All posts by John Mark Troyer

Cloud vSphere Labs for fun and profit

Some material from my keynote at the Silicon Valley VMUG User Conference on April 14, 2015:

newkingmakers-2You, as a technologist, have unprecedented power at the moment. The book at the right is The New Kingmakers by Stephen Grady. It’s not long. You should read it. Even if you’re not a developer per se, you should read it. Most of what Stephen lays out is also true for all technologists. In short, the Internet and open source and all the things that come from those developments — like social media, SaaS, easily-installable products — mean that time-to-value for new products and technologies are low. No longer do you have to enter into a big contract and a lot of customization before you figure out if something is going to work or even if you like it. As a technologist, that means you can now participate in technology selection and evaluation because you should be able to actually try out most technologies easily, and a lot of things can even be tried out for free. I mean, if your boss wants to know if you should use, say, Docker, in your company, it’s open source and easy to use — you can get started in an afternoon, and not after a million dollars of vendor consultants come and set it up.

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One important way technologists try out new technologies is in a lab. Work lab, home lab, whatever. The trouble with home labs is that they are normally built with whatever kit you can scavenge together – old retired servers from work or off eBay. They are slow, draw way too much power, run way too hot, and sound like an airport runway.

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For a while I thought that laptops running nested virtualization would be the way we’d all do our labs. This started in 2007 when some folks figured out how to put VMware VI3 (what we then called ESX Server) inside VMware Workstation. By 2009 all the VMworld labs were nested like this, and ESXi was even supported as a guest. This can still be done on a home machine easily but the trend towards lighter laptops — the latest Macbook Air has a max of 8GB of soldered-in RAM — and increasing memory requirements — the latest ESXi 6 needs 6GB  — has meant that the world where you can do something useful with nested virtualization on your laptop.

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So what’s the solution? One solution is now available in beta from Ravello Systems. I’ve been working with Ravello to launch their new support for what they sometimes call nested2 virtualization — that is, ESXi (or kvm) running inside the cloud (the big boy real cloud at AWS or Google).

RavelloHVXVT

This is great for labs. But because you can ‘hoist’ both your workloads and your networks (and via regular nested virtualization it’s easy to put up some VSA-style storage), you can also do things like test out an upgrade or other infrastructure changes and figure out how you’re about to take down your production infrastructure. Just as abstracting a machine made virtualization powerful, abstracting an entire data center makes nested2 virtualization powerful.

But back to labs. ESXi in the cloud, you pay by what you use, and you have basically an infinite pool of resources, not your puny little laptop or 5-year-old rack mount space heater. What can you do with it?

Spin up 250 ESXi nodes just for the heck of it (courtesy Scott Lowe)

Create a 64-node VSAN cluster (courtesy William Lam)

vMotion from one cloud to another (courtesy Mike Preston)

Functionality aside, the good folks at Ravello Systems have been great in reaching out to the VMware and vExpert community. There are some open source automation tools they’re releasing and they’re also working with Alastair Cooke on a new version of AutoLab that supports vSphere 6 and makes it easier to get your images into Ravello’s system. They’ve been working with me and other vExperts to explore what is possible with their platform — expect more news soon. In the meantime, check out the content over on the Ravello Systems blog — they’ve got all sorts of use cases, examples, and tutorials. You can sign up for a free trial.

Thanks to Navin Thadani and Shruti Bhat from Ravello for their commitment to the community and congrats on the launch!

Disclaimer: Ravello Systems is a client

A TechReckoning update for September

TechReckoningAll my good stuff is now going on over at TechReckoning. Check it out.

(I will be at SpiceWorld in Austin, TX Sept 23-24 and VMworld Europe in Barcelona Oct 14-16. Please say hi if you’re there!)

1. Subscribe to the Weekly Newsletter. This is where most of the action is. At the time of publishing, we’re up to 13 issues – more or less every week. I put a lot of work into the newsletter and folks seem to enjoy it. It’s been called “an odd look into your brain” and “one of two newsletters I read every week”.

2. We just launched the Onlne Events Calendar. Here’s an excerpt from the calendar announcement in the newsletter. Send suggestions to updates@techreckoning.com

Events on the calendar must be:

  • Live. This is not a podcast directory. This is not for your latest YouTube video. (Hmmm, both of those are good ideas.) Interactive is good — Google Hangouts, Twitter chats, or Talkshoe podcasts will be typical platforms. But interactive is not mandatory — live streaming video from conferences or programming like theCUBE and Tech Field Day are all ok. The only mandatory thing is that whatever is happening is happening now and not pre-recorded.
  • Online.This calendar is for online things that people across the globe can access. This is not an IT events directory. (hmmm, now there’s another idea, although check out the event calendars at The Virtualization Practice andStephen Foskett. There are an increasing number of IT conferences. Two I just heard about yesterday: VeeamON and NetApp Insight.) 
  • IT-related. It must be IT-related and priority will be given to educational and technical topics.
  • Open-access. It must be available to everybody and must not require registration. It must be free.
  • Community-oriented.  I’ll unpack this below, but let’s just admit we all know what corporate webinars smell like most of the time.

Commercial content is ok. Let’s acknowledge that much of what we do in the IT space is related to something commercial. Free tutorial how to use product XYZ from a blogger? Unpaid podcast guest from company XYZ? That’s non-commercial to the blogger or podcaster but advances the commercial interests of vendor XYZ. (BTW, I was not paid anything for the Veeam and NetApp conference shout-outs above, or the Red Hat link below.)​

3. And finally we launched a Community-Projects Directory. It’s for community folks but perhaps more importantly it’s a list of projects that can be sponsored by vendors. Are you a marketing manager with some money earmarked for community marketing but you’re not sure how to spend it? This is your list. Again, suggestions and additions to updates@techreckoning.com

More stuff is in the pipeline. I’m building a nice campfire. Everybody’s welcome to drop in.

The operational story companies don’t realize they are telling

three storiesWith the rise of social media, a company tells many more stories than we traditionally recognize. The Company Story is the official one, and the Product Story has now grown larger with social media, but have companies considered the story they are telling through their operations, the one that actually shows who they are? That’s the story that their stakeholders care about.

In the old days, a Company Story was told through its spokespeople and its PR/AR (press and analyst relations) team. The PR team is traditionally given the role of corporate storyteller. It crafts the overall narrative of the company, describing the benefits of its products, and positioning the company’s place in the overall marketplace. It’s a big picture view that doesn’t like to get bogged down in the details. Terrible PR folks tell this story terribly, with messages that normal people roll their eyes at and discount immediately. The good ones have so skillfully created the story of their company in your mind that you’re not even aware of it.

But now there are changes in the stories that are told about companies. The one we talk about often is the the Product Story. Learning about a product or even trying it out is easier than ever, and sharing your experience with your peers is welcome. This has been driven by the web, social media, open source, streaming video, and other manifestations of the cloud like SaaS.

The Product Story is co-created by the community together with the vendor as experiences with the product are shared.

PR and AR are involved in this second story, especially as they seed product journalism and analyst reports. But increasingly, the story that is told is the one that we create together as we share and discuss the Product Story, both the parts told in the traditional media as well the chapters that are our own contributions.

Marketing programs — events, promotions, webinars, and other campaigns — usually build off these first two narratives. But there’s a third story that’s just beginning to be recognized.

With social media, everything a company does throws off an exhaust trail online that can be seen by your customers, partners, and prospects. This is the Operational Story. Often when we talk social media we consider customer service alongside marketing, but we often forget that now every part of the company tells a story, even the parts that aren’t traditionally thought of as marketing: customer and technical support, partner programs, education and certification programs, professional services, legal activity, changes in policy and programs. and even how employees of the company go about their daily jobs in social spaces.

This Operational Story is created by all programs and employees of a company as they perform their daily jobs and interact with their ecosystem.

This story isn’t carried out by the marketing or PR departments. It’s often not even considered as marketing. It’s organic and fragmented and unconscious. It’s marketing by doing. Showing, not telling. But this is true one-to-many communication. Customers, partners, and prospects can, and do, read the announcements, the opinions, and the reactions. This is public communication that is usually invisible to the traditional marketers of the company.

Let’s say a partner program changes a policy or a product SKU is changed. As long as it doesn’t get written up in the press, does the CMO and PR team know or even care? However, there is external communication involved: blog posts, email blasts, newsletters, Twitter updates. There is reaction from the employees of the companies affected as they blog and tweet about it. There is discussion and conversation and feedback, all happening out in the open with people are watching.

The interesting thing about this kind of communication is that it’s actually the story that is truly interesting to the company’s stakeholders, far more so than any grand vision of the company’s strategy.

The Operational Story is interesting to your customers and prospects because it directly affects them in a way that standard company marketing does not.

Customers ask: Is this change going to affect my job for better or worse? Should I be looking at other vendors? Do I need to tell my boss? Prospects ask: Is this company fair? Is it greedy? Is it operationally screwed up? Am I going to regret purchasing from them?  All these questions matter a lot more to them than reading a press release that says that the company is the leading provider of widget solutions that enable businesses to innovate.

Marketing folks these days talk a lot about how in a world of social media, all companies are publishers. PR departments usually think of this in terms of their Company Stories, and have created online publications that reflect this. These publications do a great job of telling the Company Story, and others tell a good Product Story. but there is an opportunity to create the publication that tells the Operational Story, the Newspaper of the Ecosystem.

Companies tell this story in a lot of ways through channels like blogs and newsletters; and perhaps a centralized publication isn’t even the right way to think about it. But shouldn’t companies think of the Operational Story as part of their corporate narrative and the marketing message they present to the world? Shouldn’t they construct it consciously and ensure it is in harmony with the Company and Product Stories? After all, the Operational Story is the one that actually impacts the lives of their customers, prospects, and partners.

Webinars as a digital marketing platform

I will now explain things to you for 45 minutes before doing a demo My colleague Karri was telling me about  some research on webinars she had seen recently. The takeaway was that, shockingly, people didn’t like to sit through an hour of a video webinar* to get the five minutes of information they had been promised. Karri then shared her idea that maybe people (including us) should be putting up transcripts with their webinars. 

I posted this idea to Twitter and got some good responses. Howard thought transcripts would be too expensive. Greg implied that dealing with transcripts was so difficult that it was literally unspeakable. I think they’re both right, but our little conversation actually brought me to another place, which is that we’re doing webinars completely wrong. (Note that I’m talking about big-budget corporate marketing or technical webinars, not online training and not non-corporate podcasts like the ones Howard and Greg and I create. Not that podcasts can’t have transcripts.)

Here’s my main point:

Marketers should think of webinars as platforms, not as presentations.

Marketers think of webinars as, well, seminars on the web.  The word lecture goes back to the 14th Century (meaning ‘to read’ — yes, they had Death by PowerPoint even in the Middle Ages!). We’ve been running marketing seminars ever since there was marketing, and we’ve been doing online seminars ever since there’s been an online.  Webinars thus mimic the attributes of live, in-person seminars. Their primary purpose is for attendees to watch and listen to the presentation. They have a live chat for questions. They’ll let you pass the mic to another speaker. They have polls that are like asking for a show of hands. They have document sharing, which is like passing out handouts. All great. But that ignores that fact that you now have a bunch of live humans, logged in and identified, hanging out in a private space on a digital platform where you can track every single thing they do. And you make them sit in their seats and watch a product marketing manager read some slides. Good Lord, what a waste.

At this point, the pedagogically trained among you are no doubt about to leave a comment telling me that research shows that people will learn better if forced to sit still and watch the presenter. I’ll concede that most people will have better retention if they pay attention to what the speaker is saying. But folks, (1) we’re talking about marketing seminars, not calculus lessons; and (2) your audience is watching you from inside a tabbed browser! I’m pretty sure they’re already reading the news or writing an email rather than watching your slides. Or in at least one case I know, managing their Dwarf Fortress. Poor dorfs.

I will admit to a pathological hatred of presentations that colors my opinions about webinars. I drew cartoons during class all the way through my PhD and only recently have forced myself to stop drawing robots in my notes when meeting with executives. Mandatory corporate training makes me want to do things that are definitely against HR policies. I’d rather read a 500 page book than sit through a certification class. These traits have led me to the opinion that marketers should recognize that everybody does not learn in the same way, and that they should remember that all marketing is about the customer, not about them.

So instead of sit-down-shut-up webinars, why don’t we have platforms that offer added value to participants while they are gracing you with their presence? You could make available to attendees all sorts of transcripts, white papers, supplemental downloads, diagrams, slides from the presentation, one-sheets to show to their ADD boss, demos, blog articles, ROI calculators, RFQ forms, and other things to do while they’re at your presentation. What if there was a permanent forum where they could come back next week to ask a question? What if the attendees could be in a live chat room before or after the presentation? What if you broke into small groups for an exercise during the event? What if there were follow-up classes immediately after the current session? What if during the presentation, attendees could share a slide on Facebook or Pinterest? What if they could push out a promotional video for the next session of this webinar? What if they could see their Facebook friends and start whispering to them? What if people could download diagrams and presentation notes to incorporate in a blog post? What if, during the presentation, key quotes and takeaways appeared on the screen with a Tweet button beside them?

What if attendees could recommend the product during a webinar while they are still in the midst of the aha moment?

This is a digital platform; we can make it do anything. And after the session, you can score each attendee with points for every asset that they touch and every activity they do, and at the end you’ll have a list of everybody who is interested in your product. If you are a lead-generation marketing manager, you might be getting a little flushed at this point.

We started off by talking about transcripts, which implies a recorded presentation, and now I’ve just talked about a lot of live features. There’s a full separate discussion to have about the value of live events vs recorded ones, both to marketers and their audience. Let’s have that another day.

But since transcripts started this, let’s talk about them for a second. Transcripts are cheap in this context; services start at $1/minute and go up from there to several dollars a minute. You can spend less using something like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk if you want to exploit your fellow humans by paying them sweatshop wages. The transcript that comes back often has problems, especially for technical topics, and so someone has to go through and clean it up. Even after they are correct, transcripts are exceptionally tedious to read; I’m grateful for journalists who selectively quote their sources to get the gist of the matter! However, the point of transcripts in this context is not reading them through. The point is scanning them quickly to find out the scope of the presentation and the information you were promised when you were pitched this event.

Karri, who had the original idea, had wanted to see the “5 Things You Should Be Doing” she was promised in a webinar, but then had to wade through the whole hour to find out what they were.  I remember webinars that blathered on forever until finally showing me the product demo I had signed up for. We would both have been grateful for a published transcript or a couple of downloadable screenshots.

I’m sure there are very good reasons why marketers don’t treat webinars as platforms.

  • “Adding more options reduces the number of people who take the next step.” I would not be surprised if this is true, but I’d like to see some evidence. Having too many distractions in the presentation may cause people to freeze up with the paradox of choice or be too distracted to see the sign up for a sales call. If true — that is, if these crazy ADD webinar platform thingies that I’m describing here honestly don’t perform better in convincing people to go on to the next step and to have a conversation with you, then I’m just completely wrong and this whole rant is a bit beside the point. But bear with me if you’ve gotten this far, because I think we’re still going in an interesting direction.
  • “Having too many things on the page confuses people and looks ugly.” The trend in web design is toward simplicity and away from link stew. In the wrong hands, which in this case is marketing’s hands, this could indeed turn really ugly.
  • “The software doesn’t let me do this.” True for now; thus this rant. However, I’d bet there are some startups out there that have thought about this and I’d like to be told that this all already exists.

There are reasons that are right but also wrong.

  • “Adding more things inside the webinar doesn’t drive more registrations.” Since all the good stuff is after you register and nobody reads the details, everybody will be expecting a normal webinar and about the same number of people will show up. Marketers get judged on how many people show up, so why bother? The people who do show up will be better served, but I don’t like to come between people and their bonuses. Try to get your MBO goals changed.
  • “If people don’t stay for the full hour, they won’t feel like they got value from the webinar.” Psychology is weird. If people pop in an out in 5 minutes, which they might do if they could find out the fact they wanted, they might indeed feel less of a bond or obligation or favorable feeling than if they stuck around for an hour. Again, I’d like to see evidence on this. On the other hand, you saved them an 55 minutes, which they might appreciate.
  • “People need some time to sleep on the information I’m giving them. Then I’ll send them a follow-up email just when they’re ready.” This might be true.  Again, the psychology of decision-making is twisty. But why not give them the white paper and transcript now, and then still send them the nurturing email in a week?
  • “I’d rather create more webinars than more complicated webinars.” Fresh content drives activity. Talking live over some slides is the cheapest way to make fresh content that I know of. All this other digital platform stuff and finding extra assets will cost more, either in time or in dollars. On the other hand, better content trumps more content.
  • “This won’t work on mobile.” Yes, true, you don’t have the screen size to be showing the user all sorts of geegaws. But also no, you’re probably displaying this in some presentation app already; in this future webinar utopia that we’re describing, the app should have all sorts of options to display more assets and go deeper into your product before, after, and during the presentation.

And there are certainly some dumb reasons.

  • “They owe me their attention for a full hour. If I give away the good stuff in a transcript, nobody will stick around.” This is not about you. The attendees are paying you with an hour of their attention. Respect that.
  • “I want people to watch my webinar, not looking ahead in the slides.” You must have had grade school teachers that punished you for reading ahead in the book and that has warped your worldview. We’ve already established that people are multitasking. Wouldn’t you rather them read your white paper than Reddit?
  • “I don’t want to spend all my digital assets in one place. I dribble them out like precious diamonds.” That’s smart. Assets are expensive. Instead, load up with non-gated assets that are already available on your website. After all, your prospects are right there and interested — why not give them some material that you have already created that they’re now ready for and that will lead them further along the buying journey?
  • “I already have a campaign microsite and it’s branded and customized and I paid a lot of money for it.” Fabulous. I hope you get a bonus this quarter. While in my perfect future we’ll all have branded and dynamic webinar platforms that will let you set your asset list in 14-point Frere-Jones Gotham over a retina full-bleed stock photo image with a small depth of field for that awesome blurry bokeh, you’ll do just fine with an HTML list of links in Verdana. I promise if the content is interesting, people will read it and share it.
  • “I share all that stuff in emails for my lead nurturing campaigns. I don’t want to use it now.” What are your open and click-through rates again? Nobody reads your nurturing emails.
  • “People won’t retain my messages if they are clicking around.” True only if you are giving a technical deep dive. For everything else, I promise I can follow along while browsing. Presentations are an extremely low-bandwidth communication channel. Remember also that not everybody learns in the same way.
  • “People just expect a normal presentation.” Perhaps, if marketers provided a greater value to webinar attendees, they’d get more registrants.
  • “My boss doesn’t understand it.” Do one on the sly and then show them the results.

We are now three decades into this online thing. It took time for radio to stop being just a broadcast of a live performance, and it took time for TV to stop being radio with pictures. It took time for web sites to stop being static and start being interactive and social.

It’s time for our online webinars to stop aping the structures of the previous platforms and develop their own behaviors. We need digital interactive marketing platforms, not webinar platforms.

This software doesn’t exist yet as far as I know, and done poorly it could even reduce your effectiveness. But I think we as digital marketers need to approach the webinar differently. We owe it to our potential customers who give us their time. So as you put together your next webinar, try to think of it as a digital platform. What other good stuff can you give to your audience? What delightful user experience can you create? How could your follow-up be even more useful? What kind of webinars would you invent if they were attractions at Disneyworld? If they were a raid in World of Warcraft? If you had all the engineers at Facebook at your disposal? What if your webinar were amazing?

—–

*I’ve heard people complain that “webinar” is not a word. As I am a language descriptivist, not a prescriptivist, I say, “Give it up, already. Webinar is a word. You’re going to replace this perfectly useful word with some adjective- and jargon-laden phrase? Go burn your copy of Strunk & White.”

Don’t predict; create the 2014 you want to see

I don’t like year-end predictions, but we get so many of them in tech and IT. They’re slightly entertaining, but, like Christmas cookies, they’re empty calories. If you eat too many,  you probably regret it. What if instead of predicting the way that others are going to change the world next year, we instead envision the changes we ourselves would like to see and create? What if we created New Year Creations instead of New Year Predictions? (There’s a too long: didn’t read section at the end for the attention-impaired.)

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Why New Year Predictions Suck

New Year Predictions exist because they’re easy to write and easy to consume. December is dead for news in general, and publications have to have content to show ads on. New year predictions are standard in the editorial calendar and don’t require a lot of thought.

New Year Predictions are a game to see who can justify the most outrageous prediction. A 2014 prediction article is pretty boring if it says that Things Will Go On Pretty Much Like They Did Last Year. The trick is to figure out a justification for the most outrageous prediction. Apple Will Come Out With A TV For Your Car! Microsoft Will Split Up, Then Buy VMware!

New Year Predictions are about things outside our control. Predictions are often observations of inexorable forces that we can’t stop. These are either mysterious entities that apparently do things, because “strategy” (Amazon will buy UPS!) or the collective action of groups that no one can control (Teenagers Will Amputate Their Hands for 3-D Printed Replacements!). Predictions rarely involve individual people who have hopes, dreams, and fears.

New Year Predictions are obvious.  Even when they’re being outrageous, they’re usually predictable. This year’s will be around Cloud, Mobile, Social, NSA, Ad Targeting, and Drones; and for IT we’ll get Converged Infrastructure, the Role of the CIO, and of course the Year of VDI.

New Year Predictions are self-serving. Look at the byline, then go look at the bio of the author. Would it surprise you if a company executive predicts that the trends in the new year will validate the company’s vision?

Why New Year Creations Rock

Instead, why don’t you envision things that you would like to exist in the new year? This can be something you’d create yourself, or it could be an inspiration for others. For lack of a better term, let’s call these New Year Creations.

New Year Creations are the things you’d like someone to create in the new year.

New Year Creations are realizable. Because our framework is about creating a thing, we can envision concrete ways to get to the end states we want. “Better IT” isn’t something you can create per se, but you can foster better IT by, for example, forming a brownbag lunch and learn at work, contributing to an open source project, or teaching at a local school.

New Year Creations scratch your own itch. They’re an expression of your needs and represent the way you want the world to be. Instead of predicting this will be the Year of the Itch, just invent your own damn scratcher.

New Year Creations inspire and connect with others. If you broadcast your New Year Creations out into the world, you’ll likely find others who share your vision and your itch that needs to be scratched.  I wanted to listen to these podcasts, and in response vSoup started to produce podcasts more regularly. Voila! The world is a better place!

New Year Creations have infinite possible outcomes. With Predictions, you just wait to see if you’re right or wrong next year. With Creations you never know what you’ve started.  We had a fun little Twitter game last week listing our #FiveWordTechHorrors, but when folks tried to start #FiveWordTechFantasies, it didn’t catch on. But don’t think that creation can’t start with a Tweet. Look at Twitter itself. Who knew?

New Year Creations are not resolutions. Resolutions are inwardly-facing and often about acting like a better person, and we feel bad when we “break” them. The most meaningful New Year Creations are externally-facing; they are about the world and the people in it. You become a better person by working towards a world where they exist.

I see this quote a lot: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It turns out that Mahatma Gandhi didn’t actually say that. But in 1912 he wrote the following, which was later paraphrased. I think by taking the catchy slogan out of it, the original thought becomes a lot deeper. Here’s his original writing:

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” -Gandhi

“We need not wait to see what others do.” That’s powerful.

In the IT field, we pretty much keep our heads down. We try to keep the servers running, to clear the the ticket queues, and to study for the next round of certs from our technology vendors. But IT is in for big changes and frankly a lot of things in the real world outside IT seem headed in a different direction than I’d like as well. What would happen if more of us worked on creating both the IT we want and the world we want in our futures?

But look, this is turning into more inspirational rah-rah than I had anticipated. Do whatever you want next year. Do whatever you can next year. The community of folks I know in IT are amazing. We have created, both as individuals and as groups, many concrete things that have made IT and the world better.

tl;dr Predictions about what other people are going to do are a shitty passive way to view the future. Instead, I encourage you to envision how the world could change to be better, and see how that rewires your brain and where it takes you in 2014. Gandhi said We need not wait to see what others do. You don’t want to disagree with Gandhi, do you?

Happy New Year!

Three IT podcasts and blogs that need to exist

Here are three IT-oriented podcasts and/or blogs that I think need to exist. I don’t really have the time or obsession to start these, but I think there’s an audience for all of them. Your version may not quite look like mine, but if you’ve been thinking in any of these directions, I encourage you to go start something. I’d be happy to help however I can.

1. A weekly podcast that’s just some IT folks talking to each other. See Accidental Tech Podcast and The Talk Show, both more-or-less for the Mac crowd, or anything on the 5by5 Podcast Network. Among the many IT-oriented podcasts, we’ve got Speaking in Tech, which is kinda-sorta the tech news of the week; and we’ve got the Cloudcast, which is the cloud interview of the week. I really enjoy these podcasts but there’s a cultural vibe or lineage coming out of that Mac-NYC-Austin-web designer axis that I can’t quite put my finger on but I’d love to hear reflected in my infrastructure-oriented world. The podcasts are really quite long, rarely have interviews per se, and they don’t really cover “tech news” in a professional way — they’re mostly just opinionated people talking about what’s going on in the industry and their work. It’s actually a little like eavesdropping on a conversation going on at the next table in a techie cafe. It’s possible that for IT we could benefit from some journalists or analysts being involved who are paid to pay attention and have opinions, but I don’t think the people involved necessarily need to be IT blog celebrities and I’m sure as hell they shouldn’t be tech executives, but they do need to be people who have an opinion on a lot of things and can’t shut up.

2. A blog or podcast that covers home labs. Home labs are hugely interesting to a lot of people. Technologists use them while studying for certs, gaining experience, writing blog posts and books, and just generally screwing around. There’s enough material there to fill a weekly podcast, easily: Current strategies for obtaining gear. What old gear is coming on the market. Minimizing noise and power draw. New form factors and low-power servers. Software like Fusion, Workstation, VirtualBox, Docker, Vagrant, Puppet. White box servers and networking gear. Commercial and home-grade SSDs. Commercial and home-grade NASes, open source and proprietary. Compatibility matrices. You can dip into specifics about nested vSphere. All sorts of Microsoft topics – from certs to Windows Server to apps. See, you’ve got your first six months of topics already.

3. A blog that covers flash in the data center. Every time I talk about flash and SSDs on my podcast, people are really interested in the minutia of what’s on the market now, where the gear is going, and who is doing what with it; but there’s no single good place to follow the latest news. The world of flash is moving fast. You can follow SSD news at sites like StorageSearch.com and The SSD Review and AnandTech. (BTW StorageSearch should not be confused with SearchStorage. The former is old-school obsessive geekery rockin’ a 90’s website while the latter is another site from the fine folks at TechTarget.) We need an obsessive geek to follow that news and translate that into how IT is using this technology and and how to think about and navigate the wide array of flash in the data center –in  all-flash arrays, hybrid arrays, and as local storage in servers in all flavors — primary storage, cache, distributed storage, etc. A good example article is Vijay Swami’s Buyer’s Guide for the All Flash Array Market.  We need one place to follow all the product releases, technology updates, analyst reports, and make fun of all the press releases. Alessandro Perilli used to do this for the virtualization industry at a whole, and now he’s writing smart things at Gartner, so it could be a good career thing.

I’ve got a longer list of things that should exist, but these three have been bugging me for a while. Since this is really a plea to the lazyweb, I’ll just stop here after planting this seed and see if anything sprouts. If you grow any interesting plants let me know.

The Consumerization of IT Evals

There is a huge amount of emotion currently surging around software evaluation subscription programs for IT like TechNet and VMTN. IT pros are self-organizing to send a message to Microsoft to not cancel the $349 TechNet Subscription and to VMware to bring back VMTN Subscription, cancelled in 2007 but still reported to have a “very high” chance of returning. The enterprise market is dominated by multi-million dollar Enterprise Licensing Agreements and Software Assurance programs; so why do people care so much about these individual non-production offerings?


An IT professional and home lab, 2013

We’re now experiencing The Consumerization of IT Evals. Consumerization is often discussed these days, but we’re usually talking about BYOD, SaaS, shadow IT, and software that looks nice and is actually easy to use. Even if IT is resisting consumerization for their internal customers, it’s a hard attitude to shake when it comes to meeting your own needs.

Traditionally, IT projects have been expensive, long, and complicated, and that included the evaluation stage. Evaluations included things like RFPs, hardware procurement, purpose-built labs at work, PoCs with consulting contracts from the vendor, and formal projects with a definitive decision at the end. On-boarding and training came with classrooms, instructors, and big price tags.

Now, IT pros want anytime, anywhere access to their enterprise software evals, just like they get with their consumer services. This is both a pre-sales and a post-sales need. They need access when studying for certifications to go along with their $49 a month video training subscription. They need access when updating an ops runbook for work, when they are considering upgrading to the next version, when they are preparing notes for a brownbag with their peers or even when they just are getting ready with an answer for when their boss asks, “What’s next?” Consumerization in this case means not only an expectation of quality and ease-of-use, but an agile approach as they jump in on a spare Friday afternoon or a casual evening on the couch.

Industry vendors ignore this at their own risk. The same trends in consumerization, open source and cloud make product evaluations ever easier to provide. SaaS vendors can offer easy-to-consume trials. Even hardware vendors can offer software simulators. But for installable software, sixty- or even 180-day evaluation licenses no longer fit with these expectations of informal evaluations. While online labs like the VMware Hands on Labs Online and similar offerings from Microsoft can pick up some of the slack, they can’t take the place of all evaluations in the archeological context of a local environment.

Most vendors don’t have the breadth of a Microsoft or a VMware, and a full product evaluation subscription like TechNet or VMTN won’t make sense for everybody. But IT pros now have expectations of easy and cheap access to virtually everything, and even not having a formal lab at work is no barrier; home labs can be sourced for pennies on the dollar from eBay or just run in a virtual machine on a laptop.  Are IT vendors looking at the realities of today and how their customers want to learn about their offerings? 

Geek Whisperers in Action

See more Geek Whisperers – our podcast about social media and community in enterprise IT — over at http://geek-whisperers.com.  Somehow I’m not surprised I got caught talking. The laptop is Brender’s — mine has more stickers and more dents. Taken on Aug 28, 2013 at VMworld in San Francisco by Sean Thulin.
via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152142071463496&set=a.10150610782453496.474895.745783495&type=1

Rabbi Hillel’s Three Questions And Your IT Department

If not now, when?What does a set of two-thousand-year-old moral questions have to do with how your IT department should operate? Hillel the Elder, one of the most important leaders in Jewish history, posed what has become known as his Three Questions about how to live your life.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am only for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?

The conventional interpretation of these questions is more or lessLook out for yourself, stick up for yourself, or no one else will; but if you are only concerned for your own selfish interests, you are unworthy; and now is the time to act.

As with all inquiries into the meaning of life, the questions are short but the discussion they spark is long, and the specific applications where they apply are broad. Today, as I was thinking about Hillel’s Three Questions, I was struck by how they can apply to your IT department.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

Hillel’s first question is about respecting yourself and having a responsibility to take care of yourself. In the context of IT, Hillel’s first question asks, Does your IT department know what its mission is and does it believe in that mission? The IT department’s job is hard and diverse; it’s often a service role where nobody thinks of you until something goes wrong, and then everybody thinks they’re your boss. The IT department spends its time keeping legacy systems alive with baling wire and shell scripts; protecting your company from mistakes and intruders; managing vendors; and, when they have a spare moment, maybe bringing a bit of innovation to the table to help the business. Is that really the mission of your IT department? If your IT department doesn’t know what it’s mission is, is there any wonder why  your users just want you to fix the printer and then go away?

Hillel’s first question challenges us to know ourselves and be responsible for ourselves. If your IT department, from the CIO down to the first line help desk technician, doesn’t know how how they add value to the business and can’t demonstrate it, how would the rest of the business know?

And when I am for only for myself, what am ‘I’?

Hillel’s second question brings up our relationship with others.  All parts of a company serve the greater interests of the business. From IT’s origins as the priesthood of the mainframe to the Bastard Operator from Hell,  IT has had a long history of difficult relationships with their internal users — their internal customers. If your IT department isn’t serving its internal customers, what purpose is it serving?

IT’s relationship with its customers is being redefined: consumerization, BYOD, SaaS and cloud-enabled “shadow IT” are the biggest game-changers since people started sneaking PCs in the back door. Users now have choice. IT policy can stop an employee from putting confidential information in a personal Dropbox account; it can’t stop a VP from building their next project out in the cloud using external resources and bypassing IT altogether. It’s been suggested that the IT department needs to invest in its own marketing function to help communicate what its offerings are. What would it be like if the rest of your company knew about and in fact was eagerly awaiting the next release of your strategic project? If your IT department doesn’t communicate and doesn’t have the trust of the other employees of your company, can it be trusted to innovate? 

And if not now, when?

Good intentions are not enough. Hillel’s third question compels us to act. Each interaction of IT staff with people in other parts of the organization will affect how they view the IT department and how they will work with it. How can your individual actions today affect the future of your IT department and of your business?

We can also take this bias toward action to our departmental processes. Traditional IT projects, with their focus on process governance and risk mitigation, move slowly. If your IT department can’t seem to get anything done, how can it transform itself so that things do get done?  New agile approaches to IT work like DevOps and the service-orientation of the Cloud are radically altering how IT views itself, its relationship to other departments, and how its projects are carried out. These new approaches are very experiential in nature — the only real way to internalize them and discover how they might work within your organization is to start trying them out on small projects.

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And that’s how these two-thousand-year-old questions are worth asking about the operation of your IT department. If your IT department doesn’t know what its purpose is, why will anyone else respect it? If it doesn’t have the support the rest of the organization, what kind of corporate department is it anyway? And if it’s going to get strategic things done, then why not start today?