Thursday, February 20, 2014

Unplugging Yourself from Your Matrix of Choice

And wouldn't you know it? I did it anyway. Damnit.
I end up writing about technical communities often. I've shared advice on Community Fatigue and Coffee Makers. I'm often found at MDVMUG meetings, vBeers in the DC/Baltimore area, and generally any virtualization social group. And I'm usually active on Thwack.

But lately, I'm spending time with something new, something well outside of the virtualization and infrastructure worlds I've lived in for, well, forever. Now I'm diving into the world of ServiceNow. I'm defining the ServiceNow program for a large federal agency. I'm paying close attention to ITSM and operational metrics. And I'm getting out of the office as I visit with lots of smart people hidden in nondescript buildings distributed through Montgomery County.

But forget about all that for a minute. Here's the really crazy part: ServiceNow is a universe unto itself.

The ServiceNow universe has characteristics similar to the VMware, Cisco, and SolarWinds universes:

  • Online communities - Look! An online community of like-minded IT practitioners and professionals who shared knowledge and help one another. Hell, it even uses Jive.
  • Active Twitter feeds - Just when I thought my filter bubble was unbreakable, I started following ServiceNow evangelists and users, and now it's all different and new!
  • User Groups - I attended the Federal SNUG today, and was shocked how many people were there talking exclusively about ServiceNow.
  • Conferences - Knowledge14 is coming up, and people are so excited, you'd think they were talking about VMworld or something!

But none of this is the point.

Here's the point: when you're in the depths of any technical community or universe, you lose your holistic perspective on IT. Your opinions and assumptions are based on a niche; you think that the world exists to stand in awe of the technology you're focused on. I used to think that about VMware. The world existed to be saved by virtualization and vSphere.

Each technical community you engage with is your own personal Matrix. You can't see how warped your perceptions are, and how easily your opinions are manipulated by marketing materials (yes, even technical marketing). But if you unplug yourself, even if it's just momentarily while you're preparing to plug into a new Matrix, you gain (or regain, perhaps) that clarity and perspective.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

PowerShell Script to Restore cleanmgr on Windows Server 2008 R2

Windows Server 2008 R2 is without a doubt my favorite server OS. It replaced w2k3r2 for me (because no one liked 2008, amirite?) and I'll venture to say that its stability is the primary reason for the lagging adoption of Server 2012 (and 2012 R2 for that matter). 10 years from now, it will be the Windows XP of the Server world.

But there's one major annoyance with w2k8r2: cleanmgr.exe isn't enabled by default. I finally had enough of manually moving cleanmgr.exe and cleanmgr.exe.mui into the correct directories from within winsxs, so I fired up PowerShell ISE and wrote a two line script to automate that task for me.

To be honest, I just wanted an excuse to fool with PowerShell a bit. I don't spend enough time with PS, and want to fix that.

So here's the script, two lines of PowerShell glory:

You can probably do this in one line, right? If so, let's see it!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What are you learning?

The prof from my "Romancing the Booze" (yes, that really was a class that, as an English major and a 21 year old punk filled with angst, I was qualified to enroll in) asked a provocative question twice a semester. He'd devote the entire class to asking and answering a simple question: what are you learning?

Normally, the class fell silent for a moment after hearing the question. The prof was a clever man, so we all waited for the catch, or waited for a classmate to fall for the trap so we could pretend like we all saw it coming. Finally, a student offered, "I'm learning that alcoholism is a common theme in modern literature." A safe, resigned answer. Honestly, if you weren't learning that, you were missing the entire point of the class. A few other students offered similar responses, but the prof looked disappointed with each comment.

He asked us what assumptions we had made with the question. Yes, we were all learning something. But why did we limit our answers to the context of the class? We answered the question we inferred, not the question we were asked.

I think about my experience in that class (and its follow-up called "Gambling and the Gambler") as I spend time on a new project lately. I spend a lot of time trying to catalog what I'm learning. Not just technical knowledge, but learning in general. So here's a list of what I'm learning these days:

I made a mistake when I started the #eager0
I started blogging in January 2013 for two reasons: I had some downtime at work, and I wanted to pursue the VMware vExpert 2013 title (I wrote a post about that experience). There was my mistake: I was doing this primarily for the recognition. Sometimes, even exclusively. And I gave it such a narrow focus: Data Center Virtualization with VMware. In my defense, that was my role at the time. And that's what I cared most about.

Of course, I submitted an application for vExpert 2014, like any self-respecting VMware blogger would. But this time around, I'm markedly less excited about it. Virtualization with vSphere is not my primary role any longer. In 2013 I was disappointed to be rejected from the program. In 2014, I had almost forgotten about it.

Bad things happen to good people
Without going into detail, let me just say that the last two months have been catastrophically difficult for my family. It's the kind of bad that you don't realize is even possible until you're right in the middle of it. We're consumed with worry and anger, and speak in rueful sentence fragments. We will live through this. We have to. That's our mantra. Sometimes, we even believe it.

I like writing more than I like writing about VMware
I studied English in college because I loved literature. And although I've been into technology ever since my dad brought home a Tandy from the local Radio Shack, I've always dreamed of writing for a living. But I had such naive notions of what that meant when I was about to graduate. I expected to find a posting in the Jobs section that read, "Novelist wanted, no experience required." Instead I took a job as a technical writer, and one day when the network administrator ragequit to spend more time surfing, I moved into his office and became an IT guy. It's one of my favorite stories to tell. But maybe it's the worst story I have. It's a story of leaving a job that was at least tangentially related to my dream, for a job that was more aligned with my abilities. Some would say this is a first world problem; they'd be correct... to a degree. But drop the categorical imperative for a moment. On a personal level, it may have been a first order mistake.

What's Next?
I'm not going to focus on VMware any longer. I'll write about VMware as I see fit, but I'm not going to ignore the vast majority of my experience and knowledge just to keep filing posts that are in a vain attempt to achieve vendor recognition.

I'll spend more time with my other blogs, including BIMBY | Bugs In My Back Yard. It's a creative outlet that I'm not fully taking advantage of, and I will change that.

And I'll keep reminding myself to stop telling people what you're going to do, and only tell people what you've done.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Virtual Switches and Dinosaur Teeth

"Dude, that's a shark's tooth."
You can make some educated guesses about the life of a dinosaur just by examining a single fossilized tooth. You can guess its size, whether it was carnivorous, and whether it was a predator or a scavenger. Sure, you can be wrong, but it's an educated guess based on trace amounts of evidence.

It's this idea that I keep in mind when I'm getting to know a new vSphere implementation. I don't need access to vCenter, or to see vCOps data to get a good idea of what's going on. I just need to ask one question: "What kind of virtual switches do you use?"

The answer tells me a lot about the maturity and complexity of the infrastructure, and even informs me about the skill level of the technical staff who manage the environment. Here's what I think about the answers:

"We only use vSS"

Primitive deployment of vSphere. Perhaps it's the original deployment from many years ago, just maintained and upgraded in place without any notion of redesign or modernization. Most likely, if a shop is using pure vSS, there's little to no automation in place. Hosts and VMs are configured by hand. I'll make the leap and assume that people are asleep at the vWheel here, and aren't aware of advances in the vSphere product, or in the capabilities of the dvSwitches on the market.

"We use vDS"

Interesting. vDS indicates that someone who knows a thing or two about vSphere Networking spent some time with this design. That, or someone got lucky while messing around on a quiet Friday afternoon. And since vDS opens up so many more networking features (especially in these last two releases of vSphere), I assume that there's some semi-exotic magic in play here. But I also assume that, since a vDS can greatly simplify your host networking configuration in an HA cluster, there just might be some automation involved. Maybe host profiles, maybe Auto Deploy.

"We use vSS and vDS"

Either you're insane or brilliant. TBD.

"We use the 1000v"

Ugh. This tells me that your workplace suffers from organizational problems that technology alone cannot solve. Or maybe you needed the functionality that only the 1000v provided. But as the vDS matures, the 1000v loses a lot of its exclusivity claims, and the complexity begins to outweigh the benefits. (Don't get me wrong; I tried to love the 1000v for a long time. I just find it hard to justify these days.)

Now before you jump all over me for making gross assumptions and oversimplifications and judgmental statements about Cisco's dvSwitch, let me say this: when you look at a single data point, you can't describe a line with any degree of certainty. But just like dinosaur teeth can tell you about dinosaurs, virtual switches can give you a glimpse into the maturity of a vSphere environment.