Category Archives: Cloud & Virtualization

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).

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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.

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.

Tech podcasts to watch out for

Although I’ve produced a weekly podcast for around 5 years, I’ve actually never been an habitual podcast listener. Recently I’ve developed the habit. A number of things came together for me to cause this:

  • I was interested in making my podcast better. I’ve been doing the same thing on the podcast for a long time. I recently concluded I need to try new things even if it’s just to keep it interesting for me.
  • I was interested in seeing what the enterprise IT industry was saying about itself.
  • I was interested in seeing what new media leaders were developing — from micropublishing and apps to podcast networks — and if we could leverage it in the enterprise IT industry.
  • I made one appearance on This Week in Enterprise Tech.
  • I turned satellite radio back on in my car for a long trip and have been listening to Howard Stern. This broke my NPR habit.

Here are some podcasts you might enjoy:

  • VMware Community Roundtable. We’re unusual in that (a) we stream live every week: Wednesdays at noon; and (b) anbody can dial in and we leave the phone lines open. The guests that we interview are usually from VMware but I hope we avoid repeating just the corporate talking points. Show site. Show Notes.
  • Speaking in Tech. This is Greg Knierieman’s third go round at the podcast rodeo (at least), and he brings a keen eye as a tech industry observer with an infectious laugh that makes for an easy listen. The other regulars (Ed Saipetch, Sarah Vela) always contribute, the tone is informal yet they get to some meat every week, and the guests are good. http://speakingintech.com/
  • The CloudCast. Aaron Delp and Brian Gracely have been putting out regular cloud coverage for 2 years. I’m still catching up with their back episodes, but I like how they cover different clouds (vCloud, AWS, OpenStack, CloudStack, etc.) and not just the cloud stacks themselves or the infrastructure, but also dev and ops and apps and all the rest of the good stuff that goes into cloud. http://www.thecloudcast.net/
  • If you’re into virtualization, also check out the vBrownbag, vSoup, and vChat podcasts, although I haven’t been listening to them lately.
  • TWiT. I keep trying to get into the TWiT vibe, but by the time I listen to Leo Laporte’s thing on Sunday I’ve heard all the news they want to cover, and the podcasts often go for two hours, which is too long even for both legs of my commute. Leo of course is really listenable, though. They have shows on more specialized topics, but those haven’t grabbed me yet. Fr Robert Ballecer was nice enough to have me on This Week in Enterprise Tech and I had a blast, but I haven’t become a regular listener. http://twit.tv
  • 5by5. Another podcast network I’ve been sampling. Dan Benjamin runs the network and is seemingly on every show. 5by5 has the same leisurely vibe as TWiT, with podcasts regularly clocking in over 90 minutes. It’s like sitting in an Austin coffeehouse eavesdropping on a couple of hipsters talking at the next table — often fascinating, but not really a very efficient way to get information. I picture web designers listening to this on their headphones as they sit in said Austin coffeehouse and type all day. I am still working on loving something but I recommend checking out Critical Path and High Density, both hosted or co-hosted by Horace Dediu of @asymco fame. http://5by5.tv
  • Mule Radio Syndicate. I guess Gruber, the Daring Fireball Mac guy, switched from 5by5 to Mule, but the back story and politics are lost on me. The only show that looks interesting here so far to me is The New Disruptors, hosted by Glenn Fleishman. I like Glenn’s take on disruption — from coffee makers to publishers to podcasters. On the latest show, Glenn introduced me to Andrea Seabrook’s DecodeDC, also on the Mule network. It promises to be like The Daily Show, except not a comedy. http://www.muleradio.net/
  • Gillmor Gang. I’m not sure if this is a podcast or not, but I sometimes tune in because Steve Gillmor, Robert Scoble, and the rest of the panel are opinionated and sometimes they yell at each other. Mostly social media and general tech topics, and although I disagree with Gillmor about the viability of VRM (vendor relationship management), I will eventually be proven wrong. http://techcrunch.com/tag/gillmor-gang

General observations: The “tech press” that Silicon Valley pays attention to these days is pretty limited in scope. The “tech” on the TechCrunch-Y Combinator axis is mostly composed of consumer-facing social startups, gadgets, and Apple/Twitter/Facebook/Google. Enterprise IT isn’t covered very well. The podcasts covering this area tend to all plow the same field. And since I have been reading this tech press more than a usual — more than a normal person would — I tend to have read all the stories already by the time I listen to the podcast and the discussion of the stories on the podcast therefore aren’t particularly unique. Maybe these general tech news podcasts aren’t for me. Podcast production also tends to be pretty non-produced with the discussion all over the place even compared to talk radio — and in my weekly podcast I’m pretty much winging it as well, but at least I’m not going on for two hours at a time.

I’m wishing there was a tightly produced 30 minute tech news recap I could listen to on the way to work. I’m tempted to try podcasts from old media to see if such a thing exists, but instead I think I’m going to dive into storytelling and comedy podcasts next, because I suspect there are lessons to be learned about telling a story.

Any favorite podcasts I should check out?

Update: Leo Laporte video on what he’s trying to do, his revenue and advertisers, and how his goals differ from the mainstream media.