Wouldn’t it be nice if a quick internet search was all it took to learn everything you needed to know to build the latest and greatest technologies? Recently I attended a local technology forum in Bellevue, called SEA-Tech-Forum, and found some interesting technologies. The problem in most networks is the migration path to a new environment. For enterprise level Fortune 500 businesses millions, in some cases billions of dollars have been set aside for these types of transitions. Needless to say the small, medium and even large businesses don’t have those types of resources for these types of major transitions. After listening to the conversation I thought there were some interesting ideas about that would affect the future direction of modern network architecture.
First let’s talk about system migration. The reality is that hardware and software ages and eventually needs to be replaced. As data systems become more and more complicated seamless migrations become more and more expensive and complex. I’m paraphrasing one of the speakers Christopher Brown, one of the lead developers for Amazon’s EC2 systems, companies like Microsoft and Amazon dedicate over a billion dollars to migrating systems to the next stage in their development. How do businesses who may make less than 20, 10 or even ½ a million dollars a year compete?
I think cloud technology is one of the great equalizers. One of the problems with the Google online solutions is the complexity. Christopher’s company OPSCODE helps larger businesses develop online solutions that help free businesses from the ball and chain that an on-premise network is becoming.
Yet what about medium and small business owners?
Just a few years ago I was working with a 10 million dollar company with about twenty servers all approaching 10 years of age. Instead of choosing the cloud the CTO chose a virtual on-premise system. Replacing the on-premise physical boxes would have cost between $100,000 and $150,000. Add the extended warrantee costs and the project before calculating software licensing and labor, was close to $200,000 dollars. The CTO chose an on-premise virtual system that cost about $150,000 and would run all the servers after they were converted from physical to virtual systems.
It’s was intriguing to see another speaker, Paul Morse Director of Cloud systems for US Micro, introduced a desktop virtual system that would do the exact same thing for about $15,000. The system runs 20 virtual servers with about 700 watts of power. Unlike most business quality servers the entire system can be run on a desk in the middle of an office without being highly noticeable.
If you are an IT architect looking for systems to test on, this system is designed for testing new environments. We know that part of migrating system is the migration path. One can do an “In-Place” upgrade where the original hardware is upgraded with new software. This is always risky because of compatibility issues with older hardware and undocumented changes that may have been made to the system. Plus there is seldom a roll back option when a problem occurs.
A better option is to build a duplicate environment that is an exact bit for bit duplicate of the production environment. Then testing and fixing problems in the duplicate environment as they come up. Finally the new environment becomes the production environment with a simple cut over process. The fall back is the original production environment if anything disastrously unexpected occurs in the new production environment.
I think about the headaches I could have overcome by placing a $15,000 sandbox of the entire system on every developer desktop. In my bank environment I had 5 test environments with 10 server types. The final production environment had over 200 servers, routing between four separate subnets and included 3 separate security access systems. Each test environment added complexity until the last environment matched the production environment component for component.
Today’s cloud environments could be built to support this type of development. Companies like Wowrack support custom virtualized environments for both software development and production environments in private and public cloud. Companies like Fuse Networks allow private and public hosted data and telecom systems with desktop incident management that support these types of scenarios. Finally there is the US Micro CriKit system that allows management of a virtual cloud right on the desktop. Virtual machines on the desktop can move through the test environment much more effectively than the on-premise way of doing things.
As the owner of a small Seattle IT Consulting firm, I’m wondering if these types of systems could be used in development, test or even as a replacement for a small production network?]]>
A few years ago one of my Seattle IT clients wanted to update their email systems from Groupware to Exchange. This is not an uncommon request. The company had 13 offices across the Northwest including Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The company has offices in Seattle but their data center is in a small town south of Seattle. When I drove down to the data center I noticed signs pointing out the evacuation paths in case Mt Rainier (an active Volcano) should erupt. I was struck by the incongruity of a data center, for a major multi-million dollar company, built near one of the most active volcanoes in North America. Before scoffing consider that the likelihood of eruption is high enough that the state has invested resources and created an evacuation plan for when the volcano erupts.
So let’s say this volcano erupted what happens to the revenue of the organization?
This is the question business continuity planning answers for the business owner. Recently I’m discussing this problem with Peter DiSantis. Peter works with a Seattle business association we both belong to, called BizEnrich. Peter heads up a BizEnrich Business Continuity committee focused on this question of how to maintain business revenue during and after a major business disaster. In his blog article titled Continuity is Essential to your Business! Peter discusses issues around disaster recovery considerations that we as IT Consultants and technical architects should also be thinking about.
When I talk to my clients about the subject I start with a question about the smallest denominator. Then the questions encompass more and more scope. For example:
Often this is the first time these questions have been asked. Those that have asked these questions in the past, seldom have up to date answers. This is because as the business grows, the company also outgrows its own technology without realizing it. Yesterday’s answers are often inadequate for today’s problems.
One client when asked, “What is the process if the site is lost?” responded…
“We take the insurance on the business and we retire to Hawaii.
This is actually not just a joke, but truly a legitimate answer a real business problem. This is a very simple solution that a business transition expert might even applaud.
More recently I’ve been working with Cloud providers like Fuse Networks to provide a remote solution to the problem of disaster recovery. A cloud provider like fuse networks can provide an offsite solution that will not be affected by a local disaster. These hosting providers can provide hosted software and/or platform services as well as hosted telephony solutions for their customers.
In Seattle, IT consulting plans must deal with lots of unusual and potentially devastating natural disasters. Not just famous for its rain the problems can include major flooding, traffic problems due to snow and ice storms. Combine this with the risk of volcanic eruptions. You may not have to deal with volcanoes but each area has its own natural disaster potentials to consider. Business continuity should be a major consideration for the architect developing a modern network architecture disaster recovery plan is essential when protecting the core business data.
I’m curious how your organization handles business continuity planning.
ITIL and MOF are two strategies that help manage the complexity and sometimes chaotic processes internal to many IT departments. When I started in technology, if you were any good, you were probably a cowboy. Cowboys were great because you could quickly get things done. Cowboys later became poison because nobody could keep track of everything on the network. The top cowboy became the organizational technology support bottleneck. Business growth was often limited not by the sales team or the production line, but rather the level of understanding of the Cowboy. This led to the question for management, “…how do we manage an IT department?” ITIL and MOF became two common methods that allowed management to hold IT services groups accountable. The modern network architect struggles with how to implement technology in the most effective way.
Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) is a series of guides aimed at helping information technology (IT) professionals establish and implement reliable, cost-effective services.
The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), is a set of good practices for IT service management (ITSM) that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business.
When I come into a new network the first question I ask is, “Where’s the documentation.” The first reply is usually, “We have no documentation.” Sometimes the IT Department laughs at me for asking that question. The next laugh is on them because we begin the documentation process.
ITIL and MOF are all about documentation. Fortunately both systems have done a great deal of the documentation for you. As an IT consultant the reason I ask for documentation is that I don’t want to pick up someone else’s mess. If you take over a network, IT department or Technology System you take over all the headaches and mistakes of the last person who managed the department. The reason they last person isn’t working there is because the department probably outgrew the last IT Manager’s skillset. I find that identifying the documentation problem is the first step. Then I can start developing the roles, SLAs and business processes of the department. Fortunately ITIL has all this documented. I don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Just customize it to the new group or department.
In business managers define business process with management points. Each management point has a quantifiable business value that helps the manager understand what is going on throughout the process. MOF is heavily into process and management points. Most IT departments are managed by technical people who think that it’s all about the technology. They have their own language and processes. Are those processes good? Most of the time, from a business standpoint, these processes are convoluted and created by a technician interested in making his/her own job easier. With MOF we can take the most obtuse technical process and build structured management points around that process.
By understanding the roles and business processes like MOF and ITIL modern network architecture is not just more business stable, but is also more technically stable. Cloud architecture is being built utilizing a standard business and process architecture. Older networks function between 85% and 95% availability averaging a month of downtime per year. Modern network architecture functions at a minimum of 99.9% (about 15 minutes of downtime per year). There are even some cloud network and unified communication providers that provide a 100% SLA to customers. This is unheard of in only 5 years ago for most network environments. ITIL and MOF standards have changed network infrastructure in a way that makes cloud services possible and profitable.]]>
I don’t think I’ve worked on a single fortune 500 companies that don’t use a managed services model. Managed services gives a company a competitive edge by reducing the time spent searching log files. In addition these systems allow management the ability to hold their IT department accountable in new ways. The modern network architect plans, implements and utilizes managed services in their infrastructure designs.
When I began most system administrators had figured out that to keep their jobs, they needed to know the systems. The first two hours every morning was spent reading and researching log files. Then running through the change control to patch and fix systems long before customers complained about system failure. Managed services is the practice of transferring day-to-day related management responsibility as a strategic method for improved effective and efficient operations inclusive of Production Support and lifecycle build/maintenance activities.
A stitch in time… As an IT Consultant I have found that system failures show up in the log files long before the system fails. By identifying those small system failures early, disastrous system failures can be caught and repaired early. I also explain that very few disastrous failure come with no early warning. A stitch in time refers to the old wife’s tale about darning stockings while the hole is small. Networks are similar. Before they fail, small holes begin to form. By “darning” the network major disasters are avoided. That’s the idea behind managed services.
The success of inexpensive cloud systems and technologies is will be determined by the ability of the Cloud provider to provide stables systems for clients. Whether providing,
Delivery of software as a service over the Internet, eliminating the need to install and run the application on the customer’s own computers and simplifying maintenance and support.
Delivery of a computing platform and/or solution stack as a service, often consuming cloud infrastructure and sustaining cloud applications
Delivery of a platform virtualization environment – as a service, along with raw (block) storage and networking.
The key to success for the Cloud or any on premise system services is reliability. Managed services systems are able to provide 3 and 4 “9″s of service to customers. The modern architect, IT consultant or technology provider must understand and leverage managed services tools and systems for their systems.]]>
I was talking with a client the other day and the subject of SEO came up.
“I didn’t know Search Engine Optimization was IT?“
I was a little taken aback by this. Obviously there is technology involved in SEO, SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and even Social media. There’s obviously information involved in online marketing. So my first question to my fellow technologists is, “Is online marketing a subset of information technology (IT)?” My second question is whether online marketing technologies should be considered when building modern network architecture.
I find that business owners and even some marketers are confused by the whole online marketing phenomena. Business owners are just looking for quantifiable numbers. Unfortunately most people have no numbers and of those that do… well they really aren’t sharing the raw data. When I speak with my Seattle IT consulting clients about the subject I start out by breaking down the internet into,
I’m always being asked, “What’s the best…?” What’s the best computer? What’s the best software? In the case of online marketing, “What’s the best online marketing software or strategy?” If there was a “best” strategy I think everyone would be doing it the same way. Then it wouldn’t be best anymore because everyone else is doing it the same way. The best way would be doing it in a way that other people aren’t doing it… oh and of course is effective.
When face to face I ask my clients lots of discovery questions to help them discover a strategy that will work for them. Since I’m not there I have to ask you to question yourself, “Are you socially focused or analytically focused?”
Social media by its very name implies a socially oriented technology. Imagine a big online cocktail party. According to Ready Set Grow, There are certain rules to understand what social networking “Is” and “is not“. I think the best rule is don’t be the MLM type marketer trying to sell at a cocktail party. There is business done as a result of a party, but not usually during the party. These types of technologies include Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler and many more social media sites.
SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a much more cerebral exercise. Typing in a keyword into a search engine is basically a database query into the search engine’s database of cached websites. The strategy involves anticipating the query that a potential customer might make to this database to find a potential site. To be ranked highly, the strategy also requires becoming influential in those keywords so that your site’s “Keyword Ranking” is higher than other sites like yours.
Hybrid strategies involve a combination of both Social Media and SEO. Each strategy is dependent on a “Keyword” relevance strategy and an authority strategy.
Relevance is about how accurately your site aligns with the keywords your customers typed into the search engine query box.
Authority is about the age, traffic, content, relevance and how many other sites see your site as important. This importance is measured by backlinks the search engine sees on other sites pointing back to your site.
Not all backlinks are equal therefore a strong backlink strategy can reduce the time it takes by years to rank a site. Michael Harztel discusses Inbound Marketing strategy on his site.
A great deal of the planning and process is involved in developing a strong online marketing strategy. Some might think this is more of a business process. At the same time a strong understanding of database theory, website theory all combined with a savvy social understanding of the buying habits of potential buyers goes a long way towards building a strong well branded (see my link to Fenec.co for a better understanding of branding) online presence.
I find that ignoring the technology means losing the technical edge when designing a strong online presence. At the same time ignoring the social science of buying also loses a competitive advantage that could give a more human edge to the strategy. In my mind the answer to my, Seattle IT Services client, regarding SEO/SEM and social networking strategies…, yes they are IT technology.
I’m interested in to your opinion and comments on the subject.]]>
It’s easy to say no. The technology department does not affect the brand of the organization. Technology is just wires, software, routers and other components that support information technology. Yet is this really true?
One of my collaboration partners defines a Brand as more than just your logo. In this article David Dellaire writes that a brand is “… a statement of your culture.” The brand actually touches every aspect of the business including driving customer loyalty and reducing employee turnover. If we think of the business as touching every part of the business, then branding would touch the technology.
If we think about strong technology companies like IBM, Xerox, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft technology plays a strong part of the branding of those companies. If the network architect ignored the branding associated with the technology of say, … IBM… the whole brand of the company would be affected.
The typical technologist doesn’t think about branding. The scope of most technology experts is to focus on systems, maintenance or implementation of technology. The network architect is in an interesting and excited place because he/she ties the interesting parts of both the business and technical world. The better the branding of the organization encompasses the business itself, the stronger the business appears to the outside world.
It does make sense that that technology architected without considering the branding of the organization might be killing your company’s brand.
Those that manage technology understand that modern network architecture is not static. The technician focuses on the day to day tactics for management of the organizations technology. Yet we all know that today’s technology will be changing every few years. Scaling the technical infrastructure is out of the scope of worry for most technology experts. The modern network architect does not have this luxury. Modern network architecture is constantly changing. To maintain the corporate vision the technology architect needs to work with the C-level executives who are focused on the vision of the business a year from now, 5years from now, 10 years from now and beyond.
For my Seattle IT consulting clients I like to break it down to every time the business doubles rather than in time periods. Business doubling is my term and I don’t know that you’ll find it in any business journal. If you think about it though, time doesn’t slow the growth of the business. Limited capacity is what kills business growth.
Any department could be the bottleneck for the organization. I find that technology tends to be the major bottleneck for most organizations. We (I mean technologists) all know it. Yet I talk to technologist after technologist who struggles with technology that needs to be upgraded or replaced. If a server can handle 50 users and is running 100 users the server becomes bogged down. We can imagine what will happen when the management team starts running 200 users on that same system. Bring up the problem with management and it’s always about the money.
I walk into organizations where the technician has been warning the owner about the problems for years. I’ll be warned by the technician that I won’t be able to get any money for the obvious problem we both see. This is one of the values I bring to IT departments because often, just a few weeks later, we have the money and we are beginning the new project. How is this done?
Well a friend of mine was telling me a story about one of her clients. Biz Loan Link, owned by Michelle Goerdel, is a company that specializes in helping businesses find investment money. The story on her website just illustrates that whether your client is a non-profit or a business in the middle of bad economic times, there is money if you know how and/or where to ask for it. You have to think like a business owner. Instead of thinking tactically like most technicians, think about the long term goals of the business. Look at the vision of the company. This about the business transition strategy of the organization.
One of my collaboration partners, Peter Busacca, talks about business transition with his clients. Peter works with clients so that they can get the get the best price for their business. This is a process that can go on for decades. Long before the owner is considering selling the business the owner knows that there will be change. Business transition is about planning that change. Often this planning assumes the sale of the business at some point in the future. Business transition could also be about passing the business on to an heir. If you think about the end goal, there are steps and stages the business must pass to get there.
As a technologist we are one of those steps towards the businesses final transition. When asking for a project we need to clarify why and how the investment in of resources will effect of the business in moving towards that final transition.
The owner will then be motivated to fund your project. This is not a skill we are taught in school. I learned this, from a mentor, 20 years ago when trying to get a project accepted by a non-profit I was working for. The project was accepted when I aligned the project with the vision of the non-profit rather than my own technical intuition. Suddenly there was plenty of money for my project.
I’m curious how other technicians and IT Consulting professionals have gotten money for technology projects and avoided this problem of “… there’s not enough money for this project.”]]>
Technology and Marketing departments seem like such diametrically opposed sides of the business. To the technologist the marketing department can sometimes seem like a group of artists doing their own thing. I always find that the marketing group is always asking for more fonts, have graphic images that are too large for the document and of course issues around color quality printing. What I find though is that if you can get past the artists there’s actually a very sophisticated social science that is a natural fit for the modern network architect. The experts in this science are often far away from their artistic counterparts. These experts are focused on gathering data, research, analysis and strategy.
One of my collaboration partners is a market research company called 5 circles Research. I sit through a lot of meetings with non-technical teams. When I’m at Microsoft, everyone carries a laptop everywhere they go. Outside technology companies though, I’m usually the one bringing a laptop to the meeting. Everyone else in the room is carrying notepads and pens. I’m always surprised at how many people work with pen and paper, but it’s good for me because it means there’s usually an open outlet for my laptop. I was surprised the first time I saw the owner of 5 Circles research in a meeting. Mike Pritchard, was always opening up his laptop as well. In that first time meeting I found he has this interesting habit of checking your numbers by building Excel spread sheets right there in the meeting. As a technologist it’s a little surprising when there’s someone in the room who can actually check your numbers on the fly. Rather than being offended though I was complimented. I’d put a lot of work into my research and it was nice to have someone actually check and verify my numbers.
I learned later that Mike specializes in the numbers of marketing. His company will quantify the human behavior into numbers. So for example: Customer satisfaction, product or concept awareness or importance features. For a technologist that deals in 1′ and 0′s the variety of variables the social scientist has to deal with is daunting. So it’s fascinating to begin understanding how Mike and other marketers can quantify and track human behavior during the buying process. Fascinating was hardly a term I expected to use in reference to marketing.
Most Seattle IT Consulting companies focus on the 1′s and 0′s of the business. In our world of Servers and network infrastructure we often stop just below the application layer. Working in this component layer there is seldom a need to actually talk with people. Yet the modern network architect needs to also look at the business side to evaluate the network from each department, like marketing. The marketing team does need the graphic tools to build finished products. Their images and fonts add a complexity that isn’t found in other groups. In addition though, we need to think about the tools required to measure, estimate, analyze and give balanced types of solutions to their C-level and mid-level managers to help them make solid business decisions for the organization.
As I’ve gotten to know Mike I’ve become more familiar with customer surveys, focus groups and the need to appropriately analyze this data. It’s a bit humbling to realize that there are other analysts in the room whose technical understanding can often have more impact on the organization than mine. I’m curious what tools, software and other considerations other technologist have run into when working with the marketing department.]]>
Does technology have anything to do with business? There are a lot of technology experts that feel their only job is keeping the technology running. Among many technologists there is very little understanding of how the technology they are managing is benefiting or hurting the organization. The job of the modern network architect is to integrate the technology with the corporate culture in a way that expands the productivity and hence the profitability of the organization. Understanding this means stepping away from the technology and looking hard at the company’s vision, strategy, goals and tactics. As a Seattle IT Consultant I see this problem all the time.
To understand the CEO of any organization means understanding strategy vs tactics. C-Level executives are trying to think strategically and the rest of us are thinking tactically. Strategically the C-level executive creates the long term goal. The tactical thinker is thinking about how to accomplish that goal. The tactical thinker doesn’t care about the reason for the long term goal or objective. The tactical thinker is only thinking how to I accomplish the goal.
What if the goal was the wrong goal? The tactical thinker doesn’t care. The Strategic thinker does care about the long term goal. When that long term goal is accomplished, the strategic thinker doesn’t care how about how much work it took to get there. The strategic thinker just wants to get there.
In his article “Why Good Strategic PLANS and PROCESS Matter“, Earl Bell describes the process of developing a strategic plan. C-level manager define the gap between where the company wants to be today and where they want to be in the future. Each long term strategic goal is broken down into a series of sub-goals or milestones. Tactical leaders are assigned the task of accomplishing each milestone. The tactical leader takes a milestone and builds a tactical plan.
As technologists we are often assigned steps or tasks that accomplish a milestone. By the time these tactical steps/tasks are assigned to the technologist the organizational vision has been lost. Often a technician is asked, “…can you do this?” The technician says yes. If the answer is yes the task is assigned. Sometimes the tactic accomplishes the task, but at the expense of the strategic goal.
In his book “CREATING A COLLABORATIVE ENTERPRISE“, Robert Nitschke describes collaboration as a process that requires cooperation, communication and commitment. In the above situation despite cooperation and commitment to the project, the project failed because communication with the technical team was not encouraged.
If the questions had been stated, “…what is the best way to accomplish our long term goal?” The technician could have prepared a better answer. Imagine asking is it possible to walk from Seattle to New York? Well of course it’s possible. Yet if the question where asked, “What is the fastest way to get to New York from Seattle?” The answer might be riding a bike, taking a bus, driving a car or flying a plane. The questioner could decide which of these options best fit the business requirements of the situation.
In the title I implied that the modern network architect could impress the CEO. When the question is asked of the technical architect, “…can you do this?” Instead of saying yes, push back with the question, “Why?” Earl Bell might describe this as part of a “bottom up” up approach. Robert Nitschke might describe this as building collaboration through communication.
What I’ve found is that most management teams are really not sure how to include the technologist in the long term planning of a project. By the same token the technologist is focused on the tactics of implementing technology and has very little understanding of the business strategy. By asking the question, “why?”, the technology architect moves from a tactical to a strategic advisor to the C-level executive team. With strategic advice the C-Level management team can make better strategic decisions for the organization. Advice that helps make better strategic decisions always impresses the CEO.]]>
Collaboration is becoming more and more of a buzz word. Marketers of the cloud and cloud technologies are describing collaboration as a major feature for moving into the cloud. Yet from a technical standpoint what is collaboration? What is the benefit of technical collaboration? What are the tools that will need to be integrated into a virtual architecture that will benefit collaboration in business organizations? As a technical architect I discuss these topics with businesses, management teams and owners. Understanding my IT consulting client’s collaboration needs means I, as an IT consultant, need to understand what collaboration is.
Collaboration or Cooperation we often use these words interchangeably. In his book, CREATING A COLLABORATIVE ENTERPRISE, Robert Nitschke breaks down the collaboration with three quantifiable terms. There is no collaboration without
By breaking down collaboration in this way we can better define a technical system that enables cooperation within at team, within a company or between organizations. Collaborative software systems are a very broad topic. Quantifying a system as a good or bad collaboration system is difficult because the topic is so broad. Utilizing Robert’s breakdown of collaboration allows us to define what makes up a good collaboration system.
Cooperation – The first network that allowed users to share files also allowed cooperation. One of the biggest problems for manufacturing was version control. With 10 designers working on a problem, understanding what version was the correct version has traditionally been a difficult problem. It’s not unusual for the wrong version of a diagram to be sent to manufacturing, and those manufactured and sold to the public. Having a central location where blue prints and diagrams could be stored let everyone track the latest versions. Centralized data storage and version control was an early collaboration system.
Communication – With better version control more engineers could be involved in the design process. As the number of engineers grows on a project, the more difficult it becomes to communicate across the team. Project management software, email, SharePoint and many others became systems for communicating information within a team, across departments and even between organizations.
Commitment – The final piece of the puzzle is commitment. There needs to be a way to track collaboration partners. Accounting needs to understand the hours worked on a project. Management needs to understand the progress of the project as well as the resource allocation. Accounting and Project management software allows leaders to quantify the commitments required to complete a project by each member. This allows each team to understand the commitment they are making to the collaboration group.
A collaboration system is actually not a single system but a compilation of systems that fit within an organizational culture. The modern network architect needs to understand these systems and integrate them in a way that benefits the business as a whole and can be managed by the technology partners inside and outside the organization. Because the cloud is external to the organization, collaboration is possible because the systems are accessed in the same way by all team members. The cloud system doesn’t care whether the user is from another department or another organization. The technical architect designs the security in keeping with the unique aspects of each collaboration opportunity.
Owning a Seattle IT Consulting company specializing in Cloud networking Architecture and collaborating with cloud technologies partner I spend a lot of time collaborating. Collaboration is becoming a much more important part of what my clients are looking for as they are exploring new technical opportunities. I’m curious how you the reader are defining collaboration to your clients and management teams.]]>