Tuesday, December 13, 2005

How does this OES thing work?

We're trying to figure this question out. Again, simple lab install of a product using the newest available media...problem after undocumented problem have cropped up, and nobody within our reach seems to have any concrete answers (or blame to lay).

We're on the cusp of a pretty big project, and the timeline is severely compressed. We don't feel confident enough in NetWare to support the project long-term...so, unfortunately, for the first time ever, we have to decide between OES (about which we know nothing yet), or Windows Server.

Novell have been sent a series of flares and distress signals (and we are a 'reference' / success-story account)...unfortunately, we've been let down by the sales organization as a whole in bringing focus to our plight.

Good thing my rolodex is filled with the names & numbers of old friends who still roam the Provo halls. With a little luck, we'll get the help we need to translate our significant NetWare expertise to the OES/SLES platform combination.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

ComputerWorld IT Management Study Released

I recently participated in a study conducted by ComputerWorld, asking questions about IT management and strategic vendors, etc. The results were forwarded to me today, and I found them to be pretty interesting.

Of particular interest was the fact that Dell and CDW - two vendors that are well known in the market, but with whom we've not had great experiences - appear to be less important to companies the larger they get. Companies below 1,000 employees find Dell and CDW to both be very strategic, but beyond that, neither has made enough headway to be frequently considered a "top" vendor.

IBM on the other hand, is virtually off the radar until your company reaches 1,000 employees in size. If that's you, there's a 50% chance you would name IBM as your "top" vendor.

I once developed a PowerPoint deck entitled "Why Dell Doesn't Get It - A Summary View from a Customer at a Crossroads", and dropped the bomb on our Dell account team when they showed up for a visit one day. It outlined the atrocities they had committed toward us in the form of product design and support of our strategic OS platform, and in overall product quality.

From that day forward, our rep never showed up without first confirming a projector wasn't awaiting him in the conference room. That PowerPoint deck made it to a bunch of people at Dell, and we continued to give them opportunities to do the right things for us (fix problems they caused us). In the end, Dell took the position that an expenditure on their behalf to help correct a significant set of Dell-admitted issues with their RAID controllers was greater than our value to them as a customer.

We're no longer Dell customers.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Concerns about Novell - Layoffs, etc.

I've had the opportunity of late to provide commentary - directly and indirectly - to Novell regarding their long-term viability. This topic comes up as a result of their recent layoffs, which as I had stated earlier, do not surprise or concern me greatly.

Here's some excerpts of what I've said on the topic of Novell and 'execution':

"Nobody will tell you that Novell's problems are technology related. Unfortunately, marketing alone isn't going to fix the most significant problem facing our Provo friends. There are a lot of sacred cows at Novell, and very few people there are brave enough and/or sufficiently empowered or incented to slaughter them in pursuit of the greater good.

If Novell suddenly happened upon the ultimate advertising campaign, all of the underlying issues within the organization - the self defeating corporate architecture that has been built there over years and years, the lack of communication, direction, and ability to execute - would come sharply into focus.


I've no doubt that Novell is committed to keeping GroupWise around for a long time, because tens of millions of seats renewing each year pay a lot of bills. I'm also excited to hear that consultants are replacing Exchange with GroupWise. My fear is that without a significant series of changes at Novell, none of that will matter.

Novell's problem is that they are no good at engaging medium-to-large companies as strategic partners. As others have noted, Novell is great at developing products that allow IT groups to spend less time on tactical activities - once these solutions are in place, there's very little on-going sales opportunities. To be a strategic partner, you need to be able to provide simple, effective, solutions that add value, not just help to avoid costs. ZENworks is primarily a cost avoidance investment -
it doesn't make duties disappear, it just makes them vastly simpler and less
expensive to perform. To a large extent NetWare was kind of in this boat -
you could perform the same duties for a larger number of users, with fewer IT
staff (or in less time). Cost avoidance.

GroupWise could be a strategic platform for companies, but neither Novell or any other third party have been effective at developing applications that meet the "strategic" test. The fault for this situation can be widely dispersed, but Novell doesn't make money by finding fault or assigning blame. GroupWise could and should be the foundation for document management, workflow, intranet publishing, knowledgebases, customer self-service, etc. All of these things add value, because they make non-IT employees (e.g. the business) more efficient. They are all, therefore, strategic. And yes, I know that GroupWise has a DMS capability. However, if it's something that two former consultants, a CNI, and a CNE can't get working reliably, it's too damned hard to use.

In all my years dealing with Novell, I've never seen or heard of anyone presenting GroupWise as the foundation for a BPM/re-engineering/intranet/document management strategy. I have sat through hour long demonstrations of nifty client features, while nary a word is spoken about back-end management. I've also sat through demos where every feature was positioned against Outlook.

For a person in my position (Manager of IT for a $1.5 Billion company), this kind of thing is maddening. "Better than Outlook / Exchange" is not the same as "great" or "exceptional". I don't use Outlook or Exchange. I don't care how great the client is. What can I do with this tool to provide a strategic benefit to my company? I will immediately take issue to anyone who argues that this is forefront in Novell's marketing strategy, because we have challenged Novell's sales and SE teams for years to differentiate themselves - they have failed at every opportunity.

For Novell to be relevant, they need to be able to sell themselves as strategic partners to VP's, SVP's, and CxO's. Nobody in the boardroom cares how nifty the client is, how many seats you've sold, or the cool indexing features in the DMS system. Companies don't have document indexing problems, they have business
problems. When Novell figures this out, discussions like this will be a
thing of the past."

I followed that commentary with the one below several days later, aimed at a Novell employee who still thought the onus for finding additional value with GroupWise in particular, lay outside Provo:

"As I've stated before, if Novell wants to become/remain relevant to larger enterprise organizations, they should be developing presentation decks right now titled "Improving Business Processes with GroupWise", or "Enterprise Strategies for GroupWise Document Management".

Novell has continually barraged customers with product features, leaving it to them to figure out how best to implement them. All around you, competitors sell lesser products as point solutions, with the added benefit of re-use for other purposes. If you're relying on the channel to be the "value add" part of the equation to large enterprises, you're kidding yourself. My company, like many others, doesn't deal with the channel because they rarely ever truly add value. Looking at revenues, etc., I think the question "How's that working for you?" is valid here.

One of the most significant sacred cows in Provo wears a nametag called "Channel Partners". Slaughter it, butcher it, and serve a big steak lunch in the quad behind Building H. When everyone's done eating, go back and figure out how to sell your products as value adds / strategic assets to companies yourselves."

In response to this, I was told by that Novell employee that the "channel program" probably isn't going away, because Novell has too many smaller customers to sell to directly. It will however be changed significantly. I was told, however, that the team responsible for marketing GroupWise is definitely focused on selling it in the form of point solutions.

My reply:

"...please know that I wasn't advocating Novell sell directly to every customer, but that you not rely on the channel to make your value propositions to large enterprise customers (as has been done for some time). As a former employee, the argument I heard against this wasn't the size of sales force required, but that acting in this way would alienate channel partners. I found this to be alarmist and
unfounded - companies like mine have always dealt with Novell sales directly.

We've not seen GroupWise effectively positioned as much more than a mail product. It's issues like this I'm interested in seeing fixed - not only for myself, but for the health of Novell as a company."

It's amazing to me how much Novell professes to care about and invest in GroupWise, given how little they do to reduce adoption barriers in large enterprises. This problem isn't GroupWise product-specific though - it's pervasive throughout the company. I certainly hope that changes...soon.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The axe falls in Provo

As I indicated in a reply to a comment earlier this month, rumors regarding Novell layoffs are rarely false. Sometimes the figures are wrong, and the timelines aren't well known, but both are easily guessed.

Thursday, Information Week reported that the big red "N" will in fact be eliminating around 1,000 jobs. The good news to me, is that many of the jobs on the block are in the Consulting branch. The acquisition of Cambridge Consulting was done more for Jack Messman than for their bench of consultants - these people had very few practical implementation skills that could translate to Novell products, and the reputation & quality of Novell Consulting in America suffered as a result. Making matters worse, much of the Consulting group's management were replaced with Cambridge staff - these people had very different, borderline incompatible views of Consulting's role within Novell and to their customers. Their departure is long overdue.

I'm not certain what the signifigance of firings in the SuSE group in Germany may be, but I expect these are redundancies which have developed post-acquisition and are to be expected.

What does concern me is that Novell is losing market share, losing customers, not servicing existing customers well, experiencing flat stock price trends for years on end, and yet is still accumulating cash reserves. In fact, the reported $1.6 billion of cash-on-hand is nearly double what it was two or three years ago.

One of the principles of personal finances is that you don't save aggressively when you're paying off debt - you eliminate the debt first. Novell is being fiscally prudent, but is being irresponsible with its handling of debt in the areas of market share and PR.

I hope that some of the 1,000+ job cuts also spell the death of some sacred cows which have been roaming the halls of Provo for far too long.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

And on another front...

Our kind & friendly IBM account rep stopped by yesterday to see how things were going. We have a couple of pain points with our newly purchased TSM solution, which have two separate month-old "Crit Sit" incidents open...but as we continued to talk to him, it became evident that there were deficiencies at virtually every turn that needed to be addressed. New PC imaging process issues, pSeries performance issues, tape library/FC issues, etc. To talk about it out loud made it sound worse than we perceived it ourselves, which is counter to the normal scenario for us.

Vendors must hate dealing with us. The reps are usually nice enough, but if there's a crack anywhere in the foundation behind them, we're going to find it and challenge them to fix it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Red-headed step-child syndrome

Not too long ago, I was Red. I used to wear red underwear. Bled red. For a while, I even ate, drank, and slept red. I wasn't alone, either. I used to know dozens of customers - hundreds of people, who were every bit as Red as I was.

Most of our vendors even fancied red, although you always got the feeling they were kind of cheating on their main squeeze when they were with Red.

I'm not talking about being a communist. I'm talking about being something much, much more heinous - a Novell customer.

Now it seems, Red is somewhat out of fashion. Faded. Unkempt. Losing teeth, or something. And I'm not so certain I want to be Red anymore.

Novell is one of the most confounding organizations I've ever come across. I've been their customer. I've been their employee. I've been their partner. And it never ceases to amaze me how good they are at defeating themselves.

I've told people privately, and am willing to tell the world, that Novell will never become the company it can and should become until it learns there's no such thing as a useful sacred cow. It's likely that Novell will never learn that lesson while headquarted in and recruiting from Provo, Utah. I'm sorry, it's a very nice place to visit and live, but the gene pool is only deep at one end in Utah - technology.

As anyone can attest, Novell's problem isn't - and has never been - technology. Novell's problem is the systematic construction of self-defeating business models and practices.

In one half of the house, you have people churning out the most amazingly insightful and useful technologies the IT industry has ever seen. In the other, you have people so hell bent on maintaining product release schedules and developing innovative sales incentive programs that they become a black-hole for great ideas.

I have proof. You may have forgotten their names, but I haven't. Remember Novell Portal Services? NetMail? DeFrame? Those are a few of my favorite casualties.

Were the technologies bad? No. Did something better come along? No, but sometimes something different came along.

So where did they go? Great question. The answer is simple - Novell couldn't figure out how to sell this stuff, or indeed what to do with it at all. Some products stepped on the toes of other products...in which case, no matter how good one was, the bigger one prevailed. Pretty smart.

It gets worse. Novell's strategy and direction - when somewhat more tangible than a box of mud, changes pretty frequently. This is confusing to partners, who need to follow if they are to provide support and feed off the customer base.

When the vendor is confused, the partners become confused. When those partners are confused, they do what any smart entity does. Evaluate risk and reward. Without enough customers crying for Novell support to outweigh that vendor's cost of continuing to provide it, vendors will drop it like a hot rock.

And drop it they have.

Try to find a single backup solution that supports NAS, SAN/FC, Near-line storage pools & tape libraries, AIX, Solaris, Windows, Linux, and NetWare 6.5 Clusters. Bakbone? SyncSort? Tivoli? Veritas? Try them - I dare you. TSM's documentation for NetWare 6.5 Clustering support was copied & pasted from the Microsoft documentation. SyncSort is in the backup software business exclusively, and they couldn't figure out how to get their stuff to work reliably in a lab!

But don't stop there. Try to find an enterprise monitoring & management console that runs on or integrates with NetWare, and will scale to monitor & alert on more than 55 devices. Try to find more than one vendor who provides IP telephony integration with GroupWise.

Try to find enterprise grade contact databases, CRM solutions, call center solutions, networkable-MFC machines, printer drivers, even business-card scanners that know about or directly support NetWare, eDirectory, or GroupWise.

Try to find a single web-based or Win32-based console to administer all the parts of your Novell infrastructure!

Novell doesn't even use it's own products in-house. NetWare/OES runs a scant portion of their enterprise. GroupWise is on the way out. ZFS hasn't been part of their monitoring solution for years - the IS&T NOC uses mostly home-grown or third-party software.

Got eDirectory, GroupWise, Oracle, Active Directory, Cisco IP Telephony with Unified Messaging, and want the Novell "Zero Day Start" solution? Get ready to hire a consultant to do some breadboard patchwork driver development...at least two of those components are totally foreign to Novell's IDM solution despite their significant market penetration.

Some of Novell's own products are incompatible or losely integrated with one another. How is that possible? Everything Microsoft writes is compatible with every other thing it writes! What gives? From my view, the problem is that Novell doesn't understand the most significant law of Human Nature (I think I wrote on this earlier). "People do what they are incented to do." And in Provo, people are not incented to help out their friends in other product groups.

To the contrary, they play their cards best when they avoid contact with other product groups alltogether. Financially and intellectually, they're in a battle against their fellow employees. They are fully incented to deliver the best individual product they can - even at the expense of their peers. To hell with integration or compatibility, to hell with ease of use, to hell with whomever is already working on a similar solution.

Instead of competing against a standard of greatness, they're competing against each other. The problem is, nobody is winning.

I once e-mailed Chris Stone, asking him to please read Good to Great. He replied, indicating that he had, and agreed with many of the ideas therein. I almost bought stock in Novell that day. I was convinced that Chris Stone could knock skulls in Provo, and get rid of the idiots who keep running great technologies and ideas into the ground because they don't know how to make money from them. Apparently, I was wrong about Chris (or I was right, and he just got tired of fighting).

So to top off the facts that their products don't often work well (or live well) with each other, and that vendors are running away from them faster than Edwin Moses, with the fact that their support model is based on information that can't be less than 15 years old. Product support and upgrade protection are sold separately, and in very finite quantities - the only self-proclaimed "enterprise software vendor" to have such an arrangement in my experience.

The short of it is that you - as a Novell customer in good standing - may have a significant problem with a Novell product and not be able to get support for it from a Novell technician. A pretty significant barrier to adoption if you're considering becoming a Novell customer, or considering renewing as such.

Now mix in a myopic sales & marketing organization who can't make any of this stuff relevant to anyone but a deeply technical IT Manager or group of Engineers, and you have a recipe for long-term atrophy & disaster.

Message to Novell - I don't care about your new patch utility, I have ZEN. You want to add value? Tell me about building an intranet with simple content management facilities, that fully integrates all the Novell products I've purchased, using a point-and-click GUI and requires no code (and if you mention exteNd I'm going to tear your arm off and beat you with it).

As easy as it would be to lose faith and jump ship, I won't. There's hope on the horizon. New blood being infused into the company is sick and tired of the stupidity, and they aren't going to take it anymore. NetWare is recognized as the abominable lopsided wheel it has become, and all eyes are on Linux to carry the torch. I'm willing to stick it out and see if life is better as a Linux shop than a NetWare shop. I don't imagine how it can be any worse, but I'm obviously not good at predicting the episodes in which Novell shoots itself in varying parts of the body.

I can say that it's remarkable how good or bad a company appears to the customer, based solely on the quality of the account executive. Fortunately, we seem to have been placed into the hands of a pretty good one recently. I hope for Novell's sake that ours is the first of a growing breed.

I need a drink. Wonder if I can get a vendor to buy me a Guiness...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Oktoberfest in Tulsa

This certainly has nothing to do with IT Management, but it does deal with the other half of your waking life that needs attention.

The Tulsa Oktoberfest celebration is one of the top 10 in the country according to USA Today. That distinction is rightly earned. It's cheap to get in, it's huge, authentic yet diverse, and even with a 7-year-old in tow, it's quite a lot of fun.

If you find yourself with the hankering to drink great German beer (Spaten lager is quite good), eat sausages and gigantic desserts, and do the chicken dance every 10 minutes, you'll find a few thousand other like-minded individuals on top of the picnic tables under the big tent in Tulsa each year around this time. It's over far too quickly.

Oh well, back to the grindstone.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Great Java Lie

I'm certainly not the first person who has said that promise of Java in the enterprise was more of a dream than reality.

The oft-touted Sun cliche' "Write once, run anywhere" should be followed by an asterisk.

*Depending on the version of JVM on your customer's PC.

I'm not quite certain if the blame can be placed solely on one entity, but in my mind, most of the blame falls on Sun Microsystems - Scott McNealy and Eric Schmidt, specifically - for being either very dishonest or very inept.

What we in the enterprise are seeing is an increasing number of vendor websites that carry with them exacting requirements for the JVM they expect to be installed on local PC's. As it happens, most of the requirements are for fairly old versions of the JVM. In other instances, vendors require versions of Microsoft's JVM - not Sun's, even though Sun wrote the damn thing to begin with.

Want proof? FedEx's website will not print to a locally attached label printer without JVM v1.3.x. Two other insurance websites require varying versions of 1.3.x - not the same as FedEx, mind you - in order to process employee benefit claims. McGraw-Hill requires Microsoft JVM version 3805 to be installed on your Windows 2000 SP4 PC if you wish to access their Construction Dataline service.

These companies are unabashed in dictating technology requirements to me, their customer. They "wrote once"...So if you want to "run it anywhere", you're damn well going to use the JVM around which their code was written.

Somehow it's my fault - the customer - that my company uses more than one vendor for unrelated services, and that they can't figure out how to architect a website with simple old HTML and server-side code.

They were told to use Java - they were sold a lie, and they bought it whole hog. They were told, "People can use your web services at home, at work, on their phone, on their refrigerator, their TV, everywhere!" While that may not be false, it's certainly not completely true.

Let's face facts.

95% or more of all internet traffic originates from or is destined for a PC. Not a toaster. Not a phone. Not an E15000.

Just a simple, standard, utterly ubiquitous Personal Computer.

So the problem is, I can't manage more than one version of JVM on a PC to be used by the browser - any browser. Nor should I have to.

The reason this problem exists, in my opinion, is because Sun has been utterly incompetent. With regard to managing features and functionality as they expand and refine Java, backwards compatibility is a phrase they've never heard.

Vendors specify a version of client-side Java software to access their website, not because they like it more, but because it's the only one that works. Sun hung these companies out to dry, by making significant-enough alterations to the JVM that a developer's code no longer works.

Who is to blame? Tough to say. The code can't be that bad, it works with a certain JVM right? If it doesn't work with a later version, how is it the developer's fault? Even so, who am I (a single customer) to tell them get their act together? It's easier for me to install a different JVM than it is for them to completely rewrite their website.

I admit that I've considered the problem to be our fault...maybe the issue is a combination of factors under my control - Windows 2000 SP4 and a million patches, Internet Explorer 6 and all it's patches, Windows entropy, etc. Maybe we won't have this issue on our new Windows XP machines (although I have no idea why not - the vendors are specific in telling us what JVM we need).

I just know that I should be able to download the latest JVM, install it on my new PC's using a standard image, and anything developed in Java up to that point in time should work.

It doesn't though. And when it doesn't, it's not my fault...just my problem.

I really and truly feel sorry for Google. Eric Schmidt has a history of turning everything he touches into finely polished, almost gilded, pieces of crap.

Take Novell for instance.

Schmidt made Novell relevant again by making TCP/IP a native protocol in NetWare. Then, in one fell swoop, he set it marching off the cliff by forcing Novell's internal developers to use Java for new products. The result? Servers that crash more than ever. Separate pools of memory for Java that are nearly impossible to manage. Products that can't co-reside with one another on the flagship NetWare platform. Customers who have cried for and lacked a unified administration console for upwards of 7 years. The list goes on and on.

The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, and the tree from which he fell and has lived his life is one that's hell-bent on ruining Microsoft. He's not interested in making things great, he's interested in being better than Microsoft (which, incidentally, any great organization could do handily).

That said, I'm smart enough to see Java for what it means - and I'm not a developer. Java applications need to relegated to the intranet. Keep it out of the DMZ. Keep it off my PC's. Let me decide when my company needs an application built on Java - not the other way around.

Do you hear me FedEx????

Friday, October 07, 2005

Centralized Shared File Access

One of the nagging requests we've received of late is from a certain group of users we have around the country. There are pockets of these users that use a vertical application, and since there's no database server, the files they work with are very large. Worse yet, the values in each file are derived from a central "knowledgebase" or "standard" - altering the standard affects the values in each file on which they're based.

This group has requested that we develop a centralized location for this standard, and further allow them to centrally share these files. Given their size, and the fractional-T1 frame relay links we have connecting locations, the request has not been feasible.

However, I've recently read of a technology that may have some applicability here. We use NetWare and Nterprise Branch Office, which does provide sync capabilities via RSYNC. RSYNC doesn't provide for an elegant solution, nor one that is capable of resolving write collisions. Furthermore, the 'solution' should be transparent to our end-user community - a consistent standard we set for ourselves when improving on or replacing technologies.

The iServer solution from Tacit Networks however, appears that it may largely solve the problem for us. It lacks eDirectory integration, but it very intelligently handles file synchronization and caching over WANs in an appliance footprint. It's caching and sync engines are very intelligently designed, and they advertise functionality & performance that are LAN-like over WAN links. This will be a product I continue to investigate and watch.

If it weren't for ComputerWorld, I might not know this company existed. If you can only subscribe to and read one industry publication on IT, ComputerWorld should probably be it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Sweating the small stuff

Sometimes it's the tiny little things that keep big plans from becoming a reality.

We're trying to simplify and consolidate our eDirectory tree, and make our remote sites easier to manage. The product we've been piloting is Novell's Nterprise Branch Office (NBO or BOMA if you will) v2.0. It has so much potential, yet it falls short in small areas that are important - and would be easy for Novell to fix.

One issue we have, is that it's very difficult to manage PC's and application distribution at sites running NBO. This is because, despite the marketing hype, NBO doesn't actually "cache the corporate tree's eDirectory". It maintains it's own separate tree, and populates it with user and group information from the corporate eDirectory tree - nothing more.

What's worse, if you use PC's with the Novell client at NBO sites, it's even harder to get that PC connected to your corporate tree via ZENworks. (We eventually found an undocumented, unsupported method for doing this, and are testing it now).

The other big problem is that NBO doesn't handle password changes or password policices in the corporate tree very well at all. We should be able to change a password in the main eDirectory tree, and that change should be immediately recognized by NBO - that's not the way it happens. If someone changes it at the far site via NBO's "Virtual Office" portal, that change should make its way to eDirectory.

The reality is that not many users actually use password self service tools proactively- certainly not in our environment, or many that I've seen as a consultant. This means the HelpDesk does a lot of password resets reactively. They can either do this from their admin console, or by opening up a web session to each server where the problem may occur (sounds like the bindery in NetWare 3.x, doesn't it?).

eDirectory and NetWare 4.x were supposed to save us from this mess. You log into the network, not the server. It was a tough concept to grasp at first, but it makes a lot of sense. NBO breaks all of that, sending us back in time some 15 years.

So much for technology making our lives easier...

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Follow-up - Certifiable

In the September 26th Computerworld magazine, Virginia Robbins wrote an article that essentially mirrors my position on employers who require certifications or degrees before they'll consider someone for employment.

In her article, she says:

"I have found not only that a computer science degree is optional, but also
that many successful technologists don't have any degree at all. I've had great
employees who never finished college, and I've had wonderful employees who have multiple master's degrees."

The point, as she succinctly puts it - "I've found no correlation between degree and competency" - is that the pieces of paper by themselves aren't important.

In fact, by themselves, they're not even relevant.

I'm fairly confident she believes as I do, that attitude and aptitude are the most meaningful factors in evaluating candidates. This is encouraging, because she's the CIO and Managing Director at Chela Education Financing in San Francisco, and we share an important belief for managers & executives who endeavor to build great organizations.

Certainly its easier for hiring managers to look for nice certifications, and nobody gets fired for hiring MBA's or MCSE's, but how often does taking the easy road lead to the best possible outcome?

Personally, I view companies that require degrees or certifications of their employees as types of bigots. They're effectively pre-judging candidates before they've met them, based on superficial and demonstrably irrelevant standards. (Ever met a "paper-CNE" or "paper-MCSE"? I have.)

I don't think they need to be tried in a court of law, but I do think they need to be called to the mat for this practice - publicly - and that self-respecting technology professionals should avoid them like the plague.

If you're on the wrong side of this fence (be honest with yourself) - keep in mind that people like me could work wonders for your company; and we won't come near you until you wake up and realize that talented people don't come with easy to read labels...You actually have to talk to us.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The news of late / on race & entitlement

You'll recall in a previous post that I expected the investigation of New Orleans' city officials to find nothing good.

"I think it may be fair at this point to say that the governments of New
Orleans and Louisiana will be found utterly incompetent at best, and
irreversibly corrupt at worst."

With the recent resignation of the New Orleans Chief of Police and a probe into allegations of looting by NOPD officers, I think it's now fair to say that he doesn't want to stick around to be drilled by the press about his department's handling of post-hurricane security. The reality may be worse. If they suspect more severe - even criminal - repercussions as a result of their negligence, it's likely that more of those in positions of responsibility may take a similar exit.

On another note, I'm sometimes forced to watch "Dr. Phil" in the mornings on videotape - my wife owns the remote before work, and she catches up on a few shows each A.M. I at least appreciate that he finds very tactful ways to give very confused people a reality check, and am comforted that his views and advice are consistent with (or better than) my own opinions on a given subject.

The last show of which I saw a part, was on the topic of race. One of his guests was a black man that was perceived by his black friends as "too white". There were some humorous bits of video to establish both sides of the argument, but the thing that stood out was the guest's comments on Affirmative Action. I don't have the exact the exact quote, but he was very much opposed to the premise on which Affirmative Action is based. He said (paraphrasing) "I want to be advanced based on my merits."

I had written - and Blogger.com had lost - a very eloquent dissertation entitled "Mourning the Death of the American Meritocracy". It was inspired by weeks of headscratching and frustration with the overall lack of accountability and presence of an entitlement mindset in America.

In the wake of that exercise, this man's words struck a chord of hope with me - that despite his friend's allegation that you become a democrat based on the color of your skin, there are people of all backgrounds who still believe that the entitlement society is an inherently evil thing.

I no more believe that the crime and drug problem in this country is linked to race than I believe one's ability to succeed is based on it. There are statistics galore that paint the American drug problem as a predominantly caucasian issue (for instance, 80% or more of users aren't black).

However, if your only news sources are broadcast television and the local paper, it's easy to believe that black people are the main problem with crime & drugs, and that white people control the world.

This type of journalism is certainly sensational, but it does a terrible disservice to the American citizenry. It's not complete. It's often unfair. It seems to always favor the angle over the truth, because it's more interesting that way (pay attention to the Tom DeLay developments and see if you feel the same).

On the whole, American journalists hold themselves to standards for entertainment value instead of standards for integrity (legitimacy, accuracy, and fairness). I, for one, think it should be the other way around.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

...then Microsoft gets it all wrong

I'm really agitated that I can't post here more often than I do...but I try to ensure that when I do post, the info is meaningful.

While I earlier commended Microsoft - specifically, the Office product team - for getting it right, the remainder of Microsoft is still getting it all wrong.

A couple of months ago, we signed up for a new Microsoft licensing agreement covering our Office products. We opted for Software Assurance - which means whenever Office revs again, we'll get it for free. But Software Assurance also provides some very enticing benefits. In particular, the TechNet Concierge Chat was of interest to me. I would love for my HelpDesk to get an MS rep on-line when troubleshooting an Office issue for a customer.

I looked into getting us registered & signed up, and this is when the allegations against & stereotypes of Microsoft's security ineptitude took on a very real, very accurate palor.

I learned that this benefit had in fact already been activated for us. Furthermore, an e-mail was sent to me with instructions on using it - an e-mail I never received, because it was sent from Microsoft's mail servers using my boss' e-mail address. That's right. The process Microsoft uses to notify customers of benefit activation involves purposefully sending masqueraded e-mail messages using its customers' own addresses - instead of a Microsoft-owned address.

Any e-mail admin worth their salt won't allow someone to spoof their domain name for incoming messages. We use Postini (you should too), which blocks incoming mail sent from one of our domain names if it doesn't originate from a trusted IP address - Microsoft is not among our trusted addresses, for very obvious reasons.

Microsoft's licensing customer service reps know of this practice, but are powerless to do anything about it. What they will do, however, is verbally give you those credentials if they can speak to the person they believe is the benefit administrator. Very secure indeed.

It gets better.

Assuming you have your login information, you need to use the oft maligned Passport login service to access your benefits. Again, from a security standpoint, there are significant issues here.

First of all, I'm not Ma or Pa Kettle trying to get to my Hotmail account, or the 'Zone to play some stupid version of solitaire or gems or whatever. I'm a paying business customer. If my credentials are compromised, the attacker gets access to some better-than-average stuff.

Second of all, it's not as hard as one believes for your Passport credentials to be obtained maliciously. This is because Microsoft trusts Windows and Internet Explorer cookies to remember your password, etc. more than it trusts you to manage it. Interestingly, last I checked, there weren't any security patches released for my brain to keep me from blurting out my passwords if someone talked to me long enough.

Lastly, around two years ago, an Indian hacker proved he was smarter than the Redmond developers who wrote Passport. To prove it, he compromised literally the entire Passport database in Microsoft's data center.

The original damage estimates were hyperbolic, but it further proved that Microsoft is not very good at security architecture. Even Windows Server 2003, which was redesigned with a strict security focus, is prone to attacks that affect OS versions back to NT4. So much for the story of it having been 'completely re-written'.

Every other enterprise vendor's support and entitlement website requires simple user ID and password authentication. It's a model that is familiar to everyone. For some reason, Microsoft decided to overcomplicate it for the only customers that matter - the ones that pay for services.

To their credit, the people I've spoken to in my account team have taken my concerns very seriously, and are championing my cause within Microsoft in an effort to provide me some form of satisfactory resolution. I'll be sure to publicly commend them for anything they achieve in this regard.

In the mean time, I will remain ever skeptical of Microsoft's claims to be security-minded. The conservative IT manager will be well advised to do the same.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Health Kick

In the interests of better health, I've decided lately to cut back on intake and increase the amount of physical activity I do. Simple formula, well proven, etc. I don't drink or smoke, I just eat more than I expend in exercise. Carlos Mencia referred to this matter of mathematics recently, using a pretty funny metaphor. He illustrated that one's "numerator" (mouth) is larger than their "denominator" (gestures toward butt as if to imply pooping), and results in a "remainder" (fat belly). I can relate to that.

So, I've eaten smarter over the past three weeks. Less intake. No soda or sweet drinks, just water & tea. I'm down 15 pounds, and can actually begin to see it. I'll start exercising now that I have my first ever piece of home gym equipment, and hope for the best.

What's killing me is the almost constant feeling of hunger - no matter how much water I take in. One of my employees used to run long-distance in college at OSU. He said my body knows it's losing weight (which is healthy but not normal), and is trying to provoke me into filling the furnace. Resisting it takes discipline, or chewing on straws - whichever works.

I still have an urge to snack, however, and now that I'm paying attention to Nutrition Labels, what I've found is very interesting. 3 "Snyders of Hanover" pretzels (in a bag) is roughly equivalent to 1/4 cup of peanut M&M's, which is roughly equivalent to 12 Lay's "Stax" potato 'crisps', which is roughly equivalent to a single Hostess cinnamon streussel cake...all of which have more calories (and less substance) than a good ol' pint of Guinness Draght.

Good thing I like Guinness. Anything that's been around for over 230 years has got to be good, right? Don't believe me? If you're one of those people who enjoys using statistics to justify an otherwise indefensible position, you'll appreciate the benefit Arjen's Beer Page offers up.

Beer me!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Holistic Meltdown

That's the term I use to describe the farce that has become disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Holistic Meltdown.

I think it may be fair at this point to say that the governments of New Orleans and Louisiana will be found utterly incompetent at best, and irreversibly corrupt at worst. There is simply no way you can justify the complete lack of cohesion and response in New Orleans. Mississippi and Alabama - while spared perhaps the worst - have no such similar issues. No, it's New Orleans that has shamefully - singularly - failed to take care of its residents following a natural disaster that could have - should have - been expected to have happened during any Autumn in the past 40 years.

To make matters even worse, amidst all of the ridiculous allegations that race (rather than incompetence) were behind the abysmal treatment New Orleans' residents received at the hands of the motley crew of first responders, here now stands FEMA pouring salt into the wounds of the survivors.

You'd think something as important as disaster aid, which is only really useful to people who have been in a disaster, should be as easy to register for as possible.

However, if you visit http://disasteraid.fema.gov with anything other than Internet Explorer 6 w/ JavaScript enabled, you're not going to have much luck applying for relief funds appropriated by your federal government. Somehow, your browser version is important in applying for relief. I'm not sure why your browser version matters to FEMA. In reality, it probably wasn't an intentional act. Maybe it's because the government has bought licenses for a bajillion copies of Windows XP w/ IE6, so they figure everyone has it. Unlike AOL, it doesn't come in boxes of cereal. Libraries, etc. with internet-connected computers may not actually have IE6.

It's almost comical in a Douglas Adams kind of way. Bumbling bureaucrats who have nothing left but policies & processes. A careless decision by disinterested employees of a mega-establishment, blissfully unaware of the consequences of their actions. It's almost surreal.

This however is the least of the survivor's problems. There are too many people who could really use clean clothes, a good meal, and a bottle of water that don't give a damn about a FEMA website.

Perhaps the most disturbing stories are those recounted by people very close to those providing relief. A co-worker's brother is a Pastor in the Dallas area, and helped to establish a facility where survivors could stay, be clothed and fed, etc. People have driven from thousands of miles to offer assistance to families there. One after the other, they offer housing and personal aid to as many people or families as they can.

Here's what's disturbing. One gentleman came from Mississippi, offering to take up to 15 families back with him. He would house them, feed them, help them re-establish their wardrobes & dignity, and pay $200 per day (equivalent of $50,000 / year) to the able bodied for assistance in cleaning up his home town.

Nobody came forth.

The offer was repeated over the PA system that so many before him had used.

Again, no-one came forth.

If there was ever a question that the entitlement mentality engulfing this nation's poor - fueled by the misguided, affluent liberal contingency - is a downward spiral, this situation should put it to rest for good. These people would rather live in squalor than go to work for $50k per year. LOTS of them. Even those with nothing left to lose would rather beg than earn.

Can someone from the left please read The Dream and the Nightmare with an open mind, and re-evaluate the real consequences of bleeding heart liberalism?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Being Certifiable

An interesting article in the Management section of 9/5's ComputerWorld hits on a topic that has been home to a pet theory of mine for a long time.

I've not had to adjust the theory much over the 15 years I've been doing this. The theory goes as follows:

  • In technology, education does not equal employability.

This is a "pet" theory, because it's one that I live and prove every day. I am not proud that I dropped out of high-school at 16, but it's the truth. I got my GED, at my then girlfriend & now wife's insistence, at about 20 years old - shortly before my first step off the "IT Worker" platform and onto the "IT career" train. I've never been to college except to see people or watch events.

An employer did send me to training, and I did begin passing some certification exams. Then I failed one, despite knowing my stuff inside and out. It was the stuff nobody used anymore that I wasn't familiar with, and didn't care to spend time learning, that caused me to fail the last exam I ever took.

And that's where the theory was born. I didn't know enough about obscure networking hardware to pass a test, but I did know enough to get hired, promoted, and sent to training by a Fortune 50 company. That being the case, what is the value of a certification?

I still find it to be a fair question, and a difficult one for anyone to answer convincingly.

I went on to enjoy some good success - both at that company, and others - despite my lack of certifications. In fact, Novell hired me to be a field Consultant without being a CNE. They didn't value certifications either - not even their own.

What I have found is that companies - good ones anyway - value people in any discipline that exhibit two primary traits. Attitude, and aptitude.

Degrees and certifications aren't relevant by themselves. Companies or managers that require them before they'll interview someone are nearsighted - period. If you find a candidate who passes the sniff tests - appears apt, is personable, speaks to things such as organization & work ethic, etc., the degrees & certifications they carry should serve to set them above the rest of the crowd. They help to fill in the details of a candidate's overall picture - not draw the entire thing by themselves.

I wouldn't want to work somewhere that pre-determined the benefit a prospective employee might contribute based on degrees or certifications. When I look for jobs and see postings that require Bachelor's degrees, I kind of chuckle to myself. What the hell good is a Bachelor of Arts degree if you want to be a technologist? What if they studied Marine Biology? How can that be relevant?

I've worked beside people with enough certifications after their name to require a 10" long business card - and I didn't trust them to be behind a keyboard. I'll employ someone with boatloads of the right attitude and raw aptitude right this minute, regardless of how much experience they have or certifications they carry in tow.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Microsoft got something right

I rarely, if ever, will say something like this. Microsoft got something right.

It took a while to put it together, because of other things we've been pursuing, but an innocent question today set me on a search that resulted in a remarkable discovery.

"Do we have any training material for Office?"

Well, no, we didn't. The closest we had was a CD Microsoft sent for Office 2003 named "Microsoft Office System Tips & Tricks". Good info - fast paced, and definitely a deep dive. We needed to finesse the videos to cut out products we didn't use, and chop them into product-specific components. Never got around to posting them, etc.

I looked around for that CD again, and eventually found it buried beneath some papers. Inside the mailer was a URL - http://office.microsoft.com/training/. Out of curiosity, I went there. Lo and behlod, this site has an unbelievable collection of docs, articles, and CBT material related to the Office suite.

If you've never been, you should visit. Anyone who uses Office or supports those who do should make use of this site. Better to teach people how to fish, than to catch the fish for them.

This is impressive because it's free, and it's good - two things not commonly associated with Microsoft products. At times like this it's obvious where the divisions are between product groups (there's no equivalent site for the Windows OS unless you're an IT professional looking to buy training materials). The folks at Office got it right, and should be commended. Even if it would put the Video Professor out of business...at least they're not making money off of it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Zotob Worm

Microsoft paid us a visit yesterday, under the guise of a sales call, to ask questions and make statements that generally implied that they'd pay to have partners prop up MS software that competes with our current stacks to we could evaluate the two side-by-side.

After making several casts into our pool with no bites, they asked "What keeps you up at night?" My boss answered without being specific, that nothing related to technology keeps him awake - it's all about process, culture, and politics.

My answer was different. I said "I was sleeping pretty well until Monday."

"What happened Monday?", the salesperson asked.


We're not affected, mainly because of strict firewall policies and limited exposure to travelling systems. But we sure didn't have much time to react to the August 9th advisory.

Despite every Microsoft assurance since 2001 or 2002 that every line of code in Windows is reviewed, etc., the Plug and Play vulnerability in MS05-039 is present and patchable in every version of Windows from 2000 to XP and Server 2003. Zotob also proves that you don't have a 30-day grace period from the announcement of a Windows vulnerability to the presence of an exploit attack. There were less than 6 days between the release of the patch by Microsoft, and the very public effect it had on news outlet websites. In Norman, Oklahoma, the York Air Conditioning plant reportedly sent 650 employees home after Zotob pounded their facility.

When is the next Microsoft Windows OS release due? 2007.

I say again. 2007.

Despite all that, our management systems work very well. We're fully patched at this hour - something I was able to accomplish by myself with little effort. In fact, if someone called now and said there's a new critical patch, I could download it, distribute it to my 30+ field servers (one per location), and deploy it to all of my nearly 500 users, in under an hour. No lie. I'd be happy to show anyone how. Do that with SMS. Or with PatchLink. We've tried, and we're not bad at what we do. There remains nothing better than a properly architected ZENworks solution for centrally managing remote PC's in a large enterprise.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Growing Pains

I find myself asking a lot of inward-directed questions lately, about complacency and challenges and career fulfillment. There's a difference between being "challenged", and being overworked.

If you think you're overworked, you probably are, and despite what others may think, this statement is fundamentally true. Being overworked is, as much as anything, a state of mind. If you really, really enjoy what you're doing, you're ecstatic that you actually get paid for it too. Spending 80 hours doing something you love is nothing...by most standards, people working 80 hours a week would be 'overworked'.

By contrast, if you have to spend even 41 hours a week doing something that is grueling, and don't see any relief or reward in sight, you're going to start feeling overworked. You're going to develop a sense of resentment toward your situation, your employer, your boss, your co-workers who don't carry the same weight you do, etc.

Vacations only serve to postpone & temporarily numb these sensations. They don't go away until something changes for the better. Either the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter, the incentive to continue drudging on changes or improves, the duties or workload is altered to present new challenges, or you jump ship alltogether in search of something new.

The question remains, if you go through all of that and are still miserable, is the grass really greener anywhere else? The only consistent factor in one's misery - in this situation - is usually themselves. It is this place that I desperately hope I am not.

The sad thing is that, especially with talented people, companies that cannot keep them consistently challenged are not getting the return on investment that they could. When talented people get bored, you can argue that it's the fault of management that they aren't sufficiently stimulated. You can also argue that the individual's attitude and understanding of corporate life should allow them to absorb temporary (even year-long) lulls in exciting work. In fairness, reality is somewhere in between. But you can only keep a dog on the porch for so long...even good dogs.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Peter Jennings ABC Special

Watched a good hour of the special that ABC ran on Peter Jennings last night. I typically do not watch broadcast network news, because of people like Dan Rather and the goofs who have trodden through NBC. I never really gave ABC a shot, because Peter Jennings was so wholely unremarkable at first glance. We didn't watch ABC much either, for whatever reason, so I never knew about many of the "Peter Jennings Reporting" shows.

I'm kind of mad, in retrospect, that I was so jaded against the ability of network news anchors to be impartial and interesting as to have dismissed Peter Jennings' work completely.

I do however have a copy of the book he co-wrote, "In Search of America", which given what I now know about his outright love for my country, I will finish reading with great interest.

Peter's life is a testament to the greatness inherent in our country, and that meritocracies work. Much of his success it seems was not due to him being exceptionally smart or talented. In fact, he did not even graduate High School. It wasn't handed to him by someone else. He didn't fall into it.

His success was attributable to qualities that each and every human being conciously decides whether or not they want to exhibit. He completely defied the "Peter Principle". Peter was motivated, principled, fair, hard-working, and was unwilling to settle for mediocrity. He did not assume that he was above anyone, and didn't assume that his audience wouldn't understand complex stories. In short, he was humble. This is probably why he was basically a well kept secret, despite the millions of people who watched his broadcasts. He was simultaneously utterly remarkable, and utterly unremarkable.

I hardly knew him, but he certainly will be missed.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

ZEN and the art of Terminal Server Farm architecture

We're doing some pretty damned cool stuff with Win2K Terminal Services lately. When it's all said and done, we'll have basically Citrix-equivalent load balancing and application "publishing" capabilities, at a fraction of the cost. ZENworks really does make this powerfully simple - if you know what you're doing.

Imagine logging into an RDP session, and seeing only a Novell Application Launcher window with all of your apps. Internet explorer is there, but you can't browse to or run anything but a legitimate internet URL. Same with Windows explorer. You can add your own network printers to your session, but the printers at your location automatically appear each time you log in. If you need to use an application that hasn't been installed, it automatically installs and configures itself for you.

Behind the scenes, there are no roaming profiles. No group policies governing behavior or lock-down. No published applications. No Novell Client. There's not even eDirectory - that's been installed into a separate tree, being accessed by the ZDM middle-tier service. No local administrator requirement for application installs. One password to remember, thanks to DirXML. No Citrix. No hardware load balancers. Just one system acting as a load balancer/proxy for RDP, and five AD member-servers running Terminal Services. In fact, I can scale this architecture as fast as I can image new IBM BladeCenter HS20 systems, until the proxy system breaks. I put that point at over 1,000 users, which we won't get near for quite some time. At our expected load of 400 - 500, we should be flush.

For us, it will save $100k the first year, and $25k each following year for Citrix licensing. This doesn't include sunk costs in existing Citrix licenses, which we don't have enough of to facilitate short-term growth. We replace those costs with about $40k of new ZDM licensing, and roughly $8k / year in maintenance. Anymore, Citrix's only true value-add is robust load balancing in large farms, and seamless application windows. Certainly not enough to justify their exorbitant licensing costs. I know they cram a lot of products into the bundle, but I bet if they sold those features a la carte, many of their more experienced customers would reconsider what they've been buying.

Sadly, Novell Support told us that basically it couldn't be done. Shows what we know.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

"Cooling" noncertified skills

ComputerWorld's August 8th edition (Career Watch, page 44) listed five skills that, from a salary standpoint, have lost the most value during the past twelve months. It reads frighteningly like Novell's strategic technologies checklist:
  • XML
  • Java
  • Linux
  • and of course, "Novell" itself.

The fifth item mentioned - ActiveX - is confusing, but what do I know.

In case you're interested, the hottest noncertified skills (25% or more growth in skills pay premiums over the past 12 months) were:

  • SQL Server
  • WebSphere
  • Active Server Pages
  • Microsoft .Net


Sunday, August 07, 2005

Case In Point

At least it's not just us.

A recent article by Dave Kearns accurately, succinctly, painted a picture of what happens when a company with good technology and poor marketing & direction forces its customers to evaluate it's direction.

Coventry University just went through this exercise. Someone - probably at Microsoft's bequest - started asking "What does all of this Novell stuff really buy us?" Nobody had a good answer, so out with the Red "N", and in with the Evil Empire.

The formula for fixing this is very easy. Nothing groundbreaking here, the model exists in plenty of places. Cisco and Microsoft have proven unequivocally that style over substance works. Neither have the best technologies, but both do the best job of selling it. Do they win every deal? Probably not. But once someone calls Cisco or Microsoft, the deal is probably already theirs to lose.

Novell's sales process - pre, and post - is more often than not, abysmially amateur. They don't know how to sell into organizations at the right levels. They can't put together an effective message to CxO level executives. Making matters worse, Novell is now incenting (pressuring) their sales force to meet their sales targets with more than 66% new business.

There are bigger problems. They can't even get people working on the same campus to talk to each other enough to agree on management interfaces, password management, OS Service Pack levels, or Java Virtual Machine version requirements (don't get me started on Java). This certainly makes it harder for sales people and SE's to make a compelling argument with new or existing customers.

Perhaps the biggest problem Novell faces is the nearly insurmountable obstacles it continually throws in front of IT professionals that need to develop skills with their products. You can go virtually anywhere and find MCSE's, CCNA's, CCNE's, etc. to administer and manage Microsoft and Cisco networks. Last week, I created a two-disk mirror by adding hot-swap drives to a running Win2K server that was low on space. I'd never done it before in my life. I understood the basic concepts of initializing disks, creating a logical volume, assigning drive letters, etc. The GUI's in Win2K made it so mind-numbingly easy that anyone who couldn't do it should never be allowed in a server room.

Conversely, try to find a CNE in a market like Tulsa. See how many people know Nterprise Branch Office or NetWare Clustering. Even in markets like Dallas and Houston, there is not a very deep talent pool. Novell training classes are very, very expensive. $2,500 a week is a lot of money for a company to invest in what currently amounts to a niche skill set. It's hard enough for companies to short themselves an engineer for a week on purpose. Put that price tag on it, and multiply it by more than one technician who would need training, and the TCO figures that Novell always touts dwindle quickly.

I want so very badly for Novell to become the company that it can and should be. It has so much to learn, and so far to go.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Where did time go?

Talk about busy! Didn't even realize how long it had been since my last post.

We provided a summary of our upcoming projects to our Novell sales team, who indicated they'd be eager to brief us on their current technologies and ways they could help. We're doing some pretty exciting things with technologies from Novell, Microsoft, IBM, Network Appliance, and Cisco. Further bolsters our claim that if it works for us, it will work anywhere for anyone.

If we're successful, we will have upgraded equipment and services for all of our core offerings, and simultaneously saved the company $500k - $1 MM in one-time and recurring costs.

Maintaining productive relationships with vendors is much easier when you have executives with detailed understandings of technologies, and a team of people who closely and intimately understand those vendors' inner workings. We're spoiled. I bet there are very few customers as well connected as we are, and these are the customers that probably flock to Microsoft in droves.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Crisis mode

An entire week just flew by, holy cow.

Seems like everything is a crisis, and they are, but why we have so many at once is certainly puzzling. So much for strategic planning.

Today was interesting - the brilliant folks at Novell support essentially told us that something we've been doing for going on 5 years without a hitch, should never have worked and isn't supported. What the heck could this be? I'll tell you. Using NAL to distribute - not launch - applications, to a Win2K server running Terminal Services.


There was an entire dot-com business based upon this functionality. I was there. But apparently, it never happened and I wasn't actually involved with it after all. So sayeth support.

This will be fun...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Great Holiday

Had a phenomenal holiday. Watched some great auto races. Blew stuff up. Made noise with my nitro powered R/C monster truck, to which we strapped a faux JATO pack and watched it scream down the street shooting flames and sparks behind it. Barbequeued ribs all day, which turned out exceptionally well. Watched fireworks with friends. It's good to be an American.

If you enjoy grilling and don't want to have a different type of grill for smoking, baking, searing, etc., have a Hasty Bake Legacy shipped to you. You can't argue with results, and these things will last forever.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

It's not just me - most software really does stink!

An article on the cover of the June 20th ComputerWorld begins as follows:

"Badly designed software is costing businesses millions of dollars annually because it's difficult to use, requires extensive training and support, and is so frustrating that many end users underutilize applications..."
This was attributed to IT officials at Boeing and Fidelity. I second the motion. What's the answer?

Aside from maybe TESTING AND USING YOUR OWN PRODUCT, a group of (presumably equally frustrated) people came up with something called the "Common Industry Format for Usability Test Reports", or CIF. Recently, the International Standards Organization (ISO) voted to accept CIF. Vendors who comply with the standard should be able to provide this report to customers on demand. Better yet, if they write worth a damn, they should prominently tout & display these reports as proof that they know what they're doing.

Calling Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, IBM, and Veritas...start writing.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Doing the right thing

Turns out that Michelin, despite screwing the pooch at the USGP, eventually was compelled to do the right thing by refunding ticket prices paid by attendees. In addition, they agreed to purchase 20,000 tickets for fans to next year's USGP (if in fact there is one).

  • Many good and juicy soap-operaesque links at the Planet-F1 site for those who may be interested in a motorsport that doesn't involve amateurs and hillbillies fighting amongst one another.

Having paid to attend a USGP, and hearing that attendance was roughly 140,000 people, I derived that Michelin just wrote a $20 million check. That is impressive. To put this in perspective, that's basically the entire budget for a competitive two-car team for one year in the NASCAR Nextel Cup series. Ouch.

I formally recant my desire for everyone to boycott Michelin tires. Whether or not you patronize Michelin based on their complete and total failure to prepare for a single turn on a 100 year old racing circuit is still your decision. I still won't.

Lots of companies (and people) are provided opportunities to shine, and fail to make the most of them. It's a shame that when someone or some organization does what it should, by rights, that it is 'remarkable' at all. America's expectations of companies, ourselves, and each other have often times become so low, it's outright insulting at best and racist/prejudiced at worst.

Maybe this is why it seems hard for my wife and I to find life-long friends. Our expectations of others are usually no less than those we hold of ourselves. This isn't out of arrogance, it's out of respect. I would not dare assume that anyone else in my neighborhood is any less capable of living their lives to a high standard than are we. Yet time and time again, we are disappointed - by parents who allow children to behave violently and disrespectfully toward others. By adults who have no concern or respect for anyone but themselves. By people who do not consider the consequences of their actions. By people who only half-heartedly believe in personal accountability. By entrepreneurs who openly struggle to manage their businesses, ask for help, then do whatever they damn well please anyway. By people who take friendships for granted, and who assume that friendship implies complete acceptance of their lifestyle choices.

Makes it really hard sometimes...

Monday, June 27, 2005

Work in progress

Found that there is some sparse work in progress by some of those on the ZEN team on the book targeted for IT management regarding use of their product to streamline processes and develop efficiencies.

I think I know how they feel - there's a book that should be written, and they know what should be in it. Find the time to organize it and make it coherent...right. I posted a comment on their blog indicating I'd be very happy to assist if possible. It's been a couple of weeks since they posted on that blog, so who knows how much traction it will get.

For not going out of my way to watch women's sports, I'm seeing a whole lot of them. The Women's US Open was pretty compelling stuff until Sunday, and even then, still fun to watch. I'm also seeing more and more female racing drivers. How cool! Sure seems like half of the female tennis players at Wimbledon have names ending in "kova", but some of them can flat hit the ball. There's some good stories there - especially in racing. I hope they can get some more visibility.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Some days...

Had to let a fairly new HelpDesk technician go today, amid numerous accounts of smarmy, arrogant comments and attitudes, breach of procedure, unprofessionalism, and a cloud of doubt surrounding some missing equipment.

He interviewed very well, seemed more than capable of handling the pressure and demands of the position...pretty sad stuff.

Each failure provides a lesson to be learned. I guess this is why most companies aren't interested in bringing in outside individuals for management positions until they've become "seasoned". Each time we have to cycle someone through our HelpDesk, we're able to learn which traits perceivable in an interview are good, and which ones are not. He had us all fooled though, which makes me at least feel a bit better.

Now we get to see whether or not IBM's anti-theft mechanisms really work. This should be fun.

On another note, it seems that Novell was able to fix the issue with their ZSM product by changing two binaries. It took developers around a week to correct, test, and release the update to us. It was not our fault at all, it was genuinely broken for over 6 years. This was just something that should have been tested and wasn't...and apparently, we're the first Novell customer to ever press them on it. Sweet redepmtion!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Sender Policy Framework

Got turned on to an IETF draft standard that, hopefully, will not only eliminate some spoofed e-mail traffic on the web, but allow our outgoing mail to be accepted more readily.

The draft is entitled "Sender Policy Framework", and allows mail servers a way to check whether or not incoming e-mail originated from the server(s) authorized to send mail for that domain.

It's pretty simple to do with your DNS registrar...if it helps, I can't see a downside to doing it. Those with nothing to hide, hide nothing - right?

By the way, I've never mentioned it, but Postini is godsend to anyone who handles internet e-mail. There are folks who argue that appliances & software in their data center is the way to go - these people must have more money and bandwidth than they need.

Do the math - outsource it!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

To-Do List: "Write a book"

In reading another blog operated by someone close to the ZENworks product at Novell, I found a very short but interesting entry.

In short, this individual was musing about the fact that a book entitled "How ZENworks Saved My Life" could have a very real market. This person and another colleague were agreeing that a book designed for management moreso than the rank-and-file IT staff, that outlines what a sound desktop management and/or standardization strategy can do for your bottom line, would help eliminate a substantial sales barrier.

I agree. For a long time, I've argued that the net result of Novell's marketing efforts could be captured in the phrase "all the wrong people get it".

There are lots of good technical guides on the product, but the 1's and 0's are only about 25% of the picture in my estimation. Having been at a number of organizations that shaped their policies and processes around use of a management suite such as ZENworks, this book seemed to write itself in my mind. The rest would be Mozartian "scribbling and bibbling" so to speak.

He said 'one day it might get written'. Hate to seem as if I'm about to plagurize an idea, but I had actually started writing such a book about 4 years ago and was stopped by a career. I think my title was something along the lines of "ZEN Nuddhism" - I was younger then. Perhaps I'll be the one who writes it, or at least one who contributes largely to it.

I think such a book should be required reading for IT managers, CIO's, CFO's, etc. It really is hard sometimes to make the connections between standardization and return on investment if you've never seen it happen. I'm continually surprised at how many IT shops are still doing things the hard way. If management realized how much time and money are being wasted by IT staff working hard instead of working smart, they'd likely suffer an involuntary bodily reaction of some kind.

I'm not advocating that costs be cut and people be fired - I'm advocating that spending on IT be made and measured at a level that can actually generate a return, not simply considered a recurring expense. Not every IT manager knows how to convey this story, but any IT manager (or CIO for that matter) worth their salt will know that selling it to their organization is mandatory if they are ever to reach the next level.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Too many resources

You know a company has too many resources when they develop an entire suite of products from scratch, aimed at 2% of the corporate IT market.

IBM's ThinkVantage Tools are, largely, very well written and certainly add value over the Dell garbage we had been buying until recently. For notebooks, it doesn't get much better than IBM Access Connections. This is a great technology that simplifies IP and wireless connectivity to an "Even-the-CEO-can-do-it" level. The Rescue and Recovery tools are very well done, easy to use, and actually could serve to get a PC back up in the event Windows will not start. Kudos to IBM for this.


IBM is going to market - not aggressively mind you - with some rather half baked tools that offer similarly-intended functionality to products such as ZEN and Altiris. The development of Image Ultra Builder, as well as their "app distribution" and "asset management" tools, indicates to me that IBM may have too much time on their hands.

As a consultant, I've seen plenty of different organizations. I can't think of a single one that would select the IBM TVT suite for managing images or application distribution.

Why not? Because they aren't free. If you have to pay for something, you might as well get what you want. Be it Altiris, SMS, ZENworks, etc - there are a number of commercial products that do exceptionally good jobs of delivering applications, managing images, and capturing inventory.

Granted, the market for these utilities should be quite large... but faced with the mature offerings already available... I just... if you can't do it better than the other guys... seriously, why bother?

I wish I had IBM's problems.

Monday, June 20, 2005

"Significant Architectural Change"

Well, after having been host to a Novell employee for two days (actually very long nights, fortunately not for me), we've confirmed what we have believed all along. Our issues with the ZENworks for Servers product surrounding the Monitoring components have been attributed to a long-standing defect (the code was dated 1999) which had never been addressed.

The situation is basically that, when using the IP Ping agent to monitor devices, ZSM is very erratic and unreliable at reporting when services are actually up or down. You can generate hundreds of false alerts over a very short timespan, and the problem is easy to reproduce.

The source of the problem is quite laughable. Those who know ManageWise know that it was written and sold long before TCP/IP came into prevalence within corporate LAN's. The TCP/IP Ping monitoring component, again last updated in 1999, sends pings out in some type of sequence, and - get THIS - expects to receive them back in exactly the same sequence. If they come back out of order - something OTHER than first-out-first-in - viola! False alert!

I wish I was kidding.

It makes sense, sort of, that this problem would have existed. IPX was rarely ever routed across WAN links. Usually, only big IT shops had something like ManageWise in place. They usually only wanted to monitor local services - in fact, in some cases, they only could manage local services. Really big IT shops had network groups that used OpenManage or something along those lines. Using it to monitor a large WAN with slow links was just never considered.

What doesn't make sense is that the feature remained in the product all this time, and that the problem was never again tested for or uncovered.

The solution, as the title of this post implies, requires a "significant architectural change". Which is to say you evaluate each ICMP reply based on it's merits, not the order in which it arrived back at the server (why would this concept be so foreign?).

A number of software developers in Bangalore will be working to correct the problem over the next few days - hopefully it'll bear fruit and we will have again facilitated a fix to the ZSM product that nobody else ever found or yelled about loudly enough.

Why hasn't this problem been found in 6 years? Based on what we know, there are but a few rational explanations for the situation as it had evolved:

  • Hardly anyone else is using the product - or this portion of it - in production.
  • Those that are, might be in single-campus environments where all of the remote links are high-speed.
  • Others have tried to use it, unsuccessfully, and gave up - perhaps citing excessive difficulty in it's configuration or faulting their own abilities.
  • Still others may have found the problem, opened incidents, and got nowhere - again, disheartened, they punted in favor of another solution.
  • Nobody tested this in a real-world network (we are also solely responsible for the "Unnumbered Links" fix that is now in ZSM).
  • Novell very plainly does not eat their own dog food, despite any claims to the contrary you may hear.

Ask someone at Novell's IS&T if they ever clustered GroupWise on NetWare prior to OES. Ask them if they use ZSM to monitor & manage their network. You'll be surprised how little of what you buy is actually used by the people who make it. That's not the way I would run a business, but hey, that's just me.

It's not unreasonable for us to feel like we're beta-testing product when we uncover problems like this. Again, if technology companies develop for worst possible case - which is honestly not that much harder to test around - they are able to accommodate any case. Heaven forbid anyone spends some additional time to get something right.

Apologies in advance to whomever coded this thing way back when, but everyone responsible for this oversight between 1999 and mid-year 2005 should be blackballed from ever developing, testing, or managing a software product ever again. This is just so simple and obvious to anyone using the product, that it's oversight is paramount to wanton neglect.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Boycott Michelin!

I just witnessed the travesty that was the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, and I can only say that I'm very glad I wasn't able to go this year.

I had attended the 2000 and 2001 GP's, and found them to be amazing spectacles of engineering and driver talent. Nobody who knows what it takes to put a competitive F1 car on the grid would ever claim that it's not the pre-eminent form of motor sport in the world. These machines are magnificent works of engineering art. If you're a techie and you like racing, F1 is for you.

What happened today will be spun and politicized by all sorts of people, but the bottom line is this. The idiots at Michelin got it all wrong. They owe everyone with a ticket to the race a complete refund of their money and travel expenses.

Figure 140,000 people at around $500 a piece to lodge and buy a ticket to the event...I think it'd have been much cheaper for them to have brought a tire to the race that could handle a 6 degree bank at 185 MPH, even if it was a little slower than the Bridgestones. No, they realized that there was no chance they could win, so they all quit. Like a bunch of spoiled 3-year-old's. Tres' French.

Since you will probably never see a refund check from Michelin, the best you can do is to never buy a Michelin product of any kind ever again. This shouldn't be asking too much. First of all, the company is French...enough said. Second of all, if they can't be trusted to make a tire that can last 350km while spending probably a grand total of two minutes during the race on a simple 6 degree banking at speed, I'm not sure we should trust them to make the tires on our family's cars that will go 30,000 - 50,000km.

Bridgestone got it right - their tires performed very well, and would have lasted 100 laps (the race was 73 in total). Amazing that Bridgestone (who owns Firestone) has the "reliable" tire, and Michelin suddenly is scared of their own shadow.

Buy Bridgestone. Buy Firestone. Even if you hate the commercials (I know I'm sick of them by now). Send a message with your checkbook.

I just hope F1 will be welcome in America again - it sure seems that quite a few people have tried very hard to ruin it for us.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A note on Gordon Ramsay...

Incidentally, every manager who struggles with getting more out of his or her people and has had no success with using "the carrot" may want to see how effective a motivator "the whip" can be by observing the aforementioned Gordon Ramsay at work on BBC America or Fox's "Hell's Kitchen".

His affinity for swearing aside, he demonstrates that passion about one's work and a refusal to accept anything less than perfection can effectively lead as an example that people of substance will follow.

The challenge is to get people to go beyond the boundaries they've set for their own capabilities - so few people set limits for themselves that allow them to truly shine. Ramsay is adept at getting people to shatter their illusions of their own limits and capabilities, even if his methods are found to be questionable. You can't argue with results. This guy was England's "Chef of the Year" for 9 years running. If you know how hard it is to get three Michelin stars, you understand how good he is at what he does.

Being the Squeaky Wheel

After having an issue with a ZEN product open with Novell Support for over 6 months, we're finally getting some real attention to our problem. The issue relates to the ZENworks Server Management product - specifically, the Ping agent that lets you know when servers / services are up or down. It's acted flaky for over two years, across three versions of product, two hardware platforms, and two versions of NetWare OS.

A bona-fide Provo resident will be here to ensure that neither we nor Novell Support have missed anything, and will climb on the phone with developers in Bangalore, India to figure out what the heck is going on here.

It's good when you can get that kind of attention, but it's bad when you need it. I wonder how many other IT managers feel like they're unwitting Beta-testers for software they've purchased. We feel that way a lot - with all sorts of products. It's one thing for a vendor to tell us "You did it all wrong." We hardly ever hear that. We always hear "You have it right, it should be working." Yet it takes months sometimes to figure out what is broken or why.

I don't know how software with such easy to find deficiencies ever makes it out the door of these companies. My favorite chef, Gordon Ramsay, likes to say "Keep your mistakes in the kitchen." The ability to do that implies that someone - who knows what they're looking at - is actually reviewing every aspect of the product. Just like a chef would.

I'd rather get served a great meal 30 minutes late than to have utter garbage put before me on-time. The mentality that says "meet your dates at all costs, and fix it in a Service Pack" is nonsense.

The mentality should be "get it right the first time, at all costs". 99% of the time, schedules and deadlines are artificial creations in the software development business. Many products are so complex that facilitating a 3-month development and release cycle does nothing but dilute the quality of the product. It's the IP networking equivalent of using a very small MTU setting on a robust backbone. Projects, like ethernet packets, have a minimum overhead. The more payload you deliver under that overhead, the more efficient the mechanism becomes. I'd love to see development and release cycles move to 6 months - especially at Novell.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Hello, world.

So I finally decided to do the Blog thing. Why, you ask, bother? Well, I was inspired. In a recent ComputerWorld article (May 30, 2005 - Vol 39 No. 22), Patrick Thibodeau quoted a Sun Microsystems executive as saying (about Blogs by CIO's)...

"If a few of those guys started [Blogging], you can darn well bet that we would be reading them. I sure would."

What this disconnected Sun executive doesn't realize is that not a lot of CIO's have the time, aptitude, or inclination to Blog. It's unfortunate, but true. They'll come along eventually.

However, CIO's are also usually very seasoned (at companies the size of those Sun is interested in), meaning the whole concept is a little foreign and possibly uncomfortable. The next best things to CIO blogs are the blogs of the people reporting to those guys.

That's where I come in.

I have assumed the moniker of ZEN Master, after having the title jokingly or lovingly bestowed upon me by coworkers at Novell Consulting. I am not the only ZEN Master any more than Phil Jackson would be, but I wear the title with pride. ZEN, for those who don't know, is a (brilliant) suite of products that - properly implemented - dramatically improve the ability of IT groups to serve and support their customers.

I've not worked for Novell for a number of years, but my career has been closely tied to the company and it's products for over a decade. I'm not a Novell bigot - in fact, I'm usually one of the first people to tell you where Novell's got it wrong and what I think they should do about it. Rather, I'm a fan of what works best. It just so happens that, in a number of cases, what works best are Novell products (although the instances of this being the case are dwindling).

The company I work for does about $1.2 - $1.5 billion in total revenue each year. It has offices in nearly 100 locations throughout the southwest, south, and east coast. All of the IT functions are centralized - there is no IT presence in any office outside the Headquarters. In many ways, we represent "worst possible case" for our vendors.

The upside is that this IT staff is good. Far above average. I should know, I've been around a bit. We regularly push the limits of every product we touch.

In short, if it works well here, it will work well anywhere. If it has a weakness, we'll find it.

For quite a while, my wish is that IT vendors would plan around environments like ours instead of the pristine, blue-sky lab environments that are so delicately crafted and maintained. There are probably 10,000 A+ certified techies that could build a Novell "Super-Lab" like environment to stress test networks and applications. Sure it wouldn't have the bells and whistles, but the point is this - figuring out how to provide services to a single campus or multi-campus enterprise is a walk in the park. Figure out how to make a product work well in an environment with as many variables as ours, and your product will work well anywhere.

The most annoying thing we find is that, most of the time, if a product doesn't work here, it's because the vendor has spent too much time focusing on all the wrong things. Usually it's something like a vendor who decided to include configuration options that look and sound neat, but are thusly architected in such a way that they cannot be implemented without additional hardware.

Try to deploy Patchlink in a 100-site WAN without implementing a new server or internet caching appliance at each and tell me how you fare. So much for increasing ROI, improving simplicity, reducing maintenance, etc. You're hopping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Apologies to Dell, IBM, HP, Compaq, etc...your business model shouldn't depend on the endless proliferation of crappy software. I think if software vendors spent more time figuring out how to architect their products so that they did not require more hardware, the world of IT Managers and vendors alike would be a happier place to live and do business.