A New Hope^H^H^H^HLook

Once in a while you’ve got to pull the trigger and actually ship some code.

It’s been seven years (!!!!) since I did anything serious with the way this blog looked and worked. There were plugins that weren’t supported anymore. The old theme had been so extensively customized by me that it wasn’t upgradable, and didn’t really work well with new functionality or WordPress releases. A lot of the new functionality duplicated what I’d hacked into the theme, too. Stuff like Google +1, sharing, etc. Plus I wanted SSL (and not just CloudFlare’s poser Google juice SSL crap, I wanted the security).

I started redoing the site six months ago, where “redoing” meant the cloud-esque “completely starting over.” The synchronization of content between my development site and the live site was pretty involved, and I found myself avoiding writing because I knew it’d just be more to synchronize later. Realistically a few more posts wouldn’t have mattered much, but it became a serious mental obstacle to writing, on all fronts.

Then came some asshats, hammering the old blog’s XML-RPC interface, trying to break in.
If you’ve tried to get to this site in the last couple of weeks and it’s been down it’s because those idiots went from breakin attempt to DoS, essentially causing Apache to use too much memory. The cognitively disabled Linux out-of-memory killer then kicked in, nuking the VM. Thanks, OOM Killer, you’ve been very helpful. Double thanks, jackhole at in the Netherlands. May you rot in hell.

Yes, I could have tuned Apache and Linux better, but the new site is nginx on CentOS 7 and I didn’t want to waste more time on old, tired web servers. So screw it, I pulled the trigger. This battle station is fully operational. Let’s do this.

Keeping My Blade Options Open

One of the types of advice I really appreciate is that which helps me to keep my options open.

I have a team from Dell in the office this week, configuring a giant pile of equipment we bought. The equipment includes a bunch of blade servers. We’ve relied on rack-mount equipment for decades, but with a push towards a private cloud we opted to jump into the early 21st century with blades. I’ve had relatively little experience with blades so it’s nice to have more experienced people around.

When I’m designing a system I always try to figure out what it’ll need to look like four years from now. Seeing the future is the hardest part of designing a system. Will our workloads increase? Will we need more CPU or storage? If we need more CPU or storage, how will we add it? Should we buy it all now anticipating the need or leave unused drive bays in an array to fill later? Will the drives be the same as the ones we have now? Will we have enough ports on the switches to grow? I even worry about things like whether the naming scheme will be flexible enough to handle growth. To compensate for this I try to give myself options, empty disk bays and RAM sockets, use 10 Gbps NICs instead of multiple 1 Gbps, etc. I’m pretty good at it with rackmount systems. Not so much with blades, yet.

Today I took our pile of Dell PowerEdge M620 blades and spread them between the M1000e blade chassis we have. The M620 is a half-height blade, so I stuck them all nicely & logically in the top row of slots, 1 through 8. I thought it looked great until a Dell guy, Tim, asked me if I’m ever going to put a full height or quarter height blade in the system.

My response, understanding immediately: “Oh, crap.

Dell-Blades-Good-LayoutThe truth is that I don’t know if we’ll ever need a full height blade, like the Dell PowerEdge M830. Likewise with the quarter-height PowerEdge M420 and M430s, which sit four-tall inside a full-height “sleeve.” By filling the top row of the M1000e chassis I prevented myself from easily being able to add either kind. It’d be better to fill top & bottom evenly from left to right. And with a two minute change, suggested in passing by someone who has way more experience with blades than me, I kept my options open for the future.

Here’s a question for you folks: is it cheaper to make a bad or ignorant decision now and pay for it later when it needs to be fixed, or pay for the knowledgeable consultant up front so you don’t waste time and money later?

Stick your thoughts in the comments.

The Right Way, The Wrong Way, and The Way It Is

I hate purists.

You know the type. They’re in all IT shops, in all projects. They’re the people who won’t do any work unless they know exactly how it’ll all look in the end. They research, endlessly. They’re pedantic. They sit and poke holes in your work, claiming that they’re just playing Devil’s advocate. They rarely start an answer with “it depends,” opting instead for condescending phrases like “if I were you” or “if it were up to me.” And they wouldn’t know a minimum viable product if it bit them in the duff.

Nobody knows how a project or product is going to look in the end. And even if you do have a great vision, nobody really knows the path that you’ll take to get there. Why? Because by actually taking action you learn things, and with that knowledge you’ll usually decide to change your course.

At least most people do, on most worthy projects. A purist doesn’t actually ever do much beyond being a corrosive asshole, though, so there’s really no need for them to change their mind. They’re not actually on a path. They’re the organizational equivalent of an airliner’s drag.

Action creates knowledge. Knowledge illuminates the way. Sometimes you’ll discover you’re on a suboptimal course, but getting to the right path requires more time or more money than you have. So you do the best you can with what you’ve been given. Some call it “pragmatic.”

Is it the purist’s “right” way? No.

Is it the wrong way? No.

It’s just the way it is, for now, for those of us that get things done.

Google Chrome Missing The URL in the Address Bar

Chrome Origin Chip in Address Bar Omnibox

The latest Google Chrome update changed the omnibox/address bar so you cannot see the URL by default. I, for one, hate it. I’m not being curmudgeonly[0], I copy URLs all the time and it’s just another step for me to click on the “origin chip” (as it’s being called) to see the URL.

Here’s how to change it back:

  1. Go to chrome://flags/#origin-chip-in-omnibox (you’ll likely have to cut & paste this in)
  2. Pick “Disabled”
  3. Click the “Relaunch Now” button at the bottom.

Rejoice in having Chrome the way you like it.

Chrome Origin Chip Gone in Address Bar Omnibox



[0] Yeah, I know, I am. GET OFF MY LAWN.

Coho Data Giving Away a VMworld US 2014 Pass

tshirtIf you’re trying to get to VMworld US and want a free pass, a number of vendors are giving them away, including my friends over at Coho Data:

We are giving away a FULL conference pass to VMworld 2014 to one lucky winner along with a few goodies to others as well.

Register for a chance to win:

  • One Full-Conference Pass to VMworld 2014 in San Francisco*
  • “Don’t FSCK with the Fish” T-Shirt
  • Coho Data Chrome Industries Backpack

*The prize includes the conference pass only. The winner will be responsible for their own hotel, airfare, and other expenses. Pass valued at $1,995 USD.

Winner will be announced on August 1st via email, so register for a chance to win!

A great deal especially if you live in San Francisco or the Bay Area anyhow. We’re within a month of the conference now, so I’d suggest registering for this and others today (I think SimpliVity’s giveaway deadline is tonight, too).

Apple Aperture Reminds Us That Apple Is a Media Company

Apple ComputerLate last week Apple disclosed to the folks over at The Loop that it would be ending development of another one of its professional products, Aperture. They committed to providing a round of compatibility updates so it would continue functioning on OS X Yosemite. Replacing it, and iPhoto, will be a new prosumer-geared “Photos” app which will be the gateway to the iCloud Photo Library.

Overall, cloud apps make me jumpy about performance, pricing, and intellectual property rights, especially for those of us that make 30 MB RAW format files every time the shutter clicks, in places where we’re lucky to get a bar of EDGE cell data service. More importantly, as a Windows Lightroom user I valued Aperture as competition. Lightroom still lacks many features Aperture has, like face recognition, decent support for multimedia, excellent metadata support, good workflow, and excellent library management, despite ongoing feature requests from actual customers.

Oh, but wait! Adobe announced that they are “doubling down” on Lightroom and Creative Cloud Photography:

Put simply we’re doubling down on our investments in Lightroom and the new Creative Cloud Photography plan and you can expect to see a rich roadmap of rapid innovation for desktop, web and device workflows in the coming weeks, months and years.

Quick quiz — with all of the competition out of the way, an honorable company such as Adobe or Oracle:

A) Doubles down on its investments in that product line.
B) Solicits customer feedback for new features in future versions.
C) Stops all development on the product line and raises prices because, as a monopoly, they can.

Apple also said that Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro remain under development, apparently ignoring their previous nerfing of Final Cut Pro with the Final Cut Pro X rewrite, and the subsequent & immediate loss of most serious video professionals.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once again: Apple is no longer a computer company, and despite our nostalgia we really need to stop thinking of them as one. They are a media company, with a huge consumer device business geared towards selling their music, movies, and applications. Mac and Mac software represents a shrinking portion of their sales. Of that, professional users of their platforms are a tiny fraction of their overall users, and not even particularly vocal outside their own communities. As such, Apple just doesn’t care.

None of this is full-on panic, but I were a Logic Pro user I’d definitely start looking for a way off that platform, because you’ve seen what’s going to happen to you. And I give Macs and Mac OS a few years before it’s just all iOS, too. In the meantime, photographers will just have to muddle through, hoping another option comes along.

VMworld 2014 Session Voting Open

One of the most interesting things about VMworld is the public session voting, which is now open. Not many conferences allow attendees to have a say in what gets presented at the conference. If you’re planning to attend VMworld 2014 it’s probably a good idea to vote for sessions that interest you.

I am involved in two session proposals:

2770 – The Art of Migrating to the vCenter Server Appliance

As the vCenter Server Appliance gains maturity, capacity, and functionality it is becoming a serious choice for those running vSphere environments, reducing expense and administration time. This session will be based in first-hand migration experienced and cover what the vCSA is, common use cases and designs, and where the vCSA isn’t appropriate or cannot be easily migrated. We will also demystify the undocumented art of moving from a Windows-based vCenter instance to a vCSA, including migration of permissions, Active Directory, vNetwork Distributed Switches, storage functionality, and Single-Sign On through import/export functions, PowerCLI, and manual labor where needed.

2346 – vExpert Panel – The Software-Defined Debate

The advent of the Software Defined Enterprise has brought promise and debate about what it is, how it applies, what’s the benefit, and how to move from being Hardware Defined. 

This is a panel discussion of VMware vExperts; Keith Norbie (TIG), Tommy Trogden (EMC), Aaron Delp (SolidFire), Bob Plankers (UW Madison) and moderated by John Troyer. This panel will cover a range of questions about enterprise architecture becoming “Software Defined”.

While I’d appreciate a vote for either or both of these it’s more important to me that you vote for things you want to see. That’s how this conference stays useful.

There are lots of other sessions out there that look very interesting. Ones like:

  • 2311 – vCenter Server Architecture & Deployment Deep Dive with @vCenterGuy and Bob Perugini
  • 2745 – vSphere Distributed Switch Deep Dive with @ChrisWahl and @TheJasonNash
  • 2701 – vSphere High Availability Best Practices with @gurusimran
  • 2642 – vSphere on All Flash Arrays with @sfoskett, @vStewed, @datacenterdude, @sakacc, @ericsiebert
  • 2698 – vCloud Hybrid Service: Networking Features Deep Dive with @davehill99 and Ninad Desai
  • 1195 – Ask the Experts: A Deep Dive into Nested Virtualization with @dobaer, @chriswahl, @lamw, @seancrookston, and Jim Mattson.
  • 1850 – The Complete Encyclopedia of vCenter Server – vSphere Management Best Practices by @vCenterGuy

and many, many more. Remember as you’re voting that when the presenter is a vendor the whole presentation will be skewed towards that vendor’s products, because that’s what they work with and know and are paid to promote. Keep that in mind!

On Disabling Comments

There has been some variably constructive criticism of my disabling comments on the “Two Big Vendor Takeaways from Storage Field Day 5” post. This isn’t the first time I’ve disabled comments, and it won’t be the last. In fact, I had my post ready to go 48 hours before I published it, postponing partly because I wanted to make a calm decision about whether to disable comments.

I ultimately decided to disable them. Here’s what I thought about. Before I get into it, this is not a post about Storage Field Day 5. If you want to talk about that, this is not a good place! This is a post about why I chose to discourage conversation!

Given what we’d already seen on Twitter during and after the event, that particular post was clearly going to generate negative commentary. I know that a number of higher-profile bloggers have disabled comments globally, and while I was debating whether to do so myself I reread their thoughts. Matt Gemmell deftly summarizes two of my major concerns:

Comments encourage unconsidered responses. You’ve just read an article, you feel strongly about it, and you have a text field just waiting there. When disagreeing, people tend to be at their very worst when writing comments. They use language and tones which they’d never use in email, much less in person. If your blog allows comments, you’re inviting people into your house – but sadly, some of them don’t conduct themselves appropriately.

Comments allow anonymity and separation of your words from your identity. On Twitter or Facebook, anything you say is at least tied to whatever form of identity you have there. Comments on an arbitrary website don’t follow you around, and I think that encourages very unhealthy behaviour.

Duncan accuses me of not wanting a healthy discussion, but that’s absolutely not the case. I only want a healthy discussion. I don’t want unconsidered responses nor do I want anonymous comments, both of which Duncan is getting on his thoughtful post. I want to hear what my friends in the community think, and I want to know who is saying what.

Folks might not realize that, while I’ve had my moments with vendors, I am, in many ways, more annoyed and embarrassed about what has happened in some of these presentations than they are. This also happened at Tech Field Day 9, too, where particular interactions made me very, very angry. And while I’ll share a portion of the blame commensurate with my involvement, please don’t take out your frustrations with other delegates on me, even if you saw me sitting next to them on the stream. I, too, wanted to hear about Satyam’s BMW.

Given all that, when a comment comes in and assigns me the blame for something someone else said or did, do I need to keep it? When a comment rants about Tech Field Day and doesn’t address my post at all, is it off-topic? What happens if I delete them? Is that going to be worse than permitting them at all? Is that disrespectful to someone who put in the time to write the comment? What obligation do I have to host my enemies’ point of view? Nutanix doesn’t post praise for Simplivity on their site, nor does VMware post the merits of Citrix VDI on theirs. Must I? Where is the line between transparency and damage to my own brand?

I thought about all these things, too, and concluded it would be disrespectful to delete the work of others. I decided that the best way to handle it would be to not permit it at all. The whole situation is a crap sandwich, and that side of it stunk just a little less.

We each choose how we want to use our online presence, and need to remember that our own choices don’t mean that others’ choices have to be identical. My blog is my blog, it isn’t Tech Field Day, it isn’t Yellow Bricks, and it isn’t a large corporation. While I always appreciate the thoughtful, courteous comments my readers make it doesn’t mean that I won’t make different choices about my blog’s feature set from time to time, such as with comment availability, full-text feeds, or advertising.

I am leaving comments open here so you can comment on the topic of comments. I don’t want to talk about Storage Field Day 5 anymore. I don’t want to talk about Tech Field Day anymore. I don’t want to talk about FUD anymore. I don’t want to talk about expertise anymore. Okay? :)

Yo Dawg, I heard you want to comment, so I made a post about comments so you could comment

Two Big Vendor Takeaways from Storage Field Day 5

Storage Field Day 5 is now over and was a marathon of vendor information and tech information. A marathon. I’m tired from 17 hour days, I’m addicted to caffeine, and my brain and body hurt. We had some great people along, on both sides of things. We had great vendors all around, even if some of the presentations were more controversial than others. That’s what I want to talk about here.

Storage Field DayProblem #1: Efficient Use of Time

Tech Field Day participants and viewers already know a lot about the problems a vendor is addressing. We’re on the front lines of this stuff. We help our customers and organizations work around these problems every day. We know budgets aren’t infinite, that IOPS and capacity often come as tradeoffs, and that there are pros and cons to different architectures. We’ve implemented all those different architectures. We meet with sales staff from companies like EMC, Dell, Veeam, VMware, etc. and have knowledge of product offerings, their design, and where they fit in the world.

These are the table stakes for techs at TFD and on the stream.

Takeaway #1: When you have a limited amount of time in front of a highly technical audience use that precious time to tell them things they don’t know and cannot get from other sources.

Is what you’re going to present available to your global sales force? Delete it, this audience has seen it. Does what you’re going to present assume anything less than an expert knowledge of the problems at hand? Remove it, we know it already. You are wasting both your time and ours, and diminishing any future value the session recordings will have because it’ll be duplicate content.

TFD delegates and staff take criticism when we prod presenters to move along if they have a lot of marketing and duplicate content. Perhaps they aren’t aware that every vendor is briefed prior to TFD to avoid these situations. We know these things are being recorded, and we know that some marketing is necessary, even helpful, to the discussion at hand. It might not seem like it, but we’re all fine with some marketing, both up-front and interspersed in the presentations. The SanDisk and SolidFire presentations are good examples of how to do it well.

Folks need to remember our point of view, too. We flew across the world at great personal expense[0] and expense to vendors to take part in a conversation that we couldn’t have at home. We expect that conversation. We also expect that conversation to be recorded by Tech Field Day for all the wickedly smart people in organizations everywhere that want to know more, but can’t get more from the sales guys in the field because those sales guys are non-technical. Vendors should help TFD record something that people will want to watch into the future, not another video about marketing position and the types of storage architectures. You have those already.

Corollary to #1: Only go in deep in relevant directions.

Given the preciousness of time with the TFD crew, every distraction means that you’re not getting to something this audience appreciates. For example, a protracted discussion of the possibility of SHA-1 160 hash collisions is unnecessary. Nobody in the room is a mathematician and is qualified to even comment on it, and if you built your product around SHA-1 160 you already did a risk analysis. So say that and move on. Likewise, details about the SQL table structure of your monitoring software are interesting to us, but when it means we ran out of time to talk about something materially relevant to the topic of the Tech Field Day that’s not a productive use of time.

Problem #2: Facts are not FUD

Given what we saw on Twitter during the SolidFire presentation, the tech industry seems to be overly sensitive to people naming names as competitors in comparisons. I suspect the cross-pollination in Silicon Valley has much to do with this. It also speaks to the disconnect between the Bay Area and the rest of the world, because all sales reps name names. They have to, because customers ask. It’s important, because as a customer we need to know who we’re talking about so that we can make an informed decision about the money we’re going to spend. If they don’t tell us who they’re comparing themselves to we think they’re making stuff up.[1]

When industry folks yell at others for doing this, or leave in a huff and call it “disgusting,” it might look like an intra-industry catfight, but in reality they’re calling me an idiot. They’re saying that, as a customer, I’m incapable of doing a fair comparison between vendors to find one that matches my needs. I will buy what I’m told to buy, apparently, by the high priests of the Valley.

Beyond being insulting, it also demonstrates a lack of understanding of how humans work, which really isn’t surprising for the tech industry. Make a big noise about something and it attracts more attention to the issue. Sometimes the best way to deal with a situation is to quietly observe. Especially if it’s obvious that the customer likes what they’re getting and it isn’t what you gave them.

Takeaway #2: When you tell the story you control the message. If you don’t tell your story well you leave the door open for someone else to tell your story the way they think it should be told. Attempting to suppress details that have been asked for and are very relevant to the discussion of products also conveys disrespect for customers and reflects poorly on your organization.

Oh, and by the way, it’s the audience that decides whether you told your story well. Not you.

In Conclusion

Tech Field Day comes more naturally to some than others, on both sides of the table. X-IO showed us great respect as we politely asked them to change course, and we ended up with a deep knowledge of both their marvelous storage offering and issues that face mechanical storage implementations. PernixData put their funny and engaging CTO in front of us to tell us about their new features, and saw record numbers of people on the stream. Scale Computing showed us their hyper-competent, laser focus on a part of the market that gets zero attention from others.

EMC showed us what we wanted to see with ViPR, their consolidated storage management & services layer that helps them deliver software-defined storage. SolidFire killed it with a very fair and impartial explanation of the deep technical issues and tradeoffs that all-flash array vendors face, on top of a great explanation of both the technology and the business drivers behind their array. SanDisk brought top-notch folks together to adapt and deliver their message, and demonstrated why they’re getting to be a very large, very mature player in the flash market. Veeam, as always, made great product announcements around the ever-changing market. And Diablo Technologies awed us by thoroughly complementing SanDisk’s ULLtraDIMM message with their own. Between SanDisk and Diablo we got to see lots of the ULLtraDIMM iceberg, not just the part above water that everybody sees.

A big thanks to everybody that worked to make it happen. I hope it’s the start of more great conversations between us.

[0] Somebody will inevitably point out that Tech Field Day is sponsored. That is true. I do not pay for airfare, lodging, or meals while the event is happening. However, we don’t receive any meaningful direct compensation for attending. Very few of us are permitted to attend as part of our employment, and a number of us are self-employed. This means that, at the least, we need to consume vacation to attend. At the most it is an opportunity cost, expressed as money we did not make, and customer projects that I delayed or didn’t take because of the conflict. Put simply, if I billed Tech Field Day as a consulting client for the time I spent this week they’d owe me more than $10,000. So when EMC is in front of me telling me how storage works, and that there are these things called arrays, some with two controllers and some with no controllers, I’m thinking about the money I could have made working on other projects, the time I could have spent with my wife and daughter which I’ll never have back, and the much better uses for my vacation time, instead of being a long way from home being condescended to in person and by and armchair quarterbacks on Twitter.

[1] This was actually a contribution from a sales guy who was standing in the lobby of the TFD hotel who overheard us discussing this.