Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Month: August 2014

SDDC and Self Service: Two Old Problems are New Again

A while ago, I attended an excellent conference held by EMC around the software defined data center (SDDC). It was an eye opening experience into the types of efficiencies an SDDC can offer, but beyond that, it gave a glimpse into the future of IT, at least from the participating vendors’ point of view.

Over the course of that day, IT was embraced as the enabler of customizations and flexibility for the end user while driving down costs. Two main results from the SDDC (or similar cloud initiatives) were self-provisioned VMs/storage and highly customized and portable applications. Despite the touted benefits, both of these brought to mind legacy problems though that centralized management strived to remove. While there are ways to mitigate the pitfalls, it harkened back to issues IT has been trying to resolve for years.

Self-Provisioning Virtual Servers and Storage
Prior to the Y2K bug, IT organizations were a little more lenient with end users. You might have found that end users would go talk to software vendors and purchase the software and servers they needed. If they needed a file server, they may have even gone out and purchased a server with some internal storage and given it to IT to implement (or stood it up under their desk). Perhaps your IT organization back then interjected, but in a lot of cases, I’m betting they didn’t. This was the time before standards and their cost savings were even realized. Folks needed what they needed and they got it through their own budgets.

At its core, this is self-provisioning in that it is end user driven. A user has a set of requirements, found a solution and asked IT to implement it on some infrastructure (or they did it themselves). In current times, IT will work with the end user to plan out resources and get them what they need. In the SDDC, we’ve reversed that. End users can now go to a portal and self-provision the infrastructure they need. IT provides the underlying infrastructure, the end user finds the solution and can implement it themselves using the automated self-provisioning portal. IT can create standards to lower costs, perform chargebacks for cost tracking and can potentially provide many diverse platforms, giving the end user the flexibility to use IT as a service.

The caution here though is stagnation and another divergence of standards at the end user level. The good news is that stagnation can be mitigated with the proper controls around server and storage expiration. This does require some care and feeding on the IT side. You certainly can’t have a user leave the company and their critical VM expires and is removed. IT needs to build processes after the self-provisioning occurs to move things into a production supported environment. Management cannot assume that the self-provisioning removes the need for IT. The IT staff’s responsibilities shift in a different direction.

IT should also perform investigation as applications are brought up to determine if there might be duplication. For example, if you work at an engineering company, you might have an IP management system. Let’s assume a new group has been acquired and they are starting to investigate IP management systems on their own. Someone should know what this group is doing so that you can take advantage of the existing IP management system (if possible). At a large organization, this consolidation of services can be hard to see without IT’s involvement.

In-House Developed Applications
How many of us have struggled with legacy applications that were developed in-house? Back before there were massive ERP applications and APIs for everything, a lot of development work was done to customize new applications built around your business. As time went on, these applications may have traded hands and, as cost cutting measures won the battle for IT, the developers were let go, but the application continued on. No one wants to acknowledge these applications exist, but of course they do! Not only that, these applications are critical to your business and haven’t been updated in years.

What the SDDC (and the cloud) can offer, along with self-provisioning, is a new application landscape that, again, harkens back to this original flaw. A developer can now be enabled to have instant platforms available to them and is encouraged to code it to be portable. We’ve only solved one problem here, namely the availability of resources or speed to deployment.

IT departments have to commit to the developers and the applications. Cost savings cannot trump the development work that needs to happen to keep the application modern. The SDDC and the PaaS based solutions require a commitment to modernizations and upkeep. If not, you will end up with yet another application that is minimally supported, but still critical to your business.

SDDC, PaaS, and IT
While the SDDC and cloud offer instant access to the latest platforms quickly and without much IT involvement, there are still concerns that need to be addressed and monitored by IT. The investment in these solutions requires a long term commitment to infrastructure and the applications running on them. EMC did an excellent job of outlining this strategy and it is certainly a convincing way to manage infrastructure and empower end users if managed and planned out properly.

If nothing else, the SDDC requires a lot of thought put into it and shouldn’t be entered into without a deep level of analysis and thought.

The Cloud and Scalability Pitfalls

Ah, the cloud. It will redefine our datacenters, lower our staffing costs and increase our scalability. If you give it a treat, it may even follow you home and provide everlasting comfort. Let’s talk scalability though. That term can be applied to the cloud in a multitude of ways. Once you build your company up to be a full-fledged Enterprise, it is important to understand this term and how it can be applied.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume you know basic cloud terminology. Also, only scalability is considered, not security or other things you should think about when picking a cloud provider.


User Scalability
The first type of scalability is easy. Moving to the cloud, especially for SaaS based applications, gives you a massive level of user scalability. Depending on your contract, you can scale the licenses you need as your company grows or shrinks. For Saas, this is perfect because a one-size fits all application, like email, grows without you having to add on-premise resources.

The pitfall here is flexibility and expandability. With a one-size fits all application that can scale to a great amount of users comes a lack of flexibility in some cases. The reason is often that, in trying to keep the cloud subscription rates low, a cloud company providing SaaS may not invest in the resources to grow APIs or add functionality. Complexity becomes the enemy of their operating model and, as a result, customizations are limited. This could lead your company to engage multiple cloud partners providing various services to meet your requirements. Your savings have now vanished! A good contrast here would be Google Apps vs. Microsoft. Take a look at the investments over time in improvements by each. If there’s any question in your mind about what I’m talking about, go run Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook. Yikes!

For expandability, you might be looking at development work for those providers willing to allow customizations. In that case, you may be hiring staff to support a development effort to stay in step with the cloud provider, but also expand functionality as requirements come up. This can be a good thing if the solution is flexible or a bad thing if they hit a wall on capabilities. Either way, it is something to consider.

Processing Scalability
This type of scalability makes a lot of sense when considering the cloud. Consider an application that does a heavy amount of processing, but only part of the time. The application is critical to your business, but you may not want to dedicate on-premise resources that will sit idle most of the time. These applications and the resources fall into PaaS or IaaS typically.

For example, consider a bank. All day long, they take in transactions. At the end of the day, there might be processing that needs to be done. A cloud solution might be preferable to on-premise because you could burst all that processing into the cloud after hours and bring down the results before the next day begins. You have no expensive hardware to maintain on-premise and only use periodically.

Another great example can be found in companies running huge e-commerce websites or web applications. These become the lifeline of the company, so there will be massive teams dedicated to these types of applications.

The scalability pitfalls may be the same development complexity as stated above, but the result would seem to justify the means. Even if the cloud infrastructure was affected, you have a portable enough application to move it freely to another resource and can expand it as processing needs grow. This is one reason OpenStack is so appealing and a big reason the cloud providers operate in different regions. If one region is affected and your application is portable, it can be brought up somewhere else quickly.

The bigger pitfall here can be management’s expectations vs. reality. If management is driving the cloud initiative down, they must understand that the cloud isn’t a catch all for every application and that other cost saving measures like server virtualization might make more sense. Segway approaching!

Scalability as a Consideration
Be wary when management asks you to look at your internal applications for the cloud. If your company is running smaller sets of applications that are used by small groups of people throughout the day, you will most likely find that the larger IaaS providers cannot match the cost of an on-premise solution and that processing scalability is moot. Also, the complexities involved in getting your applications portable and potentially backing up this critical data might also keep you from moving. You need to be sure that you understand how some IaaS providers offer their services because many require recoding of custom applications. They want you to conform to a platform so they can keep their costs down (enter OpenStack again). There is a great article over at GIGAOM about customers who don’t require cloud scalability, but still want to move. They do recommend a potential solution for these types of application sets and these options are worth investigating.

Balance of User and Functionality
When faced with a cloud initiative, scalability is often discussed, but may not truly be understood. User and processing scalability will only get you so far in a cloud-based world, but each has its place. The solution you choose must be flexible enough to meet all your requirements to make it worth the investment. Consider the product roadmap and your own internal company’s long term strategy when considering the user side of scalability. For those companies with an intensive processing requirement or the burden of servicing millions of users, the cloud can easily provide scalability and potentially, a quick return on investment. The question is – does your Enterprise have such applications? If your management has given the cloud-first directive, scalability may fall to the way side entirely and other factors will start to emerge that show you how applications are really used and that you may have already made the right decision in keeping the applications on-premise on hardware or virtualization.

Part II of the ATS Saga: The ATS Made Me Lose My Mind

And I’m better for having lost my mind a little bit. Here’s the summary of Part I: After applying for several jobs via Applicant Tracking Systems, getting leads to real people through networking, not hearing anything from either the ATS or people and then watching the jobs disappear (read filled here), something in my brain snapped. I’ve revamped my original resume in the hopes that I can make the next ATS choke. After all, the revisions here have just about as much of a chance at getting me an interview as my real one apparently!

See how many references you get! Invite your friends! Bet money!

Please note that per Uni-Kitty, there’s no consistency…

Matthew Randee Sekol
(yes, Randee with 2 e’s) 

Expert Lego Builder | The Doctor’s Companion | Brony

Extensive Lego experience working to design and implement Lego interlocking bricks per the instructions and also through self starting creative methods. Led house-wide efforts to organize and catalog Lego bricks for easy repurposing. Traveled with The Doctor during his regrettable American phase and left him an emotional mess. Expert at running from CyberMen and Daleks. Survived 6 months in a time bubble with an Ood. Can sing all songs from My Little Pony Seasons 1-3. Currently working towards committing Season 4 songs to memory.

Professional Experience

The Galactic Empire – Death Star, A Galaxy far far away     2012 – Present
IT Manager, Superlaser Team
Under my authority, all Rebel Alliance servers and systems were decommissioned immediately. All automated processes and support matrices were written down on parchment and given to Ugnaughts for disposal. I kept the team in a state of Force-induced apathy while opposing infrastructures crumble around them.

  • Leveraged the Soul Infinity Gem to migrate users into a parallel idyllic universe during complex M&A activities. Responsible for anywhere between 25-5000 souls and their return to an earthly existence. The resulting savings was $5 million in salary costs during soul relocation.
  • Saved $7 million by building servers with Lego and convincing upper management that they were performing at optimal throughput. Gave new meaning to the phrase “that server is bricked.”
  • Increased Enterprise level support capabilities at no additional cost by repurposing WOPR subroutines to handle repetitive tasks and perform trending analysis on tickets.
  • Increased the team’s productivity by deploying surveillance cameras that feed into “The Machine.” The Machine sends me the social security numbers of those that are not performing optimally, so that I can intervene.
  • Lowered reliance on the public power grid and reduced costs by $20 million annually by deploying Mr. Fusion devices in data centers to provide power. Also, an additional savings of $4 million were realized through a related recycle program.
  • Provided 99.999% uptime for servers (and staff) by leveraging the multiverse, swapping out Earth 1 resources with others from Earth 2-52. Evaluated Earth 0, but did not recommend that solution due to confusion.
  • Increased ROI on Identity Management solution by integrating systems with GERTY and utilizing a series of mind wiped dopplegangers for the employee base.
  • Protected the company’s data and services by using the Sword of Omens to predict hardware and software failures before they happened.
  • Designed the methodology and document templates for a Business Continuity plan, training peers and familiarizing themselves with the outsourced vendor, The Dharma Initiative, and their off-site hosting facility, The Arrow.
  • Designed the Legal Hold process, storage and annual auditing. Designated email, Windows files, and SharePoint data was stored offsite and out of phase with reality aboard the USS Nimitz.
  • Met the company’s staffing goals in emerging regions and remotely administered the “Voight-Kampff” test to weed out replicants.
  • Enhanced corporate collaboration by entering employees’ dreams and planting ideas towards a common goal.

New-Path – Los Angeles, California     2005 – 2012
Farming Engineer, Sr.
Before being promoted to Manager, I served as team lead and worked on being less paranoid. During this time, I went slightly mad, but quickly recovered with help from Substance D. I ran several projects alone using multiple personalities to complete the work on time and within budget. My responsibilities grew over time, leading me to serve in both a support role and as an architect. At the end of my tenure, I mostly grew corn and blue flowers.

  • Designed and secured an external facing partner portal used by 50+ partners located in the island prison of Manhattan. Only the best and smartest partners survived, leading to a stronger marketplace and several strange sub-cultures.
  • Coordinated the Windows-based SAP ERP move to Allentown using transporter technology, dematerializing the equipment, allowing it to near-instantly rematerialize in the rack. Re-IP’d the servers after the move.
  • Lowered password reset tickets by 40% and saved 60% across IT in account creation and termination time by leveraging cybernetic implants from Cyberdyne, Inc. to authenticate users. Terminations were scheduled and completed via a T-1000 system, which performed 100% within SLA.
  • Achieved a successful and seamless Day One transition across several M&A activities by wiping employees’ memory with a Rekall server and re-implanting memories for new core functions.
  • Saved the team 50 hours per month by having the employees’ consciousness leap into another body and keep working during their lunch hour.
  • Secured all Windows desktop to server transactions with software from Omni Consumer Products, a Gartner leader in security.
  • Led a cross-team effort to update all systems for the Daylight Savings Time changes in 2007 with little end user impact by rotating the earth backwards, changing all the clocks and then rotating the earth forwards again.

Wayne Enterprises – Gotham City, Connecticut     2004 – 2005
Manager, Secret Research Programs
The transition to Wayne Enterprises was my first management role. I was responsible for overseeing IT inventory, budget, projects, and staff. I was sidetracked with research projects that were deemed ‘unscrupulous’ and summarily fired by Mr. Wayne. Shortly after, I stepped outside my comfort zone and trained on word play and riddles.

Momcorp– New New York, Earth    2999 – 3004
Bureaucrat Grade 35
By the time my tenure ended at Momcorp, I had been promoted 3 times from Grade 38 to Grade 35 Bureaucrat. I had a proven record of success at the robot manufacturer, increasing efficiency within .05% operational parameters and stamping all documents 5 times before sending to the master in-pile.

  • Upgraded the building’s cooling systems and saved $2 million annually by using an Ice-Nine replacement.
  • Successfully refocused staff during meetings by singing “Ooh Child” and challenging others to a dance-off.
  • Upgraded decision making corporate wide by installing a yes/no bit, eliminating all complexities and grey-areas.
  • Designed and held technical training for the organization using a black monolith to augment end user intelligence, resulting in lower ticket counts.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – Scotland     1998 – 1999
NT Installation Auror
Here, I served as a Windows Installation Technician, responsible for updating all computer systems to Windows NT 4. Wizards were able to network without using the fireplace flue.

  • Scored 50 points for Gryffindor.

Adams College    1998
Bachelor of Arts in Life, the Universe and Everything

Certificates and Organizations
Polliwog – Swimming (YMCA)              1986
Activision River Raiders                           1988
Junior Woodchuck                                     1990
Husband (if you can believe it)             2001
Official Comic Book Nerd                       2002
Father (Level I)                                              2006
Father (Level II)                                            2007
Father (Level III)                                           2009
Master Builder                                              2014

Office 365 vs. Google AppsWinning the Hearts and Minds of Small Business

Quartz posted an interesting article about Google stealing away Microsoft’s future customer base. The argument goes that Google’s less expensive options for email has built a small business customer base that is cost conscious above all and, as these businesses grow, they just build on Google Apps. The end result is a base of businesses that will grow larger and therefore, grow on Google Apps because they have become entrenched.

Well, maybe. Having seen and used both Google Apps for Business and Microsoft’s Office 365 E3, the reasons to buy Office 365 become apparent once you grow into a full fledged Enterprise. Consistently, the issue will come back to scale. Let’s go point by point with the article.

Point 1: Google has the traction with mid-size and small businesses
According to the stats outlined in the article, it is all true! Exchange has long had the email stronghold on everyone with good reason. Microsoft even added it directly into its Small Business Server for a while in order to help small businesses. In today’s market though, Exchange can no longer compete with a cloud based email solution at a small scale. You can save on IT staff and support costs by moving to the cloud. Can the argument for Office 365 be made? Absolutely! Microsoft does need to make some improvements here though.

1. Make the Office 365 licensing website as easy to read as the Google Apps for Business pricing page.
2. The breadth of licensing options on Office 365 makes it confusing vs. Google’s one size fits all. Plus, Office 365’s competing $5/month/user product is limited to 25 users. Rework this to allow more users and call out this feature for those looking for a Google comparable product. If folks don’t want Office, it’s not because they are limited to 25 users.
3. Develop better registration tools and add a purchase option to the mobile Office 365 app to make it easier for small businesses to register. Offer a self-registration option for other users with that same domain name, so user management becomes simple.
4. Expand the Connected Accounts feature into a migration solution for small businesses to use.

Point 2: Microsoft has a tight grip on larger enterprises
Large Enterprises need to remain agile and flexible. Often, they have a harder time doing so because of their size. Their scale requires each IT investment to yield larger savings over a more diverse base, which is a clear challenge.

This is where Microsoft’s ubiquitous solution shines. In these large Enterprises, we have an employee base with vastly different requirements that can do everything they want on one Office platform. Not only that, they know that other companies are doing the same. Interoperability is key to maintaining these corporate relationships.

Point 3: Google may have other competition though
This is where things really break down. Box and DropBox could be competition to Google Drive or their new Drive for Work. In reality though, these solutions fill a need that Google isn’t meeting and some businesses will find that they will purchase both Google Apps and Box, for example. Google Apps does certain things (email, chat, basic document management, collaboration and editing) and Box does other things well (like integrated collaboration with Microsoft’s Office suite). The issue isn’t so much one of competition, but one of features.

As your small business grows and more features are required, Google may be supplemented by other solutions. This means more money will be spent on other solutions through licensing and support.

Point 4: Google is cheap
This is possibly the most important point to your small business, but let’s stay with this article and build on the above conclusion from Point 3. As a company grows, what else might be needed?

Let’s assume that your business might need a conference call and meeting solution. With Google, you don’t really get anything for that. With Microsoft, you get Lync (which does a TON of stuff besides chat and presence by the way). But still, let’s focus on Google. You could go with Intercall for audio dialing or WebEx for meetings. Let’s stack those on top of our Google costs. Don’t forget that WebEx doesn’t have a Google Apps plug-in equivalent like it does (for free) with Outlook. If you need that feature, check out Esna and pay even more.

Another reason Google is cheap is their feature release cycle, or lack thereof. There are not a lot of improvements made to the service. Postini is still around, even though their support really isn’t. Google Apps Sync for Outlook is a hobbled mess, and if you check the forums, there are plenty of legacy calendaring issues that have yet to be fixed. This solution is not Enterprise ready. It is only good enough until you grow and need something more robust.

Real Costs on an Enterprise Scale
Points 3 and 4 have shown that you may have to supplement Google Apps with non-Google solutions as you grow and find new requirements. Something to consider is the multitude of vendors you may now have, including Microsoft, that you are now paying for licenses and support. Vendor consolidation might be something you’ll consider as you look at your growing IT budget.

Microsoft has consistently won the Office and email battle over the years, crushing other solutions into oblivion. Now that it has combined these offerings and supplemented them with other collaboration solutions and mobile apps, I just don’t see the momentum swinging to Google. With Satya Nadella at the helm, Office for iPad and Android, and frequent updates to improve Office 365, this battle is already shaping up to be in Microsoft’s favor. As a small business grows into an Enterprise, IT and complexities will grow. Cost analysis will prove out that Microsoft is the way to go.

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