I pity the fool…

Recently, there seems to be an inordinate amount of bad luck surrounding my family. My wife passed out in February and crashed her car with the girls in it – thankfully everyone was ok – but it could have been tragic. As a result of that medical event, my wife can no longer drive for at least a year, perhaps longer. As you can imagine, this puts a huge hardship on the entire family. To make things more complicated, she continues to have episodes of passing out every once in a while, which makes it prudent for her not to carry the kids up or down stairs anymore. Back to the driving – not only can she not drive, but I have to take her for many doctor appointments while the doctors try to figure out what is wrong, and I also have had to re-arrange my work arrangements so that I can spend more time working from home so that I can drive everyone places. I am working longer hours to make up the time, doing more chores at home, and pretty much burning the candle at both ends. Where am I going with all of this? It’s easy for someone in a predicament like this to ask for pity. It’s easy to lose track of all of the good things in the world and focus on the current uptick in negative things. But that’s just not in my DNA. I don’t want pity, though help is always welcome. I come home every day from work and give the family a big hug. I’m happy that everyone is healthy, and that I get to see and enjoy their presence another day. So in the face of all of the recent bad luck bestowed on my family, I still feel like the luckiest guy around to have, and be a part of, such an amazing family.

Why the public cloud is the fast food of the IT industry.

The challenge for any IT manager is how to meet business requirements with technology.  More often than not, those requirements dictate rapid deployment.  The cloud excels at this, since the infrastructure is already available and waiting to be used.  Rapid deployment, just as fast-food, does not guarantee quality, however.  In fact, the performance and reliability of public cloud services is currently variable and largely unpredictable.  Despite the high availability of fast food restaurants, people do not eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner.  They know that the quality of the food is sub-par, and it is intuitive to recognize that its usefulness runs out if speed and short-term cost are not the two foremost drivers.  The same holds true with the public cloud services.  They excel at speed-to-deploy and cost-of-entry for a solution.   And – just as with fast food, public cloud services are almost irresistibly appealing on the surface.  But after considering quality and long-term costs, it is clear that the best solutions remain in private clouds.

Cloudsourcing – What is this “IT revolution” all about?

First there were servers.  Each server had a single purpose.  In some cases, 90% of the time, they ran idle — a big waste of resources (processor, disk, memory, etc.)

Then there were server farms, which were groups of servers distributing loads for single applications.   Distributing loads to multiple servers allowed for higher loads to be serviced, which allowed for tremendous scalability.

Then there was SAN storage, the aggregation of disks to provide performance, redundancy, and large storage volumes.  A company could invest in a single large-capacity, highly-available, high-performance storage device that multiple servers could connect to and leverage.   No more wasted disk space.

Then there was virtualization, the concept of running more than one server on the same piece of hardware.   No more wasted memory.  No more wasted processors.  No more wasted disk space.  But the management of isolated virtual servers became difficult.

Then there was infrastructure management.  The idea that we could manage all of our servers from a single interface.  No more wasted time connecting to each server to centrally manage them.   But there were still inefficiencies when managing the applications and configuration of the virtual servers.

Then there was devops, the concept of having software scripts manage the configuration and deployment processes for virtual or physical servers.

…  With all of these inefficiencies addressed, you would think that there is no more room for improvement.  But we do have a “gotta-have-it-now” society, and in this age of fast-food and mass produced goods, we had to see this coming.  The “Cloud”.   The “cloud” is the fast-food of servers.  It is the idea that someone else can leverage all of the aforementioned concepts to build and manage an infrastructure much larger than yours, and cheaper and faster (per unit) than you can.  It is the idea that economies of scale drive costs so low for the cloud provider that those savings translate into big savings for the companies or people that leverage them.  We all use “the cloud” in some way.   Microsoft has OneDrive/SkyDrive, Google has Google Drive, and then there’s Dropbox.   All of these services represent “the cloud” for individual people.  But there are clouds for companies, too, like Amazon’s AWS, Google’s Cloud Platform, Microsoft’s Azure, etc.

So how do we know that the cloud is good for a company?   Well, it’s really difficult to tell.  For one, the traditional model for companies was one where they owned their infrastructure.  All expenses were considered capital expenses – that is, there were not recurring expenses for their infrastructure equipment (except perhaps for software components).   But when it comes to cloud infrastructure, the business model is, of course, the one that profits the cloud owner the most — the holy grail of business models — the recurring revenue stream known in IT speak as Infrastructure As A Service.   Cloud businesses are booming right now!  The big question is – is the “cloud” as good for the customer as it is for the provider?

In my experience, owning hardware has distinct advantages.  The most recognizable difference is that a company can purchase infrastructure while sales are up – and they can coast along continuing to leverage their infrastructure equity when sales dip down.   In my experience, once hardware is paid for, the recurring cost to run and maintain it is much less than the cost of any cloud solutions.  After all, the cloud providers need to pay for their infrastructure, too.  They pass that cost on to you after padding it with their soon-to-be profits, so your recurring costs with them will potentially always be higher than yours will be if you own your infrastructure.  If you were to transform your initial investment into an operational expense and distribute it out over the lifespan of the equipment (let’s say, 5 years), then add in the cost of ownership of that equipment, then the numbers become close enough that I am comfortable enough to declare that at least the first year of ownership will be a wash.  In other words, if you intend to own hardware for a year or less, then the cloud is really where you should be.   The longer that you intend to continue to extract use out of your hardware, though, the more appealing it is to own your own rather than use the cloud.

To put this into perspective…  it is common for townships to employ a mechanic to maintain their vehicles.   If townships were to, instead, lease all of their vehicles, the mechanic would not be necessary and costs could initially be reduced.  But, over time, the value that the mechanic introduces would more than pay for his salary.   Company’s have mechanics, too, except that they are called systems administrators.  They keep systems running and squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of a piece of hardware.   If you are a company without “mechanics”, the cloud is for you.   But if you do have systems administrators within your employ, then yet another consideration needs to take place.  What is the reason for leveraging the cloud?   If your answer is, “Because it’s the latest trend.”, then you need to take a step back and reconsider taking another sip of the kool-aid that you have been drinking.   If your answer is, “We have been growing rapidly and our infrastructure cannot keep up.”, then perhaps the cloud is the right spot for you.  If your answer is, “Our business is seasonal and sometimes we have a lot of wasted infrastructure that is online, but unused.”, then perhaps the cloud is for you.

There are other cases, and the math certainly needs to be done.   Economies of scale make this topic interesting because it is certainly plausible that one day cloud services will be cheaper than owning your own infrastructure.   There will always be the differences in CapEx vs OpEx, and that requires an assessment of your sales patterns before taking any plunge into the cloud.   One thing is certain, though.  The cloud is not for everyone.  Assess your business needs, assess the competence of your IT group, assess your revenue streams, and then make a careful and calculated decision.   But whatever you do, don’t do it just to do it.   Because chances are that the results will not meet your business needs.




What constitutes a great leader?

A leader is a driver, meaning that leaders must be good decision makers and must be capable of choosing a destination.   When judged in hindsight, the destination must be meaningful and productive.  Just like a driver of a car, a great driver will act upon the passenger-spoken words, “We need to take the next exit.”  A bad driver will disregard all advice.   As drivers, we may know where we want to go, but it is our passengers who have the best view of the road.  It is our passengers who are in the best position to navigate.  Good drivers take us to our destination.  Great drivers rely on great navigators to help them get us to our destination in the best possible way.

Heeding the advice of “passengers” is vitally important to the effectiveness of a great leader.

Let’s consider the fail-forward (trust) and fail-stop (mistrust) approach to governance.  The term “fail” refers to the failure of a tactical decision/action to comply with a strategic goal.  The term “forward” means that the short-term tactical action may proceed if it means that it will “keep the lights on”.   The term “stop” means that in the interest of meeting a strategic goal, a tactical action is forbidden and the company suffers consequences as a result of inaction, “lights out”.  Fail-forward requires trust because the time and effort taken to assess an urgent tactical action may jeopardize the effectiveness of that action and may therefore jeopardize the health of the company.   Fittingly, fail-stop reflects mistrust because the reflexive blocking of a tactical action for the sake of improved alignment with a strategic goal does not take into account upward feedback and therefore cannot allow for the trust of tactical decision makers.

A great leader fails-forward, meaning that there is a healthy bi-directional trust relationship both up and down the hierarchical chain of responsibility.   A great leader empowers tactical decision makers with the ability to navigate.  A great leader recognizes that the acceptance and accommodation of non-ideal elements is often crucial to accelerating the journey to our destination (success) – in the same way that a driver might take a detour to avoid a road closure rather than waiting for the road to re-open in the vain of not diverting from his/her predetermined ideal route.

We are all leaders, navigators, and followers at different times.  When leading, if our decisions are unchanged when compared with and without our navigators, then perhaps it is time to rethink whether or not we are great leaders, good leaders, or shamefully bad leaders.



Malaysian Flight 370 Search

Why are we not using drones/UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to scour the ocean for Flight 370?   With all of the news about how UAVs can stay aloft for lengthy periods of time, why have we heard nothing about them being deployed and used for the search of flight 370?

Cell phone kill switches are a bad idea.

Why are cell phone kill switches a bad idea?  Let’s consider a couple perspectives.

Good People with Good Intentions

Someone believes that their cell phone has been stolen, so they call the cell phone company to report that their phone has been stolen.  The cell phone company triggers the kill switch.   5 minutes later, the person discovers that they had simply misplaced their phone.   Now they have a useless paperweight.

Bad People with Bad Intentions

A cell phone is stolen and the robber immediately takes out the battery.  With no way to communicate with the cell networks, the phone cannot be remotely disabled.   The bad guy sells the phone to someone who reconditions stolen phones.  Makes a few quick bucks.  The person who reconditions phones brings the phone into room specially designed to not have any wireless coverage (faraday cage).   He then proceeds to reprogram the phone to change the phone’s electronic serial number.   When the phone returns on a cellular network, it can no longer be disabled.


Don’t be stupid.  Don’t put kill switches in cell phones.

Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder

So, I just made that up.  But I truly believe that this is becoming an epidemic due in no small part to the heads-down “connected” culture that we are all a part of today.   There is no substitute for a face-to-face conversation, where there are real consequences for bad behavior, innuendos, or blatant and excessive criticism.  In the digital world, though, those rules do not apply.  Emails are ripe with innuendos, and unlike face-to-face conversations, people do not typically wait to calm down before hastily typing a digital message that embodies their real and present, but short-lived, emotional state.

Sending emails or other digital communications is only half of the problem, though.  The other half of the problem is quickly and accurately detecting the emotional state of the person who sent. The ability to assess this is critically important so that you can properly disarm them and have a meaningful and constructive conversation.

Even through digital communications, there are always hints of the composer’s state of mind.  If you are angry, you might choose the more negative of two synonyms.  Your precise choice of words draws a subtle picture in the reader’s mind.  And this is where the passive-aggressive behavior comes into play.   Whether we intend to or not, our choice of words tells just as much a story as the literal meaning behind them.  The subtle nature of that information, makes it a passive, yet aggressive, form of communication.  In summary, treat digital communications the same way you would face-to-face communications.   Pause if you are upset.   And when you do write something, choose your words carefully so as to not fall into the trap of becoming passive-aggressive.  Be direct, and be professional and/or considerate.

Politics and Hockey

Last night I had a dream that the republicans and democrats were backing hockey teams.

The republicans were backing the capitols, and the democrats were backing the devil’s. Whoever scored the first goal wins, but there was one caveat — both teams needed to touch the puck before anyone could score.

The game started and all of the capitols immediately exited the ice. So the devils are skating around and it’s just impossible for them to win. Then, one of the devils hits the puck down to the other side where nobody was. Some of the capitols got onto the ice, as if to tease, and a smart devil’s player quickly got to the puck and slap-shot it against the skate of a capitols player before shooting it into the net and winning the game. In my dream, I jumped up and started screaming “Yea!”.

Funny thing is, I’m a Ranger’s fan. I don’t ordinarily like to see the Devil’s win. Funny how our sub-conscience works.


For any doubters of evolution, look closely the next time you drive down a highway. Look to the side of the road at all of the debris. Look in between the lanes at debris. Is there more in those places than in the center of the lanes? Of course there is. That’s because as cars hit the debris, it moves around. And it keeps moving around until it rests in a place where nobody hits it anymore. In an abstract sense, the debris evolves. What makes anyone think that our bodies cannot do the same thing?