Dilbert Life Series: Mediocrity Kills aka Show Me Your Strategy Or Be Doomed


Disclaimer: The Dilbert® Life series is a string of post on corporate culture from hell and dysfunctional organizations running wild. This can be quite shocking and sobering. A sense of humor will help when reading this. If you need to live in a sugar coated world were all is well and bliss and think all you do is close to godliness, stop reading right now and forget about the blog entries. It’s going to be dark. Pitch black at times actually, with a twist of humor, if you can laugh at yourself.

“Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity trust upon them.”
― Joseph Heller, Catch-22

I don’t do mediocre. There, I said it. I only do good to great. Well sort of Smile.  The point is that no matter how good you are, you still mess up. While perfection is not of this world it doesn’t look too great on my résumé when I have to write “As a real team player I collaborated enthusiastically to achieve mediocrity”. Sure I might cover it up with fluff like “I integrated the lateral dynamics of horizontally deployed technologies across a vertically integrated stack to realize an optimal use of resources exposing their inherent value to the business while leveraging the synergies of the cloud”, but I won’t. image

As no one likes to be mediocre we sometimes see creative attempts to make sure we all pass the bar but we won’t discuss that here. Whilst every organization will have its share of mediocre processes, way too many are mediocre as an entire organization.

Indicators of mediocrity

Claiming to be innovative

Avoiding mediocrity is not about being original or “innovative” all of the time. Quite the opposite! Sometimes not being mediocre means using plain good commodity solutions that are great for the issue at hand. The good old 80/20 rule, “good enough is good enough” & commoditization delivers the best value for money here. Don’t spend vast amounts of money and time on custom or “boutique” solutions when a commodity will do. This has secondary benefits as well. That time and money can be used for some custom or creative design & work on the things that do matter a lot and make a big difference.

Groups providing false security

For some reasons mediocrity tends to flourish more often in groups and committees. I see this way too much. This danger of sliding into mediocrity exists as an individual but it seems to become more prevalent in a group or organization. Some of my peers call the “this the race to the bottom”:

”Mediocre people working for mediocre organizations delivering mediocre results”

Nobody wants to be that way, it just turns out like that. It has many reasons. The Peter Principle, The Dilbert Principle, B People hiring B people, human behavior in an environment where it’s wiser to conform & play politics than to get results etc. Don’t underestimate the group pressure to conform, avoid mistakes, be a team player or a “can do” person. And then there is the desire to avoid responsibility. Which also happens to be easier in group. The bigger the group in a meeting the bigger the risk of this, a group enforces indecisiveness & caters to fears.

Some organizations tolerate and even reward mediocrity. Management lead by example, whether they like it or not. The effects of this can be partially hidden and mitigated by real leadership in the group (competent employees, highly skilled external help), but it cannot be stopped. If management doesn’t care, they can’t expect others to care. If managers talks about team work & going the extra miles but don’t do so themselves, things break. If the need for safety, fear for failure or not looking good is what drives them you won’t progress & see success. Success cannot be bought and you can’t lead from behind.

Mediocre groups can be manipulated quite easily. “Politicians” like this. It’s like water following the path of least resistance. By leveraging the group you make them accomplices and they can’t complain about decisions made over their heads. Some (most) probably know all to well that they are being manipulated, but why struggle if there is no benefit in it? It safer to conform a when risk aversion sets in, great ideas die. Here’s a beautiful summary (thanks to Kathy Sierra):

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Avoiding reality is game we all play to some extent. The abuse of best practices, methodologies and such by clinging to time like a life craft or actually thinking that following the bullet points will magically result in stellar results. This leads to needing ever more resources for ever diminishing returns on investment. The organization becomes an overly complex entity where avoiding responsibility is a top priority and perception is everything. ITIL done wrong will achieve exactly that. It drains the all the fun out of work, and grinds progress to a halt. But no one is to blame as all rules where adhered to. Risk Avoidance As a Service (RAAS™).

Personal note: The power of a group lies in the excellence of the individuals and their ideas. Harvesting those to create the best possible solution is far from conformity to different points of view. It’s about leveraging the discussions, the different or opposite points of view to come to better solutions. In this respect I find the view that “people should learn to do what they’re told” misguided, dangerous & counter productive.

Who’s managing and who’s leading, if anyone?

It doesn’t take very long to walk into a group and observe who the real leaders are. Often these are not the people with the rank, title, mandate. In a lot of cases they are very different persons. This might sound great as a fail safe, but there’s only so many wrongs bottom up approaches can prevent or mitigate, let alone solve. “Bottom up” can only do so much.

This isn’t surprising as middle management is used a dumping ground for people they can do without in critical functions and are willing to sell their souls for the illusion of advancement. They often become a burden to employees & progress.

Now employees do notice this and it ruins trust. Sure you can blame the culture and bad attitude but hey when the team or the organization fails it is their fault and their responsibility. No this is not to harsh. They are all to eager to claim higher wages & ownership of success. Well that knife has two edges and you can’t blame it on the culture. You get the culture you cultivate Smile. Those that can’t handle that responsibility are the ones to fail as managers & most certainly as leaders. You cannot complain to your subordinates as a managers. Shit flows down, gripes flow up. Go it?

Read The Dilbert Life Series – A Bad Manager’s Priorities. Your personnel already has enough crap to deal with, just like you. Don’t add to it. Not that employees can’t be total fools and pains in the proverbial behind but hey, I have posts on that to.

Strategies, Tactics & Execution

Mediocrity is seen where real strategies, tactics & execution are missing. They just do or buy stuff, often without any understanding of the ecosystems they operate in and the relations between them. Their situational awareness is zero and that’s deadly. So we have “managers”, “architects”, “analysts”, both in house and consultants, that cannot even explain what a strategy is. They might claim or believe to have one, but they don’t. It’s opportunistic actions towards the flavor of the day. Such an organization is doomed for mediocrity and survival is by chance, not skill.

Who’s to blame?

Most people just try to survive or perhaps get ahead to a nicer job and/or a better paid one. But no one will admit to it on a performance review, so we have institutionalized lying. At best you’ll get justifications when you ask, but no real explanations. It’s not just as simple as managers being stupid or lazy. When it comes to strategy many are playing a game they don’t understand, let alone master. They are out of their depth and as such they are bound to lose. They’re being used.

However it’s very in vogue to blame the lack of Business – IT alignment for the woes in these volatile IT times. The problem is not IT or the business. It is the entire organization that allows for mediocrity. Sure you read that “IT is an old school ivory tower” all over the internet and it has to prove it’s value.  It’s pure management failure who don’t seem to know who does what and why in their organization. The division is purely artificial. It’s man made and kept alive as it serves political, personal & careerist agenda’s. Book authors, coaches & business consultant smile as they collect their fees discussing this at length. Welcome to mediocrity and failure. You have exactly what you have built.

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Nobody has any incentive to fix it either. There is good money to be made and job security to be had by prolonging the problem on both sides. Are these people to blame if some one keeps paying them for that? These woes are true both in the private and in the public sector. Bar some minor detail differences in buzz words they all get handled by the same players. These are the ones that deliver the lobbyists and advisers that turn out ever less services for ever higher costs. They sell “solutions”. One size fits all if possible. Gartner makes a killing from this situation and they do have a clear strategy for that.

No IT strategy? No map? You’re doomed, indecisiveness will kill you.

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If you don’t map out your game on the field you play on you can have no strategy. Without that you just do stuff. At best it’s functional (which is an achievement by the way) but often not. Planning, methods, tools … al of these fall victim to indecisiveness. So execution becomes impossible.

Here the result of decisiveness & purpose of action. You create green waves. When all the lights are green, you can ride the green wave. No starting, stopping, but a fluid highly effective way of moving ahead towards your target.

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You’re not always in that situation and the light will turn orange & red along the way. That’s live and it’s not too bad unless you get caught in deadlock traffic jams during rush hour.

That situation requires a solution as it’s stressing, frustrating and detrimental to achieving your goals. In extreme case the time between the colors becomes shorter and shorter and eventually drops to zero …

There is another form of deadlock. Doing everything for everyone at the same time to avoid making choices. All the lights are on, on all sides, at all times. You do not get a clear signal or guidance.

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Indecisive action kills or grinds you to a halt. Whatever the case you’re losing time and fail to reach your goals. Either by doing everything for everyone at the same time or by being stuck being in a mess. Game over.

Dilbert Life Series: The War For Talent


Disclaimer: The Dilbert® Life series is a string of post on corporate culture from hell and dysfunctional organizations running wild. This can be quite shocking and sobering. A sense of humor will help when reading this. If you need to live in a sugar coated world were all is well and bliss and think all you do is close to godliness, stop reading right now and forget about the blog entries. It’s going to be dark. Pitch black at times actually, with a twist of humor, if you can laugh at yourself.

Attracting & retaining talent

If you listen to the talking heads in the media, recruiters & companies and read business related publications you’ll have noticed that when it comes to “Human Resources” there is supposedly a global war on. A war for talent. It’s not just attracting the best and brightest employees that is a concern but retaining them is even a bigger challenge it seems. When things are not to their liking they just pack off and fly off to the next awesome job opportunity which are available in vast numbers and give freedom to excel whilst paying great salaries.

They are talking about somebody else

Keeping employees happy is supposed to be a major concern in “the talent wars”. All companies are in this war we’re told. Perhaps even if just for the fact that no company will admit they are not looking for great talented employees. All evidence to the contrary I might add as a lot of organizations do not act as if they are in a war for talent at all. Good jobs don’t seem to be available in any decent number either. It often looks more like they are in a race to the bottom.

Last year of our major news papers had front page news. “War for talent? Forget it, that doesn’t exist”. They point to high unemployment, low wage jobs, social dumping, demographics, immigration, age, sex, race, … discrimination. In short a slew of reasons to conclude the war for talent doesn’t exist. Basically it boils down to this: if companies are in a a war for talent they can’t afford to lose so they can’t afford to act like this. Ergo, there is no war for talent.

I kind of disagree. There is most definitely a war for talent and there has always been one until computers & robotics outsmart us (dream on!). But let’s face it reality, 95% of us is not considered talent at all, but a resource, so we’re not in that war. As a resource we’re as expendable as ammo in a war. As long as they can keep the supply line filled they’ll fire (pun intended) and waste those resources at will.  Basically we’re lucky if we’re smart enough and young (cheap?) enough to be considered employable. Forget the lower 20% of our unskilled workforce, for them the deal is even rougher. And when you get fired at > 50, well good luck “grandpa”. All this while the talking heads blabber on about working beyond 67 …

You want proof? Look around you. Here’s where the war for talent is raging: A Google Programmer ‘Blew Off’ A $500,000 Salary At A Startup — Because He’s Already Making $3 Million Every Year. Well that isn’t me and probably not you either. Now don’t think everyone at Google is in that position, it’s a minority. => Techies CAN sue Google, Apple, Intel et al accused of wage-strangling pact. You see they want your talent, but not pay for it in free market.

Lets look at some evidence that there might be no war for talent.

Toys & work force multipliers are not salary or a career

BYOD, a smartphone, tablet, laptop paid for by work. They bombard us with commercials about how we need to supply & support this if we want to stand a chance to even attract young talent. That’s only partially true. If I’m true top talent I’ll be able to afford those my self, thank you. I’d rather take a 6 figure salary and 30 days paid vacation & affordable quality health care. After all you need to take good care of talent, right?

Performance Reviews

A golden oldie. When judging by the annual performance review practices out there, they are trying to make talent walk by proving to them the organization is too hopeless to even stop totally useless evaluation practices.

November 14, 1993

In corporate life your management often has no clue what you do. They often don’t even understand it. To add injury to insult you often have to write them yourself.

January 06, 2003

Usually there’s only  a stick

If you don’t have promotions, bonuses, rewards (not a merit badge, that’s just Neanderthal gamification done very, very wrong) or pay raises in place what’s with this war for talent anyway?

The fact that you can fire me if I’m not up to your standards? What kind of a messed up model is that? If we’re below standards you have a stick, I get that. If I meet, exceed or absolutely own those standards what exactly do you have to offer? Absolutely nothing? March 10, 1995

Ouch! We cannot do anything for you, it’s out of our control, they’ll tell you. Could be, but I cannot get away with that answer when it comes to delivering results. Do you even offer a career path? Employees don’t get promoted and if they do, it’s without a pay raise. Pay raises themselves are dead except for the legal minimum.

The exit interview to improve retention

The exit interview is as useful as a post mortem in preventing death. It helps find out what went wrong after the facts, but slightly less accurate than a real post mortem because in general the deceased don’t lie to you when you’re probing around and they always show up, all be it they have to be carried in. Just think the people left you was because while you’re great & wonderful and they just didn’t fit in and leave it at that. You’ll sleep better and waste less time.

You are creating your own hell

Most CxO types complain constantly about the lack of skilled employees that can think independently and have the ability to execute in order to achieve an end state.  In reality that is their own fault. The system doesn’t work. The expect to buy and discard talent at will. Well there isn’t enough talent to go around anymore because too many don’t really invest in developing it for short term accounting benefits.

Talent needs time and opportunity to develops skills and expertise. No one wants to give that any more. So you’re creating your own shortage as it’s not magically going to start growing on trees. Secondly when you have people that have the intrinsic motivation, drive and abilities to develop themselves to be experts you don’t reward them. Instead they demand ever more from them and pay them nothing more then anyone else or even less as you promote the bodies you can do without. We’re creating our own skills gap hell. But it’s easier to cry that you are a victim of a failing education system that doesn’t deliver experts that are experienced and cheap straight out of college.

Short term perceived gains for real long term damage & costs

Without the right people in the right place you no longer have analytical, design and architectural expertise. You have outsourced all that to vendors, “partners” and consultants. So now who can evaluate what is valid and valuable for you? No one. You’ll just get sold the flavor of the day that generates them the most profits. And of that doesn’t work there is always new stuff to sell you that will fix it. You fell for the trap of easy and cheap access to expertise meaning you lost all the expertise you had yourself. You are now dependent on mercenaries and their aim is to make money for themselves and survive even if it means killing you.  Every penny you spend wisely internally is an investment. Every penny you spend stupidly on a vendor is buying stuff that potentially makes you more dependent on them.

Companies are the ones to blame as they’re constantly in search of quick & dirty wins for short term (personal) gain. “Quick” is forgotten as fast as the word itself entails but the dirty part lingers around and stinks up the place long after the facts.

War for talent? Think again.

So exactly what’s the game play here? Employees doing exactly enough not to get fired? Because by the rules that ignore the above everything we do above that level is a misallocation of our resources. That’s very, very Office Space like dude.

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In general it’s a race to the bottom leading to ever more mediocrity at ever higher costs and we all know who’ll get to pay the bill. Let’s hope some spin doctors can turn it into “good news”.

Windows 2003? Let it go!


Reflecting on some of the discussions I was in recently I can only say that there is no escaping reality. Here are some reference blogs for you.

You can’t get of Windows 2003 you say? Held hostage by ancient software from a previous century?  Sure I understand your problems and perils. But we do not negotiate with hostage takers. We get rid of them. Be realistic, do you think this is somehow going to get any better with age? What in 24 months? What about 48? You get the drift. What’s bad now will only be horrible in x amount of time.

Look at some issues people run into already:

Issues like this are not going to go away, new ones will pop up. Are you going to keep everything in your infrastructure frozen in time to try an avoid these? That’s not even coping, that’s suffering.

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What ever it is that’s blocking you, tomorrow is when you start planning to deal with it and execute on that plan. Don’t be paralyzed by fear or indecision. Over 12 years it will have been a supported OS by its end of life. Windows 2003 had a real good run but now it’s over. Let it go before it hurts you. You have no added value from a more recent version of Windows? Really? We need to talk, seriously.

UPDATE: Inspired by Aidan Finn (@joe_elway) who offered a very good picture to get the message across => click the picture to get the soundtrack! LET IT GO!

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Looking Back at the DELL CIO Executive Summit 2014


Yesterday I attended the DELL CIO Executive Summit 2014 in Brussels. Basically it was home match for me (yes that happens) and I consider it a compliment that I have been given the opportunity to be invited to a day of C level discussions.

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Apart from a great networking opportunity with our peers we had direct access to many of DELL’s executives. I found it interesting to see what some existing customers had to say and share about their experiences with DELL Services. Especially in the security side of things where they provide a level of expertise and assistance I did not yet realize they did.

The format was small scale and encouraged interactive discussions. That succeeded quite well and made for good interaction between the attending CIOs an DELL executives. We were not being sold to or killed by PowerPoint. Instead we engaged in very open discussions on our challenges and opportunities while providing feedback. It reminded me of the great interaction promoting format at the DELL Enterprise Forum 2014 in Frankfurt this year. You learn a lot from each other and how others deal with the opportunities that arise.

To give you an idea about the amount of access we got consider the following. Where can you walk up to the CEO of a +/- 24 Billion $ company and provide him some feedback on what you like and don’t like about the company he founded? Even better you get a direct, no nonsense answer which explains why and where.  Does he need to do this? My guess is not, but he does and I appreciate that as an IT Professional, Microsoft MVP and customer.

Before the CIO Executive Summit started I joined the Solutions Summit, to go talk shop with sponsors/partners like Intel and Microsoft, DELL employees & peers and lay my eyes on some generation 13 hardware for the 1st time in real life.

It was a long but very good day. As the question gets asked every now and then as to why I attend such summits and events, I can only say that it’s highly interesting to talk to your peers, vendors, engineers and executives. It prevents tunnel vision & acting in your village without knowledge of the world around you. Keeping your situational awareness in IT and business requires you to put in the effort and is highly advisable. It’s as important as a map, reconnaissance and intelligence to the military, without it you’re acting on a playing field you don’t even see let alone understand.

DELL CIO Executive Summit


I’ve been invited and I’m attending the CIO Executive Summit with DELL’s Executive Leadership Team on Wednesday September 17, 2014 in Brussels. It’s an opportunity to meet and network with my peers and IT leaders.  It also provide the opportunities to discuss challenges with Dell executives and where they see DELL help us with those.

It runs parallel with DELL Solutions Tour 2014 Brussels (see http://www.dellsolutionstour2014.com/ for events near you) where I’m sure many will be looking at the recently released generation 13 servers & new Intel CPU offerings.

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I’ll be attending 2 “Strategic Deep Dive Sessions” that address some of critical challenges facing IT C-Level professionals. I’m doing the one on security. This is important as alone eternal vigilance, preparedness & situational awareness can help mitigate disaster. The technology is just a force multiplier.

The other track is on future ready IT solutions. That means a lot different thins to many of us. The new capabilities and ever faster evolving IT places a financial and operational burden on everyone. I’m very interested to discuss how DELL will deal with this beyond the traditional answers. The need for fast, effective & cost effective solutions that deliver great ROI & TCO is definitely there but the move to OPEX versus CAPEX and the potential loss of ownership also introduces risk that can cost us dearly if not managed right. IT, is still more than a financial model of service billing, even if sometimes it looks like that. It’s important to keep the mix in balance & do it smart.

So on Wednesday I’ll be focusing on strategy and not action or tools. Something that get’s missed way too much by way too many way too often. Michael Dell will be there and if I get the opportunity I’ll be happy to give some feedback.

What You Need To Hear, Not What You Want To Hear


The usual disclaimer covers this blog. Dilbert® Life series are humorous post on corporate culture from hell and dysfunctional organizations running wild. This can be quite shocking and sobering to those who take themselves to serious. So these blog posts need to be read with a healthy dose of humor and be put into perspective. If you can’t do that, leave now. If it hits home too hard, you have other problems. It could be that you don’t like what you see in this mirror. Or perhaps …

You’re so vain, you probably think this blog is about you
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this blog is about you
Don’t you? Don’t you?

Many thanks to Carly Simon’s “You’re so vain” Smile

Shopaholic Organizations

There is a shocking addiction to trying to buy ones way out of problems. If the service desk process sucks then you buy a CRM package. If this doesn’t do what you hoped out of the box, have it customized. You don’t have 100% IT automation? You need to buy a CMDB! Need to track changes? Go ITIL & do ITLM/ITSM all over the board. Projects don’t respect their boundaries? Hire some PRINCE expertise. Can’t keep up with all the project & resource management? Buy a ERP and integrate it with the project management software you’ve been abusing. You have no clue what to do next? Hire management consultants! We have one for every flavor of management. Your employees suck? Hire consultants. Slow applications? Buy flash only storage and 40Gbps switches. Your employees are disengaged? Get a coach, buy a team building experience and a 5$ pizza discount coupon as an “atta boy”. Maybe you could even gamify the company to success? And if you feel all alone and misunderstood you can join all the peer groups & professional organizations you can find to play that same broken record to each other over and over again whilst hoping you catch a break to a better gig.

Whatever the problem you’re facing, there is a product to buy and help to be hired. Like a true addict you keep using more of the same in the hope it will work. Nice twist on what Einstein called the definition of insanity. Yet why do so many people think it will help, all evidence to the contrary?

The obsessive and compulsive need to buy stuff to fix or even solve problems, needs, lack of skills, knowledge and insights is staggering. Sure the world is full of people and companies that will gladly take your money. Why? Well that’s their business model. The only aim is to separate you from your money. They’ll tell you they understand you, that they’ve helped hundreds of people and businesses like you. So they’ll sell you whatever it is they sell and they couldn’t care less if you’re still around next year. Until perhaps the moment in 18 months they know they can sucker you again. The only line of defense you have against that is your own good judgment. It’s not that all of them their products or services have no value at all. The better vendors will even walk away from an engagement when it not mutually beneficial. But the core of the problem is that you are having issues and that’s your inability to deal with problems that cannot be solved by buying something. It’s very much like a shopaholic.

It’s a business model for someone

The idea that there is a an easy fix to solve the issues your facing and make sure you can shine as a successful leader instead of being stuck in your current mess is very temping one. There is always someone who understands this. Who’s ready to step up and deliver. Which would be great if it was not for a few simple rules:

  • A fool and his money are easily separated. And if not, as long as the money is good enough they’ll put in more effort.
  • Your problems are internal, they are caused by you and need to be fixed by you. Any addiction to whatever (products, services, consulting, coaching) are actually keeping you away from the solution.

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  • You as a manager, perhaps even a leader, will have to step up. Be all you can be and if that is not enough step aside. Do the latter yourself before it’s done to you, it’s less messy that way.

Listen, when the money is gone, all that is left are your internal resources, if you’re lucky. Acting as if they don’t matter means they won’t be very engaged. All budgets are limited, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be a scrooge. It means you need to create and build a capable organization even when budgets are plentiful that can stand on its own feet. One that is able to analyze and decide independently what it needs to do and act on that. Spend your money there. Otherwise as soon as you run out, you lose all your capabilities to act. It’s like a ship without power, on top of not even not having a rudder. You’re a drift, floating between the sharks that bled you dry.

Also, if all your organization knows what to do is hire & buy everything from others it can easily replace it with a cheaper one that’s optimized that model needing 40% to 50% less employees & managers. Pure substitution play. Game over. Economics 101.

You need to get a clue, make it happen, you and your team, no one else.  But it has to start with you. If you need coaches, consultants, products just to get started you’re not going to make it.

Ouch, that hurt!

Deep down you know the painful truth. While it would indeed be great if you’d be able to hire a coach, consultant or buy service, product that can take away your pains it doesn’t work that way. You cannot purchase those magical bottles of pixie dust or unicorn tears that can put the struggles and headaches behind you allowing you to solely focus on enjoying a successful business and be forever bliss.

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I could tell you that you’re in luck as I have a nice stash of pixie dust bottles I can use in a pinch and for a price. But that’s not it. It’s experience, knowledge, having to work and live with solutions, see the good, the bad and the ugly of both marketing, “marchitecture” in combination with grand and hopefully realistic visions of analysis & architects what’s need. The only thing this has in common with pixie dust is that is doesn’t come cheap or easy neither, but it does work Winking smile

Too many times solutions are nothing but rehashed marketing & sales pitches that succeed due to a lack of skill on both sides. All kinds of schemes are used to justify them. They don’t achieve much at all. These are often self-serving “quick fixes” to something that is as structural & often over-hyped, over complicated problem serving some people agendas.

So you spend your money and for a little while you experience the illusion that you’ve solved something. But like any addict, you, the shopaholic, will return hard and fast to reality. Poorer and sadly none the wiser. You coast from purchase to purchase never breaking this destructive pattern. You like to fool yourself into believing that you’re investing instead of spending money because you see so many successful companies buy the same products or services. It’s kind of painful and sad to watch. Some of you will blame the market, incompetent employees or dishonest vendors, lack of commitment, disobedience. While all these factors do exist and play their role it’s not the real cause of your woes. The environment you operate in is no different for you or competitors. Sure there might be a hobby business around, run by the son of a super-rich business tycoon but that’s a minority. No, the playing field is the same, so could it, however painful that thought, be you, that’s not made of the right stuff?

What if despite all your best efforts and even some pixie dust you still have issues that are killing your performance?  You can suck it up and BS your way out. Say that what you did is the best in the world and nothing more can be done. Hire consultants to audit whatever it is you want to audit (or whoever you want to put in their place if you’re really political), blame you predecessor, the lack of (upper) management vision or the current sun spots cycle. You can also really dive in and pint point where the issues are. But that’s hard, very hard. A lot harder than buying a vile of unicorn tears which seems the missing ingredient in any unrealistic project, overly ambitious architecture or design. It’s horribly difficult to obtain because it is scarce beyond imagination.

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I’ll make you a deal. While I possess some flasks, they are the most expensive substance ever to come by. So if you require the tears of a unicorn, you’re going to need truck loads with money of large denomination kind.

But there are no unicorn tears. YOU will need to fix your problems. Forget about buying products, that’s in essence automation and optimization. If you do that to a problem you only make it bigger and worse faster. Forget about coaches and consultants, they’ll only enable you to move faster and more targeted if you know the goal, that is. They will not solve your problems. That’s your job.

Don’t try to improve things with tools and services until you really know what’s wrong. Look very deep, hard and honest at your company, your managerial results and your actions. If you only find you do things to save your own behind, cover your back and hopefully move ahead you’re not fit to lead anything at all and you’re a much a strategist as my hamster. But in defense of my hamster: he lacks any ambition.  As a leader / manager you should care a bit more. Action is needed, from you. Lip service is useless. Talk is cheap. Fear kills. Deflecting decisions and responsibility makes you lose all credibility. If you care, act like it. If you don’t care no one else will for sure. If you can’t be bothered to do the hard work, no one will. You can’t lead from behind.

So what needs to be done?

Stop what you’re doing right now. Observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA) and see the progress of intelligent decisions and watch how money invested differs in results so much from money spent. There is no substitute. You don’t need tools, coaches, taskforces, committees and services. Those are only for amplification, they are force multipliers and that’s great as long as you don’t apply them to your problems. Hard as it may sound, its (free) advise that you won’t get from a sales person. You cannot avoid your responsibilities.

The eyes of the world are upon you

You brought this on yourself. You stepped on the plate as a leader. So yes, your employees are watching and they don’t miss much what affects them. I know employees can act very entitled and be a major pain in the proverbial behinds, but this discussion isn’t about that. Do you want to know why they doubt you, don’t follow you, ignore or possibly even oppose you? Because you show no leadership and do not portray any sign of competence or insight. For the good of the company and themselves they do what they need to, with or without you. No one goes over the top anymore at the blow of the whistle. So don’t pull rank, instead try to become credible.

SMB 3, ODX, Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1 perform magic in file sharing for both corporate & branch offices


SMB 3 for Transparent Failover File Shares

SMB 3 gives us lots of goodies and one of them is Transparent Failover which allows us to make file shares continuously available on a cluster. I have talked about this before in Transparent Failover & Node Fault Tolerance With SMB 2.2 Tested (yes, that was with the developer preview bits after BUILD 2011, I was hooked fast and early) and here Continuously Available File Shares Don’t Support Short File Names – "The request is not supported" & “CA failure – Failed to set continuously available property on a new or existing file share as Resume Key filter is not started.”

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This is an awesome capability to have. This also made me decide to deploy Windows 8 and now 8.1 as the default client OS. The fact that maintenance (it the Resume Key filter that makes this possible) can now happen during day time and patches can be done via Cluster Aware Updating is such a win-win for everyone it’s a no brainer. Just do it. Even better, it’s continuous availability thanks to the Witness service!

When the node running the file share crashes, the clients will experience a somewhat long delay in responsiveness but after 10 seconds the continue where they left off when the role has resumed on the other node. Awesome! Learn more bout this here Continuously Available File Server: Under the Hood and SMB Transparent Failover – making file shares continuously available.

Windows Clients also benefits from ODX

But there is more it’s SMB 3 & ODX that brings us even more goodness. The offloading of read & write to the SAN saving CPU cycles and bandwidth. Especially in the case of branch offices this rocks. SMB 3 clients who copy data between files shares on Windows Server 2012 (R2) that has storage an a ODX capable SAN get the benefit that the transfer request is translated to ODX by the server who gets a token that represents the data. This token is used by Windows to do the copying and is delivered to the storage array who internally does all the heavy lifting and tell the client the job is done. No more reading data form disk, translating it into TCP/IP, moving it across the wire to reassemble them on the other side and write them to disk.

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To make ODX happen we need a decent SAN that supports this well. A DELL Compellent shines here. Next to that you can’t have any filter drives on the volumes that don’t support offloaded read and write. This means that we need to make sure that features like data deduplication support this but also that 3rd party vendors for anti-virus and backup don’t ruin the party.

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In the screenshot above you can see that Windows data deduplication supports ODX. And if you run antivirus on the host you have to make sure that the filter driver supports ODX. In our case McAfee Enterprise does. So we’re good. Do make sure to exclude the cluster related folders & subfolders from on access scans and schedules scans.

Do not run DFS Namespace servers on the cluster nodes. The DfsDriver does not support ODX!

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The solution is easy, run your DFS Namespaces servers separate from your cluster hosts, somewhere else. That’s not a show stopper.

The user experience

What it looks like to a user? Totally normal except for the speed at which the file copies happen.

Here’s me copying an ISO file from a file share on server A to a file share on server B from my Windows 8.1 workstation at the branch office in another city, 65 KM away from our data center and connected via a 200Mbps pipe (MPLS).

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On average we get about 300 MB/s or 2.4 Gbps, which “over” a 200Mbps WAN is a kind of magic. I assure you that they’re not complaining and get used to this quite (too) fast Winking smile.

The IT Pro experience

Leveraging SMB 3 and ODX means we avoid that people consume tons of bandwidth over the WAN and make copying large data sets a lot faster. On top of that the CPU cycles and bandwidth on the server are conserved for other needs as well. All this while we can failover the cluster nodes without our business users being impacted. Continuous to high availability, speed, less bandwidth & CPU cycles needed. What’s not to like?

Pretty cool huh! These improvements help out a lot and we’ve paid for them via software assurance so why not leverage them? Light up your IT infrastructure and make it shine.

What’s stopping you?

So what are your plans to leverage your software assurance benefits? What’s stopping you? When I asked that I got a couple of answers:

  • I don’t have money for new hardware. Well my SAN is also pré Windows 2012 (DELL Compellent SC40 controllers. I just chose based on my own research not on what VARs like to sell to get maximal kickbacks Winking smile. The servers I used are almost 4 years old but fully up to date DELL PowerEdge R710’s, recuperated from their duty as Hyper-V hosts. These server easily last us 6 years and over time we collected some spare servers for parts or replacement after the support expires. DELL doesn’t take away your access to firmware &drivers like some do and their servers aren’t artificially crippled in feature set.
  • Skills? Study, learn, test! I mean it, no excuse!
  • Bad support from ISV an OEMs for recent Windows versions are holding you back? Buy other brands, vote with your money and do not accept their excuses. You pay them to deliver.

As IT professionals we must and we can deliver. This is only possible as the result of sustained effort & planning. All the labs, testing, studying helps out when I’m designing and deploying solutions. As I take the entire stack into account in designs and we do our due diligence, I know it will work. The fact that being active in the community also helps me know early on what vendors & products have issues and makes that we can avoid the “marchitecture” solutions that don’t deliver when deployed. You can achieve this as well, you just have to make it happen. That’s not too expensive or time consuming, at least a lot less than being stuck after you spent your money.