New Year, New Challenges


Time flies. 2013 is almost done and I’m always reminded of the fact that time is the most precious resource. We need to keep that in mind, always, lest we waste it. It’s been a busy working, learning, playing (homo ludens, gamification is nothing new Winking smile) & community work. For the latter there was a lot of presenting, attending conferences (Storage Forum, TechDays, MMS, Hyper-V.nu event, “Best of MMS 2013 in Belgium”, TechEd, E2EVC, Dell World), several think tanks, 2 MVP Summits, studying, doing labs, helping out others by sharing our experiences & learning form others sharing theirs. I hope 2014 will continue that way and I’ll do what I can to make it happen.

Windows Server & Hyper-V is a growing force

Some still dismiss it, but Hyper-V is going places, as it’s a fully free hypervisor. It’s also the cheapest choice when it comes to virtualizing Windows. Management tools you say, the cost & complexity of System Center? Well if you have better options, use them, go for better, cheaper solutions whether is scripting, tools or frameworks. There is no obligation. Free advice to VMware: make your hypervisor free. Until you do that you’re stuck at producing more for free as your prices can’t go up anymore and you’re missing out on all other frameworks as nobody will eat the licensing cost if they don’t need the management tools around it.

On the Microsoft side of things, 2013 was about Windows Server 2012 R2 which we deployed the day we got the preview bits. The pieces of highly capable & scalable cloud OS are all coming together for the best possible performance. We did some great experiments & POCs  with RDMA / SMB Direct. This was fun, had a challenging learning curve and produced some very nice results. This work will pay off, more on that in a future blog post. vRSS was another big item for us, I just love its capabilities. We also got to leverage UNMAP & ODX and when combined with the above and the enhanced capabilities of VHDX it really makes Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V shine.

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We’ve also been busy evaluating on whether private & hybrid clouds are worthwhile investing in and if so in what way, where and how much, how far and how long. My hybrid cloud is not your hybrid cloud. Many approaches exist and they do not mean by definition buying every single product or service in the catalog. The fact is that some private cloud and certain hybrid clouds approaches require an economy of scale that many don’t have. The toolsets themselves are not helping those without this scale benefit either. Optimized/dynamic IT with public cloud & some hybrid cloud might be your best bet especially when one considers data gravity. Ouch, blasphemy? Not really, common sense. As an advisor you cannot just rehash sales brochures & buys stuff. Independent thinking is a requirement.

The wars for control of the Datacenter Abstraction Layer / Software Defined Datacenter is on. Everyone is fighting for control as this is a big future revenue generator. Now hardware vendors are not that great at software & vice versa. So nobody has won yet. Meanwhile “cloud only” (Amazon, Google) players are probably smiling as they don’t need that fight that war  at least not that hard, that direct.  They fight for the new territories like robotics, AI, …

On top of that a lot of cloud thinkers see a (very) limited use case for IAAS in the long run. If they’re wrong, the ones gaining control could become very dominant. But for now, it’s still a very much an immature, in flux, effort. Building one now is very expensive & maybe not worth while unless you have the economies of scale to make it so and it is long-lived enough to get the ROI.

Storage wise the landscape is in full flux and I hope a lot of companies big & small keep kicking & pushing for better, affordable solutions. The ones opposing that know all to well why. I’d love Storage Spaces to make a real big dent just to get some of the bigger players to focus on the real needs of their customers.

What about BYOD, COPE,  CYOD, CLEO VDI & app virtualization? It’s still very expensive, requiring diverse solutions and a lot of effort. There is a lot of money to made catering to it, but not in buying it, unless you are in that segment of the market where it makes sense (retail, sales, logistics, medicine …) which all happen to be markets that are highly regulated or process driven without much deviation & a measurable benefit . i.e. there is a ROI that mitigates the TCO. Not saying that it can’t, it can if you do it right. But too little understanding of benefits, costs and risks will get you in a mess. There’s a reason it’s going into the “Trough of Disillusionment” right now.imageFor many, without clear goals & benefits, my advice would be to let that market mature and I can see the solutions available in completer solutions in the public cloud at better prices. Play and experiment with mobile devices and see what works and what doesn’t, but don’t spent too much time and money on them if you don’t have a clear, well defined objective. And I hear you about the paperless office, but the first thing you need to do there is get rid of the readily available printing capacity. A smartphone or a tablet will not reduce paper usage. It just adds more paperless use cases, which is not a reduction. At best, you’re diluting the issue and make it look better. Make printing more expensive & less available & see what emerges to deal with the absence of the capability.

As interesting technology to watch (I’m not involved right now) I had fun with 3D printing, robotics, drones,  …  The production & execution capabilities might shift  the entire political, economical landscape, if we play our cards right & eat some cost (it’s called investing) for long term benefits.

Related to Hyper-V, virtualization & * Cloud is the fact that the capabilities & scalabilities needed are here with Windows Server 2012 R2, so we’ll see some serious growth in 2014 for Hyper-V. There are some hurdles. Some Microsoft will need to fix, others are the learning curve both with customers & the channel. Now the landscape has changing and some struggling. And as none will ever admit to that we come to the next subject. Being an expert.

Experts

With so much power comes also responsibility to wield it wisely or suffer the consequences. It fun to work with experts. They know how little they know and how much they don’t know. So they spend a lot of times testing, discussing, thinking & experimenting all this in all kinds of way. It’s never ever a nine to five job. Becoming and being an “expert” is a sustained, long term, continuous effort and is not done in the isolation of a cubical or flex work spot.

Howtobeanexpert

© Kathy Sierra at http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/

You keep at it until thinks break, until you get it wrong. That goes for bot ideas and designs. It’s often not about doing it right all the time but about figuring out what works and what doesn’t. To come up with creative answers that work when the landscape changes. Here’s a hint for you: it’s not in a glossy sales brochure, a sales rep’s advice or the manual. Most experts have failed a lot more than they got it right but they did it when it didn’t hurt as much. The probably failed a hundred times more than mediocre, play it safe, quick buck driven types who’ll never learn what could be. But, remember, being a reckless idiot will only get you killed. I know and have worked with a lot of industry experts this year and I’m looking forward to working with them in 2014.

The good

There is an amazing amount of talent out there of hardworking engaged people. I have had the pleasure of talking & working with many of them. We have have a slew of technologies at our disposal to support them and businesses. Both the talent and the people are available and can be leveraged.

The bad

If there was a negative it 2013 it was the harsh reality, more often than I feel comfortable with, that more resources don’t necessarily lead to an equivalent amount of more results. It’s fascinating & sad at the same time noticing an ever diminishing return on investment. Just spinning wheels in the mud. Lot’s of noise, lots of dirt, lost of burnt gas and a stench of burning fuels without much progress to show for it. All this while most people are drowning in work in an era of do more with less. Talk about turning things around Smile. Perception is everything.

The ugly

There are a couple of major threats to IT in business today. These are not new and no, cloud is not one of them. They are lack of leadership & independent thinking. While the CEO of CFO are now in charge in order to better aligning business and IT this is not a panacea. For one the misalignment is a artificial problem, and they probably where involved creating it. But they or IT are not the (only) one to blame, it’s not that simple. Brainwashing by glossy magazines marketing & sales affects everyone. As a advisor, the real value of IT is in giving the business what it needs, what doesn’t necessary match what they want, the trick is making them think it is.

Technology itself is not the biggest challenge, but managing all the moving bits in an ever faster changing landscape. Combine that with management approaches that are based on “that’s what I read & hear everyone is doing”. Add cost cutting as a goal in itself and things start to look pretty grim. We’re surrounded by point solutions that are sold very well but make little difference to the game.  It’s like a child playing with a chess board a without knowing even as little as the rules.

Sometimes, when bean counters get in control or IT initiatives are even put under facility management, directly or indirectly, you know the differentiating role if IT at a company is as dead as a dodo. In some cases that’s where IT belongs and I won’t argue against that. Yes, not all companies have the same needs.  But if you need IT to make a difference, you’d better not do that. If you do, at best, IT moves to a parallel circuit where it can make a difference as a shadow force. Yes, IT also does “Shadow IT” to get the job done … call it asymmetric warfare & counter intelligence to keep the boat floating if you will. They do what they have to do to live & fight another day or perhaps some genius created that to get thing moving fast Winking smile. False economies for short term gains in an arena where simplicity rules, yet where artificial complexity is introduced, are ensuring IT will never ever be a real an enabler. Meanwhile ever greater “economy of scale projects” to cuts costs take way too long, are way too expensive and often use the wrong technologies. That’s an indicator the wrong people are calling the shots. In todays IT landscape, where we become ever more myopic, we need to act short term effectively, while moving ahead & thinking long term (i.e. get some glasses, NVG, IR, …)

To some IT seems destined (or doomed) to be only a commodity that, while needed, is worth very little. Can you spell “Maginot Line” or are you to busy weeping about the demise of the Brown Bess musket in the 20th century? IT needn’t be that way. “IT doesn’t matter” only holds true if you do it wrong. Done right, both in time, location & execution, IT can be very cost effective, useful, differentiating & even disrupting. Alas in many environments not even the commodity stuff is cost effective. Lack of insight & strategy will more likely bleed the company dry by “friendly” but wrong advice. The biggest mistake one can make with commodities (except for turning them into boutique items) is letting salesmen & consultants decide for you what’s the best value for money. As a child, for some reason, your mother has told you not to talk to stranger or go with them, especially not if they promise you candy. As an adult they’ve turned that into a business model and now trust perfect strangers with the livelihood & the future of the company. Go figure. When people tell you to do X or look at Y, think about their agenda.  Please read “The Prince”.  If need advisors, do it like the mob. Get one or more great consigliere, reward ‘m well for results. Dispose of them when those don’t arise, make sure your advisor has no profit from not delivering results.

High Speed, Low Drag, Fast Results, Backwards Compatible & Future Proof IT

Choosing a dynamic and scalable IT infrastructure solution in combination with a flexible and integrated development platform is extremely important. It provides one of the pillars for the successful implementation and support of business applications. Today this is not just an opinion or even option. It is a prerequisite of success in modern business. It is a necessity.

The need to provide long term backward compatibility, support for current and new technologies, facilitate agile development and allow easy deployment and maintenance throughout the life cycle is paramount. These considerations are valid whether we are looking for a single line of business application or an entire infrastructure solution. This is a continuous process and it needs to be taken into account with every action taken.

It’s not tied to any paradigm, architecture, technology or trend. Sometimes that means moving fast and aggressive. Sometimes it means slow and easy. Sometimes it means wait, sometime is means run. It depends on what we’re working on. How to achieve this isn’t new at all actually.

There is a reason that the Art of War, Machiavelli and other classics are popular with managerial types. This isn’t new at all. Unfortunately many of them fast forward through the boring parts and end up being opportunists and not leaders. While business is like warfare, the effort is often focused to heavily on the internal politics, not against the competitors. Where in the old days we had runners to relay information, the speed in IT today is more like a frantic dogfight in the 21 century, where even an F16 cannot deliver the capabilities to dominate air combat in the long term, which leads me to Observe, Orient, Decide & Act (OODA). Sure Boyd was a hard one to work with for the careerist hierarchy, but he defined the successful strategies & tactics for air combat that only came into the public eye during the 1st Gulf war. He never made general, he was way to non political for that, but he’s name is still known far outside his chose profession while most air force generals have faded away in to a oblivion or perhaps got shot before the fight started in earnest.  For a strategy needs to be defined by you or by real trusted advisors, not sales men. This strategy needs to be executed and tactics defined on how you do that. Finally you can decide on a plan for what to use and when to do it. Way to many people that claim to have a strategy don’t know what it is. It’s hard enough to be successful with a good strategy let alone with a mediocre one, or even worse think you have one while you don’t know what defines a strategy. And trust me, without one, you’re toast or blissfully ignorant if you’re lucky. Often between C level decision making & execution we see lots of actions to shape things up. Processes, analysis, methodologies, reporting, rules, regulation but there is something missing. But tools are just tools and having a race car doesn’t make one a NASCAR driver, it just gets you in a car crash. Bean counting and ITIL means nothing if you are not using it at the right time, the right place, for the right reasons, in the right way. Some parts of your business should be a total free fire zone, while others should be process based with a vengeance. Choose wisely. I have a presentation on that Smile by the way.

The road ahead

One has to keep moving forward. And guess what? There are many roads to travel and beautiful sights to see, great experiences to be had.

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While I‘m a hands on technologist & will be one for a long time I’ll spend more time in 2014 on strategic roles that involve technology. There is a clear and present need, coupled with a demand. It’s an opportunity to deliver value. I see way too much many examples of quick, dirty & clueless “solutions” that are just waiting to become a stinking cesspool of technology debt at best another nail in the coffin. Remember that even the best designs and implementations have a time limited value and will rot away over time as they age and the world changes. So what does that tell you about the mediocre ones? Perhaps you need a consigliere?

Take care and I wish you all a great, healthy & prosperous 2014! May it bring you  interesting projects, lots of opportunities & practical nuclear fusion for a cheap, easy and “infinite” source of clean energy.

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Legacy Apps Preventing Your Move From Windows XP to Windows 8.1?


Are old applications holding you back getting rid of Windows XP? It’s A reason we hear a lot and these apps do exist. But often it’s because the effort to make it work isn’t considered worth the cost. Year after year. So some people today are stuck on a Windows Server 2000/2003 & XP infrastructure. How does that cost compare now to the cost of dealing with the application? Was it worth not moving the application & have an out of date infrastructure holding your ENTIRE company down?

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While some things can’t be fixed, putting in some effort could have prevented you of being in this mess. Yes it would have cost you a decent penny but nothing compared to where you are at now with your infrastructure “challenges”.

Here’s a little example for you. Over a period of 13 years we’ve moved an old application (using a Borland database engine & ISAPI DLLs in IIS). It ran on Windows Server 2000. It was P2V’d to VMware Server. Over the years the data base swapped from Informix to SQL Server 2000, 2005, 2008, 2008 R2. We upgraded the VM to Windows Server 2003(x86), moved to Hyper-V, upgraded to Windows 2008(x86) & final now put on W2K12R2(x64). So what do you mean you can’t get rid of XP? We’ve moved the client app for that VM to x64 with Vista in 2007.  We were not to let that app block our way to the future and Windows 7(x64) and Windows 8 & 8.1(x64). In 2014 you should be able to move to or you need to reconsider your approach to IT as you have totally painted the organization into a corner. We did not have installers for anything. We extracted registry entries & bits form installed systems and build installers ourselves with the free NSIS installer. We used  Windows SysInternals tools to figure out where the application wrote & read, what permissions where needed and add those to the installer to make sure it did not need local admin rights. It gave the business over a decade to get a grip on application live cycle management & replace the app. They failed twice, and while that’s bad and we do not like it, it was not deadly as they haven’t let the rest of the company suffer for it. Never, ever let your infrastructure get stuck in the past. But wait you say, what you did is not supported. That’s right. That’s one app, that works, and it beats being left with an unsupportable infrastructure blocking progress Winking smile

You might need some help and here’s a great place to start helping yourself The App Compat Guy. Read and view (TechEd presentations) anything Chris Jackson is offering on this subject and you’ll be on your way. Need a helping hand? Here’s a good place to start if your in Belgium: Microsoft Extended Experts Team (MEET). Chances are some of them known some one who knows how to get it done or are the person to talk to.

DELL World 2013 – Tour Of the Acoustic & Storage Testing Labs & Presenting at the Dell TechCenter User Group


While at Dell World 2013, a group of us had the opportunity to visit the Dell offices as part of the Trends in Data Center Technology Think Tank. We saw advancements in fresh air cooling, a hot house,

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the storage lab and, new to me, the acoustic labs. Below is a picture of Chris Peterson, the acoustic Architect (he was involved in the design of the DELL VRTX, which is a unique solution and achievement in the industry). Like wise the also have thermal engineers and both of these expertises are closely related.

I will never look at acoustic / thermal engineering for servers & storage in the same way I used to and I have way more respect for the effort and a better understanding of what efforts go in to this research and why.

For some more information on the acoustic lab read this white paper Dell Enterprise Acoustics and watch these videos:

Dell thermal & acoustic engineers discussing the VRTX
Chris Peterson on Dell PowerEdge Generation 12 Server acoustics

Next to all that I attended briefings, had one to one conversations with network, storage & server managers & engineers. I had a lot of information, questions & request to share from our Microsoft MVP Community in regards to our needs & wishes for the best possible support for Windows Server 2012 R2, Hyper-V, ODX, UNMAP, SMB Direct, SOFS, Management & cloud. I even jumped into an open source breakfast discussion on * cloud computing. Last but not least we joined fellow Rock Stars Jonathan Copeland (@VirtSecurity), Rasmus Haslund (@haslund) & Dell Tech Center’s community manager Jeff Sullivan (@JeffSullivan) to discuss what community & social media means to us.

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I also shared our experiences with Windows Server 2012 R2, Hyper-V, DVMQ, vRSS & ODX at the Dell Tech Center User Group during Dell World 2013.

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Want to talk and demo DVMQ & vRSS? Start with the basics: RSS Smile 

To all my community buddies a very festive end of the year and a great 2014! If you want to know even more about how rewarding being part of a community can be, check out this blog Mindset of the community by Marc van Eijk (@_marcvaneijk)

Linux Integration Services Version 3.5 for Hyper-V Available For Download


Yesterday, December 19th 2013, Microsoft made the Linux Integration Services Version 3.5 for Hyper-V available for download.

The Linux Integration Services (LIS) package downloaded from Microsoft  is meant to deliver support older Linux distros. In the most recent Linux distros the KVP component is to be included, as are the other Hyper-V related drivers. In these distros these drivers and components are to be part of the upstream Linux kernel, and as such are included in Linux distros releases. So you should not need this download if you run these newer distros that has the LIS built-in. The list of supported distros is slowly growing.

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If you are running (or need to run) older versions of Linux in your VMs and leverage the 100% fully featured Hyper-v Server 2012 R2 that is also 100% free of charge this is your way to leverage all those features. The aim is that you’re never a left behind when running Hyper-V (within the limits of supportability, DOS 6.0, NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 is not an acceptable OS today).

In Microsoft speak:

Hyper-V supports both emulated (“legacy”) and Hyper-V-specific (“synthetic”) devices for Linux virtual machines. When a Linux virtual machine is running with emulated devices, no additional software is required to be installed. However, emulated devices do not provide high performance and cannot leverage the rich virtual machine management infrastructure that the Hyper-V technology offers.

To make full use of all benefits that Hyper-V provides, it is best to use Hyper-V-
specific devices for Linux. The collection of drivers that are required to run Hyper-V-specific devices is known as Linux Integration Services (LIS).
 
For certain older Linux distributions, Microsoft provides an ISO file containing installable LIS drivers for Linux virtual machines. For newer Linux distributions, LIS is built into the Linux operating system, and no separate download or installation is required. This guide discusses the installation and functionality of LIS drivers on older Linux distributions.

For some extra info an tips see Enabling Linux Support on Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V

TechNet Top Support Solutions From Microsoft Support Blog


As this year comes to an end I’d like to draw your attention to Microsoft’s new Top Support Solutions blog on TechNet. It was created this as part of their continuous efforts to keep the various  technical communities informed about the most relevant answers to the top questions or issues experienced with their products. They identify these top issues by analyzing the question in their forums and their other support channels.

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So if you need to find answers for your self or your customers go take a look at the "Top Solutions Content" blog. Changes are you’ll find valuable information about the Microsoft top support solutions for several of their popular products in Server and Tools. It might save you and your clients or manager a lot of time, effort and money. It’s also a great resource to make your colleagues, community, user group or clients aware of.

Failed Live Migrations with Event ID 21502 Planned virtual machine creation failed for virtual machine ‘VM Name’: An existing connection was forcibly closed by the remote host. (0x80072746) Caused By Wrong Jumbo Frame Settings


OK so Live Migration fails and you get the following error in the System even log with event id 21502:

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Planned virtual machine creation failed for virtual machine ‘DidierTest01’: An existing connection was forcibly closed by the remote host. (0x80072746). (Virtual Machine ID 41EF2DB-0C0A-12FE-25CB-C3330D937F27).

Failed to receive data for a Virtual Machine migration: An existing connection was forcibly closed by the remote host. (0x80072746).

There are some threads on the TechNet forums on this like here http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/805466e8-f874-4851-953f-59cdbd4f3d9f/windows-2012-hyperv-live-migration-failed-with-an-existing-connection-was-forcibly-closed-by-the and some blog post pointing to TCP/IP Chimney settings causing this but those causes stem back to the Windows Server 2003 / 2008 era.

In the Hyper-V event log Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS-Admin you also see a series of entries related to the failed live migration point to the same issue: image

  
Log Name:      Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS-Admin
Source:        Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS
Date:          10/8/2013 10:06:15 AM
Event ID:      20413
Task Category: None
Level:         Information
Keywords:     
User:          SYSTEM
Computer:      SRV1.BLOG.COM
Description:
The Virtual Machine Management service initiated the live migration of virtual machine  ‘DidierTest01’ to destination host ‘SRV2’ (VMID 41EF2DB-0C0A-12FE-25CB-C3330D937F27).
 
Log Name:      Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS-Admin
Source:        Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS
Date:          10/8/2013 10:06:26 AM
Event ID:      22038
Task Category: None
Level:         Error
Keywords:     
User:          SYSTEM
Computer:      SRV1.BLOG.COM
Description:
Failed to send data for a Virtual Machine migration: An existing connection was forcibly closed by the remote host. (0x80072746).
 
Log Name:      Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS-Admin
Source:        Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS
Date:          10/8/2013 10:06:26 AM
Event ID:      21018
Task Category: None
Level:         Error
Keywords:     
User:          SYSTEM
Computer:      SRV1.BLOG.COM
Description:
Planned virtual machine creation failed for virtual machine ‘DidierTest01’: An existing connection was forcibly closed by the remote host. (0x80072746). (Virtual Machine ID 41EF2DB-0C0A-12FE-25CB-C3330D937F27).
 
Log Name:      Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS-Admin
Source:        Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS
Date:          10/8/2013 10:06:26 AM
Event ID:      22040
Task Category: None
Level:         Error
Keywords:     
User:          SYSTEM
Computer:      SRV1.BLOG.COM
Description:
Failed to receive data for a Virtual Machine migration: An existing connection was forcibly closed by the remote host. (0x80072746).
Log Name:      Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS-Admin
Source:        Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS
Date:          10/8/2013 10:06:26 AM
Event ID:      21024
Task Category: None
Level:         Error
Keywords:     
User:          SYSTEM
Computer:      srv1.blog.com
Description:
Virtual machine migration operation for ‘DidierTest01’ failed at migration source ‘SRV1’. (Virtual machine ID 41EF2DB-0C0A-12FE-25CB-C3330D937F27)

There is something wrong with the network and if all checks out on your cluster & hosts it’s time to look beyond that. Well as it turns out it was the Jumbo Frame setting on the CSV and LM NICs.

Those servers had been connected to a couple of DELL Force10  S4810 switches. These can handle an MTU size up to 12000. And that’s how they are configured. The Mellanox NICs allow for MTU Sizes up to 9614 in their Jumbo Frame property.  Now super sized jumbo frames are all cool until you attach the network cables to another switch like a PowerConnect 8132 that has a max MTU size of 9216. That moment your network won’t do what it’s supposed to and you see errors like those above. If you test via an SMB share things seem OK & standard pings don’t show the issue. But some ping tests with different mtu sizes & the –f (do no fragment) switch will unmask the issue soon. Setting the Jumbo Frame size on the CSV & LM NICs to 9014 resolved the issue.

Now if on the server side everything matches up but not on the switches you’ll also get an event id 21502 but with a different error message:

Event ID: 21502 The Virtual Machine Management Service failed to establish a connection for a Virtual machine migration with host XXXX. A connection attempt failed because the connected party did not properly respond after a period of time, or the established connection failed because connected host has failed to respond (0X8007274C)

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This is the same message you’ll get for a known cause of shared nothing live migration failing as described in this blog post by Microsoft Shared Nothing Migration fails (0x8007274C).

So there you go. Keep an eye on those Jumbo Frame setting especially in a mixed switch environment. They all have their own capabilities, rules & peculiarities. Make sure to test end to end and you’ll be just fine.

Quality Of Life, Being Valued, Standby, On Watch, Over Time, Emergencies, Arrogance & Entitlement


Pointy Haired Managers

Time for an entry in The Dilbert® Life series, which are 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.

I see my part of corporate bullshit & a total lack of real insight, let alone vision. To be fair, the amount of crap managers gets to see from their employees is also considerable Smile as you can read here. I do not expect all managers to be a genuine leaders, that would be overly ambitious of me. But some common sense might come in handy. Every now and then, when some managers feel the need to make a name for themselves, an entire process tends to repeat it self. Part of that is the need to improve things and services in ways that have no real value & only seem to have a cost. The good news about this is that responding to this is very economical as you can just reuse all your previous e-mails & notes debunking it. Their game plan for the above is never ever original, but sometimes it does contain a secondary agenda.

Command & Control

First thing that always pops up is the old & long wish list of making pigs fly as requested by other middle managers, i.e. their peers This caters to the needs to be perceived as “being able to get it done”. This is also a drag but it isn’t difficult to deal with either. It’s like singing the same song over and over again, but heck we know the tune & the words by hard.

The second thing is planning. Schedules, vacation, capacity planning, resource allocations. It’s the need to assert control or at least the illusion. Be in charge of the sheep. This is a double edged sword as flexibility works both ways. What you take away form employees, you lose too!  While some managers are ridiculously blunt at it, some show more finesse but in the end it aids in showing some “executive power” to their peers as well, as they got a grip on the ‘IT Crowd’  who are seen like I described before in The do’s and don’ts when engaging consultants Part II:

“Well those IT people are a tough crowd. They are opinionated and don’t communicate to well. Hell those guys & gals prefer to work with machines! They are not up to speed with what is politically correct or fashionable, hate faking, can’t stand save asses and don’t tolerate kiss asses. Good IT people live by the sword and die by the sword. It’s all very direct. Either their solution works or it doesn’t. You can’t hide behind reports, gold plated words or lies when you work in IT. The evidence is there every single second of every single day, staring you right in the face. So basically it’s no wonder that weak management and incompetent employees can’t get along with them very well, they are a bit too direct.”

That’s all fine. But I prefer leaders over managers, as one manages resources, not people. In that respect I consider the term “Human Resources” a huge mistake. I prefer to work at places where I get the freedom & flexibility to produce great results.  If they can’t offer that, things tend to become mediocre, their choice. Control works both ways and the more control you exert, the less flexible employees become as the race to the bottom sets in while your best “opt out”. Not that I have any illusion of being important, but I digress Smile.

worthdemotivator[1]

If it works for the business and that’s where they make the money & profit, well done, who am I to argue? What isn’t fine however is when middle management only talks the talk but never walks the walk in regards to being on call, standby, whatever you want to call it. If done professionally, well organized, with insight and purpose it’s perfectly fine and acceptable on a voluntary and compensated basis. You know, the kind of job where you know what you get into. However, often the services aren’t well defined, let alone that is known what is needed to support them and if that is even feasible. But they bring up that subject as every now and then, some of the talking heads get off on buzz words like SLAs, 24/7 economy, etc. It must be the self aggrandizing thrill of being in control of mission critical systems I guess. All that while knowing that often the one and only really time critical & very specialized app has been running on the dedication & voluntarism of exactly one guy for the past decade at that place (I kind of hope he wins the lottery). Please, unless you’ve got you purposely designed application running as SAAS on Amazon/Azure in different global regions or on premise in 3 different locations you’re not really mission critical. That means you should not even consider trying to do this. The manufacturing industry can learn you something here. Pay good people good money to do well defined work in weekend/night shifts. Don’t combine this with normal hours, it’s a recipe for failure. It trying to reap the economic benefits of crisis efforts as a normal way of doing business.

Put Up or Shut Up

Basically that’s my answer to being on call but in an ever so diplomatic way. My and your time is limited. It’s truly something you can not recuperate, resurrect or create. It’s never ever coming back. So when I’m asked (or I some cases told) I need to be on stand by or on watch, then we must discuss terms & conditions. But first of all I remind them that if they don’t have their act together and have designed for 24/7 they will fail at achieving their goals.

What is my role?

  • Architect
  • Leader & Coach
  • Advisor / Consultant
  • Virtualization Expert
  • Systems Engineer
  • Storage Engineer
  • Network Engineer
  • Operational Employee

I can and I do combine many of these roles with great success. But one cannot do everything for everyone. Some skill sets come at a cost. You pay me to be a systems engineer and you’ll get a very good one. Just don’t expect me to throw in architecture & strategic advice for free. You are either willing to pay for that or you’re not. That is your prerogative, as it is mine not to accept an offer. But being on call isn’t in that list as a role. It’s a feature that comes at a (high) cost both in money and in time and it impacts my ability to perform certain roles full or part time. So unless you’re willing to pay top dollar, my diplomatic answer is that “I’m not available for the next 6 months”. I don’t do low ball rates. It’s the same as in consulting or jobs. I’d rather work 40 hours per week in a well paid interesting job with 6 weeks vacation instead of 60 hours first level support for low ball rates and 2 weeks off. But this answer won’t work when you’re already an employee. In that case you need t explain it a bit more.

If you’re not willing to pay, why would I?

Regarding being on call. You are limiting me in my free/spare time. Time when I’m not supposed to be working for you as I have already done my part (often more).

I can’t enjoy a glass of wine at a party or BBQ. I can’t go on a spontaneous day trip or weekend. I can’t work on another project or hobby. I need to stay in the neighborhood of a phone, laptop, internet connection and transport. Darn, perhaps I’ll even need to buy a car as currently in this digital age I don’t really need one. I can work very productively from anywhere in the world.  But basically standby means I’m grounded.  So if you want me to be on call in a weekend for 48 hours that is going to cost you money, time or a combination of both.

  • My hourly rate, that’s what you pay for my skill sets. You’re buying my expertise and  not only time. This rate reflects my value, not your willingness or capability to pay them. My rates are high. The good news is that you probably don’t need me.
  • As I have to reserve my time exclusively to you during those specific hours (whether you need them or not is your risk, not mine) has to be compensated in time, money or both. That’s the cost of retaining me.
  • The fact that those hours are also evenings and at night make them more premium as you have a serious impact on my other engagements & opportunities, both personal & professional. That’s extra again in either time, money or both.
  • I get to bear increased responsibility and stress without any long-term reward. You just add this to my plate while you hope that I’ll keep shining in all roles mentioned above. But you’re undermine my capabilities to do so by being on call and you’d like me do some management on top of that to convince others in the team of this worthy cause.
  • You limit my chances at promotions. You might not want to lose the person who does this.
  • What you get for free or this cheap is rarely valued, so it’s a very bad investment for me.
  • You are going to make me walk out on my loved ones, family, friends, etc. for
    € 5/hour. What kind of message does that send? Hey my bosses have a 24/7 mission critical system I need to go deal with raking in a whopping € 5/hour (don’t laugh). So I’m out of here! Really? Is that what you tell your wife & children? I actually love my family Winking smile.

Why on earth would you even think I’d agree to this whilst you love a scheme where I’m not even being paid if nothing happens? And if something really critical happens that can’t wait and I work throughout the night for 10 hours the value of saving decades of work, half a billion in data and make sure there is job to come back to for hundreds of people is worth € 50? Really, I think it can wait till Monday morning my friend. And if it’s really a crisis and we were able to help we have always done so, through the nights, in weekends for free, voluntarily. That’s our commitment on record, where is yours? So no we’re not being assholes. But I resent the cheap ease with which some people want to take control of my non working hours. You see most people who want this don’t really need it and are not organized to run 24/7 mission critical operations. It’s a bolt on, on top of the 40+ hours (I wish) one puts in.

My time, my life & well being cannot be bought with ridiculous tokens of appreciation. I cannot produce or acquire time. It’s a fixed resource, and limited. Basically I don’t care whether you appreciate me or not in this particular case. If you want this effort from me we’ll need to discuss compensation in both time and money. Serious time to compensate being restricted at moments and serious money because your appreciation has never gotten me a raise, promotion or a discount at the grocery store or doctors office. You see, they only take money. I don’t get any kicks out of being a sucker who fell for this and the hot babes don’t fall for it either (that’s what I hear anyway). If you can’t afford that, you don’t need me, meaning you have other and better options. It’s that simple. Or you’ll need to realize your half baked 24/7 “mission critical” system isn’t up to it’s task and bleeding to death but you just can’t use me to stop the bleeding. I’m not a tampon but a “valued employee”. You are pretending to be mission critical and while I’m perfectly fine that you’re acting out your fantasies, I am not playing. I’m banking on the cloud and your monthly bill to help you realize what mission critical really costs which will mean you’ll decide that good enough is good enough or organize it properly.

Arrogant?

OK, so I do a full time day job and when it comes to studying, learning and being good at my job I’m above average. Now on top of that, let’s say that you want to pay me € 125 for staying on or around my home 2 weekends per month, and being on call 2 nights per week. Excluding holidays & vacation well call it € 1250/year. That’s a months pay extra for some. It is and that’s a hard reality. But it’s not during office hours, it’s added time & restrictions at low ball rates. That’s still nice you might say. If I only ever have to intervene a few times per month by clicking a few buttons and perhaps only have 2 real interventions per year totaling 16 hours per year. That might sound like an OK deal for some people and a manager (I’m assuming here that he really needs this). But that’s not what you want me for. You want me there because I can think on my feet, have serious skill sets and I’m your best hope of saving your business from disaster. And I have proven that by the way, numerous times. How much do you pay a real good consultant during regular office hours? Enough said. In reality every time stuff goes wrong who get’s an e-mail or phone call when decisions need to be made and executed? Who can‘t be reached in weekends when the shit hits the fan or has to be literally dragged away from their family? Right! Think twice before you call me arrogant. And most certainly do not use it as a reason why I should do it and be happy for the “opportunity”.

Am I an entitled piece of s* without any work ethic!?

Nice try. You just had to say this huh? Now you’re going to make my digress a whole lot. Look dude, before the industrialization of the world you had very limited career options which all came down to scraping a living day by day and dying by the truckload due to famine, disease & violence. Later on we got a slew of options which gradually became a better deal for “the working class”. After slavery we got “free” slaves in the factories & mines (Foxcon employees still have to get out of that stage) and after an equally industrialized slaughter of men during a couple of world wars we got the age of the baby boomers. They saw massive improvements to their quality of life thanks to unions & organized social/economic negotiations in an era when Communism was perceived a threat. Ah, that short time in history when social peace & a thriving middle class was worth something to big business and governments (literally money). They lived & died in the belief they got their fair share when they worked hard and they had a good work ethic. People were loyal to their companies, they got a pension, social security. Reciprocity. Life was good as long as you didn’t go crazy, or that’s the dream they sold you. But that’s not us anymore. That social peace and giving out a fair share isn’t worth that much anymore as it used to be to the powers that be. The current active generations (that would be us) are the ones with all rights, but much less work ethic. Entitlement? Perhaps, but politics & business lead by example so what do you expect? Mind you I did not say we work less, far from it. Some elderly people I know are appalled at the hours we really work versus what is says on paper and they don’t get the “always on” world. We have no prospects of things getting better. On the contrary, everything we have is under constant attack and it’s getting worse by the day. You might not realize it yet because it’s being buffered by social security & benefits in Europe. And while some might even get more incentives to work less instead of more the golden sixties are not coming back. While I’m a firm believer in a just & social, caring society, I’m afraid the way we use it to keep up appearances is not the correct answer to the threats by big money & power to the quality of our existence. But don’t worry about having to work until you’re 70. You won’t even be able to. The only end game here is you’ll get no or less pension. And if you take care of yourself and save for retirement they just steal it under your nose at 1.5% interest (do the math) or by downright confiscating it as a tax to save the EU or wherever it is you live. The wealth of the world is being transferred (it seldom disappears) in ever greater numbers to ever less people. Thanks to all the brilliant economic think tanks who “believe” they are doing science. But I indeed digress and here ends the history lesson.

economicsdemotivator[1]

This was about me potentially being an entitled piece of s*. Well saying that to employees who have saved companies from annihilation at -14°C on a snowy winter night, at +35°C in summer, at nights, in the weekends, voluntarily, because he valued the business and the livelihood of people isn’t very nice. But perhaps that’s not enough and you’d like more for peanuts? That means that you’ll now even consider robbing me of the time I need to enjoy what I have while it lasts. Take a hike, thank you. On your way donate your peanuts to the monkeys in the zoo, that’s where they belong, not in your business. The economy is down but it’s not that bad. Not yet anyway.

We can agree to disagree, but don’t insult me

Both you and me are not obliged to do this. We both have the choice. If and when you can find the people & skill sets you need for peanuts I’ll say, good for you! But when the next question is, without missing a beat, when & where the external service provider or employees you’ve found willing to do this can reach me all times, I’ll politely but decisively disengage as this brings us back to the start of the discussion and I don’t want to waste time on going over all this again. Not even to mention the fact that I take such inconsiderate behavior as an insult.

Good News

My current CEO gets this. So, no, it’s not a real issue for me as an employee. I hope yours does to, if not walk away. You seldom lose valued employees, you lose them because you don’t, which means you don’t care and probably don’t need them anyway. While consulting, it’s “easier”, your rates will chase the riff raff away and if not you just say that you’re not available for the next 6 months.