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.