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.

I’m Not Your (FREE) Personal Assistant


Volunteering in the community

As active community member and MVP I spend a lot of time and effort sharing information and experiences with the community. I also assist colleagues & peers across the globe when they have questions or issues I might be able to help them with. It’s part of sharing and caring. Just like my fellow community members & MVPs I blog, record video’s, web & screen casts, present at conferences & user groups. I hang out for the Ask The Experts moments of opportunity at both local and international. When possible I also attend the ChalkTalks nights like the one that local user group WinTalks organizes where people can bring their questions or problems to discuss.

The impossibility of answering the questions

I share a lot of information, ideas, opinions and experiences. Asking me directly, repeatedly, to give you quick & fast solutions for your current issues, problems and consulting challenges is not the way to go however. For one the complexity of the issues and the situation as exists is often ignored in these question. So it’s impossible to answer them in that fashion.

Also, as is the case with most of us, I’m a very, very busy man. A tremendous amount of knowledge many of my peers and I share is freely available to the community and we absolutely love doing that. If you ask a question on a blog post or contact me I will try and answer if it’s not too much work & is relevant to the blog post. It benefits everyone to see the question and the answer. But for real support you have forums and vendors service desks that are a lot better suited and have dedicated staff or thousands of volunteer eyes. For consulting engagements to solve the complex issues you’re running into you’ll just have to hire the expertise or make me an offer way too good to decline. When hiring expertise, you do get what you pay for if you do it smart. I’m not to blame and will not pay the bill for your previous bad hires, pseudo experts, marketing based decisions that got people into a pickle.

Keeping it real

We all have jobs with lots of work that we need to do to pay the bills. So we cannot be a free support desk, ad interim engineer, consultant or strategic advisor. This means e-mails and DMs with consulting questions or easily searchable questions are ignored unless the problem is personally interesting to me as a learning experience or it’s indeed “the opportunity of a life time”. The latter is highly unlikely.

You need to realize that you need to design your solutions to whatever level of complexity you can handle or afford. Many make this mistake. I understand all the issues around acquiring, building, maintaining, retaining & hiring expertise. Really I do, I do not live under a rock in the wilderness. It’s hard to find expertise and it’s hard to market expertise. So basically we end up with “best practices” & partially mediocrity. For good reason, that’s where you have to be and stay if you’re not willing/capable to pay for expertise. For a lot of commodity solutions that’s how it should be.

If you need better support & consultants than you currently have you should really consider hiring some of my fellow MVPs via their companies but don’t be surprised to be paying anything from € 200/hour and up for proven highly skilled experts for short very specialized assignments. Don’t balk at this, Ever hired MCS? Or a plumber? Right, these people are true consultants, not what passes for them nowadays but what is actually contracting or body shopping. Nothing wrong with temporary augmentation of your labor force, but is not high expertise consulting. Microsoft PFE/MCS aren’t expensive for the value they provide and the time and effort they put in. Next time you need to pay a plumber after a DIY project has gone wrong you’ll realize this.

You don’t have to engage experts. But if you do, you’ll need to bring a big wallet. You need to understand that your unwillingness to pay does not dictated rates, let alone value. Banks, doctors, shops, government … they only accept money and they laugh at me when I tell them I’d like to pay with some ones else’s gratitude.

Some of the people in my network know I have helped many in the past and know that I do this as a service to the community and learning experience. That benefits everyone out there, just like I benefit from them. That’s my choice, in my personal free time. I can assure you that neither those people or I  take this sort of help for granted, let alone demand it.

I can’t fix you being stupid, lazy, cheap or any combination of the above.

  • You’ll have to do your own searching of the internet via Bing or Google for you.
  • You’ll have to read the articles, blog & documentation.
  • You’ll have to analyze your own issues and come up with an plan of action.
  • You need to realize that developing yourself and skillsets is a time consuming, sustained effort. I understand you have other priorities, but that doesn’t mean I have to pick up the slack and put my own aside.
  • You’ll need to face reality. If your business needs something, they’ll need to make sure they are profitable enough to afford it.

Stupidity Is Not A Great Consulting Skill


Most companies don’t get that body shopping and contracting is not consulting. And today way too many consultants don’t match up to the requirements of being one. So basically these people pay way too much for too little. I have no mercy for fake consultants and companies so messed up in their political crap they fail to recognize quality and value. Just read The do’s and don’ts when engaging consultants Part I and The do’s and don’ts when engaging consultants Part II where I’ve given some rules of fist for optimizing the use of consultants. But here’s some advice to fake consultants. At least try to act professional and be nice. Because one on the main rules of long term happiness while staying employed is the fact that people not want to work with a*holes.

  • Don’t download or synchronize hacking tools while at your employer/customer.
  • If you’re an IT Pro or developer  and you cannot figure out how to expand or mount an ISO with the tools on a modern PC/OS you should realize they want to fire you on the spot for gross incompetence.
  • Playing games like a long term frustrated employee with help desk personnel regarding mundane tasks and leveraging policies or rules as excused not to get work done is annoying, immature & frowned upon.
  • Waiting until you get asked why you didn’t get work done to mention your PC got confiscated due to a security incident an the replacement was missing a tool proves you’re a dead weight.
  • Churning is nothing short of fraud. You deliver real work or get out.
  • It’s rather easy to see that the hours you telecommute are not matching your time sheets. It gets noted. At best they’ll pull a Yahoo on you.
  • When you state that optimizing parallelism in SQL Server and using multiple LUNs and data files is waste of time in an environment that’s on the record for being in the top 5 SQL server operations in the country you might perhaps realize you are being an a* hole. Yes it requires some work, the database is not designed to cater to your laziness, but for performance.
  • It’s designed and build at a great value point by skilled people who earn mediocre wages but are very good and love what they do. Do you even realize the level of your arrogance and the fact that you are now on the “do not hire list”?
  • Realize that not all people who’re working as an employee are clueless sheep that only serve to line your pockets. Most of them are good. Many of of them are great, some even excellent to exceptional. Even when not subject matter experts they’ll see through any fake expertise.

Look, when you’re dead, you don’t realize that, so for you there is no drawback, it’s all good. It’s your surroundings that notice it and have to deal with the loss, the pain. It’s the same when you are stupid. It’s the people around you that suffer. Get it?

We Need Your Opinion On This Strategy, Vision, Management Issue …


Could you give us your opinion on this?

Lately people, managers, have asked me to give advice or at least my opinion on how to organize & manage IT. In the broad sense of the term. Infrastructure, software, services, support, on premise, cloud, data protection, security …  “Just think about it a bit”.

That question “Could you give us your opinion on this?” is a hard one for me.  I could say “read my blog”, the non technical posts. But my opinion is often too high level and they don’t they actually want that. They want a solution. And it’s not that I don’t think about it or don’t have an opinion. But I can’t focus on areas out of my expertise, my control and priorities.

Basically I cannot help them. Not because I’m that stupid or the matter is beyond our control. It’s because the way managers and organizations think is getting more and faster obsolete by the day.

The Issue

Our world, both privately and work related, is becoming more and more connected every day. That means there is a tremendous amount of input, leading to an ever continuing increase of permutations of ever more variables that come in to play. In short, complexity is on the rise at an enormous rate and will overwhelm us. Even worse is that this complexity only shows itself after things have gone wrong. That’s bad but, that also means there are probably many more relationships of cause and effect that haven’t even shown themselves yet. That kind of sounds like a time bomb.

How do you deal with this? Not in the way so many are asking for. And I’m not here to tell my managers or customers what they want to hear. I’m in the business of telling them what they need to hear as I deal in results, not services or studies. More often than not they are looking for processes and methodologies to keep central control over planning, execution, operations and change. All this while the rug is literally pulled away under their feet. There’s the problem.

Situations, technologies, solutions, frameworks, processes all have a time limited value that’s becoming shorter. So the idea that you can plan and control for many years ahead is obsolete in many areas in our ecosystem. There are just to many moving parts, that are changing too fast. So how do we manage this? What kind of leadership do you need? Well there is no easy answer.

How do I deal with this?

Personally I deal with this by working, collaborating & cooperating in a network, in “the community”. My insights, knowledge, help and support come from my network. Some of my colleagues, the contractors and consultants we hire are in that network. A lot of colleagues are not. Most managers are not. Why is that? They are stuck in a hierarchal world of centralized command and control that is failing them fast. At best they achieve good results, but very slow and at a very high expense. We can only hope that the results also don’t turn out bad. They want procedures & processes. Predictability & consistency but I deal with complexity in wide area of expertise that cannot readily be put into manuals and documentation. Not in a timely fashion. I’m in a dog fight (insert “Top Gun” theme). The processes & logistics provide the platform. Learn where procedures & methodologies work and where they’ll kill you. The knowledge and the skills we need are a living thing that feeds on a networked collective and are very much in flux.  I’m so much more better skilled and effective at my job through participating my global community than I can be tied into the confines of my current workplace they’d be mad not to leverage that, let alone prevent me from doing so. You can’t do it alone or in isolation.

An example

Yesterday was an extreme example in a busy week. I started work at 05:30 AM yesterday to set up a testing environment for questions I needed answered by a vendor who leverages the community at large. That’s required some extra work in the datacenter that I could have done by a colleague that was there today because I found out in time. I went to the office at 08:30. I worked all day on an important piece of work I mentioned in my network and was alerted to a potential issue. That led to knowledge sharing & testing. Meaning we could prevent that very potential issue and meanwhile we’re both learning. I went home at 18:30, dinner & testing. I was attending an MVP web cast at 20:00 PM till 21:00 PM learning new & better ways to trouble shoot clusters. I got a call at 19:10PM of a mate in Switzerland who’s running into SAN issues and I helped him out with the two most possible causes of this through my experience with SANs and that brand of HP SAN.  We did some more testing & research until 22:00 after which I wrote this blog up.

We don’t get paid for this. This is true mutual beneficial cooperation. We don’t benefit directly and it’s not “our problem” or job goal. But oh boy do we learn and grow together and in such help each other and our employers/customers. It’s a true long term investment that pays of day by day the longer you are active in the community and network. But the thing is, I can’t put that into a process or manual. Any methodology that has to serve centralized command and control structure while dealing with agile subjects is bound to fail. Hence you see agile & scrum being abused to the level it’s just doing stuff without the benefits.

Conclusion

This is just one small and personal example. Management and leadership will have to find ways of nurturing collaboration and cooperation beyond the boundaries of their control. The skillset and knowledge needed are not to be found in a corporate manual or in never ending in house meetings & committees. Knowledge gained has to flow to grow As such it flows both in an out of your organization. You’re delusional if you think you can stop that today and it’s not the same a leaking corporate secrets. Hierarchies & management based on rank and pay grades are going to fail. And if those managers in higher pay grades can’t make the organization thrive in this ever more connected, faster moving world, they might not be worth that pay grade.

I assure you that employees and consultants who live in the networked global community will quickly figure out if an organization can handle this. They will not and should not do their managers job. In fact they are already doing managers areal big favor by working and operating the way they do. They are leading at their level, they are leveraging their networks and getting the job done. They are taking responsibilities, they solve problems creatively and get results. It just doesn’t fit easily in an obsolete model of neatly documented procedures in a centralized command and control structure. They don’t need a manager for that, they need one that will make it possible to thrive in that ultra-connected ever changing fast paced world. Facilitate, stimulate and reward learning and taking responsibilities, not hierarchies. That way all people in your organization will lead or at least contribute to the best of their ability. You’ll need to trust them for that to work. If you don’t trust them, fine, but act upon it. Letting people you don’t trust work for and with you doesn’t work.

How to do this is a managers & leaders challenge. Not mine. I know when I’m out of my depth or when not to engage. The grand visions, the strategic play of a company is their responsibility. Getting results & moving forward will come from your perpetually learning, and engaged workforce, if you don’t mess it up. And yes, that is your responsibility. Cultures are cultivated by definition. So if the culture of the company is to blame for things going south, realize you’re the ones supposed to make it a good one. People don’t leave organizations, they leave managers ;-) And to paraphrase the words of Walt Disney … you’re in a world of hurt if they leave you but stay at their desk and on the pay roll. It’s called mediocrity, which also serves a purpose, providing commodities & cookie template services whilst letting others shine. But if you want to be a thriving, highly skilled, expertise driven center of excellence … it’s going to take lot of hard and sustained work and it’s not a one way street.

Future Proofing Storage Acquisitions Without A Crystal Ball


Dealing with an unknown future without a crystal ball

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Storage Spaces in Windows Server 2012 (R2) is are the first steps of MSFT to really make a difference (or put a dent into) in the storage world. See TechEd 2013 Revelations for Storage Vendors as the Future of Storage lies With Windows 2012 R2 (that was a nice blog by the way to find out what resellers & vendors have no sense of humor & perspective). It’s not just Microsoft who’s doing so. There are many interesting initiatives at smaller companies to to the same. The question is not if these offerings can match the features sets, capabilities and scenario’s of the established storage vendors offerings. The real question is if the established vendors offer enough value for money to maintain themselves in a good enough is good enough world, which in itself is a moving target due to the speed at which technology & business needs evolve. The balance of cost versus value becomes critical for selecting storage. You need it now and you know you’ll run it for 3 to 5 years. Perhaps longer, which is fine if it serves your needs, but you just don’t know. Due to speed of change you can’t invest in a solution that will last you for the long term. You need a good fit now at reasonable cost with some headway for scale up / scale out. The ROI/TCO has to be good within 6 months or a year. If possible get a modular solution. One where you can replace the parts that are the bottle neck without having to to a fork lift upgrade. That allows for smaller, incremental, affordable improvements until you have either morphed into a new system all together over a period of time or have gotten out of the current solution what’s possible and the time has arrived to replace it. Never would I  invest in an expensive, long term, fork lift, ultra scalable solution. Why not. To expensive and as such to high risk. The risk is due to the fact I don’t have one of these:

http://trustbite.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Crystal-Ball.jpg

So storage vendors need to perform a delicate balancing act. It’s about price, value, technology evolution, rapid adoption, diversification, integration, assimilation & licensing models in a good enough is good enough world where the solution needs to deliver from day one.

I for one will be very interested if all storage vendors can deliver enough value to retain the mid market or if they’ll become top feeders only. The push to the cloud, the advancements in data replication & protection in the application and platform layer are shaking up the traditional storage world. Combine that with the fast pace at which SSD & Flash storage are evolving together with Windows Server 2012 that has morphed into a very capable storage platform and the landscape looks very volatile for the years to come. Think about  ever more solutions at the application (Exchange, SQL server) and platform layer (Hyper-V replica) with orchestration on premise and/or in the cloud and the pressure is really on.

So how do you choose a solution in this environment?

Whenever you are buying storage the following will happen. Vendors, resellers & sales people, are going to start pulling at you. Now, some are way better than others at this, some are even down right good at this whole process a proceed very intelligently.

Sometimes it involves FUD, doom & gloom combined with predictions of data loss & corruption by what seem to be prophets of disaster. Good thing is when you buy whatever they are selling that day, they can save you from that. The thing is this changes with the profit margin and kickbacks they are getting. Sometimes you can attribute this to the time limited value of technology, things evolve and todays best is not tomorrows best. But some of them are chasing the proverbial $ so hard they portray themselves as untrustworthy fools.

That’s why I’m not to fond of the real big $ projects. Too much politics & sales. Sure you can have people take care of but you are the only one there to look out for your own interests. To do that all you need to do is your own due diligence and be brave. Look, a lot of SAN resellers have never ever run a SAN, servers, Hyper-V clusters, virtualized SQL Server environments or VDI solutions in your real live production environments for a sustained period of time. You have. You are the one whose needs it’s all about as you will have to live and work with the solution for years to come.  We did this exercise and it was worth while. We got the best value for money looking out for our own interests.

Try this with a reseller or vendor. Ask them about how their hardware VSS providers & snapshot software deals with the intricacies of CSV 2.0 in a Hyper-V cluster. Ask them how it works and tell them you need to references to speak to who are running this in production. Also make sure you find your own references. You can, it’s a big world out there and it’s a fun exercise to watch their reactions Winking smile

As Aidan remarked in his blog on ODX–Not All SANs Are Created Equally

These comparisons reaffirm what you should probably know: don’t trust the whitepapers, brochures, or sales-speak from a manufacturer.  Evidently not all features are created equally.

You really have to do your own due diligence. Some companies can afford the time, expense & personnel to have the shortlisted vendors deliver a system for them to test. Costs & effort rise fast if you need to get a setup that’s comparable to the production environment. You need to device tests that mimic real life scenario’s in storage capacity, IOPS, read/write patterns and make sure you don’t have bottleneck outside of the storage system in the lab.

Even for those that can, this is a hard thing to do. Some vendors also offer labs at their Tech Centers or Solutions Centers where customers or potential customers can try out scenarios. No matter what options you have, you’ll realize that this takes a lot of effort. So what do I do? I always start early. You won’t have all the information, question & answers available with a few hours of browsing the internet & reading some brochures. You’ll also notice that’s there’s always something else to deal with or do, so give your self time, but don’t procrastinate. I did visit the Tech Centers & Solution Centers in Europe of short listed vendors. Next to that I did a lot of reading, asked questions and talked to a lot of people about their view and experiences with storage. Don’t just talk to the vendors or resellers. I talked a lot with people in my network, at conferences and in the community. I even tracked down owners of the shortlisted systems and asked to talk to them. All this was part of my litmus test of the offered storage solutions. While perfection is not of this world there is a significant difference between vendor’s claims and the reality in the field. Our goal was to find the best solution for our needs based on price/value and who’s capabilities & usability & support excellence materialized with the biggest possible majority of customers in the field.

Friendly Advice To Vendors

So while the entire marketing and sales process is important for a vendor I’d like to remind all of them of a simple fact. Delivering what you sell makes for very happy customers who’s simple stories of their experiences with the products will sell it by worth of mouth. Those people can afford to talk about the imperfections & some vNext wishes they have. That’s great as those might be important to you but you’ll be able to see if they are happy with their choice and they’ll tell you why.

The Dilbert Life Series – A Bad Manager’s Priorities


As usual the normal disclaimer applies: don’t take yourself to seriously. Relax Smile

Where great managers can make a serious difference in many ways to both the success of a company and to the personal achievements of their employees the opposite also happens. Many types of managers exist. Dealing with or even controlling them, depending on whether you live above or under them is well documented. The aim of that is to get the best out of the resources and people available. The better the managers, the better this will work out. Perfection is not of this world and you won’t have the best possible manager for every possible position. That’s a given, just like they won’t have the best possible employee or consultant for every job or project. So there is no need to get emotional about it or expect perfection before calling something good. There is however one type, the bad manager, that should not be controlled. They should be dealt with in only one way which is termination. If that’s not possible you need to get as far away from them as possible. Mind you the latter is only an option if you’re a subordinate employee. If, as a boss you run away from bad subordinate manager than you really need to reconsider your career choices.

Me, Myself and I

A bad manager will never choose you over his or her own priorities, nor will they put the organizations needs first. The first is by definition. Don’t take it personal. The company does not exist for your needs. The second is more problematic as the organization’s needs are priority one. Let’s take a look their priorities in order of declining importance as determined by experience.

  1.  Me, myself and I. This is normal and it applies to everyone. But there is more to this than just plain self-interest. People who are given or rise to power, have a strong tendency to put their own needs and interests above those of others. Your manager’s ambitions & agenda (professional, personal and financial) will always take precedence of any need you might have. They need to fill their treasury and the pressure to “live up to expectations” of their overlords is on.
  2. Reputation. Managers need to be seen & act as very reliable, trustworthy persons who can get results. With some luck they are. But we all know about “perception is reality”. This is true until you hit the ground after jumping of the 36 floor because you pretend you can fly. Whether a bad manager actually delivers anything is irrelevant as long as the perception is there. Office politics are part of the game and they don’t take prisoners. Your boss is going to be more prone to protect his or her reputation than to protect yours. That’s why managers get pissed off about even only a perceived loss of reputation. In the dog eat dog world they’ll even ruin your reputation if and when needed as they can’t be seen as the root cause of problems. They’ll blatantly steal your work and take credit for all that goes well in the same way. You’re an expendable asset and you should never forget it.
  3. Their superiors. This is both hierarchical and functional. It’s not only the fact that a lot of people feel the need to please others for whatever reason. It is also just self-interest (promotions, ego) and self-preservation. So realize that your managers will almost always choose to follow their bosses or the peers they fear or need in order to gain a stronger or more favorable position with them. Yes, they will do so even if it is bad for the company or organization. This holds a warning: if you’re a functional superior to your managers than you’re a threat and they might try to get rid of you.
  4. Customers. You can forget about being more important than the needs of the customers. Whether these are external or internal customers is irrelevant. Your managers job is to serve the need of the customers. Your managers will not get ahead if he doesn’t serve their needs.
  5. The team. Yes the team, the assets are more important than you. As long as managers can have the team do what needs to be done, they have a way of serving the above priorities, which are more important. In that respect the ability of a manager to keep the team running is paramount. They’ll feed the teams just enough to keep them alive, hopeful enough to carry on and will challenges them to keep them sharp. Keep ‘m mean, lean & hungry.
  6. You. Sure you have some skills they needs. If not they might keep you around just to add another FTE to the head count in order to proof the importance or the weight of their jobs. So he won’t kick you most of the time and will even throw you a bone every now and then. Good doggy. But you know that saying “People are our biggest asset?” It’s a lie, especially to them.

How to deal with this?

The above is always true in a lesser way for all individuals and as such also for managers. The big difference is that the balance has totally shifted to the dark side with really bad ones. In essence you have a couple of options. Grow a pair of balls and make sure you have some power as well, play the same game and get them terminated. If your upper management is worth their pay they might be way ahead of you and that will bet the end of it for you. If it has to come from the bottom realize that this is not easy. Terminating a manager from lower in the hierarchy always upsets the powers that be. To them such an event is highly disconcerting and visions of guillotines, tar, feathers and pitch forks pop up. Another option is to take evasive maneuvers. You could do so by moving laterally or vertically in the organization out of harm’s way. Last but not least. Leave. Yes, that might not be fair on you and what you already accomplished at the company but life is not fair and is certainly too precious to put up with the above. In the end you must know your opponent and know yourself. Perhaps you can live with them and there are various ways of dealing with various types of managers, who all have their weaknesses and strengths. It’s a personal decision, but a real bad manager, that’s something you really can do without and shouldn’t tolerate ever, for your own health and well-being.