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....