to the minute on who is going to work on which cabinet, when each server will be shutdown, when it will be unracked, moved, racked, cabled, powered up etc. Be prepared though to throw the plan out. Things never go according to plan, so don’t get hung up when things slip. By having gone through the planning process you will be so familiar with what needs to happen you will be able to make good “heat of the moment” decisions.
2.       Make sure you order food. Not everyone likes the same thing, so make sure you get your order in, otherwise you could get stuck with nothing but cheese or Hawaiian pizza. No offense to the three people who actually prefer these foods, but seriously pineapple on pizza?
3.       Only have one copy of the documentation. If everyone has a different copy of the documentation, throw all of it out and go without it. You won’t be any worse off and at least then you can blame it on lack of documentation.
4.       Make sure the documentation isn’t on a server that is being moved. Trust me, if it’s on the server you are moving, it won’t do any good.
5.       Communicate outages clearly and often. One of the worst things that can happen is for one of the VP’s to call 10 minutes after the truck left claiming they didn’t know about it and need to ship a ten million dollar order.
6.       Plan for people downtime. I’ve heard the whole “Sleep is for the weak” argument, but at some point you cause more damage than you do work. Taking a break and getting some sleep will make you more effective.
7.       Double check the tools and other supplies (moving carts, paper, pencil, tape etc) are available. Typically when data centers are moving, no one else is around and all the stores are closed. Getting  a roll of tape Tuesday afternoon is easy, at 3:00AM on Saturday in the middle of nowhere is not.
8.       Go over the process ahead of time. A walkthrough the day before and again an hour before will make sure people don’t get confused and start putting servers back where they came from.
9.       Servers take 5 minutes to rack, and 5 minutes per cable with two people. Really. I questioned the time once and the team had me do a cabinet (pre move of course). It really does take that long. Also that is 5 minutes per cable. If you have a server with 8 Ethernet ports, 2 power supplies and an out of band management port it will really take an hour. Any less and it will look awful.
10.   When planning the schedule ensure that people aren’t all working on the same cabinet at the same time. It won’t work.
11.   Make sure everyone understands the port numbering. If the switches go 1-24 on the top row and some people think it is odd on the top and even on the bottom. You will have problems.
12.   Verify the documentation before you move. It’s much easier to write down which cable goes to which port when it is still plugged in, than it is to remember where it came from. Have it done once, then have someone else double check it. It really is that important.
13.   People environment. Servers don’t mind the noise and like 65 degree air, people not so much. If you can turn the temp up and the noise down.
14.   Separate application test teams. By the end of the weekend you will be tired and can get sloppy. If possible have a separate team to test the environment
15.   Startup order is important. If you try to bring up servers before the domain, or some applications before the database servers, you can cause issues. If there is an order, make sure the people racking and cabling the servers leave them off until they are ready to come up.
16.   Record issues and lessons learned. Keep track of every problem you run into and what you did to resolve it. This does two things, it reminds everyone how many hurdles the team overcame, and it helps down the road when you see the same problem.
17.   Setup a conference call and make sure everyone can dial in with cell phones, and mutes them (unless they are talking of course) to help troubleshoot issues.
18.   Always have a plan B. If the elevator breaks can you really carry the servers up the stairs?
19.   If you have redundancy or a DR site, use it, but only if it makes sense to. In our case we didn’t have a hot site, but if you do and it is truly redundant use it and move during the week. It will make the move less stressful and test your DR.
20.   Sometimes things just break. If you have something that is broken, don’t automatically assume it is move related. It probably is, but don’t assume it.
21.   If you can, reboot all the servers before the move. This helps find startup issues like patches that were downloaded but not installed.
22.   Have a priority list. You may run out of time, so make sure you know what applications and servers need to be up.
23.   All the teams are team members. Many times other departments, contractors or subcontractors will help. Treat them as if they were your own employees. The success of your project depends on them too.
24.   Celebrate after. Moving a data center is a huge undertaking. Take the time to recognize the team for a great job. You never know when you will have to do it again.

The last tip I’ve learned. If you are the manager for the project or team, be on site and involved in the move, not in the way, and don’t try to help, but get coffee, food, snacks, coil up the old cables, sweep the floor,  etc.

Let’s be honest, you probably aren’t that much help, but having you there emphasize how important the project is. Besides if it goes really bad at least you know you can sleep in late on Monday. I mean you’re probably going to get fired anyway, might as well be rested.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Contract clauses

A few posts ago I mentioned some clauses we add to our contracts to frankly make life easier. I mentioned one of them and agreed to post a few more.

If the sales team changes you have 90 days to decide if you want to stay

When it comes to contracts and vendors, the most important thing is the relationship. If it’s really that important, and I believe it is, why not emphasize that by putting language in the contract to give you a way out if you get a sales team that is below expectations.

 A good sales team is worth their weight in gold, even with the crazy high gold prices we have now. With a bad team, you are fighting a losing battle for any issue. You need someone at the vendor on your side and the people making commission off of you are the ones to be there for you.

We recently had a disagreement with a telecom vendor on a fraud charge. Our sales team went to bat for us and got the charge credited back. Arguably we never should have even seen the charge, and I have to wonder if I will have to fight every time, but without them getting the right people engaged I would have been stuck with the charges.

Billing needs to be correct or the vendor has penalties

If I underpay or miss an invoice I get hit with interest penalties, shouldn’t the same be true if the vendor overcharges me and had to credit me later? Maybe a little pressure on vendors to get their billing systems working properly will reduce all of our costs.

In the 10 years I have been working with telecom companies, I don’t think I’ve gotten more than a handful of bills that have been correct. Even worse is when you finally, after months of time, resolve an issue, it frequently magically re-appears.

I think billing needs to be correct out of the gate. In fact I think if billing mistakes keep showing up, the penalties should increase. Start at 1% and add a percent to the bill each month it is wrong. If you have a good sales team, they will start reviewing your bill for you, and a really good sales team will then find ways to reduce your costs even more in hopes that you will give them more business.


Chance to renegotiate pricing if market prices decrease

Telecom and networking changes fast; the technology changes and pricing drops every day. To protect yourself and your company, any multi-year contract should be able to be adjusted to cover market pricing drops and new technology.
I inherited a contract with a large telecom company right about the time that VPN started taking off. The performance was better and the costs were much better and it just made sense to change our frame relay links over to this. Unfortunately our contract didn’t allow us to do that and we ended up having to wait to take advantage of this change. We had planned to upgrade the bandwidth of our links, so the monthly recurring charge to the vendor would have been the same. We ended up switching vendors when the contract was up. A vendor with no flexibility isn’t one I want to do business with.


With the current economy many companies are merging or getting acquired. It’s important to have language in any contract that allows it to be transferred.
If you think there is a chance a competitor will buy the vendor you are working with, add a clause that lets you transfer out of that as well.

Business downturn

As companies enter and exit markets, ensure that your contracts allow this to happen. For example if you close an office in Brazil, make sure you can cancel the circuits without getting penalized for this. If you simply don’t like the vendor and want to change vendors, this won’t apply.

Terminate for convenience

It’s hard to tell what is going to happen in the future, so put in a termination for convenience clause. These usually include a pretty hefty termination fee along with them, but if you just need to get out of the contract for whatever reason, these are invaluable.
Often times these will not be a lot cheaper than paying the contract’s monthly fee, but even a 50% penalty is better than being stuck with a contract that you just can’t use.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Top ten reasons people tell me they don't chatter

 Anytime a new disruptive technology comes out there always are the naysayers who have dozens of reasons why it won't work. #Chatter is no different so just to help make it easier for people to have their reasons why I created a list.

So the top ten reasons why people can't use chatter. This is sort of specific to #enterasys but I'm betting you can relate to it.

10. I don’t have an account. False: Everyone here has an account. It’s your email address for the username and your “regular” password to login.
9. I don’t know how to chat. It’s as simple as typing, but we also offer a chatter class. Send me an email and I can set you up.
8. I don’t have time to chat. Chatting takes less time than you think. In fact you can probably do it from your phone while waiting for traffic, lunch or the line at the restroom at the next Celtics game.
7. I don’t have anything to chat about. Everyone has something to chat about. Things that may not be exciting to you, probably would be useful to someone else. Worst case people stop following you.
6. I don’t like people following me. It creeps me out. Yeah it creeps all of us out, but you get used to it. I still feel like that guy in the Verizon commercials with the whole team following him around.
5. I don’t login to  You can use the chatter client. Download it here or wait a week or so and we will have it installed on your machine for you.
4. I don’t even know how to get to The URL, or web address is Click the link and it will take you there.
3. It says my 5 year old version of internet explorer is too old. They’re right it is too old, upgrade it, or call us and we will get you on windows 7.
2. I don’t want to say something that should be under NDA and get in trouble. This is only for internal people, so keep it business professional and you’ll be fine.

But the number one reason people don’t use chatter.

1.       I just can’t seem to get as many followers as Vala and it hurts my pride……
(Vala is our VP of global support and the number 1 followed person in the company).

Monday, October 25, 2010

In search of good customer service

I spent this past weekend writing a letter to a door company, complaining about their customer service. Now in reality it didn’t take me all weekend to write the 5 page letter, but I did spend most of the weekend fuming about how bad their support is and thinking about how important service after the sale is.

You see we tried to call the local office and they did try to help, but they either were too new, or didn’t seem to care.  Trying to find a contact at the corporate office seems darn near impossible. You see I can email, by filling out a form, or call the 800 number that seems to just go to the dreaded, on-hold music, with the occasional “You’re call is important to us, though not important enough that we are actually going to answer it” message. (I’m paraphrasing their message a little bit)

Now maybe I’m biased because I’m used to the good customer service I get at work. So I decided to test it. I mean let’s be honest I can walk upstairs and talk to the phone support team, since they are in the same building as me. We don’t outsource support since we truly believe that there is nothing more important than our customers, we want to make sure that we support them properly.

Of course I can call support, their numbers are easy to find, and I know most of them for the last 10 years, because we’ve worked together that long. (The actual average tenure is 12 years).  When I do need to call them, someone answers the phone that actually knows something, rather than making me recite my support contract number and offering to have someone call me back that knows something. Being able to talk to someone right away that knows something that can help me, is very cool.

I can also call the VP of support, of course, anyone can because his email and phone number are on the website for anyone to call. Our CEO also gives out his business card with his number to any customer that visits. I’m not sure how often he gets called, but I’d guess not very often. When everyone in support knows that an unhappy (or happy) customer can call the CEO they tend to make sure that everyone is happy.

So maybe I should just accept the poor service I get from the door company and realize I’m just spoiled. Or I can take my business to a company that actually cares and demand good service. If we all did that, think how much more pleasant our weekends could be.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chatter desktop

Over the years I've been called a Unix bigot, a Microsoft Fanboy and I'm sure if I keep posting about salesforce chatter I'll get lumped into that category too. Strangely enough I've never been in the Apple camp, probably because I'm, well cheap...

But, regardless of the risk of becoming a salesforce cheerleader, we started using chatter, see an older post on that, and just yesterday chatted about the new chatter desktop. I just counted, by hand - there should be a better way - and we have over 65 chatter desktop users. It's over because frankly I got bored doing all the counting and stopped there.

It's actually a very cool but useful tool. Just today one of the QA engineers chatted he was starting a new suite of DHCP automated tests and was looking for real world configurations so he could better mimic how people use it. I saw the chat and replied he was more than welcome to come down and see what options we use. He gets a better testing environment, we get better tested product, which is great because we always beta  test or alpha test our products and the closet the QA environment is to production the more they will catch before telling us it's OK. All because of a 200 word chat....

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Upgrading an N7 to S8

We recently upgraded one of our core switches in the data center. Since not everyone gets to see this type of work done, we thought we would share what we did and how a change like this typically goes.

We had a lovely Enterasys N7 chassis and it has served us well, but we were running out of ports and needed to expand our iSCSI storage, so time to go to S. Plus we need 10Gb ports but didn’t have any more room in the N for more blades.

The first step is of course removing the N. The first thing to do is to remove all the blades. These things are
heavy and there’s not much room to have a bunch of people trying to help. Lightening the load is the only real way to do it. They do make a fancy lift that can slide in between the rails and lift it for you. We don’t have one, so we manually do it. Remove the power supplies too....

One of the challenges is that the N7 was 7 blades vertically and the S is using 2 blades horizontally. The trick we found was to split the cables based on the blade, before you put the new S8 chassis in the rack. It’s also a good time to re-label all the cables, if you need to.

But once this is done it’s a lot easier. The trick is to take the cables that go into the bottom blade and run them through the lower opening and the ones for the top through the top opening.

Since the cables are already split the top half of the cables go in the top blade and the bottom go in the lower blade. It just makes it easier to find the right cable when you need it. We did need to re-run 20 or so cables since they were too short. It’s one of the problems with the direction of the blades changing. We might just start using 20 foot cables instead of 15’s.

Typically it takes 5 minutes to run the cable, label, it, connect it in and make it look clean, per Ethernet cable. Power cables are 2 minutes but that’s because they are shorter and usually a lot less of them to have to try and straighten out. Really they do take that long. I questioned it once and they made me cable a rack. It took me that long and it still looked awful. You can do it quicker, but it will look awful and be harder to manage and troubleshoot.

Once all the cables are in, it’s just a little cleanup on them to make them look good and we are done.

Total time to actually do the work was about 5 hours. There’s a lot more time that goes into planning, verifying the documentation is correct and updating it when you are done, Total time including that was closer to 1 week.
I've got pictures, but they didn't seem to want to post today. If you are interested, let me know. I'd be glad to share that with you.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Salesforce chatter

We've been using chatter for a while now. in fact we were one of the private beta customers. When we rolled it out, it was not really announced and instead sort of grew by word of mouth. We had decent traffic,  probably 100 chats a week, which is good, but we recently had our first chatter class and expect it to jump up a bit.
Chatter is salesforce's version of facebook and twitter but for private use. It also allows you to follow "salesforce objects" like contacts, opportunities, cases etc. Pretty cool if you are in sales or support, marginally interesting for other functions. 
We do a lot of customer demo's and I always like to see if the customer we show our data center and products to actually end up buying so I'll probably start following them to keep up with what they do. It also will allow me to offer suggestions if I see them having a problem (because they open a case with support). 
We also use it a lot just tokeep people connected. It's amazing how much "water cooler"discussions can get started based on a single chat. We recently upgraded a core switch in our data center, during the day, with no network downtime during the change out. Pretty cool stuff. But it's not just cool to us IT geeks, but to the firmware engineers building the product to see it work. It’s good for the service guys to see how long it took us, so they can better price out when they do it. It's also cool for the hardware engineers to see how we do cable management. All of this from one chat.
We actually had our first official class today. I announced we were having it at 8:00PM Wednesday night and had 8 responses in 10 minutes, goes to show how many people are checking their email
after hours. By the end of the next day the class was full with 25 people signed up. We'll be having another one soon since it was in such high demand. Also we had a request for remote training so we'll be doing a webcast as well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Silly Telco's

We got notified by a collections agency for a past due invoice. Occasionally something slips through the cracks and it's easy enough for us to go back and pay it, assuming it's ours. Many times shockingly, it's not.

The thing that struck me as interesting is after trading emails for a week trying to figure out what it was for we said "Hey can you send us the invoice, so we can see what it is you are talking about?" the answer was "I'll have to check with my boss."

Now maybe I'm old fashioned, but if I'm expecting someone to pay a bill, it's sort of implied that they should be able to see the bill. .The sad part is, this invoice is actually all the way back in 2006. Really it's almost 5 years old and they just now realized it was past due? Shouldn't there be a statute of limitations on this stuff?

It's only around $2500 so it's hardly going to break the bank, but shouldn't they tell me when it's past due by 30,60,90 days, rather than wait 5 years? We've actually started putting in a clause in our new contracts that they can't invoice us for services back more than 12 months just to avoid this issue in the future.

We actually have half a dozen clauses we use now. I'll post more of them later

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Let's talk about Green....

There sure are a lot of vendors selling “Green” solutions now. I’m all for helping save the earth, I mean I live here too and would hate to suddenly find my house underwater when all the glaciers melt, but many of these solutions don’t really make sense once you start peeling back the onion so to speak. In some cases they actually cost more and while that may be worth it from an ecological perspective, there are also some solutions that both help with the environment and have a good return on investment.

Recently I was a at a windows 7 event and got to hear Microsoft talk about the new features in Windows 7. They have some cool things like the ability to snap two windows side by side, which is neat.  You can quickly see the desktop by going to the bottom right of the screen and you can even have machines auto connect to the corporate network anytime that they are on the internet using something called “Direct Access”.

It all sounded pretty cool, but one thing they mentioned that sounded a little too good to be true was that by upgrading from XP to Windows 7, you could reduce your power costs by 40%. Since I tend to be a little skeptical l figured it was just the regular power saving options like turning off the screen and windows 7 just made it easier. Frankly I thought it was a marketing gimmick.

I figured, why not test it? We had a spare machine and one of our interns had time to experiment with it and ran some tests. The first test was windows XP running idle for 24 hours, running a video player for 24 hours and running a benchmark test tool for 24 hours.

Next he upgraded the OS to windows 7 and reran the tests. Sure enough the same tests on XP used 3-5 times more power than on Windows 7. I was shocked.
Now does that mean you should just go upgrade to windows 7? Microsoft claims most companies will save between $19 and $45 per machine. Our tests confirm $23, so it’s definitely believable since our power is fairly cheap compared to some of the higher cost places. While this is cool, one of the best things for us is the fact that less power used means more battery life.

While the cost of windows 7 can be high, unless you have an agreement that gives you free upgrades, I wouldn’t recommend switching just for the power savings on this. The ROI based on just power is too high, it is nice to see that the numbers Microsoft gave us are real and not some magic soft costs number that you will never really see.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Things that make you wonder

I had to stop and get fuel this morning, which isn't that surprising, when you drive 150 miles a day you tend to stop at least twice a week. I'm a cash guy, and I know as a techie I should be more into using things like debit cards and pay at the pump, but I don't know I like cash. Seeing it leave my hands helps me realize how much I spend every week.

If you don't pay at the pump then you need to go in, pay and then go pump. So I went in gave the lady my $30 and went out to pump the diesel. I noticed though that the pump works great but at 29.50 is stops and starts pumping very slowly. Every time it stops right at 29.50, then takes another 25 seconds to put in the remaining fifty cents. If they can stop at an exact dollar amount, why not stop it at exactly 30 and save me 25 seconds a trip?

It turns out everyone has a theory, but the one I like the best is "because users will freak out thinking the pump won't stop if the gas pumps don;t stop early enough". Interesting and this actually ties back into something IT related.

Figuring out what users want, versus what they ask for. Believe it or not, not all users understand exactly what they are looking for and do their best to explain it in terms of what they know. Gasp! Our job in IT is to ask enough intelligent questions to understand what they want and get it for them.

One example we had a number of years ago was with our marketing department. They wanted a "customized web site that delivers content based on logins and rights, so each user gets the content that they want".

"Oh so a portal like the sharepoint portal we deployed last year?" I innocently asked.

"No, not that. It needs to be customizable based on who logs in."

This went back and forth for a while and we finally built them a portal on sharepoint and simply told them it was a "user customizable web site" instead of a site on sharepoint. Go figure.

We also had a service desk call a year or so ago because the fax machine was down and they couldn't process orders. Now we don't get a ton of orders through the fax machine, so this struck us as a little odd. As it turns out the sales team would print out the order, attach a cover sheet, fax it upstairs to order management who would then print out the order to file it and then enter is into SAP.

Now to most IT folks the problem is more than the fax machine didn't work, and really more along the lines of a very antiquated process. We ended up fixing the fax machine, but the tech that was there was bright enough to say, "You know we can probably make this a little bit easier for you", and we ended up automating the feed from the sales team directly into SAP.

Two key points:

1. Build what they want, not what they ask for. Better is to resolve the discrepancy.
2. Hire really bright techs who ask questions and follow up to improve things, not just close the ticket.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Windows mobile 7

Well Microsoft is ready to launch their iphone/blackberry/android killer phone, or at least killer phone wannabe.

I saw an early version months ago at a CIO Conference in Redmond. it looked pretty cool and if they had released it during the summer I might have gotten one, but like many other people, I just switched to an Android, specifically, the HTC EVO. As one of my guys said, for almost a week straight when he got his, "The most powerful handheld in the world". Not sure how true that is. but it is much cooler than the blackberry curve I had.

Mobile phones a tricky and I don't envy Microsoft having to try and beat some of these. Iphone users are almost rabidly fanatic, and the droid-ers are almost as bad.

It will be curious to see who wins. I remember in the 90's everyone counted Microsoft out of IP networking. They were pushing NetBios. Web browsers, I still have my T-shirt for downloading IE the day it launched. Web servers, I remember not planning to even mention Microsoft IIS in "Running a Perfect Intranet" because it was just not relevant. I'm not sure what the latest percentages are, but clearly they are in the top 3 of those markets.

I suspect the top 3 will end up being iphone, blackberry (assuming they can figure out that the iphone is more than a touch screen) and Microsoft. The droid phones I think will suffer from the same problem linux has. No central ownership confuses the market and makes it risky for CIO's to bet their careers on it. They will own a lot of market share together, but probably won't be a clear winner.

Of course I reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow than I am today.