Rethinking Architecture With IRF

Several years ago when I was introduced to Cisco’s VSS technology, I thought it was a pretty cool idea. Not only did it reduce the number of devices you had to administer, it gave stand-alone servers and blade enclosures the illusion of only being connected to one switch even though it was really 2. Simple right? Sure, except you had to use a 6500 with a specific supervisor module.

Fast forward to the Nexus switching line from Cisco. vPC or virtual PortChannel is born. Instead of combining 2 switches into 1 logical switch, it takes links from 2 switches and presents it to the end system as if it comes from 1 switch. A different approach from VSS, but it provides the same level of redundancy from an end system perspective. Perhaps a better solution since it is supported on the Nexus 7000 and 5000 series switches.

What we are seeing today is the next evolution in the data center. The fabric. If I recall correctly(meaning I am too lazy to go find the links), Brocade was the first company to come to market with a fabric solution. Cisco had Fabric Path not too long after, and then Juniper released QFabric(The remaining 2 pieces). Which brings me to IRF.

IRF

IRF isn’t new technology. It has been around for a while. 3Com had this technology prior to HP acquiring them. IRF does what Cisco’s VSS did and turns 2 switches into 1 logical switch. Well, at least it did. They are up to 4 now, but only on the 10500 and 12500 series switches. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Intelligent Resilient Framework(IRF), you could read the Wikipedia article, but it isn’t very good. Instead, read Ivan Pepelnjak’s IRF post here. I also wrote a little about IRF earlier in the year here. You can also read this whitepaper from HP on IRF.

Earlier this year, HP announced that the 10500 series switch could run IRF between 4 chassis instead of just 2 like all of the other A series switches. This was a great benefit in the campus arena as you could now take 4 switches and have them share a common control plane and act as 1 logical switch. I management touch point and 1 logical switch represented to end systems.

At Interop NYC last month, HP made another announcement concerning IRF. Not only would the 10500 series switch support 4 chassis’ in a single IRF instance, now the 12500 series will as well. The 12500 is the largest class of switch HP sells. What this means is that you can reduce all kinds of complexity within a large data center if you are using a lot of 12500’s.

Take the following diagram for example:

This should look somewhat familiar to most people. You have your standard 3 layers in the data center. Although only 4 blade enclosures are represented as connecting to each distribution switch, imagine that the number is 5 times as many. I didn’t want the drawing to get too crowded, so I took a few shortcuts. Imagine that this data center network is large enough to require multiple sets of access switches.

You have redundancy with this particular setup, but you also have a decent administrative burden to go along with it. You have to manage all of these switches. What are the options?

For those of you familiar with Cisco’s solutions, you have some options in terms of VSS, vPC, and Fabric Path to help ease that burden. If you use Arista switches, you can use MLAG. With Brocade, you have VCS. I suspect Open Fabric from Extreme Networks will do the same thing, but I am not real knowledgeable on that solution. Last, but certainly not least, is Juniper. With Juniper’s QFabric, you essentially turn your data center into one gigantic switch. Of course, you could almost make the same argument with the Cisco Nexus 7/5/2 play. QFabric just seems a bit more interesting to me than the Nexus 7/5/2 solution.

All of those are valid options. Some are easier than others to implement. Some are cheaper than others to implement. Some make more sense than others. However, this post isn’t about any of those other vendor solutions. It is about HP’s IRF. In light of that, let me put my blinders on and look at the solution to the data center problem above from HP’s perspective. You take the 3 tiers with a ton of blade enclosures on the access side and make it look like this:

Now I admit that this looks a bit more confusing, so let me point out a few things:

  1. All switches shown are HP A12500 series switches.
  2. You don’t have to use uplinks from each blade enclosure to each of the 4 distro/access switches. I put 4 links from each BE to show what COULD be done. It doesn’t mean that must be done that way.
  3. This diagram shows 2 logical switches instead of what would normally be 6. The top 2 form the core tier and the bottom 4 form the access/distribution layer. I could have used other terms like “spine” instead of the usual layer terminology, but decided against it since I don’t want to muddy the waters any further.
  4. The green uplink connections could be scaled back a lot more than they are configured as now. Again, this is designed to show what COULD be done and not what MUST be done.
  5. The red lines are the IRF links that the physical switches use to communicate with each other using LACP. Each chassis has 2 logical IRF ports on board and each logical IRF port can have up to 8 links in it. That means you can get an 80Gbps IRF connection between 2 switches in theory.
  6. Since there are only 2 logical IRF ports on a switch, you cannot have 4 switches meshed together for IRF purposes. It has to exist as a ring, hence the diagram above.

The design goal for the diagram above is two-fold. First, there is an incredible amount of redundancy built in. Of the 4 switches in the IRF group providing access/distribution layer type services, you can lose 3 of them and still function. Granted, that assumes that all of the blade enclosures have links to each of the 4 switches. Using redundant uplink/switch modules in whatever blade enclosure you are using makes this a realistic scenario. Second, the administrative burden in this scenario is minimal since you only have 2 logical switches to administer. As configurations within a core switch aren’t going to change that often, you essentially have to worry about making changes on 1 logical switch.

Of course, not everything is as bright and shiny as it seems. There are some tradeoffs/considerations when it comes to IRF. These are the ones I am aware of, but there may be more:

  1. Non-scaling MAC and ARP tables. – When you combine 4 A12500’s into a single logical switch, you don’t get an exponential increase in MAC and ARP table resources. You are confined to the limitations of a single A12500. While this might seem like a big deal, it may not be depending on the number of hosts within your data center. Every environment is different.
  2. Additional uplink ports required for IRF. – If you are going to connect 4 A12500’s to each other using 10Gbps interfaces, you will need to allocate double the amount you normally would if you were simply connecting to another A12500 for 2 switch IRF linking. Not a huge deal considering the amount of slot real estate on the A12500’s, but something to consider.
  3. Long distance links. – You can extend IRF links with distances of up to 70km/43.5mi, but there COULD be some issues with losing the link. Split brain detection with IRF is good as there are 3 methods it can use to determine ultimate up/down state. I am never a fan of “stacking” outside of the wiring closet on the edge and IRF is in effect, stacking. I have to agree with Ivan Pepelnjak on this one. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. However, this option is there and can be used as a way to extend L2 across data centers.

Closing Thoughts

My goal in this post wasn’t to discuss each and every feature when it comes to IRF. It was really to point out that you can run IRF across 4 12500 series switches. This is a pretty big deal in my opinion. In the largest data centers around the globe, this isn’t a big deal as 4 probably isn’t enough for them. However, I would wager that the overwhelming majority of data centers(ie 90% +) could benefit from 4 chassis IRF on the 12500 series switches. The software to make this happen is supposed to be available in November of 2011, so hopefully by the time you are reading this, it is either available, or a few short weeks from availability.

I should point out that I have no real world experience using IRF. I simply have an academic understanding of it. At least, I assume I have an academic understanding. As always, if I am incorrect, please feel free to point out my inaccuracies or flat out heresy.

***Disclaimer – HP sent me to Interop NYC in October of this year. I was not obligated to write about them at all. I’ve been trying to write something up about IRF since October, but have been too busy with my full time job to get it done. What you just read took about a month and a half to write and several revisions to come up with scattered in 10-15 minute increments of work. If I ever was a shill for HP, I am not a very timely one. 😉

 

Posted in data center, hp, switching | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

One Month Into The Channel

I thought I would take some time to explain what my experience has been working for a VAR(Value Added Reseller) for over a month now. For those of you who haven’t read my previous writings on the recent job change(I realize you have lives of your own.), my previous employer outsourced all IT operations to another company. I turned down the job offer from the outsourcing company and went to work for a local Nashville, Tennessee VAR named ICV Solutions Inc. I started with them back in July of this year. For the overwhelming majority of my career, I have been in corporate IT environments.

Six Points

First of all, you have to change your mindset if you come from a corporate IT environment. You are now in sales. Oh I know. You’re an engineer. You only want the technical stuff. I get that. I’m the same. However, when working for a VAR, you make your living off of people buying your hardware, software, or your time and knowledge. You can’t give it away anymore.

What do I mean by that? Let’s say company X hires you to do a particular job. Data center switch hardware upgrades for example. Based on the statement of work, you go in there and swap the old switches with the new ones and configure them in a manner the client wants. What if the client asks you to take care of a wireless problem since you happen to be there? Do you do it? If it isn’t in the statement of work, the answer is no. If you happen to have some all-encompassing support agreement with them that covers whatever they need, then you absolutely take care of it. The thing you have to be cognizant of is what you have been hired to do. Your product is not just hardware and software. It is knowledge. Of course, you have to be flexible as well. You have to read the situation. It never hurts to go the extra mile for customers or potential customers. Treat them well, and the bulk of them will return the favor. Remember that there’s a difference in giving an opinion or quick fix suggestion versus providing a customer or potential customer with a detailed design plan and bill of materials for them to possibly use with another VAR or on their own. Use common sense. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t be a pushover either.

Second, you can get some serious hooks into vendors that you never thought were possible. Vendors want you to sell their products! They will provide you with all kinds of resources to make that happen. Sales training, technical training, engineering resources, financial incentives, and other things to enable you to sell on their behalf are all part of being a vendor partner. Non-disclosure agreements from vendors for corporate IT end users are great, but that only scratches the surface. As a partner you get to see so much more. The challenge with that is trying to digest it all. If I hope to be a good VAR engineer, I need to know far more about the various vendors and technologies than I did as a regular corporate IT professional. If I go into a pre-sales agreement and sound like a complete moron, what are the odds of getting work from that company? In a corporate environment, I have a bit more leeway when it comes to things like that since I already work for the company.

Third, you get far more exposure to different hardware and software platforms out there than you ever would in a corporate environment. The more vendors you partner with, the greater that exposure will be. One of the main reasons I ended up at my current company was their stance on vendors. We sell what we feel are the best products. That means we do business with a variety of vendors. If I only have one vendor to choose from in a particular space like networking or storage, then I am nothing more than a vendor extension with a different logo. Let’s face it. No vendor does it well in every sector. You also have to constantly evaluate your current vendors and be willing to move in a different direction if they are not providing a good solution anymore. We do this in our personal lives with the products we buy. Why in the world would we not do it in our business lives? Vendors and products come and go. My job is not to please the vendor. My job is to please the customer. I need to give them options based on what their needs are. If all I sell are hammers, then every problem…..well, you get the point.

Fourth, your schedule needs to be flexible. I no longer control the timeframe in which I get work done. I have to adapt to whatever outage window the customer has. I also have to be willing to go on site wherever they may be or work remote if that is what they prefer. Customer service. Remember that? Its been lost in so many industries out there. You have to be flexible. With that flexibility comes some additional freedom on your part. When I am not working billable hours or helping one of the sales executives with a pre-sales engagement or bill of materials creation, I can spend time improving my skillset. I can pretty much train as I have time. I don’t have a network to take care of as a VAR unless it is a client who pays me for that. My wife and kids enjoy it when I can work from home and don’t burn 2 hours of my day commuting. That means we eat dinner earlier, and I ALWAYS prefer to eat dinner with my family.

Fifth, nobody calls me at night. If they do, they get billed for it. I still sleep next to my phone out of sheer habit, but it has yet to ring late at night. My wife thanks my employer for that. She’s a light sleeper.

Sixth, you are always looking for additional work. If you do a good job, word of mouth can help you out. I know in my previous corporate IT life, I would regularly poll my peers in other companies to see what their experiences were with certain vendors or VARs. Even though I am a technical resource, I still have to be cognizant of what is going on out there in my local area. I don’t want to give away trade secrets here, but there are certain methods of drumming up more work. All ethical ways mind you. Essentially, you just have to take time and LOOK in the right places. Pay attention. Situational awareness is everything. This is probably the biggest change for me coming from a corporate IT life. I am now much more closer to the sales process. I have been shielded from it for years. I have always been on the other side of the deal. I buy a car. I buy clothes. I buy food. I make the decision. Sales people bend to my will or get no sale. Now I am on the other side of the table. An odd feeling at first, but after a month or so I have adjusted to it. I actually have a greater appreciation for people who are great at sales be it cars, homes, routers, or firewalls.

Closing Thoughts

What else can I say? I’m in heaven working with all of these different vendors. No week is the same for me and I get to work with a great group of engineers who are all veterans of IT. I’ve known the bulk of people in my company for several years, so that made my transition much easier. They say you won’t want to go back to corporate IT life after being in the VAR space. I can certainly understand that sentiment, although I could see myself working for a vendor one day. At some point I will be tired trying to keep up with everything and will just resign myself to shilling for one brand. Of course, my last manager was fond of saying that at some point the data center would be nothing more than 2 laptops with a crossover cable between them due to the increase in power and decrease in form factor we are seeing these days. I might only have to know specs for 1 or 2 devices 20 years from now!

What about you? Similar experiences? Considering moving in one direction or another? Think I am unrealistic in my VAR fanboy state? Like vendor work better? Like corporate IT life better? Let me know in the comments.

Posted in career | Tagged | 3 Comments

A Black Box For Your Virtual Environment

Every time you hear about a plane crash on the news, the big thing they focus on apart from the casualities is finding the “black box”.  The “black box” is nothing more than a flight data recorder. A variety of systems within the plane constantly send data to this recorder so that in the event of an emergency, people can reconstruct exactly what happened.

With the explosion of virtualization in the past several years, new challenges have appeared. Nobody can deny that virtualization has brought us many benefits from resource utilization to failover capabilities, but with those benefits come new challenges. One of the biggest challenges we have is making sure the virtual ecosystem is performing as it should and pinpointing the sources of problems when they do occur.

As I walked the expo floor at VMworld 2011 in Las Vegas, I couldn’t help but notice the vendors on the back side of the expo floor were comprised of three basic categories. You had storage virtualization vendors, cloud providers, and virtual monitoring vendors. If you happened to be there and paid close attention, you might have noticed one of those monitoring vendors was a bit different than the others.

I was first introduced to Xangati back in February of this year at Tech Field Day 5 out in San Jose, California. They gave a comprehensive presentation discussing their roots in the service provider/networking monitoring space and followed that up with a demo of some new versions of their VMware dashboards. While I was immediately impressed with the eye-candy that their dashboards contained, I was absolutely blown away once they dove into the playback functionality of their product.

They have the ability to capture a massive amount of information within your VMware environment much like the flight data recorder does in an airplane. They are then able to playback the state of the environment at specific points in time to help you determine the source or sources of a problem. If you just want to see how your virtual environment is functioning under various loads, you can do that as well.

In addition to recording and playback capability, they can generate alerts for a variety of different things. Impressive? It is. For two years in a row, they have been a finalist in the “Best of VMworld” awards for virtualization management. They are also used to monitor the virtual environment in the labs at VMworld. I could go on and on about the various features around their products, but I think you just need to see it in action to get the full understanding of what Xangati can do for your virtual environment.

Products

The 2 main products that Xangati produces are the VI dashboard and the VDI dashboard. These are both part of the Xangati Management Dashboard Product Suite.

The VI dashboard provides monitoring and recorded playback of the virtual and physical infrastructure pieces that have anything to do with virtual infrastructure performance. It does this without requiring any sort of system software agent.

Here’s the VI(virtual infrastructure) dashboard overview video:

The VDI(virtual desktop infrastructure) dashboard provides the same thing as the VI dashboard, but for the VDI environment. It also functions without any sort of system software agent.

Here’s the VDI dashboard overview video:

The latest dashboards they just released on August 23rd have some new and improved features. Due to a partnership with Teradici(You know them as the people that invented the PC over IP protocol which VDI runs over), Xangati is able to get some additional information from the VDI environment. There are also some additional storage hooks that give you a bit more detail as to which VM’s are hitting which particular data stores.

Additional Information

If you want to see an unedited and unfiltered discussion from the Tech Field Day delegates about Xangati, watch the video below:

Check out their YouTube channel for a bunch of other videos here: http://www.youtube.com/user/xangati

How Much Does It Cost?

As with any monitoring solution, you don’t expect it to be cheap. Xangati’s dashboards don’t cost as much as you might think. $149 per socket and $10 per VDI instance. That’s it. Makes for easy math. You can also run an instance of their VI dashboard on 1 ESX host for free. They call that product Xangati for vSphere. You can find out more about it here: http://xangati.com/products/xangati-for-vsphere/

Closing Thoughts

You will simply have to see the VI or VDI dashboards in your own environment. This is a highly visual product that you have to play around with before getting a full appreciation for what they are doing. In my opinion, the value of what Xangati does is found in their ability to show you the complete state of your virtual environment at any given point in time.

I’ve done a fair amount of digging through log entries on systems in order to find out where a certain problem originated. I’ve also looked at numerous graphs and charts on monitoring reports showing me trends of one thing or another. It is a very manual and laborious process. Being able to watch a bunch of variables from compute, storage, and network segments operate in real time or via recorded playback has tremendous value from a time-savings perspective.

Disclaimer: I do not sell nor use Xangati products in my current job. They did partially fund my Tech Field Day 6 trip to San Jose back in February. I also receive early briefings on their product announcements. In no way do they require me to write anything about them. They just happen to be some smart and cool people who have a good product. I did get a few t-shirts from them at VMworld along with a sticker. The sticker and one of the t-shirts had bacon on it. The other t-shirt had a Star Wars theme to it. Could you turn that swag down? I don’t think so.

Posted in data center, monitoring, vendors, virtualization | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Some Tradeoffs Are Worth It

I like tools. The more complex they are, the better. I can easily spend an hour in a hardware store like Lowe’s or Home Depot and never leave the tool aisle. If it has laser beams, sharp blades, and requires hearing and eye protection, even better! There’s a problem with the bigger tools though. They tend to cost a lot and they typically do only one or two things. They do them well for the most part, but their ability to help you out in a variety of situations is limited. They also tend to be a lot bigger and difficult to lug around.

There’s another class of tool though. It tends to do several things, but probably not as well as the specialized ones. One of my favorites is the Leatherman multi-tool made by the fine folks in Portland,Oregon. What would take me an entire set of tools purchased individually, this tool can do rather well. It has a variety of different mini-tools on it. There’s pliers, a knife blade, a file, multiple driver bits, a can opener, etc.

When you consider the wide range of network monitoring tools out there, we tend to buy single use tools. Granted, there are some out there than can accomplish a wide range of things like SolarWinds Orion, but for the most part, our tools do either one or just a few things. In the network world, I typically categorize the various tools in one of about 4 different categories.

1. Configuration – These are the tools that aid you in pushing out changes to a large number of devices. Infoblox NetMRI, HP Network Automation software, and SolarWinds Orion NCM are a few of the more well known programs.

2. Real Time Monitoring – These are the tools that alert you when something is down, going down, or experiencing other anomalies in near real-time. EMC Smarts(now branded as EMC Ionix), Whats Up Gold, GFI NSM, and SolarWinds Orion are a few of these.

3. Flow Data/Network Trending – These are the tools that show you historical, or near real time flow statistics on your network infrastructure. CA NetQos ReporterAnalyzer, Compuware Gomez NPM(formerly Compuware NetworkVantage), Plixer Scrutinizer, and Fluke Networks OptiView NetFlow Tracker are a few of these.

4. Authentication/Policy Enforcement – These are the tools that permit or deny access to the network or a specific device within the network. Cisco ACS, Microsoft Network Policy Server(formerly Microsoft IAS), and Juniper Networks Steel Belted Radius are some of the more well known programs.

Perhaps like me, you find yourself wondering why the bulk of the tools we have in use on enterprise networks only do a certain amount of tasks. I believe the answer has to do with complexity. It is a rather monumental task to develop software that can handle just one of the four areas I mentioned. Add virtualization to that and it becomes even more difficult.

The Solution?

HP has an interesting product called Intelligent Management Center(IMC) that aims to handle all 4 areas I listed above to one degree or another. Not only can it keep configurations of all your network devices, it can monitor their up/down state, keep traffic flow statistics, and even enforce security policies. Here’s a short list of what it can do according to HP:

“Fault management, device configuration, device policy enforcement, change alerts, VPN management, user access management, network traffic analysis, virtualization management, network discovery, centralized reporting, access control list management, QoS policy management, MPLS VPN management, endpoint posture checking, identity and access management over LAN, WAN, wireless, and VPN.”

It is important to note that this product is not designed to only work with HP systems. It supports several thousand different non-HP products. Just about every Cisco product you can think of is supported by this tool. For that matter, just about every vendor you can think of is supported as well. I saw a live demonstration of this product at HP Discover earlier this year. During the IMC session, the challenge was made to name an obscure brand to see if IMC would support it. There was only one product out of a half-dozen or so that were named that wasn’t supported. It was a SonicWall device. Not surprising considering how GUI heavy those products are.

The goal of IMC is simple. You can see it represented in this picture:

 

Swivel Chair Management – This is what happens when we have to use several different tools to manage the network. We shift from one tool to another. Back and forth repeatedly. You have no doubt heard the term “single pane of glass” before. That is the term HP uses to counteract the typical swivel chair management most enterprises use when it comes to network management applications. IMC puts it all in one place allowing multiple silos within an IT department to use the same tool for all their management needs.

That’s the basic rundown on IMC. It’s modular, built off the FCAPS model, and consists of the following modules:

 

Icing On The Cake

IMC has some serious hooks into the virtual ecosystem. For those of us who are from traditional networking backgrounds, we have struggled with visibility into the virtual ecosystem over the past several years. Traffic goes into blade enclosures or ESX hosts and doesn’t necessarily come back out. Monitoring VM’s has become quite difficult, and if that VM changes ESX hosts, it gets even harder. Cisco has a solution to that problem in the Nexus 1000v, but that involves an additional purchase. Not everyone wants to go down that route. While IMC cannot do all of the things that the Nexus 1000v can, it gets pretty close due to extensive use of the vCenter API. As vSphere matures, so will IMC’s ability to see into the virtual environment.

Closing Thoughts

IMC is by all rights a great product that I think is going to set the bar for other all encompassing management tools. However, I think it would be naive to assume that IMC can replace all other management tools out there. There are going to be several things that specialized software from vendors can do that IMC cannot. That doesn’t mean IMC can’t do the bulk of the functions of these other tools. It just means that you have to be realistic when it comes to a product like IMC.

Like my Leatherman that I described at the start of this post, IMC is able to do a variety of things. However, there are limitations around the knife or the screwdriver on my Leatherman. Sometimes you do need a specialized tool to get the job done. The efficiency you gain from leveraging a tool like IMC in an enterprise network is a tradeoff I am willing to make. All of it comes down to knowing what your needs are and using the best tool to meet them.

This was the third and final post for the Blogger’s Reality Show Contest 2011 sponsored by HP and Ivy Worldwide. If you wouldn’t mind, click the thumbs up or thumbs down right below this paragraph and let me know if you enjoyed this post, or if it didn’t really apply to you. You can also leave a comment if you wish.

Posted in contest, data center, virtualization | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Should I Buy The Combo Meal?

A number of years ago, fast food restaurants got smart. Why sell individual items when you can just make it easy on people and sell bundles? This way, all they have to do is pick a number and pay. Problem solved. That worked for most people, but some of us need a little extra, so they came up with larger sizes on the fries and drink. Perfect right? Well, almost. There are people out there like me who don’t like fries. I would order an individual burger and drink. Then, the 99 cent or dollar menus came out. Next, there were healthier side items like salad and fruit to choose from instead of fries.

That is the state of fast food today. Lots of choices, but the bulk of the menu is still based around the combo meals.

If the data center were a fast food menu, we would still be ordering individual items. Combo meals are just starting to appear in the form of the block/pod/etc solutions being offered by Dell, HP, Cisco/EMC, IBM, and Oracle. However, we’re still in the early stages of these implementations. There are various sizes to each of these vendor implementations, much like the size increases in fries and drink that the fast food chains came out with to enhance their combo meal offerings.

If I based my technology preferences on marketing, I would be all in on the “all-in-one-rack” solutions from the various vendors, but I don’t, so I still hold to the idea that building out the individual areas like storage, compute, and network is the way to go. Why do I take that approach regarding technology? Mainly because I live and die by the belief that in every IT scenario the answer to which architecture to go with is “it depends”. That is not to say that the all-in-one-rack solution doesn’t have a place in the data center. It most certainly does.

The various “all-in-one-rack” solutions give you the following picture of your IT needs:

The problem is that they really look like this a lot of the time:

This past week was the second of three in the Blogger’s Reality Show 2011 hosted by Thomas Jones and sponsored by HP and Ivy Worldwide. Our session was centered around converged systems. In case you are wondering where I was going with my fast food analogy and mini-rant on “block” systems featuring pictures of my son’s toys, now you know.

HP has several solutions that address the “all-in-one-rack” approach. They are HP VirtualSystem, HP CloudSystem, and HP AppSystem.

Image courtesy of HP.

What are they as compared to the other vendor solutions out there like vBlock, FlexPod, etc? The answer is “it depends”. I won’t spend any time on HP’s AppSystem since that is a dedicated rack for business intelligence and similar business applications. Trust me. You DON’T want me to weigh in on that. Forrest Gump could do it better justice than I could. I did see some demonstrations of its power at HP Discover. It is quite interesting and downright scary at the same time considering its capabilities at mining data and correlating it in real time.

So, we’re left with HP’s VirtualSystem and CloudSystem.

VirtualSystem is nothing more than a platform designed to streamline VM deployment and management. It comes in 3 flavors using the expected components from HP.

You can have a system that either supports up to 750, 2,500, or 6,000 VM’s. One thing to note is that it supports multiple virtualization vendors and not just VMware like others out there. Other than that, it is just HP’s version of Vblock or FlexPod. I am sure HP, EMC, NetApp, and Cisco would all disagree with me. When you take servers, storage, and network pieces and put them in one rack, it all looks the same. Of course, what will ultimately differentiate it is the software being used to control it all.

That leads me to CloudSystem. I first saw this at HP Discover in Las Vegas back in June of this year. I wrote a little bit about it then.

You take VirtualSystem and add on a bunch of extras like security and slick orchestration software. Give the customer tiered hardware options just like with VirtualSystem. You now have a system that can deploy compute, storage, network, and application services on demand either on premises or off premises.

Image courtesy of HP.

This can be either public, private, or hybrid cloud. If you’re like me, you get confused by the difference in “cloud” types. I prefer the terms “Internet” and “Intranet” instead of “cloud”, but since I don’t influence marketing terms like the vendors do, I will give you HP’s definition of the three types of cloud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closing Thoughts

I started off this post trying to make the case that converged systems or “all-in-one-rack” solutions have their place, but not in every environment. Rather, I think they are far more suited to service providers like Amazon, Google, Rackspace, etc. Businesses that actually rent out horsepower to customers. Most people in the industry would probably tell me I am wrong or have a myopic view. I still think we have several years before all of this gets straightened out. For those who choose to fully embrace “cloud computing”, it is going to come down to software more than anything. HP has a long history of developing software, so I think they probably have a leg up on most of their competition. However, companies like EMC aren’t exactly new to the software game either.

I am going to continue to sound the alarm that rapid advancement towards automatic provisioning might just create a new generation of IT professionals that have no idea how anything actually works on the back end and just know how to turn a few knobs in a GUI. However, I understand the push towards “cloud computing” by company executives. Businesses are looking everywhere they can to cut costs. IT is usually a large gaping hole in the budget. If you can offload the cost of infrastructure and eliminate the number of people needed to manage it, you can save a bunch of money in theory. It’s a no-brainer for finance people. The key is making sure it works and works well.

The intent of this post was not to delve into every little detail of what HP and others are doing around converged systems. The intent was simply to evoke some thinking on the reader’s part around the rapid changes we are seeing in regards to the pod/block implementations that various vendors out there are pushing as well as the tie-in to “cloud computing”. Everyone has an opinion on all of this, and I don’t necessarily think mine is the best one all the time.

Am I wrong about this, or do you agree? Do me a favor and vote at the bottom of this post with a thumbs up or a thumbs down. It takes 2 seconds and it lets me know you at least have some sort of opinion around what I wrote. If you really want to give me a piece of your mind, you can leave me a comment. This post is part of a contest that I am trying to win, but it isn’t the end of the world if I don’t. Either way, I will be at VMworld later on this month, so if you REALLY want to give me a piece of your mind, you can find me there as well.

Oh, and to bring it full circle, I never did answer the question “Should I buy the combo meal?” so I will answer it now. The answer is: “It depends.” 😉

Posted in cloud, contest, virtualization | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Data Center Blender

I remember the first time I saw a storage area network(SAN). It was 2001 and my employer had just purchased 3 Dell(EMC) SANs. I worked for the US military at the time, so the three SANs were for 3 networks of varying security levels. We had rack after rack of 36GB hard drives. If you turned out the lights in the data center, you could see hundreds of lights blinking all at once. An impressive sight for that particular point in time.

Ten years later, you can fit those 20 or so racks into 1 or 2 racks. It isn’t just the hard drive numbers that are decreased due to advances in individual drive capacity. The servers interacting with all of that data would be virtualized today. The 2 dozen or so physical servers I had for those SANs would be reduced down to 1 blade enclosure today.

Yet, when we look at what we have in data centers today, it really hasn’t changed that much. Your typical data hungry enterprise still has racks of storage. The drives themselves have just grown exponentially larger from the old 36GB 10,000 RPM drives I used in my Dell SANs to sizes in excess of 1TB. The bulk of the servers are virtualized and running on blades now, except instead of just having a few dozen servers, I now have hundreds or thousands. This requires a large number of blade enclosures. Even if your blade servers can support half a terabyte of memory, you still need quite a few of them. For the network, we’ve traded out most of the copper ports for fiber ones, except the number of fiber ports required has grown tremendously.

We’re doing the same things we’ve been doing for the most part. We’re just able to do it on a larger scale. Am I wrong? Isn’t it just capacity upgrades for the most part? Sure, your VMware ESXi hypervisor is really tiny now. With some of the blade servers out there holding gigantic amounts of RAM, we’re packing dozens of VM’s on a single blade. Our processors have multiple cores and can handle much larger workloads today than they could even a couple of years ago. Still, I submit that we’re doing the same thing I was doing 10 years ago with my shiny Dell SANs in my data center. I still have a storage silo, a server/compute silo, and a network silo. You can get nit-picky and throw in a virtualization silo if you want.

The thing is, I don’t think keeping these silos are a problem. It works doesn’t it? Maybe in this modern world of “cloud computing” and the quest for the holy grail of IT services you disagree. If someone picks application, compute, storage, virtualization, and network services on demand with the same ease that they order a pizza, does that mean we’ve achieved IT nirvana, or does it just mean that we’ve written better software and call it orchestration?

Chew on that for a minute, and yes, I know I am being simplistic and over-generalizing.

Convergence Please!

You want to talk convergence? Want to talk about destroying silos? Fine. Let’s talk about that. In fact, I can think of no better example of that than the “HP P4800 G2 SAN Solution for BladeSystem.” That’s a mouthful of a title, so I will just call it the “data center blender”. All your silos dropped into one package. Is it for every possible data center buildout or scenario? Absolutely not. If it were, HP wouldn’t sell storage systems with much larger capacities. However, if the bulk of customers out there have storage requirements below the cap on this “data center blender”, then I think we have a platform that can exist in many, many datacenters. The cap, by the way, is 672TB. I know it would actually be far less usable space once you account for RAID levels, hot spares, mirrors of disk shelves, etc, but it would still be a tremendous amount of storage capacity. I am willing to bet most customers out there have data requirements far less than 500TB. Maybe I am wrong. After all, I am not a storage pro, as you have no doubt figured out this far into the post. 🙂

How does it work?

Take a C7000 series blade enclosure, put storage controllers in 2 slots and use the rest for either more storage controllers, or server blades. Add modular disk shelves below the C7000. Cable it all up using the Virtual Connect modules, and bada bing, bada boom. You now have storage, compute, virtualization, and network all in one. This is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” products. Of course, you would have to produce all the components, so that narrows the field down to less than 5 companies. HP happens to be one of them, and the one that sells the most hardware out of all of them.

You can start out relatively small on this particular system. Do you only need 2 or 3 blade servers in the C7000? Fine. Buy more as you need them. Just need a few dozen terabytes of storage? Fine. Buy more as you need it. Start small and grow to a pretty large size. Already have C7000 enclosures in your data center? Congratulations, you’re already half way there.

Do I need to go on? No. You just need to check it out yourself. Here’s a link, and let me throw in some eye candy below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there you have it. That’s one example of a converged storage product from HP. It will be a great fit for quite a few companies out there. They took a very popular product in the C7000 series blade enclosure and gave it additional value by pairing it with a storage system that eliminates the need for a dedicated storage switch.

Closing Thoughts

Convergence is a hot issue these days. If it helps to save money as well as speed up deployment of IT services, lots of people are interested in that. We have become a “must have it now” culture in business as well as our personal lives. Customers don’t care how long it takes you to provision services. If you are selling it, they want it. Every single time a service like Netflix or Hulu has performance problems, I am not sitting around giving them the benefit of the doubt and theorizing whether they are having capacity issues. When it comes to services I am paying for, I don’t care what your problems are. I want it to work the second I need it or give me my money back and I will go find someone who can deliver.

A word of caution as we start tearing down these silos though. Storage, compute, virtualization, and network silos can get very complex long before you start mashing one or more of these things together. If you do not have good people handling these converged products, you are asking for trouble. The compute and virtualization silos are probably close enough to where a single person can understand both. The others, well, not so much. That’s not to say that an individual cannot have a firm grasp in multiple areas. They can. It just takes work. Hard work. That’s been my biggest concern with some of these convergence plays. They dumb down some very complex systems in the interest of “getting it done”. That’s all well and good when it works fine. What about when it breaks? Can you fix what you don’t understand?

Fine Print

This post is the first of three that I will be doing as part of Thomas Jonesblogger reality show contest. The winner will be announced at VMworld at the end of August. Please vote at the top of this post as to whether or not you liked this post. I am up against several other bloggers, and although going to VMworld is enough of a reward, I can’t pass up an opportunity to compete with other techies! Leave me a comment as well if you liked this post, or even if you hated it. I’m a big boy. I promise you won’t hurt my feelings. 😉

Posted in data center, hp, storage, virtualization | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Busy Little Bees

I’ve followed Aerohive for over a year now strictly from a technical point of view. Their approach to wireless without using a controller is intriguing to say the least. Back in March of this year, I was able to meet the individuals who are the face of the company. There is something to be said for companies that know what it is they are up against and continue to plow ahead in spite of the obstacles. I wrote a bit about Aerohive after my visit to their offices during Wireless Field Day. In this post, I want to mention some of the things they have accomplished since my March visit with them as part of the Gestalt IT Wireless Field Day(WFD).

The New Stuff

Since March, Aerohive has had 2 major product enhancements/releases. Three if you count the Student Manager release back in June. Here are the high points from the release in May:

  1. Spectrum analysis is now available. – During WFD in March, it was noted that Aerohive did not have a spectrum analysis solution for their AP’s. Less than 3 months later, they delivered a solution.
  2. Resellers can offer and manage client wireless networks. – Partners and resellers now have the ability to provision and manage client Aerohive AP’s via Aerohive’s cloud services platform. The big advantage as far as the partners are concerned is that you get to use Aerohive’s infrastructure and don’t have to build out your own like you typically would in a managed services offering.
  3. Access and backhaul on the same radio. – The issue with your typical mesh deployment is that you give up one of the bands for backhauling traffic. Typically, this has been the 5Ghz side. The 2.4Ghz is used for serving clients. With Aerohive, you have the ability to establish connectivity between clients as well as other AP’s on the same radio. While there are drawbacks to this from a throughput standpoint, think about the functionality it can give you in certain situations. This isn’t going to be ideal for every scenario, but I can think of a few in which it would be.

There were other things, but I just wanted to mention those three. You can see the full press release here.

In July, Aerohive released new access points.

AP 330

 

 

 

 

 

AP 350

 

 

 

 

 

 

These 2 models were updates to the AP 320 and 340 models.

The new models have the following benefits:

  1. 3×3:3 450Mbps 802.11n radios. – Aerohive joins HP, Aruba, and Meraki in the 3 spatial stream AP department.
  2. 30% smaller than the previous generation AP’s. – One thing people mention regularly when discussing Aerohive is the size of the AP’s. They are big, so a  30% size reduction is welcome.
  3. The price is the same. – Whatever you were paying for the AP 320 and 340, it’s the same for the newer models.
  4. Future support for the AP to be used as a primary or backup router. – The new AP’s have dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and a USB port for 3G/4G support. While you wouldn’t use an AP as a router in a large enterprise location, think about how much traffic a smaller branch or remote office would use. The Aerohive AP could function as a backup router or connect to an MPLS circuit, Internet connection, etc. Either way, you can save money by not having to buy a router. This is the part that probably intrigued me the most with these new AP’s.

AP 170

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The AP 170 is the new outdoor mesh AP. It replaces the previous outdoor AP which was nothing more than an AP 340 with an enclosure. This new AP is basically waterproof with an IP68 rating. The Cisco 1552 AP’s have an IP67 rating, which means the Aerohive AP can stay underwater a lot longer than the comparable Cisco AP and not have any harm come to it. It begs the question of why one would want to submerge their AP’s. I suppose rain, floods, and other natural disasters are what it is intended for, as I doubt most people give their kids AP’s to play with in the bathtub. The AP can also operate in -40 to +131F (-40 to +55C) which means you can put these AP’s just about anywhere in the world. For those places colder than -40F or warmer than 131F, my guess is you won’t be outside anyway.

Closing Thoughts

While that doesn’t seem like a ton of different things, keep in mind I only hit the high points and only those things *I* thought were interesting. Remember that I am not a full time wireless pro, so what interests me isn’t necessarily going to satisfy the hardcore wireless folks. I didn’t even mention the signal quality enhancements on the new AP’s. 😉

5 months ago, these features weren’t in place. In fact, Devin Akin and I had a semi-coherent discussion after we got off the same Delta red eye in Atlanta the morning after Wireless Field Day ended. It’s roughly a 4 hour flight, so I wasn’t exactly well rested. I remember our talk regarding Aerohive and what they were doing in the wireless market. One of the things we talked about was the lack of spectrum analysis in the Aerohive solution. That was in mid March. In late May, that became a reality. Granted, nobody that I know of is doing what Cisco is doing in terms of spectrum analysis running on a separate chip, but something is better than nothing. Other vendors of note(*cough* HP *cough*) are still without a spectrum analysis piece.

No matter your opinion of Aerohive, it’s hard to ignore that they have been improving their solution at a rapid pace. In addition to products, they have some pretty heavy hitters on the team. Devin Akin, Keith Parsons, and Matthew Gast to name a few.

Aerohive’s marketing is good and I think they are at a place where the other wireless vendors are headed to eventually. Keep an eye on them even if you don’t use their products. 2011 has been a big year for them, and even if nothing else comes out in the way of new products or enhancements, it would still be an accomplished year. However, I don’t expect Aerohive to sit still. You can’t in this industry.

 

Some other posts worth mentioning regarding Aerohive(When I say worth mentioning, I really mean that I have actually met all 3 of these guys in person and can vouch for their legitimacy as professionals and not hacks.):

http://www.wifikiwi.com/wireless/aerohive-hiveos-hivemanager-4-0/

http://www.wifikiwi.com/wireless/aerohive-ups-the-bar-for-802-11n-aps/

http://revolutionwifi.blogspot.com/2011/05/aerohive-credential-caching-improves.html

http://networkingnerd.net/2011/05/31/aerohive-hiveos-4/

 

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Stepping Out Of The Bubble

I live in a bubble. My bubble is comprised of a bunch of 1’s and 0’s flying through copper, glass, and air. There are desktops, laptops, phones, tablets, servers, and other endpoints that touch the edges of my bubble, but I don’t really get bothered by them. All those endpoints do is generate traffic for me to manage. I might build a QoS policy to keep the bit streams in order. I might put access control lists in place to restrict where those bit streams can go. There are any number of things I might do, but my bubble begins and ends with a cable or wireless access point.

At least it used to. You see, lately that bubble has been encroached on by other silos in IT. The storage traffic now wants to break free of the Fiber Channel ecosystem and come play on the same wire as regular voice and data traffic. Where physical switches used to reside, there are virtual switches that are nothing more than software constructs. Here I sit, having to learn what amounts to foreign languages in order to remain relevant. Such is life though.

A couple of weeks ago, Thomas Jones launched a contest on his blog, which promised a free trip to VMworld for 8 lucky people. The drawing was random, and my name was chosen along with 7 others. For the third time since May, Vegas baby, Vegas! The contest is pretty simple. Attend several online classes based on various disciplines within IT and blog about it. You can either do a written post, or a video post. Judges have been chosen to pick the best posts from the 8 contestants. The winner gets money, power, and every season of Bonanza on DVD. Errrr, the prize might be a bit different on second thought.

I now work for a VMware partner as well as a NetApp partner. I can no longer escape virtualization and storage. No longer can I make the standard jokes that virtualization is an entire industry built on products that cannot be touched or that storage is just finding clever ways to make lots of hard drives interesting. Nope. Not anymore. Fun’s over boys and girls. Time to play nice with others.

I’m always excited about learning new things, so I am looking forward to this contest. I get a free trip to VMworld and I have already packed my schedule with lots of great sessions. I am hoping to meet some of the virtualization rock stars I follow on Twitter in person. I really just want to see if they even remotely resemble their Twitter profile pictures. I’d name names, but I don’t want to encourage narcissism. At least wait until I hand you my autograph book when I track you down on the show floor. There are also others there I know from previous events and I look forward to seeing them as well.

You’ll see some posts coming from me in the upcoming weeks. It will be more than usual, since I blog at best once a week, and at worst, once a month. Everyone is supposed to vote on the posts and then the judges apply a complex set of rules that make calculus look like my 7yr old son’s math homework. I know a couple of the judges, and the ones I don’t know, your check is in the mail. If there’s one thing I want in life, it’s some Bonanza DVD’s!

Here are the other bloggers involved in the contest:

David Hurst – @the_super_davehttp://thesuperdave.com/

Luigi Danakos – @nerdblurthttp://www.nerdblurt.com

Maish Saidel-Keesing – @maishskhttp://technodrone.blogspot.com

Matthew Brender – @mjbrenderhttp://itechthereforeiam.com/

Michael Letschin – @mletschinhttp://thesolutionsarchitect.com/

Philip Sellers – @pbsellershttp://tech.philipsellers.com

I met Maish out in San Jose back in February for Tech Field Day 5 and I met Philip at HP Discover back in June along with the contest sponsor Thomas Jones. I look forward to meeting the others in Vegas during VMworld!

This conference will be a bit unusual for me because it is way outside of my comfort zone. Anything can happen in Vegas! I might come back a convert and burn all my network books. If you happen to be reading this and will be at VMworld, come find me and say hi. I’ll be the bearded guy with the Southern accent wandering around the expo floor pretending to be interested in virtualization to get free t-shirts. 🙂

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Getting Plugged In

I’ve talked to a lot of people lately about careers and personal networks. Due to the IT outsourcing of my last employer to HP, you can imagine that this was a hot topic among my former co-workers and other people that did business with my old company. I’m writing this as a favor to Mike, and anyone else out there who wants to take more control over their career. I can’t guarantee anything. I can only tell you what has worked for me.

A recruiter friend of mine called me up earlier this week and wanted to know if I kept track of the number of phone calls, meetings, and e-mails that were involved in my recent job transition. I chuckled a bit and stated that I didn’t keep track. Everything happened relatively fast for this transition. The companies that I dealt with were known entities to me. For others that contacted me, I didn’t really have a huge interest in working for them knowing what I knew about them and the way their environment is set up. I’m not saying I WOULDN’T work for them, but there would have to be a decent sized carrot dangled in front of me, and I don’t just mean money.

Let me push modesty to the side for a second and key in on some things.

  1. My transition happened fast.
  2. I was contacted by several different companies.
  3. I already knew who I did and did not want to work for.
  4. I was prepared to accept my offer from HP as a last resort.

Fine, so I have a new job and it worked out the way I wanted it to. This is the ideal approach for me. My previous job had a very simple on-boarding process as well. No hoops to jump through and I was brought in by someone who already knew a little bit about me. I could write a very lengthy post about how I got to where I am today, but it would be too long and most likely very boring. Let’s just get to the point.

If you only get one thing out of reading this post, it needs to be this:

You have to manage your career.

I’ll say it again, to just help reinforce it.

You have to manage your career.

If you are thinking company X is going to do it for you, you will have a rude awakening one day. It is your career. Not the company’s. Not some recruiter out there. Not your spouse’s or your parents. It is yours. Got it? Good. Now let’s figure out how to manage it.

First things first. How is the foundation? How good are you at what you do? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a super-nerd where are you? Be honest. None of us are at 10, but we would all like to be. Want to know what it takes to get to 10? Work. Lots of it. There’s reading, reading, and more reading. Then there’s getting good experience working with hardware and software. Oh, and then there’s more reading. Books, white papers, blogs, technical forums, etc. You can’t get around that. I wrote a few posts regarding some of that.

http://www.insearchoftech.com/2010/07/26/a-world-of-resources/

http://www.insearchoftech.com/2011/01/06/dealing-with-knowledge-gaps/

If you are expecting to move out of mediocrity, you’ll have to dedicate some time outside of work. 8-5 won’t be enough, and you’ll spend most of that time during the day actually doing your job. Yes, you learn a lot doing your day to day job, but sometimes the work will be repetitive and you won’t actually learn much. I understand the need to have a life outside of work. You can and should. However, in the early years of your IT career, you should be studying several hours a week outside of your day job.

As you gain more experience and spend a few years doing the job, the studying will taper off a bit, but not entirely. That is what it takes. If you don’t want that, then be content with the job you are in now or find another line of work. Just remember that the job you have today might not be there tomorrow.

Take some advice from the US Navy SEALs:

“The only easy day was yesterday.”

Let’s say you have the technology side in order. You’re a competent engineer and you have a good regimen down for keeping up with the latest and greatest when it comes to your particular slice of IT. You can be the smartest person in the world, but if nobody knows who you are, then you’ll have to compete with everyone else when it comes to getting the job you want. Additionally, even if you are a better engineer than a lot of the other candidates, if they have an “in” with the company, there’s no guarantee you will get the job. Yes, “what” you know is important, but equally important is “who” you know.

Here are my sources for meeting people locally:

LinkedIn – If you aren’t on LinkedIn, you should be. It is an always-on resume/referral service. No longer do I worry about having to move a bunch of contact information around when I switch phones or computers. I use LinkedIn for that. I will generally accept connection requests from anyone provided I either know them, or we share a common interest.

In addition to connecting with people, I try to pay attention to their updates and who they are connecting with. I follow local companies and get notified when a company hires people or loses them. There are groups I am a member of comprised of local technology people. There are small annoyances with LinkedIn, but the value of it far exceeds the problems. I also try to respond to anyone who sends me a message on LinkedIn. If the message requires no acknowledgement, then I don’t, but I think it is important that people know you saw their message and responded accordingly.

Nashville Cisco Users Group – I have been a part of this group for over 4 years now. We meet one night a month and although there is usually a technical presentation and book giveaway, I go mainly to talk to and meet other network people. Granted, I don’t always get to speak to everyone, but I try to have at least one good conversation each meeting. I’m not exactly an extrovert, so talking to strangers doesn’t come naturally for me. Having a common ground like technology helps to break the ice. I also know that some people will never bond with each other. That’s just the way we are as humans and that is okay. I’ve met quite a few people through this group and it has probably been the best thing for my career.

I give up one night a month to attend the meeting. One night. I can’t begin to tell you how many contacts I have gained from this group. Additionally, I learn a lot about other companies in the Nashville area. Good and bad. Check LinkedIn or use a search engine to see if there is a local user group in your area. If there isn’t one, start one. Make sure you bring business cards with you to the meeting or, after the meeting is over, send out some LinkedIn invites to people who you met. Don’t just focus on the other IT people though. Talk to any vendors or recruiters that show up there. They can be great sources of information and you can also mutually help each other in the future. Never turn down a chance to meet someone even if you think it will be a waste of your time. You NEVER know what will happen down the road.

Vendor events – There are generally several of these events given by each vendor in a given year. Often, it is a half day event or shorter and the vendor just wants to present their particular solution to a group of people who might benefit from it. These are great opportunities to connect with vendors as well as other local IT professionals. You learn about a particular solution as well as interact with other live human beings. The more you know about vendor solutions, the better engineer you can be. Not every company does it perfect and there is nothing better than being able to recommend options to management or your client when faced with a problem. Not getting invites to these events? Go to the various vendor websites and sign up for a newsletter or e-mail list. They can’t invite you if they don’t know who you are. Not all marketing is evil. Remember that.

Now that you have connected with more people, you need to make time for them.

I’ve had a bunch of lunches, cups of coffee, or just conversations in parking lots with people in the IT industry. It doesn’t matter whether there is anything in it for me. I’m trying to build relationships, as clichéd as that sounds. Take time to interact with people. If it means talking to someone about how they can get the job they want over lunch, then do it. If it means talking to a recruiter about the local industry in general, do it. I have lost count of how many conversations I have had in parking lots after my monthly user group meetings ended. Sometimes you’re talking with one or more people until 8 or 9PM. When I dedicate that one night a week to the user group meeting, there is nothing else going on for the rest of the night as far as I am concerned. That way, if I get caught up in a conversation and someone wants to talk until 9PM, I can do it. I am not rushing off to make it home in time for a TV show or something else.

Sometimes I get e-mails from people I know asking for help on certain things. Whether it means I e-mail them back or have a phone conversation with them, I try to help out. I may not get to it right away, but I will try to the best of my ability to get in touch with them sooner rather than later. If what they are asking for is too much, then I will tell them. More often than not it is something simple they just want another opinion on. I do this exact same thing on a regular basis on Twitter. Sometimes I ask and sometimes I answer, but it is usually in regards to small things.

Finally, you have to be patient. Building a network takes time. It won’t happen overnight, but eventually you will grow your list of local contacts. I should also point out that growing a network is not just for getting a job or even helping someone get a job. It may just be useful for bouncing ideas off each other. The main reason I use Twitter is because I can reach out and touch a ton of very smart people and get answers back relatively quick. A local network is the same way, except it is usually a more personal relationship.

Speaking of personal, make sure you learn about these people you are talking with. Over time, you’ll become more familiar with them through conversation, but it helps to remember a few things about each person. In short, pay attention. I notice what stickers you have on your car, what technology choices you make, the accent you have, your body language, etc.  If you mention hobbies, churches, or other non-work stuff, I try to take note. Does that sound creepy? Almost like I am a stalker? Well, it shouldn’t. I just like knowing who I am dealing with. Until we can read each other’s minds, I have to work with what I have. For example, if you have PETA and vegan stickers on your car, I don’t want to go on and on about how tasty that veal was that I had for dinner last night.

 

Closing Thoughts

I’ve written this post at least a half-dozen times since I began it several days ago. It is hard to put down in words what I could tell you in about 5 minutes of conversation. Growing a local network takes time. It takes work and you have to be nice to people. Whether you are someone just looking for career options or someone who wants to leverage a network to get more business, the last thing you want is for someone to hear your name and wonder who in the world you are. It is better that they have heard of you before, or at least know someone who has.

My network is a fraction of the size I would like it to be. Just when I think I am dialed in to the local network engineer community, I meet someone who puts my network to shame. 🙂 Think of it as a big pyramid. You are at the top and the more contacts you have, the larger the group below them gets and so on. Before long, you have access to a ton of local people.

I could have used a routing protocol reference instead of the pyramid one, but then all the nerds would fight over which one was a better representation. For the record, I would go with RIP. The whole “routing by rumor” thing screams personal network to me. 🙂

I’m always willing to help out a fellow Nashville IT person any way I can. I’ll help anyone for that matter. I just can’t promise to help out if you want to know about the IT community in Walla Walla, Washington or Tokyo.

Posted in career | Tagged | 9 Comments

Diving Into The Channel

People who follow me on Twitter or in real life know that my company recently outsourced IT operations to HP. As a result of this agreement between the two companies, I was offered a job with HP. I was faced with a choice. Do I work for HP, or find something else? I went over the pros and cons of corporate IT life and consulting life here. Several people from all sides of the argument weighed in via the comments. I was also fortunate enough to attend the HP Discover conference in Las Vegas on HP’s dime. I was able to talk to a good number of HP employees. It definitely gave me more things to think about.

Last week I accepted an offer with a local reseller, ICV Solutions. I’m sure you’ll hear more about them in the coming months. 😉 I’d like to take a moment and enumerate the reasons I decided to dive into the sales channel and leave corporate IT. I know that these are decisions that various people within IT make at differing points in their career. Much like the decision to move from a generalist into a network, systems, storage, security, virtualization specialist role. In any event, maybe this will help someone trying to figure out where they want to end up. Understand that I am biased at this point, so take what I say with a grain of salt(Hey, at least I warned you!).

1. I’m not ready to work for a vendor. – Taking a job with HP would have meant working for a vendor. I understand that the part of HP I would be working for came from the EDS acquisition and it isn’t the same as the rest of HP who is in the business of selling HP solutions. To that I simply say that it would be foolish for HP to NOT use the EDS customers to push their own solutions. They have a relatively large client base that they can sell more hardware and software to. It doesn’t really matter to me who the vendor is. I would feel the same way if it were IBM, Cisco, or any other vendor. I need choices when it comes to technology, and working for a vendor would ultimately push me towards their solutions. Independence is of great concern to me.

 

2. I want to build more things. – With the exception of a few larger companies, my experience in corporate IT has been one of more caretaker than builder. Being a caretaker means you become more intimately familiar with the network, but I have done enough of that over the past several years. I have the urge to build things, and corporate IT will not give me that opportunity anywhere close to what the VAR(value added re-seller) space will.

 

3. Corporate IT life is too comfortable for me. – I like challenges. There’s nothing harder, in my mind, than walking into a completely foreign network and having to figure out a problem in a limited amount of time. Although I realize that some of the problems will be relatively simple, I am hoping for quite a few that really push me to the limits of my technical abilities. I enjoy chaos as I find you REALLY see what people are made of when they have to deal with high stress situations.

 

    4. Better access to alpha geeks. – Unless you work in a rather large company, chances are you are an army of one or a few when it comes to the network. Even if there are several network people on staff, there might only be a few that really enjoy the technology. I need better odds than that. I need a bigger group of alpha geeks to bounce ideas off of and learn from. With the exception of 1 or 2 people, I know every one of the engineers I will be working with at my new job. I am satisfied that this is a group I can learn from and work with. I also know that in some regards, I will have different opinions than them, and that is exactly what I want. I don’t need validation of my thoughts per se. I want someone to disagree and make me state my case as to WHY I prefer one solution over another. I can get some of this through social media and local user group meetings, but there’s something to be said for constant access to a local group of alpha geeks. Discussing technology is much better in person.

     

      5. I want a closer relationship with vendors. – On the corporate IT side, every vendor wants to sell to you. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not the exact relationship I want with the vendor. Contact is infrequent and is only driven around a potential sale. I’m not faulting vendors for that. They have to focus on a variety of customers in order to stay in business. They can’t spend all their time worrying about one customer who may not even buy from them. As a reseller, I am hoping the relationship will be a bit different. It is in the vendor’s interest to ensure you are armed with the appropriate information in order to sell and implement their solutions. I’m not usually satisfied with a slide deck showing why product X is better than the competition. I need more than that.

         

        Closing Thoughts

        I don’t expect these 5 things to be completely agreeable by everyone. I also know I am probably being a little idealistic. If  I seem to portray corporate IT life or working for a vendor in a negative light, that wasn’t my intention. We all have different needs and desires and I don’t have a problem when people have views that are different than mine. These are my views today. Will they be the same in a few years? Well, as you have no doubt heard before:  “It depends”.

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