My wish for 2015 - better tooling to provide better insight


I’ve seen this image pop up quite a bit in my twitter timeline this week and it’s a very recognizable situation. Most of us have been in such conversation; I know I was when I was an Enterprise architect. And most tweets are wishing this situation changes in 2015, and I totally agree with it. However in my opinion it’s not the “app owner” who gives the wrong answer, it’s a wrong question to begin with. When I order a bread at the bakery, the baker ask what kind of bread I want, not how he needs to operate and fine tune his machinery in order to give me the product I want. Why do we think our industry, our service offering is different?

In reality, can you expect from app owners to truly understand the I/O characteristics of his application? Maybe they read all the documentation of the vendor, maybe they followed a couple of courses on how to configure and operate the application, or maybe they might even got a few certifications under their belt. But in reality there are no classes and courses in the dynamics of the workload you are running. The application stack is merely a framework in order to delivery a service to the business you are servicing.

The dynamics of workload is very complex, especially in a virtualized datacenter. Typically enterprise applications do not generate a consistent workload pattern. These patterns are different when servicing users or when interacting with infrastructure services. During their life cycle, applications are updated, code/query improves impacting application behaviour. Pete Koehler wrote down his experience in his article “Using a new tool to discover old problems”.

Besides generating a variety of different workload patterns, applications are subject to change during its lifecycle. Change in interaction and demand, impacting the underlying infrastructure differently throughout time. Typically an application experiences a lot of interaction during test/dev/acceptance process before going into production. After the introduction period, demand is low but increasing. During the maturity of the application, demand will peak. At one point application will be replaced and is phased out. During this phase workload demand will taper off, but the service still demands a particular level of service. During all these phases, the infrastructure needs to provide the service the organization demands. And this is just an isolated case of one particular application.

Typically the virtual datacenter infrastructure is shared. A virtual machine containing an application lands on a storage array, typically storing multiple virtual machines on that datastore. The datastore is backed by a LUN, backed by multiple physical devices. Access to the devices is done via shared controllers and the list continues all the way up the stack to hypervisor. Maybe the application owner understands what type of I/O the application is generally producing, but the underlying stack will impact the performance. Can you ensure the application gets the performance it requires? Do you know if the infrastructure is capable of delivering the service the application requires? And what about the impact of the application on the infrastructure. How will introducing this application impact the current active applications? Will it impact their service levels?

Therefor I believe that two things need to change, behavior and tooling. IT needs to switch from asking technical questions to asking functional questions. It’s better to understand the role and place in the business process. Typically this provides insight on the availability, concurrency and response requirements of the application. The second thing that needs to change, and this is what I hope 2015 will bring, is better tooling that provides insight on workload characteristics. Tooling that provides better analysis of application demand and it’s impact on infrastructure. At this stage, most tooling is ineffective in proving proper information. Virtualized Datacenters need tooling that provides a better view into the theatre of consumers and producers. Tooling that provides a more holistic view of the application workload characteristics while being able to monitor the resource usage. Having such tools allows IT departments to operationalize and manage their environments much better, ensuring proper service levels while being able to understand the capability of the environment. Looking at the current developments in the IT industry, it is incredible difficult to predict what type of workloads (and especially in what form/platform) will hit the enterprise IT landscape in the next two years. Understanding what your environment truly delivers is a necessity when discussing future workloads.

I think this is a necessary step for datacenter advancements. Once you know what’s going on, once you got proper tooling to provide better insights you can feed this data into advanced algorithms to distribute the load across the infrastructure to provide the performance it requires while optimizing resource utilization. All of this providing the correct priority aligning it with business needs. This goes beyond todays offering such as DRS, Storage DRS, SIOC in vSphere datacenters and Mesos in container landscapes.

Interesting IT related documentaries

The holidays are upon us and for most its time to wind down. Maybe time for some nice though-provoking documentaries before the food-coma sets in. ;) Most of the documentaries listed here are created by Tegenlicht (Backlight). Backlight provides some of the best documentaries on Dutch television and luckily they made most of them available in English. The following list is a set of documentaries that impressed me. If you found some awesome documentaries yourself, please leave a comment.

Tech revolution on Wall Street
Backlight created a trilogy on the tech revolution on Wall Street over a period of three years. The most famous one is the second one, “Money and Speed, inside the black box”. It received multiple awards and although it’s the second documentary in the series of three, I recommend starting with that one. If you are intrigued about how the impact of these algorithms, continue with the other two episodes, “Quants. The alchemists of Wall Street” and “Wall Street Code”. They almost make you feel like you are watching a thriller, highly recommended!

08.02.2010: Quants, The alchemists of Wall Street. English | Dutch
20.03.2013: Money & Speed: Inside the Black Box. English | Dutch
04.11.2013: Wall Street Code. English | Dutch

Extra video
08.02.2010: Quants, George Dyson. English
01.07.2011: Kevin Slavin: How algorithms shape our world. English (Ted Talk)

Unfortunately these two documentaries are Dutch only.
21.10.2013: Big Data, the Shell Search. Dutch

Tegenlicht onderzoekt hoe je met behulp van big data kunt doordringen in gesloten bolwerken. Wat geven deze enorme informatiestromen prijs over een multinational als Shell?

1.10.2014: Zero Days veiligheidslekken te koop Dutch
Tegenlicht neemt je mee in de handel van 'zero days', onbekende lekken in software of op het internet. Een strijd tussen 'white hat' en 'black hat' hackers bepaalt onze online veiligheid.

Although the voice over is Dutch, most of this documentary is in English, you might want to give it a try. It focuses on legal trade of unknown security vulnerabilities, so called zero days. Yes your government is also acquiring these from hackers, all perfectly legal!

Enjoy! And of course I wish you all happy holidays!

MS Word style formatting shortcut keys for Mac

Recently I started to spend a lot of time in MS word again, and as a stickler for details I dislike a mishmash of font types throughout my document. I spend a lot of time on configuring the styles of the document, yet when I paste something from other documents, MS word tend to ignore these. Correcting the format burns a lot of time and it simply annoys the crap out of me.

To avoid this further, I started to dig around to find some font and style related shortcut keys. Yesterday I tweeted the shortcut key to apply the normal style and by the looks of retweets many of you are facing the same challenge.

Below is a short list of shortcut keys that I use. There are many more, share the common ones you like to use. As I use Mac I listed the Mac shortcut combination. Replace CTRL for CMD if you are using MS Word on a windows machine.

Select text:
Select all: CTRL+A
Select sentence: CMD + click
Select word: Double click
Select paragraph: Triple click

Clear formatting: CTRL+spacebar
Apply Normal Style: Shift+CMD+N
Header 1: CMD+ALT+1
Header 2: CMD+ALT+2
Header 3: CMD+ALT+3
Change Case: CMD+Option+C (repeat combination to cycle through options)
Indent paragraph: CTRL+Shift+M
Remove indent: CMD+Shift+M

Find and replace: F5

Improve public speaking by reading a book?

Although it sounds like an oxymoron I do have the feeling that books about this topic can help you become a better public speaker, or in matter of fact more skillful in driving home your message.

After our talk at VMworld a lot of friends complimented not only on the talk itself but also on the improvements I’ve made when it comes to public speaking. My first public speaking engagement was VMworld 2010 at Vegas, 8 o’clock Monday morning for 1200 person. Talk about a challenge. Since then I have been slowly improving my skills. Last year I’ve done more talks than the previous 3 years before combined. Although Malcolm Gladwell’s 10.000 –hour rule is heavily debated nowadays, I do believe that practice is by far the best way to improve your skill. By itself getting 10.000 hours of public speaking time is rather a challenge and just by going through the motions alone will be very inefficient. To maximize efficiency I started to dive into the theory behind public speaking or even more broadly theory about communicating. Over the year I read a decent stack of books but these four stood out the most.

1: Confessions of a public speaker by Scott Berkun
Funny and highly practical. If you want to buy only one book, this one should be it. The book helps you with the act of public speaking; How to deal with stage fright, how to work a tough room, what are the things I need to take care of to make my talk go smoothly.

2: Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
This books helps you structure the message you public-speaking-books
want to convey. It helps you to dive into the core of your message and communicate them in a memorable way. It’s a great book to read, lots of interesting stories and it’s one of those books that you should read multiple times to keep on refining your skillset.

3: Talk like Ted by Carmine Gallo
To some extent a combination of the two first books. The interesting part is the focus on the listener experience and its capability to focus for 18 minutes. In addition it gives you insights on some of the greatest TED talks.

4 Pitch Perfect by Bill and Alisa Bowman
This book helps you to enhance communication skills. It dives deeper in the act verbal and non-verbal language. It helps you to become cognizant of some of the mistakes everyone makes, yet can be avoided quite easily. The book helps you to drive your point in a more confident, persuasive and certain manner.

The beauty of these books is that you can use them, learn from them even if you are not a public speaker. In everyday life we all need to communicate, we all want our idea to be heard and possible get a buy in from others. I believe these books will help you achieve this. If you have found other books useful and interesting please leave a comment.

Virtual machines versus Containers who will win?

Ah round X in the battle between who will win, which technology will prevail and when will the displacement of technology happen. Can we stop with this nonsense, with this everlasting tug-of-war mimicking the characteristics of a schoolyard battle. And I can’t wait to hear these conversations at VMworld.

In reality there aren’t that many technologies that completely displaced a prevailing technology. We all remember the birth of the CD and the message of revolutionising music carriers. And in a large way it did, yet still there are many people who prefer to listen to vinyl. Experience the subtle sounds of the medium, giving it more warmth and character. The only solution I can think of that displaced the dominant technology was video disc (DVD & Blue Ray) rendering video tape completely obsolete (VHS/Betamax). There isn’t anybody (well let’s only use the subset Sane people) that prefers a good old VHS tape above a Blue ray tape. The dialog of “Nah let’s leave the blue-ray for what it is, and pop in the VHS tape, cause I like to have that blocky grainy experience" will not happen very often I expect. So in reality most technologies coexist in life.

Fast forward to today. Dockers’ popularity put Linux Containers on the map for the majority of the IT population. A lot of people are talking about it and see the merits of leveraging a container instead of using a virtual machine. To me the choice seems to stem from the layer you present and manage your services. If your application is designed to provide high availability and scalability, then a container may be the best fit. If your application doesn’t than place it in a virtual machine and leverage the services provided by the virtual infrastructure. Sure there are many other requirements and constraints to incorporate in your decision tree, but I believe the service availability argument should be one of the first steps.

Now the next step is, where do you want to run your container environment? If you are a VMware shop, are you going to invest time and money to expand your IT services with containers or are you going to leverage an online PAAS provider? Introducing an APPS centric solution into an organization that has years of experience in managing Infrastructure centric platforms might require a shift of perspective

Just my two cents.