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 Salesforce.com.  You can use the Salesforce.com chatter client. Download it here https://na6.salesforce.com/setup/chatterdesktop/chatterdesktopsetup.apexp 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 Salesforce.com. The URL, or web address is https://login.salesforce.com 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 Salesforce.com 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.