I’m a skeptic, satiated by large raw data sets, analysis & inference

Speak to anyone who knows me, and they will likely characterize me as a skeptical, pessimistic, anxious, intense, and persistent individual.

If someone sends me a spreadsheet and then calls me to walk me through the numbers my immediate assumption is that the purpose of the follow-up call is to shape my perception. If someone provides me a composite of the figures without the raw data, visible formulas and documented data sources, I also assume manipulation. With this said I am a realist, and I am willing to accept manipulation, but I am honest about acceptance rather than convincing myself otherwise. I am just wired to be vigilant.

For me the glass being half-full represents a lack of fear of it being half-empty, I am motivated to refill the glass by the reality that it is half-empty and what is likely an unhealthy fear of dying from dehydration, but it works for me. From my perspective, the half-empty glass is not depressing or a demotivator it is a potential reality. Now don’t get me wrong, I know there is water in the glass and death is not imminent, but I am incredibly aware and grateful for the opportunity to find a water source to refill my glass.

I spend my days listening to dozens of pitches, where I need to focus, why I need to do x or y, what I am missing out on by not doing x or y, etc… The pitches almost always start with a half-full perspective, selling the positive but it’s amazing how when it doesn’t go the way the pitchman expects the approach shifts to the half-empty perspective, relying on FOMO (fear of missing out) as a last ditch attempt at motivation.

Now let’s face it, no one likes to miss out, but as a realist, I recognize that I can’t do everything, so decisions are required. Forks in the road appear every minute of every hour of every day, and I am greeted at each fork by a host espousing the merits of their righteous path. For someone like me, these decisions need to be my own, driven by raw data (as raw as it can be), analysis and inference. I try to check the near-term outcomes at the door and focus on and visualizing the long-term strategic outcomes, the vision. In my mind tactical activities require little to no thought, they just happen. For example, a visionary looking for a more sustainable model for garbage disposal doesn’t stop taking their garbage to the curb every Monday and Thursday. Accepting what is and executing without much thought IMO avoids paralyzation and makes room in your life and brain for what will be.

So now we arrive at the origin of this blog. I have to make personal and professional bets on where the market is going, what is most relevant and where I should focus my time. Of course, I have a subjective opinion on where I believe the market is going but I like to validate my opinions with some data and with so many people, organizations and news outlets selling their version of the future the question becomes, how do I validate my opinions objectively. Social chatter is meaningful to me as is sentiment analysis. The great news is with a little Python, the use of some APIs and the ELK stack it’s pretty easy to collect data from social media platforms, store it, analyze it and draw some conclusions. One such question that is very relevant to me is what technologies and what OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have mindshare? I’ve been pulling social media data for a few weeks using #hashtags to see what techs and OEMs have the most buzz; I have also been doing sentiment analysis to see if the buzz is good or bad.

Here is my view of the market using social media buzz to determine mindshare (it actually feels pretty on the money):

The world has changed, are you paying attention?

This blog is the result of a restless night where I pondered a recent event where the idea (or existence) of NOC (Network Operations Center) was conveyed as a key component of the ITSM (Information Technology Service Management) paradigm. I find this to be an uber interesting topic and position given that the world has moved (and continues to move) in every way from a centralized to a disaggregated and distributed model. I believe this is true in computing (think cloud, microservices, twelve-factor apps, etc…) and it’s true in the area of human capital management and service delivery.

I thought I would share some of my opinions on the topic, my position as well as some anecdotes that I believe support my thoughts.

First, let me start by saying that we are engaged in a war, a war for human capital, a war where the best knowledge workers don’t look anything like what they looked like twenty years ago, they live in the shadows, digital nomads inhabiting a digital universe.

When I think NOC, here is what I envision:

The above is a picture of the NOC from the movie WarGames which was released in 1983, this was cool and impressed the audience, but it was 35 years ago! It’s probably obvious from looking at my blog header that I am a big WarGames fan. Let’s stay with the Hollywood portrayal of tech for a moment because I think it’s relevant.

Fast forward from 1983 to 2001, 18 years later, and the NOC has given way to the lone hacker, with umteen monitors (quite a setup) working alone to High Voltage by The Frank Popp Ensemble.

Disaggregation and decentralization have become a pervasive theme, message and a way of life. Nowhere is this more evident in than in the Open Source community. Disaggregation and decentralization coupled with a shifting culture that has shifted the motivation of the knowledge worker has given way to an unprecedented pace of innovation which would otherwise be impossible.

The Open Source statistics are truly staggering: https://octoverse.github.com/

Couple what the Open Source movement has taught us about the power of disaggregated and decentralized teams with “the surprising truth about what motivates us” and you’ll realize that the disaggregated and decentralized cultures being built are unlike anything we could have dreamed. The passion, commitment, engagement, communication, execution, and velocity are astounding.

Ask yourself where people (yourself included) go for help, how they build communities, what are trusted sources of information, etc…
Where do developers look for help? StackOverflow, Slack, IRC, Quora, etc…?
Where does the average person look for help? Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc…?

These are all platforms which enable the construction of disaggregated and decentralized communities which create cultures, subcultures, increase engagement, provide better time to value, etc… Are there no lessons to be learned here? There are lessons to be learned, and many are learning these lessons and adapting their engagement models.

I am a techie, and I believe that substance will always prevail over style and the question I continually ask myself as I adjust to keep up with a market which is innovating and changing at an unprecedented pace is how to define the culture? Is what we are doing relevant today and does it put us on a trajectory to where we’ll need to be in 24 months?

And now we have arrived at my thoughts regarding the NOC.

JetBlue made a bold move (which others followed) shifting from reservation call centers to hiring booking agents who work virtually, and their customer service is consistently rated the highest in the industry.

Relevant business models do NOT focus on resource colocation; they focus on resource capability, availability, and collaboration. I would go as far as to say that colocation favors style over substance.

The cultures we build need to focus on leveraging technology to deliver a great total customer experience (TCE). I believe that a 5.3” screen in the hands of hundreds of engineers, elegant engagement processes, procedures, and tools deliver a better TCE than a 60” monitors on the wall in a room with ten engineers with landline phones. Cultural agility over environmental rigidity.

The focus and value here is NOT a finite set of L1, L2 and L3 shift workers in a NOC. Big screen TV’s on the wall, the Bat Phone and people sitting at a desk are style decisions which have no direct correlation to the ability to deliver substance. Our focus needs to be on how to engage and nurture the best knowledge workers the market can offer. Our mission needs to be the creation and cultivation of a culture which fosters engagement. Our ability to engage and escalate to a subject-matter expert (SME) at any time, to improve the TCE by building equitable partnerships which deliver distinct value, with a meaningful escalation path that focuses on MTTW (Mean-Time-to-Workaround) while in parallel determining a root cause and resolution lies in our culture.

We must understand that the world has changed.  We live in a world where seemingly forward-thinking paradigms are obsolete before they are implemented.  The path to success relies on agility and accountability, not rigidity and responsibility.

Reflecting on my inner nerd

Technology has become the modern day version of the ’57 Chevy – at least that is what I keep telling my wife. People are crawling out of the woodwork as self proclaimed technologist – It’s been a long road of abuse to nerdom and I think that far to many people are catching an episode of StarTek 2.0 on G4TV (BTW – if you have not seen StarTrek Cribs on YouTube you have to check it out) and laying stake to the techie guru throne. As I articulated this week to a colleague the road to nerdom is paved with 8th grade wedgies and significant weight loss in the 9th and 10th grade. But that got me thinking, was the cream puff ’57 Chevy the real winner in late 50s or was it the brush painted sleeper that disillusioned the crowd – that’s what the 9th and 10th grade nerds have become, that brush painted nova that cleaned the clock of cherry street rod. The key to the kingdom is learning how to stay true to your inner geek while polishing the external geek. This is one of the first weeks that I have not traveled in the past two months so I have been spending some time knocking some projects off the list, one of those project is a Virtual Appliance – While building the appliance – I do my best work between 8 PM and 3PM a true nerd quality, I realized that I really am a nerd. The proof is in the pictures so lets get started:

Pictures of the Mindstorm robot that guards the door to my home office:

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As if it is not enough that I still play with Legos – BTW these are not normal legos the big box in the middle is an onboard computer – of course I have to spend countless hours writing perl and java code to make my robot do cool stuff like follow my dog around the house – My daughter thinks it is the funniest thing. If you think legos are for kids google “lego mindstorm rcx” or check out this site http://graphics.stanford.edu/~kekoa/rcx/.

Next I found some pictures that I sent to colleagues when my daughter was born – she is 6 days old in these pictures.

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It’s never to early to start educating 🙂

Lastly I have amassed a ridiculous amount of compute power in my house. I think the total number of systems stands at approx 15 not including a few laptops – 1 quad proc and 3 dual proc systems. Virtual machines in the 20+ realm with most major open systems Operating Systems up and running from Windows XP, 2K, 2K3, Linux (Debian and RedHat based distros – my favorites are Ubuntu on the desktop and CentOS on the server), FreeBSD, HP-UX, Solaris and others.

I have to keep the window open in my office in the winter to keep the temperature regulated and in the summer I have a portable air conditioner that runs 24×7. You can see the AC unit in the third picture just to the left of the window – 10K BTU unit does a nice job, this year I put a drain line through the floor and into the basement sink so I do not have to empty the water every day, that was a real pain.

Lots of other equipment including RAID arrays, a Cisco IOS switch, FC Switches, a SCSI bus analyzer, and a SCSI-to-FC bridge to name a few.

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It’s tough work staying atop the nerd mountain but it sure is fun, and it keeps the house warm in the winter. I also like having enough compute power to do almost anything I need to at home – It’s a huge advantage when you can work a week straight without sleep or a shower 🙂

The Compelling Event

After writing a couple of recent blogs I started thinking about opportunity creation.  I awoke this morning at 4:15 AM with the thought that successful opportunity creation lies in the ability to create a compelling event.  The best sales people I have worked with have an incredible and uncanny ability to create these events.  I believe that while customers are excited by strategy and vision ultimately purchasing patterns are tactical in nature.  Broad compelling events are often created created by industry requirements such as regulatory compliance requirements (i.e. – Sarbanes-Oxley, 17a-4, HIPAA, etc..).  Technology innovators typically create compelling events in the form of game changing technology (i.e. – data de-duplication, content addressable storage, continuous data protections, etc…) these technologies typically address a broader industry compelling event and they aim to provide a unique technological solution to a broader problem.  Lastly individuals have the ability to create a compelling events, orchestration and articulation of a solution that encompasses the problem, the technological solutions and the business process and benefit.

This idea popped into my head after reading through a one of my previous blog posts in which I spoke about VMware and partition offsets.  I was prompted following a link back to the original blog from the VMTN (VMware Technology Network) and comments such such as the following on the VMTN:

“Umm… let’s just say you need to do a better job educating. No idea what any of this means, and I’ve installed dozens of ESX farms.”

“…nobody has kept track of real geometries on drives for 10 or 15 years”

These are frightening comments.  Think of all the ESX users experiencing sub-optimal performance based on the fact that I believe this represents the rule rather than the exception.

Hence this got me to thinking about the term “Trusted Advisor” once again.  It is obvious that “Trusted Advisors” across the world are chasing the ubiquitous technology opportunities such as Microsoft, Cisco IP networking, etc… To me these advisors are analogous to the doctor you goto when you need some penicillin – you know your sick, you just can’t write the script so you goto a doctor and pay the $5 co-pay for a broad spectrum antibiotic.  At one point the diagnosis and treatment of influenza was a specialty but this train has left the station.  These advisors deal in volume and while they may harbor discrete expertise unfortunately not only are the problems ubiquitous but the solution and the expert knowledge is as well.  On the other hand there is the doctor who sees 10 patients a year who deals in a specialized field that seems to be outside the grasp of the masses, he is expensive but worth the money to those who capable of affording him or her.  BTW – Nothing precludes the specialist from playing in the volume business if he or she so chooses, it begs the question of why they don’t?

With this all said, value is measured by ones ability to comprehend and quickly cross-reference symptomatic  information with expert knowledge in an area where others are incapable of comprehending the complexity.  If anyone watches the TV show “House“, this is the advisor I am describing.  Back to my example of VMware and partition offsets, VMware two years ago was perceived as a fairly complex, the certification pass rates were far lower than they are today.  VMware made a conscious effort to remove the need for command line expertise realizing that most users were coming from the Windows world and that pervasive adoption would require simplicity, today 99% of the operational management of VMware happens from the Virtual Center console.  Most users are unaware or just don’t care that the CLI is far more efficient, simplicity has become a primary feature.  It is no wonder that most users disregard aligning partition offsets, after all this would require the command line.

“ILM for the SMB”

ILM or Information Lifecycle Management has been in full swing now for about 3 years and I am going to go out on a limb and state that most organizations have not yet implemented an “ILM” strategy. I believe the reason this is the case is because “ILM” is in fact a vision that has been interpreted and evangelized by many vendors as a strategy.

I presented a session at Storage Networking World in Orlando last week entitled “ILM for the SMB”. This is a scary proposition, most enterprise class organizations have leveraged “ILM” to implement tiered storage strategies and transparent data movement through the use of software to migrate data based on simple taxonomy like last access date, file type, owner, etch… Is there any value in an “ILM” strategy for the the average SMB (Small and Medium Business) who can store their entire data requirements, including overhead for protection on on 3 to 5 disk drives? I think the answer is pretty clear as I stated during the presentation “put all of your data on tier 1 storage and call it a day. you can always add a drive when you run out of space”. Because I was honestly at a loss on how to confidently articulate the value of “ILM” for the SMB I offered up a new definition for the SMB where the “I” in “ILM” changes from “Information” to “Infrastructure”. Many SMBs suffer from what I call the eBusiness syndrome, an epidemic feed by the likes of CDW and Dell . These users buy technology from distributors who offer little or no coaching on the applicability of the technologies or how to extract value from the technology, thus many SMBs find themselves replacing technology or purchasing point solutions and building infrastructures held together for scotch tape and chewing gum. A “Total Solutions” approach where the entire infrastructure is addressed is where SMBs will find the most value when amortized over a reasonable period of time. The ability to cost effectively address enterprise class problems on an SMB budget requires coaching and often a partner who can function less as technology salesman and more as an analyst, helping SMB customer avoid disposable technology, extending the lifespan of the infrastructure and add enterprise class functionality where appropriate.

Below I have paraphrased an example that I gave during my SNW session:

How many SMBs are still running Microsoft Exchange 5.5 even though support is EOL? Why? Cost prohibitive to migrate? Customers running Exchange 2000 or 2003 are probably running on 32bit x86 architecture. Microsoft will release Exchange 2007 on 64bit x86 architecture only, what does this mean? It means that the SMB going from 5.5, 2000 and 2003 will be spending significant dollars to facilitate a painful upgrade process to 2007, potentially investing in new hardware, new OS licensing, new storage capacity, directory services work and finally the Exchange migration work. This is not so bad for the customer who has been running Exchange 5.5 on a Pentium II and NT 4.0 for 8 years (they have gotten their monies worth) but how about the guy who bought a new 32bit server from CDW 2 months ago because Exchange 2000 was running slow, well bad news, support for Exchange 2000 will be EOL and Exchange 2007 requires 64bit architecture. That is the definition of disposable technology.

Reality is that the SMB needs help with “Infrastructure Lifecycle Management”. The ability to predict and extend a solutions life cycle while balancing budget with quality and functionality adds tangible value today, this is not a vision but a strategy which can be applied in a tactical manner.

While today there are few compelling reasons for the SMB to determine how to apply the “ILM” vision to their corporate information infrastructure that may be changing. See my follow-up post entitled “ILM and eRisk”.

Censorship in the blogsphere…

With blogs now being used as a pervasive guerilla marketing tactic we are all to aware that many of the blogs entering the blogsphere are doing so as corporate marketing machines (wolves in sheep’s clothing). The corporate undertones of many blogs is forcing bloggers to take harsher positions to ward of the stigma of corporate influence. I myself have had corporate lobbyists solicit me to change my tone or more closely tow the corporate line. Will corporate executives every really grasp the concept of a blog and what makes it valuable? The unbridled peer-to-peer communication with no censorship is what makes this medium valuable. Unadulterated opinions from real people with a real voice, a written journal of their thoughts and opinions, not corporate propaganda. Sometimes a bloggers opinions will parallel the popular opinion and other times it is going to ruffle feathers, this is what makes blogging so great. It is the “Naked Truth”.

Interested in your thoughts.

-RJB

The flattening continues… Is the paradigm shifting? — Vacation Reading – Part 3

So on my last night of my “official” vacation I thought I would conclude the series with a post that refers back to my inaugural post from July 5th as well as pose some questions about what it could mean from a broader perspective. I just finished an article in the September 18th issue of BusinessWeek outlining how DuPount outsourced legal services to OfficeTiger a Business Process Outsourcer (BPO) recently acquired by R.R. Donnely & Sons Co.

According to the article DuPont aims to save 40% to 60% on document related work and cut $6 million from is $200 million dollar legal budget. Of course there is some associated risk but on the outskirts of Manila DuPont now has 30 Filipino attorneys, including three who have passed the U.S. bar exam. The attorneys sit elbow-to-elbow with 50 staff employees, working three shifts seven days a week they read, analyze, and annotate digital images of memos, payroll and medical records, old engineering specifications, and other documents that might be used as evidence in DuPont legal cases.

As a technologist working in the storage sector I spend a significant amount of time talking with customers about compliance and the need to facilitate e-discovery. We leverage software technologies like enterprise content management applications, Email archiving applications and full-text indexing to facilitate this. As software and hardware vendors we have a major hurdle to overcome, we have a fundamental inability to create meaningful metadata. Is it possible to automate the creation of meaningful metadata that eclipses the simple taxonomy we are capable of today? Does a BPOs ability to read, analyze, annotate, index and retrieve eliminate or decrease the need for such software products? With Asia also being a software development hotbed how long will it be before a BPO like OfficeTiger teams up with or organically grows a software development business to automate their processes hence lowering consumer cost? Where does this leave the software only vendor? Will they be at a disadvantage, with only the ability to offer a component of the total solution.

The obvious goal of outsoucing/offshoring is to cut cost but DuPont also hopes to reduce the evidence collection and processing time from 18 months to 3 months. This will be enabled by leveraging a global legal team operating 24/7. Office tiger will convert millions of archived paper records to digital format, code and index them; dramatically reducing the effort required to analyze the evidently data. It is not hard to see the cost benefits when the average salary for an attorney with five years experience in the Philippines, who has a very similar legal system to the U.S. is ~$30,000 including benefits. To put this in perspective that is about half what a veteran U.S. corporate paralegal earns and one-fifth what a first-year attorney can earn in in New York.

OfficeTiger believes that corporations are looking at more cost effective ways to buy legal services so cost does not become a variable when deciding to whether or not to defend a case. The need for alternative legal service could push OfficeTiger to ~1000 employees and hundreds of lawyers by the end of 2007. It looks to me like the paradigm is shifting in many of the markets where software vendors have focused, globalization will continue to morph the marketplace and the nimble will be best positioned to take advantage of the changes.

Read the full BusinessWeek article here .

-RJB

Netscape? Who?

Microsoft has opened up the Netscape playbook! Virtual PC 2004 is now free and can be downloaded from here. If history teaches us anything the desktop attack is the first move in a campaign focused on world domination. It was the goal in the with the Internet Explorer campaign that Microsoft ran against Netscape, why should we believe this will be any different? I remember back in the day running Netscape on the desktop and server (Netscape Communications Server). First the switch came on the desktop (after all it did save corporations a ton of money), next the server switched to either Microsoft IIS or Apache. Will the world once again end up with two alternatives Open Source (XenSource) and Microsoft?

Should be interesting to watch!

-RJB

The Code (Linux)

Just arrived at my hotel in Boston an I am preparing to deliver “The Evolution of? Disaster Recovery” seminar in our sixth city tomorrow morning.? I put my new video iPod (that Cisco so graciously awarded me after passing a certification exam) to good use on the way up from Newark.? I watched the “The Code (Linux)” a Swedish Linux documentary.? As a long time Linux hacker and a technology history buff I was already familiar with most of the content that was presented in the film but there were a couple of concepts that got me excited, so excited I needed to blog on them.? The first was a statement by Linus Torvalds, for those of you who don’t know who Linus is, he is generally recognized creator of the Linux kernel.? Linus has arguably directed one of the most complex collaborative software development initiatives in the history of computing.? We can learn a lot from him and the Linux development effort on how to motivate and extract the most from people.? Linus discusses how the management of Linux kernel development project morphed from a hierarchical management structure to a what he describes today as a “web of trust” where developers are empowered to act.? Eric Raymond the author of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” and all around open source czar also has some phenomenal words of wisdom.? Eric talks about what motivates open source engineers outside of monetary gain.

  • Artistic pride, the satisfaction derived from good craftsman like work
  • An idealistic feeling that you are part of something larger than yourself
  • A general desire to help and deliver good solutions
  • Increasing ones reputation and statue within the community

I found these points to be interesting because I have always embraced the philosophy of empowerment and mentoring over dictating policy and managing to that policy.? In my opinion the difference between a good organization and an insanely great organization is the ability to apply concepts such as the ones discussed above, so everyone participates in a culture where free thinking, innovation, empowerment, reputation, recognition, and responsibility are allowed to flourish.? The concept of totalitarian rule is ignorant and stifles innovation.? Empowerment is the key to innovation and ultimately greatness!

-RJB

Just when we though we had the model nailed…

I just finished reading an article about how Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is investing 12.6 million in the Chinese market.? It appears the Maharashtra (literal translation: "Great Nation"), India based consulting firm is leveraging the even lower cost of labor in China.? With tech salaries rising at 15% a year in India the consulting company is looking to cash in on the low wage labor in China.? This should not be hard to do with monthly salaries for programmers in high-tech hot spots like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen between $600 and $960.? TCS already has a secured the first China based contract with Microsoft for $2 million.? Is this the beginning of a trend where the proven low cost outsourcer is looking to move up the food chain and play middle man while developing technical expertise in low wage markets?

-RJB