Thursday, December 15, 2011

Collateral damage of the browser wars

Is it just me, or is starting to become a real pain to use web applications? I mean they are great, and I love the idea of 100% web, but it seems like I need 3 or 4 browsers to be able to use all of my apps.

Some work fine in IE but not chrome, others only work is firefox. Then some only work in chrome. So if I want to use Okta to get into ADP, i need to use IE. But if I want to get my email, chrome works better.

What would be cool, I mean besides all applications working in all browsers, would be a way to track which sites get opened with which browser and automatically start the right one when I click on the URL. Microsoft sort of does this with their application virtualization stuff. At least in the demo it knew to open site A in IE6 and site b in IE9.

It just seems way to confusing to me. I can only imagine what our users must think when we have to say things like "Open your email with google chrome, unless it's encrypted then use Firefox, but if you follow a link to sharepoint you need to use internet explorer"

I'm hoping, though not very optimistic that HTML5 will fix this. Anyone find any cool tools that make this better? If so I'd love to hear about them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Linked > Monster

I'm actually working on a social media class for our employees on LinkedIn. We've already done classes on Chatter, and Twitter so LinkedIn is next.

Facebook is on the list as well but frankly I haven't figured out what to talk about with Facebook yet, and am still of the mindset that Facebook is more personal than professional. I think that's me being old fashioned, but hey, if someone else wants to do the Facebook class, they are more than welcome to. The last think I really need is the whole company to see my prom picture from 1985. For those that have seen it I'm sticking to my story that it was a cool look back then.

OK but back to LinkedIn. When I mentioned I was thinking about doing the class, someone said "Why? Do you want people to find other jobs?". Which of course made me realize that the impression about LinkedIn is that's where you post when you are looking for a new job.

Now LinkedIn is a great place to network, and if you are looking for a new job networking is a great way to help with that. Networking though is only a  piece of the puzzle when job hunting and since I'm not writing this post to help people find jobs I'll leave it alone, maybe another post later.

The reality though is LinkedIn is way more than a job board. It has a whole section on company, including what products they sell, recommendations from your connections, research on employees - like which schools people went to, what type of degrees they received, and how much experience they have as shown below.

Pretty cool right. Does it matter that 52% of our employees have 15+ years experience? Yeah, it does. There is a big difference between getting someone with 15 years experience helping you troubleshoot a network issue when you first call in for assistance, and getting someone with 6 months experience who will gladly take your contract info and have someone call you back.

You can also see News headlines that you care about. Search for new connections (great if you are in sales),  I can give recommendations to people I know (which I really need to do more of) and keep in touch as people move around.

My favorite section though is groups. There are groups on practically everything. Some groups are very good, some not so good. I have found them to be incredibly useful though when looking for new technology or even just new ways of working, like Agile programming or Scrum project management. Generally if you are struggling with an issue, there is probably a group that can help solve it. If not solve it, they can at least sympathize with you.

There are a host of other interesting applications, like or twitter integration. You can link to amazon so people can see what you are reading, or and I just found this, you can link blogs right into your LinkedIn profile and see what your connections are blogging about. Not sure how cool this will be, but it sounds cool and based on the 90 second analysis I just did, it is pretty cool.

The summary though is this LinkedIn is way more than a tool to find your next job. Who knows,it may even help you keep the one you already have.

Monday, October 10, 2011

When long tenure is bad..

I'm pretty lucky, most of my staff has worked with me for 10+ years. There are some great benefits to that, like the wealth of institutional knowledge in the group, and the fact that we can eliminate a lot of bureaucracy and that frankly we work well together.

There is a dark side to though. We are pretty spoiled with our network management toolset and don't even realize how lucky we are. Two examples came up the last week when we we're talking to customers. They were really excited to see these features and frankly we were shocked that other vendors don't have them. In some cases we have had this ability for almost 20 years

If you are a long term Enterasys customer you have probably used these features a lot too and you may also be surprised that not everyone has these.

The first one is "compass". At it's simplest it lets you find a device on the network. You can locate them by MAC or IP address or if you use authentication you can find them by name. Now this is very helpful if you have a device behaving badly. You can simply type in the address and find out which switch and port it is plugged into.

Or if you have a user that calls in with an issue, you can simply search by their username. Most people know their username, very few actually know what a MAC address is and even less have memorized theirs. I know mine has an 8 in it, but that's as far as I remember. Being able to search on username just makes it that much easier and quicker to resolve a users issue.

History lesson on Compass: Many years ago it would list all of the ports, including uplinks, that the device was seen on, but over time it's gotten pretty good about just showing the one port that it is physically connected to.  The early prototype was a unix shell script that required the user to manually convert the MAC address to decimal and enter it that way. It's way better now.

Third Party devices
The second "feature" is the ability to manage third party devices in our network management software. I sort of thought everyone did this but several people told me the product they are using (I didn't ask whose it was) only supported their products. To me that seems odd since SNMP has been around for a long time.

Now the fact that we can manage the entire network as one entity, whether it is wired or wireless, I can see that being unique, but being able to add something like a printer or UPS, seems pretty basic to me.

I'm glad I have these two things but honestly I've gotten so used to having them I can't imagine trying to run a network without them. I almost want to go run a competitors network for a few weeks so I can appreicate how lucky I am.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How people want to manage networks

I was watching a cool video with Mark Benioff and Eric Schmidt (CEO's of and Google - you may have heard of them) and one thing they highlighted between Microsoft and Apple was Apple focused on the consumer experience more than Microsoft did. Now I'm not about to comment on that but it did get me thinking, how do network managers want to manage networks?

I mean the way it works now managing networks is a lot of work. Typically you have a ton of devices that you need to manually configure, or at least configure separately, using a "command line interface" or CLI. These are usually pretty cryptic commands, though they do usually have a help key, like ?, to make it easier. The problem is though you usually need to do this to every device to make a change or view what's going on.

Imagine a scenario where you get a call from a user in a remote site saying "SAP is slow". Generally that prompts a lot of questions, like:

"What site are you in?"
"Are other applications running slowly?"
"Is anyone else having the same issue?"
and my favorite
"Have you rebooted?"

Now even once you get these questions answered, typically a network engineer will need to find their laptop and boot it up (which can take a few minutes), connect to a network or cellular modem, fire up VPN and then start to look around at the site to see what's going on.

If this is an after hours page, those minutes can seem like a long time (especially at say 3:00AM when you are trying to be quiet so you don't wake the rest of the house). Then you need to start "telnetting" to different routers and switches to figure out what's happening. Many times it's as simple as a bad cable or port and simply changing that can fix it, but it's not always the port the user is plugged into. Sometimes it is a port "upstream" that can take longer to find.

Other times, it's a simple issue of too many people using the link, sometimes appropriately, sometimes not.  With viruses, the users may not even realize that they are using resources.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make these problems easier to find. I'd love to say we don't have them at Enterasys but we do to, but when we have them we figure out how to fix them, I mean really fix the underlying issue, like why does it take so long to figure out someone closed a fiber cable in a door in Ireland.

What we came up with is called isaac. With isaac, instead of having to boot up a laptop, connect in through VPN and then start troubleshooting by going to each device, I get to "chat" with my network. In the scenarios above the chat is really simple.
"Are any devices down". I should have already been paged on these of course, but it's good to double check.
"Is the site experiencing any bandwidth issues"
       if so "Who is the biggest user",
       then if I want to I can stop the user from causing problems with a simple command like:
                    "ratelimit <user>", or
                    "blacklist <user>"
"Are any ports showing errors"?
     If so where are they so I can have a local technician replace them.

I can actually do these commands from my smart phone, or anyone else's smart phone that lets me get to Twitter or Chatter

We think this is a better way. What do you think?  I'd love to get comments on how you want to manage networks. What other commands would you want to see?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Network "Ghostbusting" with isaac

One of the worst network issues to troubleshoot is the "ghosts in the network". This is the kind that are random, sporadic and as soon as you look one place, they seem to move. You know what I mean right?

It starts with a call or email "Hey the network seems slow" and as you start looking at the network closet the user is in, you hear another "Is the Internet down?" from the other side of the building. Next more calls come in but everything you monitor shows up and working fine. Usually these come in at lunch, or even worse just as you sit down to a nice steak dinner at a fancy restaurant...

You can spend a lot of time tracking down these issues, at least I know we do, well used to. I'm pretty lucky because when we are troubleshooting an issue, we usually will grab a few of our network engineers to help us. Not because we can't figure it out, but it lets them see what we do to troubleshoot and often times leads to a new idea for a product. Flow setup throttling came up this way a few years back and some cool isaac commands started this way too.

So imagine you start hearing about ghosts. What can you do. The first thing is to find the user. There's not much point troubleshooting the Andover LAN, when the user is travelling and actually in Germany. (Trust me, been there before). This will get you all the technical details you need, like which port or access point they are connected to, what the IP is, what role they are in etc. It also gives you a regional and local map in case you need to dispatch someone out there. The command is called "find ", pretty obvious right? If not you can actually create a new name for the command like locate, or "vinden" if you want the command in Dutch.

The next thing is "topintferrs" this will show you the ports in your network that are generating the most errors. This could point you to a bad GBIC or fiber connection or a bad copper cable. I also usually run "topusers" which will show the ports with the most traffic on them. If a link is running close to 100%, start looking there.

If you find a bad cable, you have the information to send the closest technician out to fix it. If you find it's a single users saturating a link, you can issue "ratelimit" to slow them down, or "blacklist" to kick them off of the network entirely.

The best thing is using isaac, you can do this from your iphone, while at dinner without leaving the table and letting your food get cold....

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Some cool chatter things from Dreamforce 11

Wow, really kicking myself even more now after watching some of the keynote from DF....

OK My thoughts on the new chatter announcements.

One of the challenges to getting people to use salesforce is giving them a reason to be in it all the time. ChatterNow can be your new IM and they have some sort of sharepoint integration. Now Hopefully the ChatterNow IM client works with all the other IM clients so it works beyond just users. Otherwise that's going to be a hard sell.

Chatter workflow
When we first got workflows back in sharepoint 2007, I was all excited. This would allow users to build their own applications. So many of our "applications" are really just forms with workflow and if we could get business users to build their own applications, we could free IT resources up for "hard core" development.

It didn't really catch on in 2007 but I'm hoping it will in 2011. This will be a huge shift in how IT organizations operate and are structured.

Using Chatter to transform your business

Well I was supposed to present at Dreamforce 11 but Irene managed to ruin my travel plans and I couldn't get there in time. I'm really bummed since we (Dave McDermott, Andrea Lazaru and I) had all spent a lot of time on the presentation and making last minute changes, namely having to have them cover my slides, is rough.

They did a great job but I still wish I was there in person.

I did follow along as best I could using the dreamforce mobile app. One of the questions was around chatter adoption in smaller companies versus larger ones.

We (Enterasys) are probably more mid-sized than small with slightly over 1000 employees globally. Kelly (where Dave is from) is around 6500. So compared to them we are smaller. I suspect the question was really around 1-200 employees.

I think for me though the size of the company is less important than the culture of the company. Any time we implement new systems or processes that really transform the way we work we focus on 3 main areas, Culture, Process and Tools.

Culture is the first. If your culture isn't one that is open, honest, transparent, flexible and respectful, chatter isn't going to save you. People need to be willing to share successes and failures and learn from each other, and that doesn't happen if everyone is worried about getting "thrown under the bus". So if culture is broken, it will need to be fixed first.

Now chatter can be a great way to help re-enforce this culture, but the executives need to want to change the company culture too, Chatter is just a tool, a kick ass tool, but still just a tool.

Process is the second area to look at. If the process doesn't enforce the use of the tool, it won't get adopted well. We have a saying "The easy way needs to be the right way". For us we did sort of force encourage people to start using chatter as part of their process. We would purposely communicate certain things only through chatter. The two biggest were sales wins that our CEO posts almost daily. Everyone likes to hear how we are doing. The other is "free cookies or food". Usually if we have a meeting and there is any food or snacks left, we will chat the location. You don't follow me on chatter, you miss out.

Then the last piece is making sure the tools fits the environment. If you never had, chatter might not be the right tool and something like yammer could be a better fit. Chatter for us is exactly the right tool because we use salesforce for sales, service, IT governance and other things, so it's a great fit.

I think the size of the company does come into play a little bit, but really more around scale than anything. It obviously takes more time to deploy chatter desktop to 10k employees and train them, but scale is a good problem to have with pretty clear resolutions.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dreamforce 11 Here I come.

I am very excited to be speaking at what has to be one of the coolest events this year,'s Dreamforce. Not only are there tons of great executives speaking and sharing their experiences, great events like Metallica playing a concert for everyone and Mark Benioff presenting the Social Enterprise but it's also in San Francisco which is one of those cities I've been meaning to see.

I'm presenting with two excellent experts, Andrea Lazaru from and Dave McDermott from Kelly Services. Kelly Services places a new employee once every 60 seconds and with today's unemployment, a good name to keep in mind.... Just saying.

We are talking about "Using Chatter to transform your business." We are one of the first sessions of Dreamforce kicking off at 2:00PM on Tuesday, if you are at Dreamforce stop by. Vala Afshar has already pointed out his session has more registered users and while I'm not competitive I'd like to make sure he at least has to work to beat me. Dan Petlon and Ben Doyle, my esteemed IT colleagues, are also speaking at various sessions so we are definitely going to be heard.

A few people have pointed out that I, being the infrastructure guy, must feel like a lamb being led to slaughter at a cloud event. Cloud people and infrastructure people historically haven't seen eye to eye. Enterasys uses chatter a lot, have seen big though subtle changes in our company and are also driving a huge change in the way networks are managed and run using tools like, Enterasys Network’s own Isaac.

For us Chatter, and social media in general, are transforming not just the way we run our business, and interact with customers and partners, but really transforming our entire industry. In five years will network managers really need to learn cryptic CLI commands on individual devices, when they can simply talk in natural language to their network as a system?

Chatter really helps transform how we can communicate to not just other people but to anything. Smart devices like networks, vehicles like Toyota and smart appliances should be able to interact with us. Humans are social creatures, at Enterasys we are learning how to make our networks socially aware so that they can communicate with us on our level. That’s how we are getting ready for Dreamforce11 and the future!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why move to Fiber Channel over Ethernet? Actually…. No reason.

--- warning --- This is an old article from 09. Some of this may have changed since then, but since there is some talk about fcoe now that others are saying it is dead, I figured I'd repost it (or maybe post it for the first time since I can't seem to find it anywhere) --- Rich

I’m a big fan of new technology. Typically it makes a lot of sense and allows us to run a very efficient IT organization. Efficient to us, means more than cheap, though our costs are lower than the average in our industry, it also means providing great business value. Our main metric is really how well our internal customers think of IT. Our goal is to make sure that if anyone in the company is asked how the IT department does, we want to hear back “They’re great”.

Since we are normally early adopters we tend to do a lot of testing and benchmarking ourselves. We deployed Microsoft Windows XP to 100% of the company by the time it was shipping. We are running Office 2007, with Sharepoint integration and Unified Communications and have been for years. We have some 10Gb Ethernet deployed, but for all the latest and greatest technology we have deployed, we spent months in the lab testing and checked over the numbers to prove the investment made sense.

I was excited to start hearing about Fiber Channel over Ethernet, or FCoE, but the more we peeled back the onion the more we cried. It just doesn’t make sense to us. I’m sure it must to some companies, but for us we can’t make it make sense. The following article explains why we just don’t see this as a good fit for us. Your mileage may vary, as the saying goes. We are not paid to do technology analysis, just our analysis of why it won’t work for us and why we went to iSCSI instead.

Talking to experts and reading a ton of web pages we were told there were a few key advantages; namely, power savings; security; better performance and less cabling. These advantages would overcome the higher initial costs to purchase, the training curve and upgrades required to get it running. Let’s jump into our testing and see how it made out.

FCoE requires new hardware, iSCSI can use existing hardware or new hardware if you want to scale more

FCoE, according to the experts, requires a big investment to get working. You need to replace the standard network interface cards (NIC’s) in the servers with Converged Network Adapters, or CNA’s. That costs money and of course downtime to put them in. You also need to upgrade your data center network to the new, non-standard, Converged Enhanced Ethernet. If you want to reduce costs you could just replace the part of your data center that is going to use FCoE and run all the FCoE ports to the upgraded LAN, but then you lose the ability to plug in anywhere and have it work which complicates the cabling. Wasn’t simpler cabling one of the point of this?

To start using iSCSI requires the interfaces on the disk storage to change, but that’s it. iSCSI will run over traditional data center networks and servers can typically just install an iSCSI initiator, which is basically a driver, and start using the storage right away. If you need better performance, you can upgrade the network cards to ones that support TOE, or TCP/IP Offload Engine if they don’t already support that. You should test them in the lab before buying them since some of them can actually make performance worse not better.

iSCSI is easier to manage than FC and FCoE

We used to be a fiber channel shop, but every time we wanted to make a change, it seemed to involve a billable support call. Maybe we just weren’t storage experts, or maybe we just were too nervous. I don’t know. It’s a lot to have to manage the worldwide names, zoning, interconnects etc.

I do know though that when we put in the iSCSI storage we wanted to setup replication between our two data centers to prepare for a consolidation of the two. I decided to “grease the skids” a little and called our sales team to see if they would volunteer a local sales engineer to help us do this. The iSCSI storage was still new, so getting some outside advice seemed prudent. They agreed but when I went to the storage admin to let him know he laughed.

“I don’t need any help, it’s already done. You right click on the volume and chose where you want it to replicate. It should be done in a few minutes”. I was shocked, very relieved, but shocked that it was so easy.

FCOE is a better protocol than iSCSI when combined with the new Converged Enhanced Ethernet

The new Converged Enhanced Ethernet, or CEE, that you need to run FCoE with is lossless and blocking, which sounds cool, but this means if the switch gets busy, all of the ports stop accepting traffic. I’m not sure I want the traffic in my data center to stop, especially on all the ports of a switch. Traditional Ethernet will drop packets, which sounds worse, but since the overlying protocols expect this, they simply retransmit or back off as needed. This is how Ethernet has worked for over 30 years so it’s pretty proven. Don’t mistake CEE for Ethernet. Just because it has the word Ethernet in the name, that’s the end of the similarities. It’s like calling catwoman a cat.

You can work around this by only using the new data center Ethernet for your SAN ports and leaving the rest of the network on the traditional Ethernet. Of course this means you have twice as many cables and essentially a separate network for storage, which is what FCoE is supposed to get rid of. Confused yet?

The FCoE folks will say that they are more reliable because their network is lossless, but in our testing this had no impact. In fact last week we had a power outage and accidentally took down half of our iSCSI storage. Since this was the first time we had taken it offline without a shutdown, we were concerned about data corruption. Out of 100 virtual machines that were running when the storage went away, we had zero data corruption. Once we fixed the power issue and spun the storage back up, we just restarted the virtual images and were back up and running.

Also, even though many people think of TCP/IP and Ethernet as one technology they are separate. You can run Ethernet with other protocols, like IPX. In fact the FCoE standard is a new ethertype. Why does this matter? iSCSI, which runs over IP can be routed, FCoE can’t. While I’m not sure that you would want to run iSCSI over a WAN, you could do it in a pinch or at least route it internally in your data center. Personally I like having the option.

FCOE has better theoretical performance

I suspect the overhead of TCP and IP makes this true, but iSCSI is good enough. We run our entire organization on iSCSI over straight 1Gbe. The way SANS are designed now there are many 1Gb links so getting 20G of performance with regular gigabit Ethernet is easy. If you use 10GB instead of 1Gb links, you will be waiting on disk or server, long before you are waiting on the network anyway, even if you need to retransmit a few bits here and there.

In fact with our previous fiber channel solution and our new iSCSI solution we ran some test builds. Engineers hate waiting for a build to finish, so making them take longer wasn’t going to be an easy sell. When we first met with them they said “if it’s slower, we aren’t moving”. Luckily for us we matched the performance, which made it an easy sell. What we did not do though was test a new FC array so the test is somewhat skewed, but does show that iSCSI performance was more than adequate for our needs. SAP, Exchange and SQL data rates also showed similar performance.
We looked at our iSCSI ports to see how many, if any retransmissions there were. While we did see some retransmissions, the percentage of packets we had to retransmit was .000007 percent, on the worst port. This is hardly enough to worry about.

Power savings

I think this argument is more for fiber channel versus fiber channel over Ethernet, but seriously how much does a single card use for power in a server? As it turns out it’s around 5 watts, at .12 a kwh, that equates to $5.12 USD to run a year. Not much of an ROI, unless you plan to keep it for say 100 years……

I guess you could compare the power needed to run a fiber channel switch versus an Ethernet switch as well. A Brocade DCX with 48, 8GB fiber channel ports on it uses 1337 watts. A 3com 8814 with 48 10GB ports uses 1620 watts or 283 watts more, or to put it in terms of money around $297.50 at our average cost of .12 kwh.
Again there is definitely some power savings, but not really enough to be a big factor in the decision.

FCoE is more secure

Sorry I don’t believe this either. If you run network policy you can dynamically restrict access (or allow access) to only devices that need to access other iscsi devices, only registered clients can talk to the servers and only on ports required for iscsi. Arguably FC would be more secure, since it’s physically separate but you could also build a physically separate LAN using traditional switching.

Of course this is the same argument we had with VLANS back when they were new, and yes physically separate LANS are arguably more secure then VLANS, but who would run a network without VLANS today?

FCoE uses less cabling and is easier to manage.

Uhm how’s that again? If I switch to iscsi instead of FC it will be the same, a pair of 10Ge links and a remote management port. I’ll agree that you will have fewer cables than straight fiber channel but if you’re going to move anyway why compare that.

Secondly if the cables are already run, labeled and dressed in, who cares? Frankly if it’s already done, wouldn’t it be more work to pull the old cables out, run new ones, label them, update the documentation and clean them up? Sounds like it to me.
I’ll agree that you will use less cables going to 10G Ethernet over 1G, but that’s a networking discussion and really has little to do with the protocols on top of it.


The main reasons I hear to switch to FCoe; power savings; security; better performance and less cabling didn’t hold water in our testing. In addition iSCSI is easier to manage, more flexible and cheaper to start using. Oh and we can use it now.
For us the decision came down to total cost. ISCSI performed better than we needed and we didn’t need to spend a lot of cash to get it in. We could use our existing servers and network and simply upgraded the storage. Since we were going to do that anyway changing from fiber channel made sense.

We also wanted to change now. FCoE and the new enhanced Ethernet isn’t ready yet, in fact most of the Converged Enhanced Ethernet won’t even be ratified for a year and deploying pre-standard products can mean a re-install when the standard finally does come out.

Some companies, or more accurately, some storage administrators may be hesitant to switch to iSCSI and will invariably come up with reasons not to switch. Religious battles aside, iSCSI is worth a serious lab test to try it. You can switch now, get 10G Ethernet, reduce your cabling costs and get the benefits today.

I can see why Brocade and Cisco like it. Brocade is rooted in fiber channel, without it they lose a lot of revenue and market share, and it’s a great way for them to better position the products they got when they purchased Foundry. Cisco on the other hand has to create a new market just to be able to continue to grow and keep its stock price climbing, or at least staying the same. What better way than to convince us we all need a new Cisco network. Maybe this time they’ll throw in the forklift needed to change everything out. For the price they could.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Do we need "cloud brokers"?

I was at NEVMUG (The New England VMware Users Group) a few weeks ago (has it really been a few weeks???) and talking to several of the vendors there. Some I have known for years, like Actifio, Rutter, Dell, Mosaic and Riverbed and it's always nice to see old friends. A few I didn't know and it was great to see some of the new ideas people have.

One company is called TwinStrata. I probably can't do them justice but the "nugget of information" I picked up was they help you get your storage into the cloud, any cloud. They have a cache locally for performance reasons (kind of required for latency reasons) and connectors to rackspace storage, Amazon S3, Google storage etc.

The cool thing though is you can use their product to move between cloud providers too. So the question is, when or will we ever, need someone that brokers the best deals for us in cloud storage and then moves my data around dynamically. I'm thinking of the power model where National Grid (or Central Maine Power) provides distribution (like TwinStrata) and someone else provides the power. I can switch who I get power from to get the best rates and in fact we have a power broker that helps us with this. Do we need the same thing for storage? Will we for virtual computing too, once that's more open I guess.

Makes me wonder what tomorrow will bring...

Monday, August 1, 2011

The new collaboration

I've been working on a dreamforce 11 presentation about chatter. It's a powerpoint presentation and I've been on google apps for a while and I really noticed a difference between the "old way" of collaborating and the "new way".

In Google apps, I create a document, share it, and then just make changes to it as I see fit. If my co-presenters want to make changes, and I've given them the rights to, they can. If we want to have a chat discussion about the changes first (which is always a good idea) we can chat right in the document. It's very cool and allows me to focus all of my energy on the content and none on the logistics of sharing the document.

But for this presentation we are using powerpoint. Don't get me wrong, I love powerpoint. Frankly when I'm working on something it's great. The challenge with it is when I need to work with other people.

The way we work as a team with powerpoint is slower. Basically I make a draft, and email it out, in this case it's too big so we use Salesforce content deliveries. My co-presenters make changes and email it back. If they both made changes I need to merge the changes together and then email it back out. Repeat until done.

As you can see I have to spend a lot of energy just managing the changes, which means less time making them. As much as I hate to admit it, my amount of time to spend on this is limited so the more I can spend on creating content versus managing changes, the better.

Now powerpoint is better for creating presentations than google presentations. Everyone knows powerpoint, it has cool features like "smart art" and with Office 365 it's supposed to be better at collaborating. I hope either MS gets better at collaborating or Google adds more features.

I love the new way of working, just need to get the best of both worlds in one tool.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Customer service is more than a script

I went to get breakfast the other day, and while this may seem mundane and of no real consequence to anything work related, bear with me.

You see the place I went to prides itself on customer service. The service was OK, but hardly amazing. I mean the food was prepared quickly, I made it through the drive thru (yes I know not the healthiest choice, but that’s not the point either), and the lady at the window did say “Have a great day and come again”. So what’s my complaint.

Well this may seem minor, but if you want me to believe you really care about me having a good day, say it to me, not as you are turning away to do something else.

Connecting with customers is more than following the checklist or a script, you need to really care if they are having a good day. Look them in the eye, smile and say “Have a great day!” and really want them to have a good day.

It’s the difference between having a teacher that has a thirst for sharing what he or she knows, and having someone that just likes the idea of tenure and summers off. My sister is a teacher and don’t get me wrong, she likes her summers off, but she has also been teaching others since she was in grade school. Seriously, my mother used to babysit and we would all teach the younger kids what we learned in school. If you think my sister isn’t a great teacher because she lives to educate, you would be wrong.

Now maybe this lady had something else very important going on, maybe someone just dropped something or called her name and this caused her to turn. I don’t know and this one incident isn’t likely to make me stop going there. I mean even saying “Have a good day” is better than many other places do. But it was enough to prompt me to think about it on my ride in and take the time to write this post, so clearly it’s important to me. Is it important to you too? Is it important ro your customers?

Monday, June 27, 2011

pixelmedia, enterasys and culture

I spent a half a day yesterday talking to some friends over at Pixel Media in Portsmouth about culture. It all started when I saw this video. We are talking about doing something similar and since I’ve known some of these guys for in some cases well over 20 years, I figured I’d pick their brains a bit.

First you are probably asking “Why they heck is an IT Infrastructure guy even talking about culture?” and I have to admit it’s a little discussed area but way more important than most of us give it credit for. It’s one of the main reason I love working at Enterasys. I spend actually very little time in what most people consider “real it management work” and spend 30% of my time on internal socialzing, 40% on external customer, partner or industry events and only about 30% of my time on normal IT work. There’s another whole blog post rolling around my head on that for now the main point is culture is important.

The other hat I wear is as the current chairman for an internal group called the “Extended Leadership Team”. There is another whole post on this too, but for now it’s a group of 20 or so volunteers from all over the company whose goal is to make the company a better place. The three topics we are currently focused on are Relationship, Culture and Growth.

So what did I learn at PixelMedia? Well we talked a bit about them and their company. (Very cool company and one of about 4 other companies I would like to work for, if Enterasys wasn’t so cool). Some of the things both companies do include

Peer recognition. We allow everyone to nominate one person a quarter for an award and they get recognized and a $25 gift card. They do something similar but there is no limit to how many peer awards you can put someone in for. The awards are a little smaller, but the reality is the size of the award isn’t that important as much as being able to get a “Thank You” from a coworker.

Company meetings. We both do regular meetings that are more than hearing the revenue numbers. Not that knowing how the company performs isn’t very important, but we both also make the events fun. Both companies had a social event around the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup. We are both based near Boston so that’s a big deal. If the Bruins didn’t win we probably would have had a summer kick-off event instead. The point is to get people together in a relaxed atmosphere.

Executives with a sense of humor. Both companies have an executive team that is friendly, enjoys having fun and can take a joke. They had a nice spoof of Eric Dodier when he won an award, where everyone came in dressed like him carrying a “Pixel Media” football, which happened to be the photo they took of Eric. This was payback for a balloon related incident. At our Bruins event, it just happened to be Brad, one of our VP’s birthday, so our CEO may have let it leak to the entire company. Brad of course was trying to fly under the radar on this one. A relaxed executive team that can have fun and laugh makes for a more relaxed company.

Relationship building mini events. We started cross department lunches to get departments to mingle more. In fact Friday Finance, IT and Sales Ops are having lunch. Pixel did a “Lunch Lottery” where anyone can put their name in and they randomly draw 5-10 names and go to a local restaurant with one of the executives. I like their way better since it makes them more random. We tend to still have people sitting with who they normally sit with and though I keep threatening it. I’m not quite draconian enough to do assigned seating…

Proud heritage. They did a great job of showing off customer wiins, awards and their history going back to the 90’s. Enterasys is working on this in our corporate headquarters and building a “museum” of sorts to show our 30+ year history of innovation. I was struggling with whether it should be just the products, but I’m thinking we should also try and capture some of them other nostalgia of the time.

There’s more but these were the big take-ways some other items we talked about where social responsibility of companies, quality of life and spending time with family and friends and giving back to the community we are in. It was all good stuff and definitely worth the half of a day out of the office. I encourage you to check them out on facebook. They do a great job showing the company personality online, something I think we will get better at.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What the cloud really means for IT

I sat in on a google vision conference in Cambridge. It was very cool, in fact until then every time my boss mentioned moving email to the cloud I had to try not to roll my eyes. Hopefully I didn’t do it when he was looking, but our IT management team occasionally disagree and have good dialog around why each of us think what we think. At the end of the day we generally come to an agreement.

After the conference though I went from reluctantly saying I’d do it, after all work is not a democracy, to probably being the most pro-cloud one of the group. Partly this is because I started really using Google apps, and it’s pretty good. The user interface probably isn’t as polished as the Microsoft Office tools but frankly it does what I need it to do and aside from a few annoyances works well.

More importantly though was the Google vision of 100% web. It’s the idea that soon everything will be a web based application and the only thing you will need is a web browser to do your work. Frankly we aren’t that far away from that now. At Enterasys we use SAP,, Email, Office (for documents, spreadsheets, notes and presentations) Agile for engineering document control, and a host of smaller web applications for things like purchase requisitions, job requisitions, expense reports, time off reporting. In fact the only application on this list that we use a thick client for is SAP. They have a web gui now but we still use the client.

Up until this when we talked to “cloud people” they always tried to sell me on cost savings and “Opex versus Capex” discussions. Frankly the cost savings rarely panned out when we drilled into it. We run a very lean IT shop and if there were cost savings, once we threw in training and ramp up time, it was a wash at least for a few years. Saving $20,000 a year is great, but going to the cloud is a big change and doesn’t really warrant the career risk if it goes wrong.

Maybe opex is better than capex, I don’t claim to be a financial genius, but at the end of the day it’s all money the company is spending whether it’s all at once or spread into monthly payments. I tend to think of it like car shopping. It’s always better, for me at least, to buy the car than to lease it. I drive my cars around 50,000 miles a year and since most leases are for 12k a year that makes me a poor candidate for a lease, plus if something happens I have the option to keep the car longer at no additional cost. I tend to keep my cars longer than most so the up front cost makes sense.

When the economy went downhill we stretched our IT budget by delaying server upgrades for an extra year or more. This isn’t something you get to do when you are on a monthly subscription basis. Which means my options to reduce spending is reduced to cutting training, travel or headcount. Of course when I own the infrastructure reducing headcount by 5% also doesn’t reduce my costs by 5% like it would in the cloud.

So the financial side of it isn’t very interesting to me. The google approach was different though. They didn’t even mention costs or capex, well maybe they did but I was probably spacing out at that point thinking “Well this was an afternoon wasted”

As they walked through the 100% web idea though it suddenly hit me. It’s not about the money, it’s about the new role of IT. If we get everything to the cloud or at least web based, all of a sudden we really can get to a stateless client where any web client will allow people to work. I can use my Dell laptop running Windows 7, I can use my iPad or I can use my HTC Evo Android phone, and I can work from anywhere that has an Internet connection.

If you ask most people in the company what IT does you will probably get something along the lines of “They fix my computer”, “They run the servers”, or if you are really lucky “They support my application”. All of these answers revolve around running IT. That’s because something like 70-80% of IT is running IT, not adding new value. It’s no wonder that they think of us as “printer guys”. It’s what we have been doing.

I looked at what our IT department did and realized, though we are pretty good, we still spent over 50% of our IT resources on running systems and desktops. If we went to a 100% web environment I could easily change my staffs focus from running IT, to enabling the business. Just think...

Instead of iunstalling patches on laptops we can work on new integration tools
If we aren't building new servers we could be finding and testing new applications
If we didn't have to watch backups we would have time to talk to the business and help them be more efficient
Instead of testing disaster recovery we can redesign process to reduce costs

I think in the next 3-5 years this trend will continue, and we will spend less time on maintenance and even less on development and much more focus on training, which we are terrible at as an industry, and analysis. The chart shows what we expect to see as we implement more cloud and web services.

In summary we expect that by leveraging the cloud and moving to 100% web we will reduce the amount of time spent running IT and instead spend more time helping the rest of the business run better.

If you work in IT and are saying to yourself, “Well that’s great except I’m a server administrator. What do I do?” First don’t panic. Even if we go as fast as we could it will be three years or more before most companies don’t have local servers, plus servers don’t go away they move to cloud providers. So if you really like working with servers, you can always work for one of them.

But before you update your resume and plan to move to a large cloud provider, stop. Close your eyes and think for 30 seconds about what you would really like to be working on. Be honest. Now I’m going to go out on a limb and say very few people said “I really want to get paged at 2:00AM because of a hard drive failure”, or “I want to watch backup tapes spin”, but many of us have to do just that.

There are a few skills that everyone should work on though to prepare for this changing role of IT. The first is one that we should be doing better with now, soft skills. As a group we still tend to not listen well and get set in our ways. I catch myself doing this frequently and have to step back and think about what users are really asking for. It’s a skill that doesn’t come easy to everyone but it’s very important.

Learn to speak to people. It’s very easy to fire back an email response and avoid communicating, but it’s much more impactful when you actually go talk to someone. Plus many times you can spend much less time on a problem when you have instant dialog. I’ve seen people spend 5 hours sending emails back and forth and when they finally went over it took 10 minutes to solve.

Get in touch with your inner geek. It’s OK to spend time “playing around with” new stuff. Google actually tells people 20% of their time should be working on something that they are passionate about. I’m not quite sure I can have everyone spend a day a week on something interesting, but I like the idea.

I actually spent a few days last week working on “AppInventor”. It’s a cool little cloud based applications that lets you build applications for an android phone. Now that really has nothing to do with what I do, but it was fun and got me thinking of a way to leverage that to get Enterasys some marketing. We are working on building a practice test for network engineers working on their Enterasys certifications. Was this time well spent? I guess we will see, but I think so.

If everyone had time to talk to their peers in the rest of the business and could work on a pet project that may add brand recognition or revenue to the company, wouldn’t it be a better place?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cloudforce Boston


That pretty much sums up my thoughts on the Boston Cloudforce event put on by I'm actually pissed that we have been a customer since 2003 and I have never been. It's a great event and now one of two events I plan to make every year. The other is VMUG in Freeport, free all you can eat lobster and steak is hard to pass up.... Oh and they have presentations on VMWare too.

Now cloudforce didn't have free lobster, though it did have an open bar (though I don't drink so would have traded the beer and wine for a burger). It wasn't because Marc Benioff talked about how innovative Enterasys is for integrating social networking on network management. He did of course, but that wasn't why I thought it was so cool.

I was just super impressed how the whole team told the story of the "Social Revolution" and how cloud is passe now. I guess we have been talking about cloud for years now. Everything is social now. But they also showed how that helps.

The talked about "Toyota Friend" where you can friend your Toyota and get stats on everything about your car. WIsh VW had that for my Jetta TDI actually.

They showed a great video about KLM airline where they would use social networks to find people that were stuck in their terminal, and figure out what they would like for a gift and actualy deliver it. They called it KLM Surprise.

They showed a demonstration of a support person using facetime to, in real time, troubleshot an issue with a video conference unit, based on a facebook comment they saw.

Marc also talked about the three steps to become a social company. I ended up with about ten ideas I want to go do right away, including half a dozen new ISAAC ideas...

I did get a copy of "Behind the cloud" which is Marc Benniof explaining how came about. I'm only on page 50 but so far think this is my new favorite business book. If you ever get a chance to go to one of these events, do it...

Friday, June 17, 2011


I just got done reading "Whatever you do, don't buy a Chromebook" from Galen Gruman and while he brings up some good points but some I disagree with, or more correctly don't see as a problem in my testing

1. The web isn't good enough to be your information center.
Well arguable I don't travel that much but I sort of forgot that my email wasn't local and I was a big proponent of outlook's cached mode. Partly because without it my 1.8G mailbox was unusable. With gmail though it's fast enough to be on the web. Note: Much of my time is actually on my wireless 3g which in central Maine is 2 bars of EVDO rev A. Not exactly super fast but worked fine.

Most of my stuff was only on my laptop because I was too lazy to store it somewhere else, which since I last backed my laptop up in 08 was really a disaster waiting to happen. The fact that I can't store things locally is actually good for me.

Internet security? Really? Are we still having this debate. Now I would be a little nervous if the CIA was using the public internet to do stuff, but I'm not exactly worried about my data being targetted by other countries. For what we do the cloud providers to at least as good a job as we do, which is pretty darn good. Could the Chinese, Russian or US government, get in and steal my data, probably. Am I going to stay up at night worrying about that, probably not.

2. The browser in a box isn't good enough

Well I've been 100% web for a few months and with very few exceptions haven't used a real PC since then. (I do use it for calendaring and some email but that's more of a sympton of how we did ouy initial google POC than anything else).

Google Docs does more than enough to suit me, but I also don't do any crazy spreadsheet stuff like some finance folks do. If I needed to do a fancy powerpoint, I'd use sliderocket over google presentations, but it's still in the cloud.

I do miss having dual displays and can see why some people would miss bluetooth but even on my Dell I never used an external keyboard and mouse. I just never wanted to get used to it and then not have it when I went to a meeting.

The best reason for me to like the chrome book though was a story that happened to me last weekend. My girlfriend had her laptop and was surfing on the internet looking for gardening sites and kept getting "Your machine has been infected" malware messages. So after a few times I suggested she try my cr-48. She could get to everything she needed, was faster than her laptop (which admittedly is an 8 year old piece of crap) and she got away from the issues of getting infected. Plus since she was logged in as a guest, none of her banking info remains on my work machine.

VDI, at least last I looked was too expensive, better off to just issue laptops, IMHO of course....

Printing is an issue. No argument there, but I don't print that much. The last thing I was going to print was directions and I decided it was easier to simply use the GPS on my android phone, who knew?

Battery life and bootup time rocks on the cr-48. I used it all weekend on one charge, not for solid 48 hours of course, but, 8 hours is a reality. My laptop I could stretch to 4 or 5 which was still pretty good. My ipad was about the same 8 hours, but not having a keyboard ruined the ipad for me.

3. Can Google deliver a polished product?
I'll agree the UI in gmail annoys me sometimes, I mean really I can't sort my email on subject or sender? Really? But they also have some very cool features that make me want to deal with the clunkiness, like priority inbox and folders. Collaboration with Google Apps is awesome! Since most of what I do is that, I'll trade not having some of the features that I rarely use for the ability to collaborate in real time with my peers easily.

Are there things I'd like to see better, of course, but every product has that... I for one will keep my chromebook.

But I think Galen missed the best benefit, no IT management really needed. I don't need to have a dedicated patching person or figure out how to backup laptops. Of course I could just turn on windows updates and really should have figured out backups long ago. I don't need AV and anti malware, at least not yet. And I don't need to worry about data at rest issues (assuming my cloud providers do)

I still think taking a longer term vision on where IT is going makes the chrome books make more sense...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Network outage collaboration

One of the things I picked up out of this article was about collaboration. One of the hardest things when troubleshooting a network issue is getting the right people working together to brainstorm the issue, without duplicating efforts.

In the past we would kick up a conference bridge, or gather around one person's desk and all offer suggestions. Not really the most efficient use of resources, but not bad.

With ISAAC you can have a complete discussion within the network management tool and archived and date/time stamped. Instead of having to call, IM or email who just tried what, everyone can see what's going on by following the "outage". Equally cool, there is a time stamp on when things happened so going back and trying to work out a root cause or resolution is free.

We don't have that many outages any more but 10 years ago we used to have daily "Outage meetings" to discuss any issues from the previous night and would spend an hour or so reviewing what we did and could have done better. These wouldn't be a memory exercise with ISAAC around.

I wish telco's would do this so when I call for a status I could get something up to date, accurate and useful. ISP's should take notice!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The top ten things I love about ISAAC

In case you missed the game changing announcemetn from Enterasys, it's here. And of course if you follow @valaafshar on twitter you have been hearing hints about it for a while now. If not he is at!/ValaAfshar

If you read the announcement there's a fair amount of marketing terms and buzz words in there. I'm not a real buzzwordy kinda guy so here is in real words what it is and why Isaac Rocks....

It’s really the next level in network management, integrated with social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Chatter (which we use all the time internally). If like me you are never really away from work, having information on the network available in the same tools I’m normally using anyway makes it less intrusive. Plus it lets me deal with issues easily in a language that makes sense to me.

10.  it integrates the megatrends around mobile, virtual, and social media
9. it allows users to build their own custom language to manage a network
8. it lets me manage a network from any mobile device.
7.  it gives me an instant view into how the network is performing from my Android phone
6. my boss can generate real time stats to get answers to “If we decide to do remote training in Mexico, will the WAN support it” without asking the network engineers
5. it gives me a reason to spend half of my time on facebook and twitter without getting in trouble
4. when i'm having a nice dinner with family and friends and get called, i can fix network issues without getting in trouble
3. it lets me build simple commands to do complex things, like "#ratelimit rcasselb 1M"
2. it makes me feel like part of the under 30 crowd by being "hip and social" which helps offset my thinning hair and thickening midsection :)

but the biggest reason Isaac rocks is I get all of the above plus a ton of other cool things I haven't even really thought about yet.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Microsoft cloud

We had a great day today in Waltham, well once we got past the tipped over sheetrock truck on 95/93 interchange. Sitting on 128 for an hour was not great.

Wed reviewed Microsofts' Office 365 and azure offerings and I can honestly say that they seem to have a good story on how to get your existing Microsoft infrastructure in the cloud. Exchange is an easy move to the MS cloud and in the next year you will get new features more quickly than the on-premise versions. Very cool.

Office 365 allows you to change your licensing model and have "viewers" have a less expensive option that can be accessed anywhere from "any" machine. "Any" is somewhat misleading since it does need to be a current browser and a standard OS with silverlight support, or at least it didn't work on my joli OS based web machine. Someone more savvy than me might be able to get it working, but after an hour the challenge stopped being fun.

Even SQL seems to have a good roadmap of getting to the cloud. I'm not really a SQL guy but it looked pretty cool from what I know.

And Windows Azure also seems pretty cool, though having to rebuild applications for the cloud means legacy applications will probably stay where they are and new ones will be built on Azure instead. I'd rather there was a "upgrade to cloud" button somewhere, but I'm sure some partner somewhere will come up with one someday.

All in all it was exactly what I expected, which is the problem. It's not really disruptive. If you read my post on google's cloud vision, it was a drastically new way of running IT. It gets rid of clients (essentially) and lets me get out of managing clients and servers and all the things that go with it, like antivirus, patching and even backups. It lets me stop running IT and starting moving the company forward instead.

The MS one is a much easier migration with much less risk. In fact if done correctly most users would never even know they are in the cloud. If your CEO comes to you and says "We need to go to the cloud" and you are thinking "Ugh, who did he go golfing with that put this in his head", the MS vision is perfect for you.

OK that's a bit harsh, there are a lot of reasons to avoid a big change on a largely unproven technology vision.

If you are trying to shake things up though that doesn't do it. Sure it helps shift infrastructure costs to a monthly subscription cost, which frankly is a numbers game, IMHO. It also gets you out of managing servers and patches for the applications you move to Azure or Office 365 (sharepoint, Lync, Exchange) and it gets you "somewhat forced" regular upgrades. You have the option to wait up to a full year before being forced to upgrade. It's not bad, in fact for some people it's a great fit. I just wonder if it is enough of a change....

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

IT training

I tend to complain about training and how bad most IT departments are at it. Well we had a cool session today on Visio 2010. Our  Microsoft team recomended a local company called "Tips and Technologies" to do a 90 minute training class.

I didn't think we would have that much demand but I thought :hey if we can fill a room with 8 or 10 people why not right?" So we chatted it on salesforce and actually got over 100 responses asking to take the class. Now we only have 400 visio users so that clearly showed a huge pent up demand. We did provide breakfast and lunch but still that's a lot of people. 75 showed up for the class, which again is pretty good. 40 on sirte and 35 on web conference.

The training was great. Pretty fast paced, which was good. I've been to some classes where we spend 10 minutes learning to hit ctrl-p to print. I wasn't bored and learned a ton of cool tips.

I talked to Matt Roderman, the instructor and CEO of the company, and he has a great business model. The classes are $995, paid for by a credit card. No long drawn out statement of work, kegal contract etc and it's guaranteed. If the evaluations don't rate the trainer at least a 7.5 out of 10, you don't pay.  Even better you can have as many people in the class as you want.

We're already planning the next round f training to use him for. If, like me, you want to do a better job educating users on the software you probably pay millions of dollars for, check out

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Microsoft cloud

We had a call yesterday with one of the Microsoft PM's for exchange online and I may have to re-define my take on the MS cloud strategy. It seems like they may actually have one after all.

OK that may be a bit harsh, but when we had talked to them before they really didn't seem to get it. In fact they would say things like "You don't want innovation, you want better QA", or "Cloud fixes the licensing challenges". While Google's message was a lot crisper.

I'm thinking now that MS just hasn't done a good job sharing their cloud strategy throughout the company. Of course with 8 billion products it's got to be hard to share all that expertise. (Yes I made up the 8 billion number)...

The product manager yesterday though said things like "Cloud will always get the new features first", "We plan on releasing new features monthly to the online version", and showed us some cool features that are coming down the line that rival what we saw with Google.

Which puts me in an awkward position. Up until this point, going google was a no brainer, but now it requires some thinking... Sigh.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Jolicloud rocks!

I'm not sure what I did, or if it was one of the magic updates you get when you are on a cloud OS, but yesterday I noticed a whole new folder of applications called "local apps".

Inside of that is all the cool gadgets I have been looking for, including network tools (like portscan, traceroute, ping etc), disk utility, monitors. Using the monitors application it was easy to setup dual displays. It works just like the windows 7 dual displays. I so happy to have my dual screens back!

I did also learn how to move icons between screens. Not that it's tricky I just hadn't done it, drag it to the side of the screen and wait a second and it will scroll over.

Of course now I'll need to find something else to complain about...

Monday, April 4, 2011

ipad -vs- cloud OS

Ok I realize comparing an ipad to a Dell running Joli isn't really an apples to apples comparison but when I decided to try giving up Windows 7 and going to something lighter I made it 4 hours on my ipad before booting up my windows machine, I've been almost two weeks on my Joli OS.

Now don't get me wrong I love my ipad, even though now that the ipad2 is out I feel less cool than I did when I first got it. It's great for kicking back on the couch using flipbook, facebook, twitter, or just goofing around on the web. The email is good, not great and there are so many apps I don't even know what all the ones I have installed do, let alone all the millions in the app store.

When it come time to really work I just don't like the virtual keyboard. Maybe I haven't really given it a fair chance, but when I need to write a doc, or create a srpeadsheet or template, I just find it harder to use than a laptop. I still fight with me HTC EVO 4G even with swype so I think that's why I don't like the ipad. Now before you tell me I could use a bluetooth keyboard or a doc, yes I know, but then I have to carry something else around with it. Not to mention talk about not looking cool. That would be like having training wheels on a harley... just doesn't go...

With Joli OS (or Jolicloud, never remember what it's called now) I get the fast bootup like an ipad, I don't need itunes, and get the laptop form factor I've grown used to.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Week two in the cloud

This ends my second week of being pretty much entirely in the cloud.

Gmail continues to "tune itself" and does a good job figuring out which emails are important and putting them in the priority inbox. Spam it seems to struggle with a little but and I haven't figured out how to whitelist some sites, like say linkedin, facebook, or google.

I didn't get any time to play around with google gadgets yet which I really want to do, but we did enable something called "Cloudworks" from Appirio that is very cool. By default it gives us salesforce integration and some gadgets for chatter, which we use all the time, and pulls in contact data. I think it does opportunities and leads too but since I don't email with customers on a regular basis, I haven't seen that yet.

Jolicloud released a few updates that got added for me automatically and I figured out how to lock my screen. Turns out it's Ctrl-Alt-L.... They also added two cool features that I just started with. The first is google docs integration so all my google documents show up as a folder on my desktop. They did the same thing with dropbox so I had to break down and create an account.

I'm still waiting on the ipad version and the dual display version.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

One week with my head in the clouds....

I’ve been pretty exclusively living the cloud dream for a week now. My email and office productivity applications are on google, Gmail and Docs. I even migrated one of our internal sharepoint sites to Google sites. My OS is Joli OS, which is a cloud PC, so no Windows 7 running underneath it all.

So far it has been a decent experience. 

I figure other people are looking at doing the same thing. I know Enterasys is working with Appirio to kick off a pilot next month with 30 or so employees. My experiment is a more of a proof of concept than a real pilot. These users will be shown Gmail and have their outlook replaced with this. We’ll setup calendar synch and free busy sharing so it won’t be that disruptive.


First I think most of us use web based email for our home emails anyway, so it really shouldn’t be that big of a change for most people.

Priority inbox is definitely my favorite features. I’m not sure how it figures out which emails are important, but it does a really good job of doing it. This allows me to focus on the emails that need a quick response first and then deal with the rest of it when I get time.

Labels are great. When I was on outlook I would file my emails based on sender instead of topic, because I could only choose one file to put them in. Arguably search is good enough that I can still find them, but having the ability to put multiple labels on an email is a better solution.

There are some cool Outlook 2010 features I miss, like mailbox cleanup, which removes duplicate messages in a thread. I really miss being able to easily insert screenshots and images. With Gmail I need to take a screenshot, save the screenshot then upload it to my email. It’s not horrible, but it’s not as easy as pulling down a list of my active screens and choosing one.

Generally I think the user interface is better in outlook. Performance seems to be about the same. Using Joli OS I couldn’t do offline mode for my email, which sort of stinks. I use cached outlook all the time since many times where I live connectivity is spotty at best. I suspect this is as much a problem with my OS as gmail.

Google Sites

Google sites works well. It was easy to bring up a new site and moving new content in was a breeze. I also have the option to share this with people outside of my domain, something I can’t do myself in Sharepoint. I need to have a new site created on an extranet site and that means I need someone in the IT Web team to help me.

It was easy to add new documents especially if they were already in google docs. they have a ton of templates and gadgets, though most of the gadgets seem more focused on consumers. I can’t imaging I need a pacman gadget in my intranet, though it could make the day go by faster.

Generally I like it. I do want to spend some time trying to build a google gadget. I was looking for one that let me grab part of a website so I could quickly “integrate” with legacy web systems. I’m dying to find one that lets me map cube or office locations on a map based on the username. I’m surprised I can’t find one so I can type in a persons name and have their location shown on an office map.  Looking for “google map office location” is not the way to find this.....

It is very easy for me to spin up  a site and start collaborating with people outside of my domain and it warns me when I try to share it with someone external to me. Nice....


Well I’m writing this in docs, and it works fine. Frankly I think most people that hate the ribbon will love this version since it looks like Word used to. I can link to URL’s, include images, do bullets, all the things I normally do in a document.

I haven’t tried doing fancier stuff like newsletters, but I don’t normally do that in Word either.

Presentations are, at least to me, about the same. It took me a while to figure out how to put the corporate template online, but I also had no idea how it was done in PowerPoint either. It seems to work a little differently and I essentially created 4 slides that look the new slides with the right header and footer and you have to duplicate them. In presentations, saying new slide, gets you a blank one not a branded one.

One cool feature when you insert a video, it automatically searches for a video with the title of the slide. It didn’t do that for images which would be nice.

The big win though is really with collaboration. I can share the documents externally or with others in my company and we can all, at the same time, work on the document together. We’ve actually stopped mailing copies around, wait for exeryone to make their changes than some poor guy, usually me, has to merge them all back together. Now we just send out the link and work on it. No need to check in and out like in sharepoint 2007. I think sharepoint 2010 is better than 2007 but still not as good as google docs.

The other great collaboration feature, that got turned on this week, is the ability to start a discussion in a document (or spreadsheet, presentation etc). The discussion remains with the document until it is deleted. You can also resolve the discussion and leave it with the document. I can imagine this being a very popular feature.

Joli OS

So this is actually one of the main reasons I love the google vision. I have an operating system that runs really fast (boots in something ¼ of the time) and since all it does is web, no other processes compete for resources. It’s way faster than my windows 7 box, which lately has had many processes running away and killing performance.

Even cooler though is the fact that since everything is in the cloud if this machine dies, I don’t lose anything. Now arguable you could do this with Windows too, but if you have space on a local disk, everyone uses it and none of us back it up.

Also I can get to my desktop from any machine. They are even working on an ipad and android version so I can synch my desktop between my ipad, my Dell and my EVO.

Now it’s by no means perfect in fact some things are just annoying. For example I can;t lock my screen. I can sleep or hibernate but neither of these options seem to come back correctly. Or it will lock if idle for a few minutes, when I need to go now, I like to be able to hit ctrl-alt-del and lock it up.

I also have some java applications that work fine in windows, but not in joli OS. I think these are application issues, but it’s still a pain.

The most annoying thing though is I can’t get dual displays working. I love having two monitors, so much so that I installed “Air Display” so when I’m home I can use my ipad as a second screen. If there is a way to do this, I can’t figure it out.


So after a week, I’d call it a success. I am able to work, some things are easier, some are harder, but I also think it will get better. Joli releases new updates every few months, Google every week has something new. I won’t see anything drastic from Windows 7 or Exchange until 2013. I’m pretty sure by then the cloud will be better and I won’t have to upgrade.

As much as I hate to say it, I’m a cloud believer....