Friday, August 4, 2017

Editing for Charity!

Let's try something different.

I often remark to others about how many, if not most, blog posts in the technical community are poorly-written heaps of primitive sentences and borrowed notions masquerading as original thought. And I make it a point to praise well-written blogs, because I believe in positive re-inforcement.

In other words, writing is hard. Most people are bad at it.

But it occurs to me that I'm guilty as well of dangling a participle or two, or even being bold enough to sloppily split infinitives.
Get your red pen ready.

So, here's the rub of this post: I welcome you to read through any of the posts I've published over the last four years in search of egregious grammar goof-ups or plain ol' typos. If When you find one, you have a few options:

  1. Post a comment describing the error
  2. Send me an email
  3. @ me on twitter (even though I don't post anymore often, I still read my timeline)
Of the three options, I'd highly recommend the second. The goal of this post is not to drive up engagement, or to generate ad revenue (I don't put ads on my site anyway). The goal is a bit more charitable.

For each unique typo or mistake you find, I'll donate $5 to SARC, an amazing organization in Maryland that provides support to victims and survivors of domestic abuse. On the off-chance that this idea takes off, I'm placing a maximum of $1,000 on this campaign. As far as contests go, let's start this today (August 4, 2017) and wrap it up in 30 days (September 3, 2017).

So do your best and find my worst. I may argue usage errors with you, because I enjoy spirited debate. But a tie goes to the runner, so I'll relent when an impasse occurs.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

.next 2017 in DC

Just a few observations on the Thursday keynote and a few sessions at the .next 2017 conference in Washington, D.C.

Location, Location, Location

The conference organizers picked a great spot for the event. The Nutanix .next conference is a young tech conference, and doesn't yet pull the massive crowds that established events can pull. But that's not a criticism, it's a compliment: VMworld and CiscoLive have grown into such massive events that it's easy to get lost in the swag-seeking throngs and never establish a connection with anyone. And yes, I know that many people will share their opinion that conferences are just opportunities, and taking advantage of these opportunities is ultimately up to the attendee. True, mostly. But I've always preferred a small group of similarly interested parties over 25,000 people bouncing from vendor party to vendor party.

The Gaylord National easily accommodated the group, albeit it with more than a few trips up and down the escalators. And as a resident of the greater Baltimore area, I found getting to and from the event to be surprisingly reasonable. One of the reasons I don't attend more of these events is less about the cost of attending and more about the time commitment. But I don't feel guilty about spending a long day or two learning and networking.

Finally, D.C. gets very few events like this that I'm interested in attending. So kudos to Nutanix for serving the tech community of the DMV.

VM... who?

It's no secret that the relationship between NTNX and VMW is wrought with years of competition and, in some cases, exceptionally crude name calling (tweeps, you know what I'm talking about). But since the Nutanix IPO, they're toned down their messaging, which is a very welcome change. I admire the tech of both companies, and have good friends who are committed to each. The vitriol was approaching "us vs. them" territory. But at .next 2017, VMware was only mentioned as a supported platform and partner for VDI solutions. I heard no back-handed compliments or snarky remarks. Instead, the focus was on the features of ACH, Xi, and Calm. We all know that certain individuals at Nutanix love to go competitive whenever they have the chance. But it's my opinion that customers and tech enthusiasts don't care for the sniping, and would prefer a conference that focuses on the strengths of a product, not the comparative value of solutions.

Cost

I don't attend many conferences these days due to my schedule, and it's rare that I can take an entire week off of work to fly out of town and rack up $5,000 or so in total attendance costs. But the .next organizers offered day passes, which turned out to be perfect for me. I was able to review the agenda before determining which day would be most relevant to my work, and buy a pass for that day alone. I caught some great sessions (including Chris Wahl's session on vester and automation in general), bumped into a few old friends (Saddler!), and only ducked out twice for work-related conference calls. The is a great option when the event is within a reasonable drive from home.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Updates from Ravello

Ravello Scooter, circa 2014
In 2014, Ravello Systems set up their booth at the VMworld expo hall and offered a pretty startling proposition: run your vSphere VMs in the cloud, and do it natively. It's that last bit that had everyone buzzing. We were all familiar with various methods for converting a VM from one virtualization solution to another, but we hadn't seen a working demonstration of forklifting a VM and dumping it in a cloud.

Also, they had scooters.

I stopped by the booth that year and had a chance to speak with some really smart and enthusiastic people about nested virtualization. And while it's been a few years, I'm confident that I spoke with Shruti Bhat, who presented Ravello's solutions to the tech bloggers at Virtualization Field Day in 2015. She set me up with some complimentary access to the solution (this was back when I was a #vExpert, after all), and I walked away from the booth pretty excited about where this tech would lead us.

Lots of home labs popped up in Ravello shortly thereafter. People were really excited about this stuff.

Skip ahead to 2016: Oracle buys Ravello, and we assume the worst: Ravello is the walking dead, a promising solution that's about to be assimilated into... something. Things get quiet, time passes. We pack away the scooters, neatly fold our "Clouds are for the birds... my VMs are nested" t-shirts, and move along.

The Rebirth of Slick

But now, Ravello is back in a big way. And not just with an exciting roadmap of features, but also with a clear direction and place in Oracle's cloud strategy. Here's a quick overview for you.

On-Prem to Cloud Migration

It's only slightly more complicated than this image suggests.
There's no point in offering a cloud solution if you don't give customers a really easy-to-use on-boarding process. Oracle Public Cloud is now more accessible thanks to Ravello, which can run your VMware VMs on AWS, Google, and now Oracle's Public Cloud. Smart move to bring a smart nested virtualization solution in-house to make cloud adoption that much easier.

The HVX Hypervisor

We don't spend a lot of time talking about Type 2 hypervisors these days, but HVX might change that. Initially, Ravello was a consumer of AWS and Google cloud resources, so they were required to build their solution within the elastic instances in the cloud. But Oracle's cloud removes that constraint, and we can expect to see a Type 1 version of HVX in a future release. If we've learned anything about virtualization, it's that the closer your hypervisor is to compute, memory, and storage, the faster your VMs will run. Expect major performance increases when HVX attains Type 1 status in Oracle's Bare Metal Cloud.

Blueprints

Personally, I cringe when I see the word blueprints used in cloud workspaces, because it makes me think of people who use the word "architect" as a verb. And it attempts to elevate routine tasks into something grand. Nevertheless, the word persists.

In Ravello's defense, they have a refreshingly simple interface to use when you are connecting your nested VMs using the magic of overlays. It's got a slick UX, too. Just connect your VMs to the network topology that you create in the cloud, and you're good. Yes, I'm oversimplifying. But not by much.



SDN, With Actual Purpose

The networking magic is what makes Ravello so compelling. SDN is among the most over-used and mis-understood topics in tech, most often because vendors struggle to explain why the technology is relevant to their customer's use cases. Ravello doesn't suffer that problem, though.

Ravello's SDN enables the forklifting of your on-prem VMs through an importing process. But when your VM is uploaded to Ravello, how does it communicate with your other VMs? Through an SDN solution, that's how. You can either roll your own virtual network, or use Automatic Network Generation and Auto Binding to have Ravello do the work for you. This is insanely useful if you're less interested in networking and more interested in testing your application.

Basically, Ravello went into hiding after the Oracle acquisition, and now we are getting a peek into what they're been up to. Cool tech and practical use cases: a rare combination these days!

Note: Many thanks to John Troyer for setting up #rbd1, and for also setting up a post-event personal demo with Simon Law from Oracle. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Mr. Cole, Please

David Bowie died while I was stuck in traffic in Baltimore, which is probably an OK place to be when someone who's work you've, on occasion, admired, dies. You can bet on the local listener-supported public radio station to quickly assemble a memorial playlist, replete with the appropriate mix of hits and "deep cuts." But most of Bowie's work is "deep cuts" in the age of streaming music and digital audio. No one wants genius anymore.

Baltimore traffic is horrific, you should know. But it's nothing compared to D.C. traffic, which is almost enjoyably bad. Gridlock gave me time to, as the millennials say, process the Thin White Duke's passing. But it was less process and more shruggie, because why shouldn't Bowie die? We're all dying. Then I realized the traffic had gotten to me, so I exited the highway somewhere in Columbia to find a Wawa. Coffee fixes everything that a bad commute can break.

Back in the car now, and re-focused on my destination: a technology road show in downtown D.C., where tie-less executives would espouse the benefits of Azure and attempt to dazzle world-weary engineers with simply stunning stats on cloud adoption. I've forgotten all of them. But I'm fairly sure they were stunning at the time. At least all of the attendees sporting Microsoft logos and product names seemed stunned.

But before I arrive at the hotel that was hosting the event, my father calls to tell me my grandmother has died. His mom, my gram, my last grandparent. We expected this, as her last weeks in hospice were awful, like watching a flower wilt. My father spoke in a voice that fathers use when they don't want their children to know they're heartbroken. Hearing that voice was as devastating as hearing that gram had died.

I was somewhere on New York Avenue, in NE, where the construction rearranges lane markings in a manner that befuddles even those of us who could drive D.C. blindfolded. I don't remember how I got there, but suddenly I was in the lower levels of a hotel, I can't remember which one. I know that we're supposed to remember more about days when something significant happens; I've listened to Season 1 of Serial more times than most people. But I can't remember getting from place to place on January 10, 2016. I just remember being places.

I attend the tech event, and as usual I walk in after the lights have dimmed and the keynote speaker has taken the stage. In a former life, I curated my professional brand to support a nascent career as an influencer, so I was supposed to go bananas over events like these. But I looked too closely at the world of influence marketing, recoiled at the use of words like "goodness" and "expert," and quietly moved on.

The short version is that the Azure Roadshow was terrible, and I felt terrible, so I left.

I could have taken the elevator down to the garage below, found my car, paid whatever ridiculous parking fee one pays to park in D.C., and went home. Maybe I should have.

Instead, I notice that the National Gallery of Art was only a few blocks away, and I remember that when I think of who I think I am, I think I'm the kind of person that visits art galleries often, even though I don't. And of course there was the opportunity to drink hot coffee outside in the cold. Never pass those up.

I set out towards the NGA, with a specific idea of what to admire while there. It's a series of paintings I had learned about while struggling in my senior studio art class so long ago, a series of four paintings depicting the stages of a man's life. You've likely seen one or more of these paintings, even if you don't care for art much, because they pop up everywhere. It's Thomas Cole's The Voyage of Life, and once you've lived through a crisis or two, it'll evoke all of those pent-up emotions you've been evading.

Security in Smithsonian museums requires the inspection of bags, and that backpacks be worn on a single shoulder, not both. This isn't a vestige of security theatre in the beltway sense; it's a matter of protecting artwork from the accidental bump that's likely with a large backpack behind you. I didn't have a backpack anyway, but I always thought it strange. I only know this because I just looked it up.

At the information desk, just beyond the security station, I see a docent, a woman, enjoying the whimsy of her encore career as an unpaid evangelist of the arts. I resist the temptation to use my phone to locate the four paintings; talking to people is still a favorite pastime. I walk up and announce the reason for my visit: "Mr. Cole, please."

She knows exactly what I'm looking for. And after she shares the room number with me, she says, reassuringly, "It's always good to know which boat you're in."

She's right.


To be continued.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How to Read Documentation at Work

Reading. It's awesome. You're doing it now, and good for you. Also, thank you.

What you may have forgotten is that reading is more than just pointing your eyes at some text and recognizing that text as language. Reading incorporates comprehension of what you're reading. As one of my former co-workers told me years ago, "If you read something, and don't understand it, you haven't read it."

In technical circles, reading is a near-constant activity. We're reading release notes on patches, we're reading installation guides for new software, we're reading messages from colleagues. Reading requires dedicated time and 100% of your attention; it's not something you can multi-task. It's not. No. No, YOU'RE wrong.

The problem with devoting your attention to reading is that, to the pointy-haired types and nosy cube neighbors of the world, reading sure looks an awful lot like doing nothing. Personally, when I'm reading something at work, I slouch in my chair and rest my left hand against my chin. I mean, it really does look like I'm kirked out or whatever the kids say these days. But I'm not. I'm learning.

So to provide some cover for my fellow at-work readers, I present to you the most stupid PowerShell script I've ever written. It's also the best.

My goal was to find a simple command that would produce the busiest wall of rapidly changing text that I could let go without worrying about it. And since update-help is something we should all run on occasion, I went with it. The -verbose makes it noisier, and the -force makes it run more than once in a 24 hour period. The while statement is just the stupid part that makes the do loop run as long as you can get to www.google.com, which is always.

Run this, move the window to whichever monitor you think is most visible from the doorway to your workspace, and read in peace. It'll look like you're busy doing... something? If someone asks what you're doing, just say it has to do with cloud services and the compiler in the micro segmentation containerized SDN topology. That'll chase them away.



via GIPHY

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Charles Town

we’ll follow a sparrow, an owl, and a hawk,
you’ll scrawl all your visions on vacants in chalk,
then i’ll carve a totem i cannot explain,
and we’ll never go back to our old house again.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Killing the Witnesses

while i paced in long ovals, flicking ashes into the hedges,
the trees, too old to bend to capricious gusts of wind,
waited and pretended not to listen
to phone calls with realtors and repairmen.

like witnesses, with canopies stretched out over my head,
like the first moments of an embrace, paused.




Friday, March 17, 2017

In Defense of Shadow IT

Spend any measurable amount of time listening to a vendor presentation, and you'll hear undoubtably hear the phrase "Shadow IT." If you're not familiar with the term, it's used to describe a situation in which users circumnavigate corporate or centralized technology teams and solutions in favor of other services, primarily public cloud services.

For example, a user may opt to deploy an application to AWS instead of going through the in-house development and operations channels. Or a developer might spin up some test applications in Google Cloud Platform because her IT organization didn't know their kubernetes from their vmkernels.

Vendors hold up Shadow IT as a perfect example of what's wrong with technology, namely cloud computing, and will happily share with you their solutions intended to stop it.

In the eyes of the vendor, shadow IT is the problem.

In fact, shadow IT is a solution. The real problem is officious, ineffective delivery organizations hellbent on dictating how IT should be consumed. More specifically, the real problem is IT organizations that, instead of listening to the needs of its customers, continue to offer the same catalogue of services from a decade ago.

Oh, you'd forgotten about HoJo? Me, too.
It's the same type of problem that forced Howard Johnson's restaurants to nearly disappear from the map: the problem wasn't that people weren't eating at HoJos, the problem was that HoJos had excruciatingly shitty food. No amount of begging customers to come back will make a difference when your product doesn't directly address their needs.

It's Not Your Customers, It's You

If you work in an organization that views shadow IT as a problem to be addressed, you work in a broken IT organization. Your users aren't the problem; you are. Users don't embrace shadow IT (and really, we shouldn't even call it that anymore, because users don't think to themselves, "I think I'll circumvent my company's IT policies and not use their servers," they think, "I need to get my work done and my company's IT shop can't, or won't, help me."), they embrace creative problem solving when faced with hang-wringing and stonewalling from their internal IT department.

IT exists to enable application delivery in support of the business. And application developers will find a way to deploy their apps no matter how incapable their IT shops may be.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How to Get-OverYourself and Learn PowerShell

If you listen to the evangelists, you'd probably think that in 2017, there is only one person who isn't using PowerShell: you. Everyone else not only gets it, but uses it to automate all of their work, including manipulating databases, monitoring systems, interviewing candidates, and filing IPOs. And the simple fact that you don't use it makes you a dinosaur. Frankly, it's amazing that you're even employed.

Luckily, you don't listen to evangelists. They spend too much time on Twitter and not enough time in the trenches.

So let's quit talking about PowerShell like it's the harbinger of change in the technology world. It's a scripting language1. Not the first, not the last, not the best, not the worst. It's not going to change your life. If you're unhappy with your job, learning PowerShell may be a temporary distraction from your unhappiness, but it's not going to change your sentiment with regard to your work.

I'm telling you this because you should have realistic expectations, in general, but specifically with new technology.

Once you've taken a moment to reconsider your opinion of PowerShell as panacea, continue reading.

Ready?

Now that you've gotten rid of the anxiety surrounding PowerShell, you are ready to see its strengths and weaknesses more clearly. For example, if you're looking to make a simple change to a number of servers, PowerShell is a great tool. If you're looking to deploy patches to a mission-critical database server, you're better off with another solution. PowerShell, like most automation solutions, is ideal for 1:many actions. The work is front-loaded; spend time developing a solution, then use automation to scale that solution out.

This is all to say that you should not consider PowerShell as a foreign language to learn only to remain relevant in IT. You should consider it as a technology that can change how you approach your work, especially when you're managing an infrastructure at scale.

Consider a timely example that we're dealing with in the Microsoft shops of the world: the mass disabling of SMBv1. In Server 2012 and newer, there's a PowerShell cmdlet that can be used to enable and disable SMB on a remote server. And even though you immediately think to yourself, "I can do this in a GPO," I submit to you that PowerShell is a much cleaner way to implement this type of minor change, if for no other reason than you're avoiding GPO hell, which is like .dll hell, but with a GUI.

With PowerShell, you can query AD for a list of computers, filter out the server running 2012 and newer, and invoke a remote cmdlet to disable SMBv1 on as many servers as you'd like, all in one fell swoop2. You don't need to worry about WMI filtering in GPOs, or wondering if your custom method of settings registry values will work on all versions of Windows Server. You just put a few lines of PowerShell together, and go.

The point of this post is not to show you the script itself (although I'll follow this post up with a post that includes the deets, because I oscillate wildly between essays and engineering). The point is that PowerShell really is an amazing chunk of code, and once you get your mind right about why you'd use it, learning PowerShell is fun.

1 - PowerShell MVPs and enthusiasts of all stripes just rolled their eyes so hard they can see their own brain stem.
2 - Your high school English teacher would really appreciate it if you'd read Macbeth, really read it, not just skim the first act and confuse it with Hamlet, which you should also read. Thanks.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Maryland VMUG Gets Real

A few years ago, I complained that VMUG meetings were too heavy on pres-sales and product-
pitches to suffer through in order to get any useful technical information, and that the technical information on current VMware offerings was increasingly irrelevant to a customer base that wasn't keeping up with vSphere releases. The VMUG formula was predictable and tiring: vendor sales presentation, vendors sales presentation, food, and a brief discussion on actual VMware products. Sometimes the sales presentations were only tangentially related to vSphere or vRealize.

VMUG images hosted on AWS? lolwut
But the worst part was that the users group wasn't really a users group. It was a small group of interested technologists listening to VMUG leaders and vendors. Few and far between were the interactive, informative, informal conversations between fellow vSphere or vRA (or View, if that's your thing). You had to wait until the meeting was over before you could really network with your fellow VMUG members. Sad!

In fact, I'd stopped attending the local meetings as a direct result. I still browse the agenda for the meetings, but they haven't caught my attention.

Until now.

Tomorrow afternoon at 4pm, the MDVMUG is trying something new: no vendor presentations, just HOL and NSX.


This is a much welcomed change from the typical format of these meetings, and I'm very glad to see the focus rightly returned to sharing knowledge and encouraging professional development and networking among VMware users.

Show your support for your local VMUG, especially when they're taking steps to address criticism. I'll be there tomorrow night!