Working in the VMware Hands On Labs (Being a part of the show)

This year I volunteered, and was fortunate to be selected, to work in the VMware Hands On Labs.  As I write this I am watching the keynote in the labs, preparing for what will be a massive influx of customers and partners.  I wanted to share a bit of how exciting it is to see things from this side.

I am a huge fan of VMware’s Hands On Labs, as a partner at other manufacturers I have held this up as a model that should be emulated.  Giving customers a sandbox where they can work on your products, learn about them.  I firmly believe the best sales person is a happy and motivated customer.  Make incredibly cool products that people understand and want to use, and customers will come to you.  For years I have pitched this to customers as a way to understand what we do.

Working behind the scenes, the magic is not gone.  Watching some of the smartest people at VMware, and our partners, putting together self paced labs, and even expert led labs, where we can showcase how amazing the products are, and then send the customer back to design this in their environment is incredible.  The best part though is the interaction.  I have been able to meet so many customers, so many fellow VMware employees from around the world.  I am always excited to meet the people who actually use our software in production.  Having come from the customer side, and implemented VMware for a number of customers, it is exciting to hear the new and innovative ways virtualization is changing the face of businesses around the world.

I am going to be working in the Hands On Labs all week, supporting all of you.  So come by and check out what we are doing, take a lab, say hi, find an expert and get your questions answered.  It is a great time to learn, challenge yourself, and meet the team.  For those who aren’t at VMworld, we do have many labs available online for no charge at  I encourage you to take advantage of this, get some hands on time and grow your career by gaining a better understanding of how things work.  I am at the concierge desk today, and will be running around the next couple days, so come say hi, and let me help connect you.

Working in the VMware Hands On Labs (Being a part of the show)

Automating my home Part 2: Network Switches, Ecobee 3 Thermostat, and Starting to hate audio

As the move gets closer, I am getting more excited about home automation.  We should have keys in a few days, so I will be going through the house the day before we move in to do some planning on where to place the TVs, the Media server, and most importantly the wireless, but that is a topic for another time.

In Part 1 I talked a bit about the TP Link switches I purchased.  Those have since come in, and are now installed.  I was less than impressed with the user interface, as it turns out it is a java based interface that only works on windows thus far.  I worked on getting the discovery running on my MacBook, but gave up and just ran it in a Windows 7 VM which is never ideal.  The configuration was pretty simple, I toyed with VLAN configurations to isolate my media systems, but that caused to many challenges around DHCP, DNS, and Airplay which is surprisingly important in my house suddenly.  I ended up leaving them on a single flat network for now, but I was able to add several devices back onto the network such as our 6 year old XBOX 360 which I refuse to buy a wifi adapter for or replace with an XBOX One.

I have been doing a ton of research on smart thermostats, I was really leaning toward Nest, but a little research on systems integration led me to Ecobee.  We are an apple house for better or worse.  I tried to change to Android once, and my wife convinced me it was not a good idea.  After talking it through with her, it occurred to me that the reason she likes Apple products is they work.  The iPhone, the iPad, the Apple TV, they are all intuitive.  She doesn’t want to fight with the technology she just wants it to work.  This is a critical lesson, I love tinkering, but I love my wife more.  Since I travel for work, it is important that things at home not need to be rebooted, or fixed, similar to an enterprise user.  Looking at Apple’s homekit, it seems like they are going to make things far more user friendly.

I am spending more time recently on audio.  My wife seems very interested in a wireless audio system.  I looked into Sonos as I mentioned before, but I am not thrilled about the lack of airplay support.  I think I have settled on bluetooth as the technology for wireless audio, so I am researching more options in that area.  I prefer to have something that is standards based and free from specific app requirements.  The only exception is apple specific protocols since they are a standard, albeit a closed one.  More to come on this as I continue to narrow down the technologies, I suspect in the long run Bose will win out due to quality for it’s size, but this is also another excuse to go to Bestbuy and research.

More to come, I am still debating home networking, a new television, and a number of other crazy ideas.

Automating my home Part 2: Network Switches, Ecobee 3 Thermostat, and Starting to hate audio

Where has all the innovation gone in storage companies?

As a vExpert, I am lucky enough to get early access to new products, and spend some time with some of the best minds in our industry.  I am always humbled by the individuals who are willing to give us a peak into their world, and interested to see, so please don’t take this as a slam on anyone, this is more of an observation on the storage industry.

I was sitting on a webinar with, wait for it, yup, another storage startup.  Every time I think I have a handle on them, a new one comes out of stealth.  I love storage, around 10 years or so ago I moved over from servers to become a storage engineer at the company I was working out, and I still love the absolute simplicity of storage.  It is all based on specific rules, and it is very logical and generally predictable.  It was an easy transition for me coming from a database and app dev background during college.  As I was sitting listening to the product manager explain why the product was different it occurred to me, this was just a pretty simple variation on a theme.  Nothing they were doing was truly unique, cool, but not unique.

Looking at the landscape, it becomes clear that we are at a cross roads with storage technology.  Looking back at the past decade or so, we have seen a huge shift in servers.  Contrary to what we are reading from Cisco and HP, servers are a commodity.  Outside of pure technologists who love a particular technology for religious reasons, most people at this point aren’t too concerned about what brand of servers they are using, provided it works, it is basically just there.  When we look across the server market, there are maybe 5-6 players that are somewhat relevant, and in reality, we could cut that number in half and no one would care much other than the price.  Apply that same logic to storage.  The biggest differentiator between one storage array and another now, other than religious differences, is the software, and maybe a few capabilities.  Certainly one may be faster than another, but at the end of the day, the only thing that is truly unique is their software.  Certainly there is nothing wrong with that, but it is interesting to the debates on who is better and what features mean more than another.

Looking at storage startups, it is only a matter of time before the market collapses, and who will be left standing?  As I have discussed in the past, even if we look at the larger storage companies, they are failing to differentiate themselves much.  Most of the innovation is through acquisition, and at the end of the day, they all do pretty much the same thing.  Companies who fail to innovate in this space become obsolete, just look at Netapp.  Even from the perspective of the server admin, there is far less differentiation between the various storage vendors.  As software continues to increase in power, and as we move to a more software defined storage environments, it becomes a serious question, Where has all the innovation gone, and how different are the various storage vendors in reality?

Where has all the innovation gone in storage companies?

Is Hyper-converged the Enterprise Easy Button?

As usual, a conversation with my internal team generates a new post.  Standard disclaimer applies here, and always interested in feedback.

Hyper converged is the concept that everything is virtualized within a platform, and the complexity is hidden by the software.  The problem is the complexity is being hidden by the software.
In enterprise IT there are two groups, the technologists, and the “business”.  We all know that IT needs to become more effecient, and move to a service provider model.  If you have read Nicholas Carr’s The Big Switch, you understand that we are rapidly moving toward ITaaS.  For users and business people, this can’t come quickly enough.  For those of us who grew up in Enterprise IT and consulting roles, we are busy building out our home labs so we have even more access to really cool technology.  For most of us who are still enamored with the pure technology, this concept of hiding the complexity is an anathema.  Many of us have made our careers from hiding the complexity from users, being the easy button if you will.
The concept behind the vBlock, the Flex Pod, and HP’s Converged Infrastructure division was not to release a new product.  If you look at all three products, they are simply several products with some management software, wrapped with services to make them look simple.  If you look at Nutanix, Simplivity, or VMware’s EVO, they use software to simplify what is a fairly complex system.  For the admin they remove some of the complexity, and don’t require nearly as much design time, you pay more but you save on soft costs such as internal employee or external consultants time.  In a sense any of the solutions could be an enterprise easy button, if you are willing to commit to their vision.
The real problem here is twofold.  First of all, the solutions aren’t really that simple.  If they were, you wouldn’t need the level of services they are selling you.  If it is that simple, the you should wheel it in, plug it into the power and network, and fire your IT department.  I have never met any customer deploying hyper converged getting rid of the IT department.  We don’t see some intern running the entire IT department in most customers.  The second issue is that we are in a transition phase from traditional web/app/database applications to cloud native applications.  Certainly we will never completly remove all legacy applications, but we are seeing more demand for simpler and more accesible applicaitons.
The reality is that hyper converged, and converged infrastructure in general is a step to get us to a fully Software Defined Enterprise.  At some point, converged infrastructure won’t be necessary because we will handle everything in software running on comodity hardware.  When we finally get to this point, we will no longer need to overlay software with more software to solve the complexities created by the software.  This is certainly an industry wide issue, and solving it is going to end some business and launch others.
Is Hyper-converged the Enterprise Easy Button?