Tech Conferences in Las Vegas for Newbies

As June is here we are deep into tech conference season already so I find myself behind the curve somewhat with this post, but here we are. I am extremely fortunate to have an employer who understands the value of attending Tech Conferences for IT Professionals and I’ve been able to attend at least one each year since 2014; going back and forth between CiscoLive and VMworld with a sprinkling of VeeamON and more local events such as vBrisket and VMUGs for good measure. As a “Hyper-Converged Admin” my choice of which “biggie” conference is done each year by looking at where my projects land; last year was CiscoLive due to a lot of Voice and Security Projects, this year VMworld due to lots of updates coming down the pike there and a potential VDI project.

The problem when you have a conference with north of 25,000 attendees is that you are limited in where you put these on. While Cisco does tend to move around some, VMworld has typically either been in San Francisco or Las Vegas. With the Moscone Center closed again this year for renovation we find pretty much all of the big guys are back in Las Vegas, with both CiscoLive and VMworld at Mandalay Bay once again as well as AWS re:Invent and Dell/EMC World in town this year as well. If you haven’t been to one of these Tech Conferences before or to Las Vegas both can be both exciting and overwhelming, but with a little help from others and some decent tips neither are that big of a deal.

Las Vegas Basics

So for a small town guy like me Las Vegas is very cool town, but tiring. The common thread I feel and have heard others voice as well is that Las Vegas is deceptively large because all of the hotels on the strip are so massive. While you can see from your Mandalay Bay window that New York New York is just the next block, it is probably about a mile away if walking there. Why this is important is that if you look at the list of hotels on each conference’s list you’ll see lots of options, but getting to that 8AM session may require a 30+ minute walk or even longer shuttle ride if you chose to stay at the Cosmopolitan (my personal favorite of all Las Vegas hotels but prohibitively far away). Couple that with temperatures in the triple digits during summer and proximity becomes more important.

Hotel Choices

So the first tip for any of these conferences is get a hotel as close as possible. For CiscoLive and VMworld keep in mind that you can move freely between the Mandalay Bay, Delano the Luxor and the Conference Center without ever stepping foot outside.  I would highly recommend trying to be in one of these. If you are booking late and the conference is out of rooms it’s worth trying to book directly through the hotel as they don’t let the events have the whole place. That said you are still going to be in for a hike. For example I stayed in the Mandalay Bay last year and it was approximately 1800 steps from my room to the entrance to conference.

Many of the vendor types that seemingly live their lives at these types of events like to opt for either the nearby Marriott Courtyard Las Vegas South or the Holiday Inn at Desert Club Resort for those that like a kitchen. From either of these you’re a quick Uber or Lyft away from the Conference Center entrance but don’t have to deal with the hustle and bustle of staying on the Strip if you don’t want to.

Getting Around

Speaking of Uber and Lyft, getting around with out walking is a bit of a consideration as well, both for the daily commute as well as for the various events. Traffic in the afternoons into the early morning is pretty impressive on the actual strip so to be honest I’ve not heard good things about trying to rely on the conference shuttles when available. Further I’ve heard many complaints from those who are locals that drive in and try to find parking.

Where that leaves you is 1) ride sharing service, 2) using the monorails, or 3) walking. Uber is nice because they are pretty knowledgeable about routing you around traffic regardless of time of day. Keep in mind when it comes to this and Mandalay Bay there are actually two defined Uber pickup/drop off spots, one outside of the conference center and another around the valet area underneath the hotel drop off area. These are impressively far apart so be sure you know where you want picked up before you request a ride.

The monorails are also nice but short. For those of you going to CLUS this is a good way to get to the Customer Appreciation Event as it will drop you off close to the T-mobile Arena.

Finally walking is a decent option, especially after dark for the various vendor events, but I do recommend if you are going to do it find a buddy or 3 or 4. I’ve never personally seen violence on the strip but you hear about it and there are lots of “character buskers” dressed like everything from Michael Jackson to Spongebob that will harass you.

One final note, while first impressions are important there really isn’t any point to being that person in the fancy shoes unless you’ve got booth duty. I typically while go buy a new pair of good running shoes a week or two before the conference so I can break them in and then that’s what I wear. If you are a step tracker kind of person like me expect 20,000 and up each day so take care of your feet.

Things To Do

Seriously, there’s plenty to do even if you weren’t at a conference already providing lots to do. Regardless of your interest if the conference doesn’t have you jam-packed enough you can find something you like here.

If you are new to IT or are just starting to get your name out there the most important things to do outside of the sessions is to get out there and be social. Both of the conferences we are talking about here have a great community that surround it with some wonderful people in it. The first step if you aren’t already would be to get yourself on twitter and follow the hashtag stream for your event (#CLUS for CiscoLive US, #VMworld for VMworld) , not only while you are there but before especially as many outside events will be planned then. Be sure to find the social area for your given conference and go make friends. Outside of the standard conference hours you’ll find that many of the Vendors will have events planned for attendees. If you have partners or vendors you work heavily with its worth asking your SE if they are doing anything.

CiscoLive Basics

CiscoLive will be held this year June 25-29th and promises to be a great show once again. While I have really enjoyed all of the conferences I’ve attended CLUS  was my first and near to my heart. First off of all those I’ve been to this one feels more academic than others. There aren’t really as many softball sessions and the sessions are a bigger part of the focus for the event than other. That said, they do a very good job of supporting the social community by having a Social Media Hub right in the middle of it all with special events for the twitterazzi most days. I highly recommend showing up and if nothing else walking up and just introducing yourself, trust me, you’ll fit right in there somewhere especially if you bring a Kilt. 😉 If you can come in early on Sunday the annual Tweetup Sunday afternoon is always a good time to make friends.

If you are going to CiscoLive you should have at this point booked most of your sessions. A couple of points here. First do not overbook yourself on sessions. While the pressure is always there to make sure you are getting all the education out of it as possible every session these days is recorded and can be watched later. My decision on if I’m going to do a particular session is based on if the subject is directly related to something that’s got me stumped and I want the opportunity to touch base with the speaker. Past that I’ll watch most after the fact. A better use of your time is getting out and networking, soaking up some of the distributed information there and will in many cases serve as a resource after the fact. I’ve yet to leave an event and not come home to do some kind of redesign based on things I’ve learned from the community.

A highlight for anybody who’s been to CLUS is always the Customer Appreciation Event. This year Bruno Mars will take over the T-mobile Arena and I am legitimately bummed that I will be missing it. The celebrity keynotes are always very good as well and usually provide a different view on how technology interacts with the world. I truly enjoyed listening to Kevin Spacey last year and this year they’ve booked Bryan Cranston.

Regarding keynotes, I typically like watch these in the social areas rather than packing myself into the keynote halls. The seating is better, there’s fewer people and usually refreshments are close at hand, plus you can find a surface to put your computer/iPad on to take notes and/or live tweet the talk.

VMworld Basics

As much as the focus on CiscoLive is on the direct educational benefit the focus from VMworld is more on learning from the community. With the conference officially running from August 27-31 there just as many official conference sessions as there are at CiscoLive, but I find there to be more lower level, marketing style sessions at VMworld. What makes up for it though is any number of community learning opportunities surrounding it. If you can swing coming in either Saturday or very early Sunday the vBrownbag/VMunderground Opening Acts is always a great place to learn about what is coming next in virtualization and technology. Speaking of vBrownBag, these guys have a stage running concurrent to the conference with session about anything you can conceive of all week long. Historically the vBrownBag stage has been found in the Hang Space (VMworld for social media area) but this year is still to be determined.

Another thing you’ll find is the potential to have your evenings books is exceptionally high with multiple vendor events every single night, traditionally starting with vBeers on Saturday evening. At some point as we get closer to the conference VMworld will fill a website with information and registration links for many of the gatherings to make scheduling easy. The Veeam, VMunderground and vExpert/VCDX/VMUG parties are always the most talked about. There is also the annual VMworld Party with typically big name acts but at the time of this writing there really isn’t any information about this yet. Be sure to follow along online and on social media to find out soon enough.

Conclusion

With all that being said, just go enjoy yourself as you are meant to do. There’s a reason that Denise Fishburne refers to CiscoLive as “Geek Summer Camp” because it does feel that way, regardless of the conference you’re attending. Everybody does things their own way. As I’ll be attending VMworld this year if you are there and want to say hi feel free to reach out and find me on twitter @k00laidIT.

Learning To Pick The Right Tech Conference at vBrisket- TOMORROW!

Hey all, just a quick post to mention that the fine folks at vBrisket will be having a get together February 24th at 2 PM at Grist House Craft Brewery in Pittsburgh. If you work in the virtualization industry and haven’t heard of vBrisket yet you should get to know them because they have a great thing going.  vBrisket takes the typical User Group back to its vendor independence roots, allowing you to focus more on your general virtualization career and less on the path of any particular vendor. At the same time it gives Clint, Gabe, Jaison, and John a great reason to bring out the smokers and prepare enough meat to feed a brewery full of techies.

I’m honored to have been invited to join the panel discussion this time. The topic is “Tech Conferences – What are the right ones for you?” This will be moderated by the vBrisket team and includes myself, John White, Mike Muto, and Justin Paul. As I see my attendance at various conferences as a big driver in the success of my career and my growth as a technology worker I’m excited to be included.

Of course this meeting wouldn’t be possible without the sponsorship from Zerto. At the meeting they’ll be talking I’m sure about their new conference, ZertoCON in Boston May 22-24th.

So if you are in the Pittsburgh area tomorrow and would like to attend just be there at 2, I look forward to meeting up!

Veeam Vanguard Again in 2017

It has been a great day here because today I learned that I have once again been awarded acceptance into the excellent Veeam Vanguard program, my third time. This program, above any others that I am or have been involved with takes a more personal approach to creating a group of awardees who not only deserve anything good they get out of it but give back just as much to the community itself. In only its 3rd year the group has grown; from 31 the first year, 50(ish) the second, to a total of 62 this year. There are 21 new awardees in that 62 number so there really isn’t a rubber stamp to stay included, it is legitimately awarded each year. The group has grown each year but as you can see not by the leaps and bounds others have, and for good reason. There is no way this experience could be had with a giant community.

At this point in the post I would typically tell you a bit about what the Vanguard program is and isn’t but honestly, Veeam’s own Dmitry Kniazev really put it best in a couple recent posts, “Veeam Vanguard Part 1: WTH Is This?” and “Veeam Vanguard Part 2: What It’s Not.”  What I will add is that as nice as some of the perks are, as DK says in the Part 1 post the true perk is the intangibles; a vibrant community full of some of the smartest, most passionate people in the industry and in many cases access right to the people approving and disapproving changes to their software. These are the thing that made me sweat approval time.

Once again I would give a giant thank you to Veeam Software and especially the whole Vanguard crew. This includes Rick Vanover, Clint Wyckoff, Michael White, Michael Cade, Anthony Spiteri, Kirsten Stoner, Dmitry Kniazev, Andrew Zhelezko and finally Doug Hazelman. Without these people it wouldn’t be nearly as nice.

The Most Magical Time of Year: Influencer Program Selection Season!

Each year many of the major companies in the tech industry allow people to be nominated, by themselves or by others, to be recognized for the contributions to the community that surrounds that company’s products. These people are typically active on social media, in both online and in person forums and user groups and often will write blogs about their experiences with the products. In return for what is essentially free, grass-roots type marketing the companies will provide awardees any number of benefits; access to licenses for products for homelabbing as well as sometimes access to engineers, preferred experiences at conferences, NDA level information, etc but in some cases the biggest benefit is the recognition itself.

As of today (November 10, 2016) two of the bigger and in my opinion one of the best programs are all open for nominations.

Program Name Program Leader Nomination Link
Cisco Champions Lauren Friedman Nomination Link
VMware vExpert Corey Romero Nominations Accepted until 12/16
Veeam Vanguards Rick Vanover Nominations Accepted until 12/9

I’m honored to be both a vExpert and a Veeam Vanguard and like to think of myself as an honorary Cisco Champion (they can’t accept government employees) so I have some experience with each of these programs. Let’s take a look at all three.

vexpert-624x111VMware vExpert may not necessarily be the oldest influencers program but it is probably the one socially active technical people know except possibly the Microsoft MVP program. In many ways vExpert is not only an honorary of its own right but a launch pad towards acceptance into other programs. vExperts are as far as I know the largest such group with around 1500 members world-wide, it also boasts some really good benefits not only from VMware but from other companies in the virtualization ecosphere. There are many webinars and meet and greets throughout the calendar year which are either vExpert only or vExpert preferred and the vExpert party at VMworld is well-known as one of the best. The distinction I make most about vExpert is that while it is for and by VMware, some years much of the educational focus is on the ecosphere and community that surrounds it.

The vExpert program offers 4 paths to membership. The one most are in is the Evangelist path. These may be customers, partners or VMware employees themselves, but they are people speaking the good word of VMware. There are also specific paths for Partners and Customers but I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who was awarded in those tracks. Finally if you have achieved the highest level of VMware certification, VCDX, you automatically are awarded vExpert status.

ciscochampion2016-512-nodateCisco Champions contrasts from vExpert most because it is a self-contained program with all the educational opportunities and benefits being from Cisco Systems itself. With the Champions there aren’t so many of the freebies with the notable exception of some nice perks if you attend CiscoLive, but what they do offer is exposure of your personal brand. Between the weekly Cisco Champions Radio podcast and the regularly featured blogs on Cisco’s website if you are working to make a name for yourself in the industry for whatever reason it is a very good program for that. Further Cisco gives you access to developers and program  managers within the company so that you can not only gain greater understanding of the products but in many cases have the opportunity to weigh in on technology decisions during the development process.

Cisco breaks their program down into business segments in regards to your qualification for the program with tracks in Collaboration, Data Center, Enterprise Networks, IoT, and Security. If you have expertise in any of these by all means apply.
veeam_vanguard-700x224In my mind I’m saving the best for last. The Veeam Vanguard program opened its nominations up today for its 3rd year and I’ve been honored to have awarded each year (so far). It is by far the most exclusive; there are currently only 50 members worldwide and I believe the philosophy is to keep it on the small side with only people who truly understand what the company is about. There are a lot of swag type benefits to the Vanguard to be sure, most noticeably something really special that revolves around  their VeeamON conference (NOLA this year baby!), but to be honest what I most get out of the program is the distributed brain of not only the Veeam employees affiliated with the group but the group itself. On a daily basis it seems sometimes somebody’s technology issues, Veeam related or not, are being sorted out through Vanguard communication methods. Long story short, in the Vanguard program they simply take care of you and I’m happy to call all of them not just my peers but friends.

Because Veeam is a much tighter set of products than the other two there aren’t any official tracks within the program. That said they are very good about selecting members who affiliate themselves with each of the hypervisor companies they support, VMware’s vSphere and Microsoft’s Hyper-V. This diversity is part of what makes the discussions between us so good.

Conclusion

Over the course of the past week I’ve heard various people talking about strategies regarding getting awarded to any number of these. I’m not going to do this one so I can focus on that one and so forth, and honestly all I can recommend to you if you are interested in applying to any of them is look at where your focus is or where you focus should be and apply. There is no thing that says “you belong to too many programs” or anything like that; if you feel you are qualified for any of these or any other by all means go apply. The name of the game is to grow your involvement with the technology community, regardless of what type of technology it is.

Getting the Ball Rolling with #vDM30in30

Ahh, that time of year when geeks pull that long forgotten blog site out of the closet, dust it of and make promises of love and content: #vDM30in30. If you aren’t familiar with the idea, vDM30in30 is short for Virtual Design Master 30 blog posts in 30 days, an idea championed by Eric Wright of discoposse fame to get bloggers out there to work their way through regular generation of content. As you can see from this site new content is pretty rare so something like this is a welcome excuse to focus and get some stuff out there. vDM30in30 runs through the month of November and the best way to follow along with the content is to track the hashtag on twitter.

So What’s the Plan?

I’m a planner by nature so if I don’t at least have a general idea this isn’t going to work at all. The good news is I’ve got quite a few posts that I’ve been meaning to work on for some time so I’m going to be cleaning out my closet this week and get those out there. So the full schedule is going to look like this:

  • Week of Nov 1: random posts I’ve never quite finished but need to be released
  • Week of Nov 7: focus on all the new hotness coming from Veeam Software
  • Week of Nov 14: VMware’s upcoming vSphere 6.5 release
  • Week of Nov 21: randomness about community, career and navel gazing in general

I’m really looking forward to participating this year as I do believe that a lot of growth comes from successfully forming out thoughts and putting them down. Hope you find some of this hopeful, if there is anything you’d like to see in the space feel free to comment.

The Basics of Network Troubleshooting

The following post is something I wrote as an in-house primer for our help desk staff. While it a bit down level from a lot of the content here I find more and more the picking and reliably going with a troubleshooting methodology is somewhat of a lost art. If you are just getting started in networking or are troubleshooting connectivity issues at your home or SMB this would be a great place to start.

We often get issues which are reported as application issues but end up being network related. There are a number steps and logical thought processes that can make dealing with even the most difficult network issues easy to troubleshoot. The purpose of this post is to outline many of the basic steps of troubleshooting network issues, past that it’s time to reach out and ask for assistance.

  1. Understand the basics of OSI model based troubleshooting

    The conceptual idea of how a network operates within a single node (computer, smartphone, printer, etc.) is defined by something called the OSI reference model. The OSI model breaks down the operations of a network into 7 layers, each of which is reliant on success at the layers below it (inbound traffic) and above it (outbound traffic). The layers (with some corresponding protocols you’ll recognize) are:

    7. Application: app needs to send/receive something (HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, anything that the user touches and begins/ends network transmission)
    6. Presentation: formatting & encryption (VPN and DNS host names)
    5. Session: interhost communication (nothing to see here:))
    4. Transport: end to end negotiations, reliability (the age old TCP vs. UDP debate)
    3. Network: path and logical addressing (IP addresses & routing)
    2. Data Link: physical addressing (MAC addresses & switches)
    1. Physical: physical connectivity (Is it plugged in?)

    The image below is a great cheat card for keeping these somewhat clear:

    OSI_2014

    Image source: http://www.gargasz.info/osi-model-how-internet-works/

    How OSI is used today is as a template for how to understand and thus troubleshoot networking issues. The best way to troubleshoot any IT problem that has the potential to have a network issue is from the bottom of the stack upwards. Here are a few basic steps to get you going with troubleshooting.

  2. Is it plugged in?

    This may seem like a smart ass answer, but many times this is just the case. Somebody’s unplugged the cable or the clip has broken off the Cat6 cable and every time somebody touches the desk it wiggles out. Most of the time you will have some form of a light to tell you that you have both connectivity to the network (usually green) and are transmitting on the network (usually orange).

    This troubleshooting represents layer 1 troubleshooting.

  3. Is the network interface enabled?

    So the cable is in and maybe you’ve tried to plug the same cable from the wall into multiple devices; you get link lights on other devices but no love on the device you need. This may represent a Data Link issue where the Network Interface Card (NIC) has been disabled in the OS. From the client standpoint this would be within Windows or Mac OSX or whatever, on the other side it’s possible the physical interface on the switch that represents the other end of the wire may be disabled. Check out the OS first and then reach out to your network guy to check the switch if need be.

  4. Can the user ping it?

    Moving up to the Network layer, the next step is to test if the user can ping the device which they are having an issue with. Have the user bring up a command prompt and ping the IP address of the far end device.

  5. Can you ping it?

    By the very nature of you being an awesomesauce IT person you are going to have more ability to test than the user. To start with, see if you can ping it from your workstation. This will rule out user error and potentially any number of other issues as well. Next if you can’t, are you on the same subnet/VLAN as the device you are trying to access? If not try to access a device in the same subnet as the endpoint device you are testing and ping it from there. That may give you some insight into having issues with default gateway configuration or underlying routing (aka Layer 3) issues.

  6. Can you ping it by name?

    Let’s say you can ping it by IP address from all of the above. If the user is trying to access something by name, say server1.foo.com have them ping that as well. It’s possible that while the lower three layers of the stack are operating well, something has gone awry with DNS or other forms of naming that happen at the Presentation layer.

  7. Application firewalls and the like

    Finally we’ve reached the top of the stack and we need to take a look at the individual applications. So far you’ve verified that the cable’s plugged in, the NICs on both sides are enabled and you can ping between the user and the far device by both IP and hostname but still the application won’t work so now’s when we look at the actual application and immediately start rebooting things.

    Just kidding 🙂 No now we need to look at services that are being present to the network. If we are troubleshooting an e-mail issue is the services running on the server and can we connect to it. When talking about TCP/IP-based traffic (meaning all traffic) all application layer traffic occurs over either a TCP or UDP protocol port. This isn’t something you physically plug-in, but rather it is a logical slot that an application is known to talk on, kind of like a CB radio channel. For example SMTP typically runs on TCP port 25, FTP 21, printing usually on 9100. If you are troubleshooting an e-mail issue bring up a command prompt and try to connect to the device via telnet like “telnet server1.foo.com 25.” If the SMTP server is running on that port at the far end then it will answer, if not the connection will time out.

  8. Call in reinforcements

    If you’ve got this far it’s going to take a combination of multiple brains and probably some application owners/vendors to unwrangle the mess those crazy users have made. Reach out to your network and application teams or call in vendor support at this point.

Network troubleshooting isn’t hard, you just have to know where to start.

Vegas Baby! Heading to CiscoLive! 2016

As 2016 moves into April we find ourselves ready to go into the conference season once again. For the past couple of years I’ve been to VMworld because that is where my work has had me focused, but for the same reason I will be heading the Cisco Live in Las Vegas, NV this year. The event will be held at the Mandalay Bay Resort July 10-14. Yes it will be hot, but let’s be honest you are going to be inside most of the time. This is the 2nd time I’ve attended Cisco Live US (you may see it referred to as #CLUS quite a bit) and if this is anything like the last time it’s going to be great. I have been particularly impressed with the content they make available and the community that has grown around it.

What to do

The first and foremost thing you should check out at Cisco Live is the always excellent sessions throughout the conference. If you are new to conferences this is actually something to consider sooner than later; the session catalog is currently up and the scheduler will open on May 3. I recommend that if you have any particular sessions or focus you are looking at with this trip go ahead and have a list done early and then be ready on the 5/3, many popular sessions will fill up quickly and nobody wants to wait in the overflow line. 😉

To be honest if you just look at the scope of topics covered in the session list it is a bit overwhelming. While I’m no grizzled veteran of conferences by any means what I’ve found best is to pick a focus or two and then start there. For example this year we have a big focus on upgrading our edge security and our production datacenter to include Cisco UCS solutions. What sessions I pick will almost entirely be from either the Security and Datacenter & Virtualization tracks to support those goals. Keep in mind all of these sessions will be available to you online after the fact so keep in mind the people giving them as well.

cae

If you have never been to one of the major tech conferences (20k attendees and up) there is never really a shortage of things to do, ranging from the educational to the social to just straight fun. Cisco Live is in my opinion a great event with a better than most mix of content and social, the highlight of which is the Customer Appreciation Event. The CAE this year will be held at the T-Mobile Arena and features concerts with Maroon 5 and Elle King. I saw Maroon 5 in a very cold field  a couple of years ago and they are a pretty good show and I’ve really liked what I’ve heard from Elle King on the radio.

Besides the concert event there will be no shortage of things to do if you are socially inclined. Besides the mixers each evening there are a wide array of events from different vendors in the Cisco ecosystem each evening. Many of these are by invite only so now would be an appropriate time to be reaching out to Account Execs you have at the various vendors and see if they are doing anything there.

 

20130627_173819000_iOSGo forth and be social

This will be my 6 tech conference in 4 years and while the content of the sessions is great and extremely helpful like I mentioned above all of that content is available online, 24/7/365 after the conference. What is not is the ability to meet and have conversations with some of the best minds of our chosen field. My very first major conference was CLUS 2013 in Orlando, FL and as I got myself out of my shell and started to meet people I was frankly floored by the combined brain power in such a small area. The way I’ve often put this to people is that the entire state of West Virginia, where I am from, has a total of 3 CCIEs in it. While this is not a normal demographic, there are only 50,000 some worldwide. At one point that first year I found myself  sitting in a discussion where out of 20 people I was the only person NOT a CCIE and really it is amazing what you can absorb in the social settings at Cisco Live. If you are willing to put yourself out there and not be the cave-dwelling geek many of us are naturally drawn to be you will find a community of people who will readily accept you in.

So how do I find such social people and befriend them? Well fear not there are plenty of ways. To start with if you are just starting out in your tech career the very first advice is to get yourself on twitter if you haven’t already. I literally setup my twitter account walking down the main concourse of CLUS 4 years ago and it has presented no end of enjoyment, help and opportunity since. Once you have said account head on over to Tom Hollingsworth’s site and sign yourself up for the annual twitter list.

Now that you are in the social mood right off the bat one of the first places I will be locating is the Social Media Hub. This is pretty much the main congregation area for the socials types. At some point in the early evening Sunday there will be an opening Tweetup there, if you attend be sure to say hi!

If you are interested in going yourself but haven’t registered yet you can do so on the Cisco Live 2016 website.

A how-to on cold calling from the customer perspective

Now that I’m back from my second tech conference in less than two months I am fully into the cold call season and I am once again reminded why I keep meaning to buy a burner phone and setup a Gmail account before I register next year. It seems every time I get back I am destined to months of “I am so glad you expressed deep interest in our product and I’d love to tell you more about it” when the reality is “I am calling you because you weren’t nimble enough to lunge away from our team of booth people who are paid or retained based on as many scans they can get. Most often when I get these calls or e-mails I’ll give each company a courteous thanks but no thanks and after that the iDivert button gets worn out.

The genesis of this post is two-fold. First a cold call this morning that was actually destined for my boss but when informed he wasn’t here went into telling how glad the person was that I had personally expressed interest in their product, WTF? This first event reminded me of a second, where a few months ago I was at a mixer preceding a vendor supplied training when I was approached by a bevy of 20 something Inside Sales Engineers and asked “what can I do to actually get you to listen?” From this I thought that just in case a young Padawan Sales Rep/Engineer happens to come across this, here are those ways to make your job more efficient and to stop alienating your potential customers.

Google Voice is the Devil

I guess the first step for anybody on the calling end of a cold call scenario is to get me to answer the phone. My biggest gripe in this regard and the quickest way to earn the hang up achievement is the currently practice of many of startups out there to use Google Voice as their business phone system. In case you don’t know with Google Voice they do local exchange drop offs when you call outside of your local calling area, meaning that when you call my desk I get a call with no name and a local area code, leaving me with the quandary of “is this a customer needing support or is this a cold call?” I get very few of the former but on the off-chance it is I will almost always answer leaving me hearing your happy voices.

I HAVE AN END CALL BUTTON AND I AM NOT AFRAID TO USE IT, GOOD DAY TO YOU SIR/MADAM!

You want to know how to do this better? First don’t just call me. You’ve got all my contact info so let’s start with being a little more passive and send me an e-mail introducing yourself and asking if I have time to talk to you. Many companies do this already because it brings with it a good deal of benefits; I’ve now captured your contact info, we’re not really wasting a lot of time on each other if there is zero interest, I don’t have to drop what I am dealing to get your pitch. If this idea just absolutely flies in the face of all that your company holds dear and you really must cold call me then don’t hide behind an anonymous number, call me from your corporate (or even better your personal DID) with your company’s name plastered on the Caller ID screen so at least I have the option to decide if it’s a call I need to deal with.

A Trade Show Badge Scan List Does Not Mean I am (or anybody else is) Buying

I once again had an awesome time at VMworld this year but got to have an experience that I’m sure many other attendees have had variants of. There I was, happily walking my way through the show floor through a throng of people, when out of my peripheral vision a booth person for a vendor not to be named literally stepped through one person and was simultaneously reaching to scan my badge while asking “Hi, do you mind if I scan you?” Yes, Mr./Ms. Inside Sales person, this is the type of quality customer interaction that happened that resulted on me being put on your list. It really doesn’t signify that I have a true interest in your product so please see item one above regarding how to approach the cold call better.

I understand there is an entire industry built around having people capture attendee information as sales leads but this just doesn’t seem like a very effective way to do it. My likelihood of talking to you more about your product is much higher if someone with working knowledge of your product, say an SE, talks to me about your product either in the booth or at a social event and then the communication starts there. Once everybody is back home and doing their thing that’s the call I’m going to take.

Know Your Product Better Than I Do

That leads me to the next item,  if by chance you’ve managed to cold call me, get me to pick up and finally manage to keep me on the line long enough to actually talk about your product, ACTUALLY KNOW YOUR PRODUCT. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received calls after a show and the person on the other end of the line is so blatantly doing the fake it until you make it thing it isn’t funny. Keep in mind you are in the tech industry, cold calling people who most likely are fairly tech savvy and capable of logical thought, so that isn’t going to work so well for you. Frankly, my time is a very, very finite resource and even if I am interested in your product, which is why I took your call, if I’m correcting the caller that is an instant turn off.

I get that the people manning the phones aren’t going to be Senior Solutions Architects for your organization but try this on for size; if you’ve got me talking to you and you get asked something you don’t know, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. This is your opportunity to bump me up the chain or to loop in a more technical person to the call to get the discussion back on the right track. I will respect that far more than if you try to throw out a BS answer. Meanwhile get as much education as you can on what you’re selling. I don’t care if you are a natural sales person, you aren’t going to be able to sell me my own pen in this market.

Employees != Resources

So you’ve got yourself all the way through the gauntlet and you’ve got me talking and you know your product, please don’t tell me how you can get some resources arranged to help me with designing my quote so the deal can more forward. I was actually in a face to face meeting once where the sales person did this, referring to the technical people within the organization as resources and I think my internal response to this can best be summed up in GIF form:

obama_kicks_door

This absolutely drives me bonkers. A resource is an inanimate object which can be used repeatedly without consequence except in the inevitable end result where the resource breaks. What you are calling a resource is a living, breathing, most likely highly intelligent human being who has all kinds of responsibilities, not just to you but to his family, community and any other number things. By referring to them as this, and therefore showing that you think of them as something that can be used repeatedly without consequence, you are demeaning that person and the skill set he or she has, and trust me that person is most likely who we as technical professionals are going to connect with far more than we are with you.

So that’s it, Jim’s guide to getting me on the phone. I’m sure as soon as I post this many other techniques will come to my mind and I’ll have to update this. If you take this to heart, great, I think that is going to work out for you. If not, well, I still hope I’ll remember to buy that burner phone next May and the Gmail account is already setup. 😉

Veeam Backup Repository Best Practices Session Notes

After a couple days off I’m back to some promised VeeamON content. A nice problem that VeeamON had this year is the session choices were much more diverse and there were a lot more of them. Unfortunately this led to some overlap of some really great sessions. A friend of mine, Jaison Bailey of vBrisket fame and fortune, got tied up in another session and was unable to attend what I considered one of the best breakout sessions all week, Anton Gostev‘s Backup Repository Best Practices so he asked me to post my notes.

For those not too familiar with Veeam repos they can essentially be any manner of addressable disk space, whether local, DAS, NAS, SAN or even cloud, but when you start taking performance into account you have to get much more specific. Gostev, who is the Product Manager for Backup & Replication, lines out the way to do it right.

Anyway, here’s the notes including links to information when possible. Any notations I have are in bold and italicized.

Don’t underestimate the importance of Performance

  • Performance issues may impact RTOs

Five Factors of choosing Storage

  • Reliability
  • Fast backups
  • Fast restores
  • DR from complete storage loss
  • Lowest Cost

Ultimate backup Architecture

  • Fast, reliable primary storage for fastest backups, then backup copy to Secondary storage both onsite AND offsite
  • Limit number of RP on primary, leverage cheap secondary
  • Selectively create offsite copies to tape, dr site, or cloud

Best Repo: Low End

  • Any Windows or Linux Server
    • Can also serve as backup /backup proxy server
  • Physical server storage options
    • Local Storage
    • DAS (JBOD)
    • SAN LUN
  • Virtual
    • iSCSI LUN connected to in guest Volume

Best Backup Repo: High End

Backup Repos to Avoid

  • Low-end NAS  & appliances
    • If stuck with it, use iSCSI instead of other protocols * Ran into this myself with a Qnap array as my secondary storage, not really even feasible to run anything I/O heavy on it
  • SMB (CIFS) network shares
    • Lots of issues with existing SMB clients
    • If share is backed up by server, add actual server instead
  • VMDK on VMFS *Nothing wrong with running a repo from a virtual machine, but don’t store backups within, instead connect an iSCSI LUN directly to the VM and format NTFS
    • Extra logic on the data path- more chances for data corruption
    • Dependent on vSphere being functional
  • Windows Server 2012 Deduplication (scalability) *I get his rationale, but honestly I live and die by 2012 R2 deduplication, it just takes more care and feeding than other options. See my session’s slides for notes on how I implement it.

Immediate Future: Technologies to keep in mind

  • Server 2016 Deduplication
    • Same deduplication, far greater performance and scale (64 TB files) *This really will be a big deal in this space, there is a lot of upside to a simple dedupe ability rolled into a Windows server
  • ReFS 2.0
    • Great fit for backup repos because it has built in data corruption protection
    • Veeam is currently working on some things with it

Raw Disk

  • Raid10 whenever you can (2x write penalty, but capacity suffers)
  • Raid5 4x write penalty, greater risks)
  • Raid6 severe performance overhead (6x write penalty
  • Lookup Maximum performance per spindle
  • A single job can only keep about 6-8 spindles busy- use multiple jobs if you have them to saturate
  • RAID volume
    • Stripe Size
      • Typical I/O for Veeam is 25k-512KB
      • Windows Server 2012 defaults to 64KB
      • At least 128 KB stripe size is highly recommended
        • Huge change for things like Synthetics, etc
    • RAID array
      • Fill as many drives as possible from the start to avoid expansion
      • Low-end sorage systems have significant performance problems
    • File System
      • NTFS (Best Option)
        • Larger block size does not affect performance, but it helps avoid excessive fragmentation so 64KB block size recommend
        • Format with /L to enable larger file records
        • 16 TB max file size limit before 2012 (now 256)
        • * Full string of best practices for format NTFS partition from CLI: Format <drive:> /L /Q /FS:NTFS /A:8192
      • ReFS not ready for prime time yet
      • Other
    • Backup Job Settings
      • Always a performance vs disk space choice
      • Reverse incremental backup mode is 3x I/O per block
      • Consider forever incremental instead
      • Evaluate transform performance
      • Repository load
        • Limit concurrent jobs to a reasonable amount
        • Use ingest rate throttling for cross-SAN backups

Dedupe Storage: Pains and Gains

  • Gains
    • True global dedupe
    • Lowest cost/ TB
  • Do not use deduplicating storage as your primary backup repository!
  • But if you must leverage vendor-specific integrations, use backup modes without full backup transformation, us active fulls instead of synthetics
  • If backup performance is still bad, consider VTL
  • 16TB+ backup storage optimization for 4MB blocks (new)
  • Parallel processing may impact  dedupe ratios

Secondary Storage Best Practices

  • Vendor-specific integrations can make performance better
  • Test Backup Copy retention processing performance. If too slow consider Active Full option of backup copy jobs (new in v9)
  • If already invested and stuck
    • Use as primary storage and leverage native replication to copy backups to DR

Backup Job Settings BP

Built-In deduplication

  • Keep ON for best performance (except lowest end devices) even if it isn’t going to help you with Per VM backup files
  • Compression
    • Instead of disabling keep Optimal enabled in job and use “decompress before storing- even locally
    • Dedupe-friendly isn’t very friendly any more (new)
      • Will hinder faster recovery in v9
  • Vendor recommendations are sometimes self-serving  to achieve higher dedupe ratios but negatively effect performance

Disk-based Storage Gotchas

  • Gostev loves tape
    • Cheaper
    • Reliable
    • Read-only
    • Customer Success is the biggie
    • Tape is dead
      • Amazon, Google & 50% of Veeam customers disagree
  • Storage-level corruption
    • RAID Controllers are your worst enemies
    • Firmware and software bugs are common, too
    • VT402 Data Corruption tomorrow at 1:30 for more
  • Ransomware  possible

The 2 Part of the 3-2-1 Rule

  • 3 copies, 2 different medias, 1 offsite
  • Completely different storage type!

Storage based replication

  • Betting exclusively on storage-based replication will cost you your job
  • Pros:
    • Fantastic performance
    • Efficient bandwidth utilization
  • Cons:
    • Replicates bad data too
    • Backups remain in a single fault domain

Backup Copy vs. Storage-Based Copy

  • Pros:
    • Breaks the data loop (isolated source and target storage)
    • Implicitly validates all source data during its operation
    • Includes backup files health check
  • Cons:
    • Higher load on backup storage

Make Tape out of drives

  • Low End:
    • Use rotated drives
    • Supported for both primary & backup copy jobs
  • Mid-range:
    • Keep an off-site copy off-prem (cloud)
  • High End:
    • Use hardware-based WORM solutions

Virtualize your Repository (SOBR)

  • simplify backup storage and backup job management
  • Reduce storage hardware spending by allowing disks to be fully utilized
  • Improve backup storage performance and scalability

 

Community and the Rural IT Professional

I was born and raised in a small area between Charleston and Huntington, WV. While I recognized my hometown, Scott Depot, was a small town growing up I thought of both those cities as just that, proper cities with all the benefits and drawbacks that go with them. As I grew older and my worldly view wider I came to realize that what I considered the big city was to many a minor suburb, but never the less it was and still is my home.

This lack of size and economic opportunity has never stood out more than when I began my career in Information Technology. After graduating from Marshall University with what I still believe to be a very respectable skill set many of my fellow graduates flocked to bigger areas such as Columbus, OH, RTP and Atlanta. I chose for a variety of reasons to stick around here and make a career of it and all in all while not always the most stable it has been fairly successful.

There are very few large datacenters here with most datacenters being composed of a handful of racks. Some go to work for various service providers, others enter the VAR space and I found my niche in what I like to call the Hyper Converged Administrator role. The HCA tends to wear most if not all of the hats; virtualization, storage, networking, server administration, etc. I consider myself somewhat blessed that I’ve managed to avoid the actual desktop admin stuff for most of my career, but still some of that too.

In the past couple of years I’ve got more and more active within the social IT community by way of conference attendance, social media and blogging and while it hasn’t necessarily changed the direction my career is going it has radically changed it in that I have found great opportunities for growing my personal knowledge. This growth in some cases has been very strictly technology related by way of pushing me to explore new facets of IT systems management I didn’t previously consider as well as access to very knowledgeable people who are usually very eager to point you in the right direction when asked. In other ways this knowledge while IT related is more oblique in that I feel like I now have a much better understanding of what life is like on the other side of the various fences (vendors, VARs, datacenter admins, etc) than I ever did before. This latter knowledge base has greatly changed how I approach some of the more political parts of IT such as vendor management and internal project pitches.

While the global Internet community is great I find that the missing piece is still facetime. The richness of communication when I’m at conferences is more personal than anything that is done online and I find myself somewhat jealous of those in areas large enough to support user groups of any kind of size. In the past year I’ve got to know VMware User Group (VMUG) leaders from Louisville, Kansas City, Phoenix and Portland as well as the guys behind the excellent career oriented community vBrisket and enjoying hearing tales of what’s involved in getting their regular meetings together and wish I could do the same here.

Personally my goal for the coming year is to do a bit of travel and attend the meetings of some of the User Groups listed above. If you are local here in the WV IT community reach out and let’s figure out how to do something here. There may not be a lot of us here but that’s an even better reason to get to know each other and share the knowledge.