Kentucky KAMP GIS 2010 Summit Keynote

I had the opportunity to deliver a keynote on “Cloud Computing and the Public Sector” late last week to 225 GIS (Geographic Information Systems) professionals in Frankfort, Kentucky.  Trisha Brush was kind enough to invite me after we met at CloudCamp Cincinnati.  I tried to keep it at a high level but then drill down to some particular use cases.  I also tried to deal with some of the sticky issues like governance and compliance.

The two points I emphasized during the keynote are:

  1. The Cloud is an enabler.  It lowers the cost of entry for disruptive technology.  A use case example is using Elastic Map Reduce to solve huge problems we can’t easily or inexpensively solve today with traditional enterprise methods.
  2. GIS and mapping are extremely relevant these days. As admins, directors and users, they should work with developers  to create innovative mashup-style apps.  This can help disseminate information to wide masses or create revenue streams from a constituent and commercial perspective.

You can find the keynote preso here.

Trisha borrowed a lot of the CloudCamp unconference format for the KAMP Summit which worked well.  I also found out that they had an App Contest (Desktop and Web) similar to a sprint during StartupWeekend.  I spent most of the day there and this is what I walked away with:

  • Cloud in the public sector is still very new, yes it’s a journey
  • Unconference (a la Barcamp) continues to work well as a format
  • The midwest has a lot of innovation in it
  • Can’t underestimate the value of leadership and community (Trisha did an amazing job)

I had to leave during the Unpanel but I was getting a lot of questions about Cloud in general (security, resiliency, etc) and I tried to answer as much as I could.  I also met Angie Jennings of Swova who specializes in ArcGIS implementations.  Her company is also one of the first to help customers take their GIS solutions into the cloud from an IaaS perspective.

If you’ve got questions about the preso or cloud in general, feel free to comment below.

Software and hardware vendors: Hand over the keys

 

via Brenda Clarke on Flickr

Everyone talks about the consumerization of IT and how end-users are demanding enterprise support of things like iPhones, iPads and many other pieces of technology.  People want to be able to consume IT as a resource on any device or platform they have.  This is happening between enterprise hardware and software vendors and service providers.

I’ve met with quite a few them recently and they usually fall into two camps.  Ones who have invested and attempted to develop their own intellectual property and others who have leveraged economies of scale and rely on vendors to supply the IP.  There are exceptions to this rule of course.  The first camp is what I want to focus on.

Here is what they want:

  • Align with my business and go-to-market strategy
  • Don’t can your offering with SP-focused marketing materials if it can’t honor the promises
  • Have hardware and software with open interfaces
  • Have well-documented interfaces
  • Be agile in the adoption of new interfaces

These conversations tend to revolve around the self-service portals many of the pure-play service providers have developed.  They don’t want a canned out of the box offering, they want to be able to provision and orchestrate the compute, network and storage layer through things like SOAP and REST protocols.  When you develop these interfaces and hand them over to the developers, strange things happen.  Nick “@lynxbat” Weaver exemplifies this.  He isn’t a developer by day but you give him some APIs and he can do crazy things on a plane like write a vSphere plugin that allows VM teleportation with our (EMC’s) VPLEX product.

Now I’m not ignoring the need for software development lifecycle management, version control.  Those are all important.  The thing is that the “neat stuff” us and our customers do can only get better if we open up with good APIs that have a happy balance between standardization and cutting-edge agility.

Why do I beat this drum?  Because it’s a win for enterprise hardware/software vendors and our customers.  What is most exciting about this is that I’ve beat this drum inside of EMC, not as a VP of strategic direction but as a joe-schmoe vSpecialist.  What has come out of it?  A lot of people have listened and it is a huge priority.  I’ve said it before on twitter but one of the best things about working at EMC is that the organization is huge but very flat.  The reality is that I’ve been able to nudge an aircraft carrier with the help of others and start to change course.  This isn’t a post about why I love working at EMC but I think it’s a darn compelling reason.  Our work has just begun…

The story behind the infamous “Banana Bread”

Here’s the story to how the infamous “Edsai” and banana bread thing came to be.  Back in April, Vaughn Stewart of Netapp posted a blog entry about “blogging with integrity” that went right after Chad Sakac.  It created a bit of tension that frustrated a lot of people.  Instead of going negative I asked myself what would diffuse the tension.  I get this kick-ass toffee banana bread delivered weekly from FarmFreshDelivery.com that tastes so good when you warm it up and have it with a glass of milk.  I tweeted “@vStewed have some banana bread. and some milk. it shortens the lengthy blog posts. for me it does anyway.”  I decided I’d ship some out to Vaughn and anyone else who wanted some.

I received a number of replies and ended up shipping about 12 loaves across the country.  Actually, my wife did and I’m indebted to her for it as she’s done it on another two occasions.  I know I accomplished my goal because a number of people messaged me and told me they appreciated me breaking the tension.  Now I just do it because people love the banana bread.

I thought I’d give the back story because references to “Banana Bread” have found their way into EMC team training presentations, rap videos and other crazy places.

“I hate everything about you” or “Governance”

via mafleen on flickr

“I hate everything about you, why do I love you?” — I hate everything about you by Three Days Grace.  A couple months ago I asked folks on Twitter if IT governance was helpful or a hinderance.  You’d be surprised by the reactions, at least I was.  Back in the day when I was a server hugger in my former life, I hated any form of governance that was going to slow me down. Ok, I need to level with you, I still feel that way.  The operative phrase here is “slow me down”.  There is something have come to respect over the past 5 years when I stopped focusing on what brand of processor or type of server to buy.  I started talking to folks in the business who had loftier goals than I did which was moving the ball forward.  I started to *get it*.  It’s about moving the collective agenda forward.

I realized that you can embrace governance when you have all the key stakeholders involved and this means that you should be able to set up a framework and template for classes of IT offerings.  Why does it mean so much to me?  Because I’ve never seen this offered in a package that appeals to the CxOs and server huggers at the same time.  A vblock (EMC storage, Cisco network and compute, and VMware) represent this union.  Coupled with Unified Infrastructure Manager and some open api’s, we can start to realize a service catalog built around governance that provides the business a lot of agility.  A huge benefit, albeit an uncomfortable one, is removing NRE or non-recoverable engineering from the technology cycle.  I know it’s not perfect but now we get to focus on the important stuff.

There are some really cool sessions around Vblock and VCE at VMworld.  You can find more info here.

vExpert 2010

The vExpert 2010 announcements started coming out this past Friday and Today.  I received the award along with many of my peers.  I feel honored that John Troyer and crew selected me as one among a long list of very talented and giving individuals.

@maishsk has set up a twitter list of many of the 2010 vExperts here.

CloudCamp Cincinnati

CloudCamp Cincinnati is here.  It’s this Thursday, June 3rd, in Cincinnati from 4pm-10pm.  Registration and session info can be found here.  It’s being held at the MET Center which is supposed to be a pretty nice venue.

EMC is sponsoring and I’ll be doing a lightning talk on private cloud.  If you haven’t been to a CloudCamp before, it follows the unconference format.  CloudCamps have been extremely successful because of the user participation.

Here are some of the topics that have been covered:

  • Infrastructure as a service (Amazon EC2, GoGrid, Rackspace, Nirvanix, etc)
  • Platform as a service (AppEngine, Azure, etc)
  • Software as a service (salesforce.com, Yahoo! Mail, etc.)
  • Application / Data / Storage (development in the cloud)

We’re separating but will stay friends

Things change.  I’m not talking about my wife, job or car.  I’m talking about myself and infrastructure consisting of servers, storage and networking.  I don’t want underutilized resources that take time to manage and don’t let me get things done.

Let me explain.  I flew into Boston to give a couple of Executive Briefings on the Virtual Datacenter this week.  Some customers saw exactly where I was going and others probably thought I was insane.  I started at a high level and then went into the details but here’s the problem. When we talk about infrastructure becoming a pool of resources that you’re able to push and pull workloads into and out of, some people think it’s fairytale land.  It’s not.  I used to build my own computers but I don’t anymore.  I buy one that has the most, not all, of the best technology and is good enough.

 

DIY vs All-in-one - DIY image via ~keiby on flickr

 

What they see:

  1. Complex infrastructure with many moving parts
  2. Legacy applications, some virtualization adoption
  3. Thick fog that’s hard to see through
  4. They think they’ll have to trust something new

What I see:

  1. A multi-step process that takes time
  2. Virtualization allows us to focus less on the boxes, cables and spinning platters
  3. Platforms (Springsource with Azure, Amazon’s AWS also qualifying) enabling quicker development
  4. We can make existing infrastructure and software better

Infrastructure AND platforms are both part of the “Stack” and “Cloud” conversation.  It’s about businesses being able to let their most valuable asset (their people) work on deploying applications faster instead of provisioning servers.  Yes, the “server huggers” and “IT pros” as Brian Prince (Azure Evangelist at Microsoft) calls them, will still be needed to make sure we’re architecting and deploying apps properly on the infrastructure.

Change is ok.  Things aren’t perfect but continually improving.  Most of us drive cars instead of ride horses and we buy clothes instead of make our own.  People trust technology (network, shared storage, memory, etc) and build around its faults (RAID etc.).

Recently I was bluntly accused of spouting an EMC-centric view.  As if other technology companies didn’t see it this way too.  Guess what, it’s not just EMC, it’s many end-users and vendors both who share this view.  The view of and challenges posed to enterprise customers is much different from those faced by sometimes smaller and more public-facing web service companies.  I get it.  There are still security challenges, management challenges, and legacy application challenges but before so quickly dismiss stacks and cloud, open your mind a bit.

Here are some notes I took during the keynote at the 2009 Microsoft’s Professional Developer Conference I attended months before joining EMC.

Session: Bridging the private and public Cloud

  • Move has been to get higher utilization
  • It’s about the applications and working to get them into the cloud

Opportunity

  • Build rich apps for the cloud while preserving app symmetry w/ the enterprise
  • Frictionless deployment across the spectrum
  • New breed of apps that span from on-premises to cloud

Thirty Years: Thank you

Warning: This isn’t a technology post but it’s worth your time.  It’s about a fire.

Do you feel like you could do something else that would make you happier?  Do you want to make a difference?  My answer was yes to both questions.  Even before having my daughter I’ve always had something burning inside that made me want more out of life.  It’s one of those things that drives you.  I feel like it’s a constant battle to do what I can to be better.  It’s probably silly but I want this for others too.

A couple of things happened recently that prompted me to write this post:

  1. I joined EMC as a vSpecialist almost 5 months ago.  The draw was the culture that Chad Sakac had fostered.  I felt tapped out in the role I was in at another organization and most importantly felt like I could make a *bigger* difference elsewhere.  It has been unbelievable.
  2. I read “Tribes” by Seth Godin.  The book hit me at the core.  It’s about being a leader.  What’s holding you back in life?  Most of the time it’s fear.  I’ve overcome so many fears in life by just taking the risk.
  3. I sat next to a lady on a plane who helped her son go after his dreams.  Her son decided he wanted to go to MIT before his teens.  She fed his never-ending desire to learn math and reading.  She took him to museums and lego robotics competitions.  Now he’s at MIT doing what he loves.
  4. Chris Hoff tweeted that he had donated to Kiva for the 83rd time.  Kiva does micro loans in developing countries.  Imagine if you could loan money to someone to buy a cow and that in turn helped out their whole family or village in a developing country.  With Kiva, you can do it.
  5. Wade O’Harrow (Director of vSpecialists worldwide) called me one morning to help me set up my iPad and we got on the subject about “smiling”.  Just smiling makes you feel better and makes those around you feel good.  Wade is one of those energetic leaders who knows what matters.
  6. Ade Olonoh, who I consider a best friend moved to San Francisco.  An idea he and John Wechsler (Formspring.me) had while running Formspring.com took off like wildfire.  I’ve known Ade from way back in the day when I interviewed him for a job (my peer) at the Indianapolis Star.
  7. I turned 30.

Seriously, I’m one of the luckiest people on the planet.  I’m surrounded by incredible people who have all made an impact on me  I could expand the list above for hours.  You’ve probably heard these tips before but it’s always good to be reminded.  It’s so easy to make a difference.  It’s the little things and they all add up.

  1. You can do anything you want to do.  I’m not kidding.
  2. Find what your passion is and do it.
  3. Pay it forward.  If you’ve been given something, give back.  It makes the world a better place.
  4. If you fail, just get back up.  What’s worse?  Trying and failing or never having tried at all?
  5. Read “Tribes” by Seth Godin.
  6. Smile.

Tech Field Day Boston – Being on the vendor side

I got the opportunity to present about VCE for Cisco to Tech Field Day delegates a couple weeks ago.  It was eye-opening to be on the other side of the fence.  Many thanks to Rob Callory and Stuart Miniman from EMC and Omar Sultan from Cisco for organizing things for both companies.  Also, none of this would’ve been possible without Stephen Foskett who is the father of the mixed-vendor Tech Field Day events.  It was awesome meeting some new faces like Scott D. Lowe (Tech Republic & SearchCIO), David Davis (TrainSignal), Simon Long (The SLOG and fellow GestaltIT contributor), Matt Simmons (The Standalone Sysadmin) and Gabrie van Zanten (Gabe’s Virtual World).  It was also great seeing the usual suspects as well (Devang, Bas, Simon Seagrave, Claire, Greg Knieriemen, Robin, Carlo, John, Greg Ferro and Ed).

Update: I don’t know how it happened but I left the venerable Jason Boche (Boche.net)  out of the original version of this.  He’s always been one of the usual suspects although this was his first Tech Field Day.

In the past as a delegate I was focused on ingesting and analyzing information from the vendors.  As a presenter, your responsibility is to *effectively communicate* a position to a small group.  You might be thinking, “So what, I do that everyday.”  The difference is that everyone is bent a certain way and they interact.  We’d like to think that people check their religion at the door, but that simply isn’t the case.  If you’re presenting something controversial, new and unclear you must be prepared.  I didn’t want people to treat me differently than other vendors just because I had been a previous delegate and they didn’t.

The discussion was lively with a lot of very insightful questions.  The delegates this time around were more diverse than before. They had backgrounds ranging from small companies to large enterprises and disciplines across the infrastructure spectrum.  As everyone was participating, it was clear that they were trying to relate the message to what they do everyday.  After I was done presenting I found out that Simon Seagrave was live-streaming the event and twitter was lit up like a Christmas tree with people going back and forth.

Some suggestions for current and future attendees:

  1. Try as hard as you can to keep an open mind
  2. Be critical
  3. Don’t beat the proverbial dead horse
  4. Give vendors constructive criticism, it’s better for everyone

Some suggestions for current and future sponsors:

  1. Bring your fireproof suit, sometimes the discussions get quite warm
  2. Take the criticism and do something constructive with it
  3. Keep the pace moving, be prepared to have half or a quarter of the time to present.  The schedule is tight and it’s common for things to get pushed back quite a bit.

One universal that I discovered is this, “Just because you work for a vendor doesn’t mean you’re biased and just because you don’t work for a vendor doesn’t mean you’re unbiased.”

I was asked by some EMC folks if we should do these events in the future and I’d say that there is no doubt we get a ton of value for them.  The only things I’d like to see different is that the schedule have some more flexibility built in so vendors get all the time they paid for.  Towards the end of the last session I think everyone was getting worn down and I give tons of credit to Stephen and the attendees for sticking with it.

Why Proof of Concept projects fail

This may seem obvious to some readers but I haven’t seen a good list of considerations to help ensure a successful PoC project.  Here are some training wheels to make sure you don’t crash and burn.

  1. Lack of requirementsAll key stakeholders involved should sign off on a detailed requirements document.  It doesn’t have to be in blood, an email response with a “yes” will suffice unless there are contractual obligations.  I hear, “We just want to see if it will work” all the time.  When you’re doing a PoC, be as specific as possible in defining “IT”.  Unless a solution is completely unbaked, think about how you would envision it working in your environment.  Talk to people and ask them how it works in their environment as you come up with requirements.  Be as transparent as possible with the vendor so there is no hidden agenda or confusion.
  2. Lack of a leader – Designate a lead. I’d be rich if I got a nickel for every PoC that failed because of a lack of a leader.  You need someone to keep track of the requirements, vendor involvement and testing.  PoC’s are easy to get lost in the fray because there aren’t obvious penalties for the customer who doesn’t see a PoC through. Conditional PO’s instead of freebie PoC’s are becoming more common.
  3. Lack of experience with the product – Let the vendor show you how a product was meant to be used.  If you’ve never touched a product before, why would you want to run a PoC all by yourself?  Seriously, your parents had to teach you how to velcro your shoes.  Which leads me to the next point that comes after someone says “We couldn’t get it to work this way so we tried X, Y and Z”.
  4. No documentation – Document your setup and any changes as they’re made. There are a ton of variables in your environment, document them.  I can’t stress this enough.  First make sure you deployed the product according to best practices.  If you need exceptions then run them by someone who knows what they’re doing and note them.
  5. Not asking for help – If you must, call and allow time for help. Yes, you might anger someone but it’s worth calling in for help before declaring a project a failure.  I can’t promise that a white knight will come in and save the day as the deadline for your PoC approaches but call for help anyway.

When I come in to help out with PoC’s that are in trouble in their 11th hour, two things are usually immediately apparent.  First, there was no leader or everyone went off in their own direction without accountability.  Second, there was a lack of familiarity with the product.  This list isn’t for my benefit, it’s all to help others have successful PoC’s.  If you have suggestions, send them in!