Introducing Steve Curry!

We are Excited to Announce our Manager of Cloud Services, Steve Curry

A Richmond native, Steve is a attended VCU-School of Business. He has spent the last 16 years building his technical skill set in the UK.   Most recently, he held positions in lead UK consultancy firms and cloud service providers that landed him working with high-profile clients both in government and private sectors. Steve is returning to the US and we are fortunate that he is choosing to work with us.

Steve will bring cloud consulting and integration capabilities to Achieve One.  He will be working with leadership to define and implement new cloud practices and will be leveraging a strong Microsoft background to help us align with MS Azure teams, building our competency around MS cloud offerings along with other cloud providers.

His expertise in Microsoft and other technologies:

Microsoft Windows Server, Active Directory, Exchange, System Center family, Hyper-V, and Remote Desktop Services, SQL AlwaysOn, Scale Out File Servers, App-V, GPOs, MDT, Server 2016 OS., and azure.

Citrix XenApp, XenDesktop, Netscaler, XenDesktop, XenServer, Sharefile, Receiver, Storefront, and Web Interface.

VMware ESX 6.x, 5.x, vSphere 6, Horizon, Unity Workspace, vCloud Suite, vRealize Operations, and vRealize Automation.

Enterprise hardware and software Cisco UCS, NVidia GRID, HP ProLiant, Dell PowerEdge, EMC VNX, NetApp, Hitachi AMS, Atlantis, StarWind, F5, Amazon EC2, GoGrid, Google Cloud, AWS, and AppSense

This expertise will enhance our relevance with all of our customers.  

Welcome, Steve!

Hyperconverged? Part 2

Read this first:  Hyperconverged? Part 1

Enough negativity, let’s look at the benefits gained by using some of the more promising HCI platforms.

While often implemented as scalable node-based appliances and a server virtualization hypervisor.  Many vendors use the same or very similar hardware appliances to achieve scalability and many use the same hypervisor manufacturer.  What, then, are the advantages of one over the other?

In general, the advantage comes in the form of virtualized storage.  Many, so called, HCI platforms are simply storage virtualization software that integrates with the hypervisor.  They are just a different iteration of the same technologies we have been using for the past 10 years.  Some of these bolt-on software products have been packaged in a way to appear as a comprehensive solution.  However, they typically use products from three or more vendors to achieve convergence and support for these platforms is typically far from converged.  Because the storage virtualization is just a plug-in for the hypervisor, traditional administration of all virtualized infrastructure resources is still required.  True HCI advantage comes in the form of an overlying automation engine that simplifies daily administration vs. the addition of another management interface into an already complex system.  Flexibility, scalability, simplicity and support are key.

IMHO there are a few vendors who have created products that could be classified as an excessive coming together.  These vendors own the hardware, hypervisor and storage virtualization at a level that allows them to support all aspects of the platform.  Having control over all components of the platform allow them to drive integration and innovation, and therefore efficiency.  These efficiencies come in the form of custom administration interfaces that simplify daily tasks.    The two vendors who show the most promise in this space are VCE and Nutanix.

VCE, a division of EMC, has been doing converged infrastructure for some time and has developed a strong deployment strategy and strict interoperability processes.  Today VCE has two HCI platforms, the VXRail and VXRack.  For comparison, we will only address VXRail in this post.  The VXRail uses Quanta servers, the VMware vSphere hypervisor and VMware vSan for storage virtualization.  Most of these components are owned by Dell who recently acquired EMC and majority ownership of VMware.  It is assumed that the VXRail platform will drop Quanta as it’s hardware component in favor of one of Dell’s node-based server platforms (PowerEdge FX2 for example).  This will create a single-vendor platform, ideally with a single vendor support model through the VCE division.  The simplicity of the EVO:Rail interface, now only available on the VXRail platform, makes it a truly elegant solution. VCE has been the leader in Gartner’s magic quadrant for converged infrastructure for two years.

Nutanix is one of the longest standing HCI players and has the lion’s share of the HCI market today.  They have also been in Gartner’s magic quadrant for the past two years and have been ahead of VCE from a completeness of vision perspective both years (VCE ahead in ability to execute).  While Nutanix does not produce its own hardware, it does provide both the hypervisor (Acropolis) and storage virtualization components and support for the entire platform.  While most of the existing Nutanix customer base leverages VMware vSphere for the hypervisor today, the push from Nutanix (and for good reason) is toward their own Acropolis.  The Nutanix user interface (Prism UI) provides an advantage over other HCI solutions in that it displays all of the health information for the platform in a simple monitoring view.  When using the Acropolis hypervisor, Prism UI provides the basic day-to-day functions for administration as well.  On top of the required platform upgrade and growth functions, it provides virtual machine start, shutdown, reset, deployment, and snapshot functions when using Acropolis.  Like the VXRail, this combination makes it a mostly complete hyperconverged solution.  Flexibility to choose from vSphere, Acropolis or Microsoft Hyper-V is also a big plus for organizations that have standardized on specific virtualization platforms.

There are several other factors that should be considered when evaluating a HCI platform.  All current HCI platforms exclude integrated, virtualized network control.  Some, however, offer tools to simplify the configuration of, or monitoring of, external network resources.  Data protection and public-cloud expansion capabilities can also differ.  VCE and Nutanix provide these capabilities in vastly different ways.  A thorough evaluation of business and technical requirements should be conducted before choosing a HCI platform (as with any technology).  Don’t be fooled by storage virtualization plug-ins that promote themselves as hyperconverged solutions, you will be left with the traditional challenges of interoperability, integration and overly complex administration.  Real cost savings from HCI come in the form of flexibility, scalability and simplicity.

Addendum:      

After submitting the first part of this post, I became aware of another hyperconverged platform that appears to meet all of my preconceptions.  This platform offers a software as a service (SaaS) management portal akin to pure cloud platforms like Azure or Amazon where all hardware provisioning can be done from a simple interface, including network.  The platform is node-based like other HCI offerings where each component (storage, compute and network) can be scaled independently.  With real-time monitoring, analytics, data encryption, high-availability and seamless multi-site configuration, this HCI platform appears to have it all.  The only downside is the company’s age.  The company (Cloudistics, Inc.) went live with their HCI platform at the end of March this year (2016) and will have to prove its support capabilities before it rivals the likes of VCE and Nutanix.  Cloudistics Ignite, in my opinion, is the HCI platform that other vendors will be working to emulate.  I know that I, for one, will be paying close attention to their progress.

 

Hyperconverged?

Part 1

Hyper-:  a prefix meaning “over,” usually implying excess or exaggeration.

Converged:  the past tense of a verb meaning the tendency to meet in a point. Two or more things inclining toward one another.

Based on the above, hyperconverged could be defined as an excessive coming together of two or more things.  In technology, hyperconverged is a marketing term used for infrastructure that represents a coming together of components.  But not necessarily an excessive one.  Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is often described as the combination of compute, network and storage on scalable commodity hardware supported by a single vendor.  Most of today’s hyperconverged platforms, however, are just a combination of legacy tools in a manner that provides some level of simplification.  Unfortunately, this combination of tools does not equate to “excessive” convergence and in most cases does not produce any significant simplification.  Very few offer single vendor support.

After reviewing the implementation, configuration and management of many HCI offerings, I was a bit disappointed.  My expectation was an exaggerated simplification of administrative processes.  Including a setup process that was intuitive enough for a novice to walk through by answering a few simple questions, quick access to most of the daily functions required to manage the infrastructure, and a monitoring interface that learned trends in the environment and proactively alerted.  All of these functions should be wizard driven and interactive, providing guidance for problem resolution.  What I found was bolt-on storage virtualization, added to existing server virtualization technologies.  These were often, but not always, paired with a modular (node or blade-based) hardware platform.  Most of the complexity we have managed for the past 10+ years still exists.  Multiple vendors are still required to support them effectively.  Interoperability challenges are still present.  Repetitive tasks are still very time consuming and manual.  Integration that should exist, does not.

HCI platforms are becoming popular for private cloud implementations; specifically, around Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) deployments, small office infrastructure and test/dev environments.  These environments (in my experience) are respectively owned by desktop support, smaller IT teams and developers.  An exaggerated simplification would benefit these groups immensely.  The benefit of HCI should be a major (read: excessive) reduction in administrative overhead due to the combination (read: convergence) of hardware, software and support.  From what I have seen so far, most HCI solutions fall well short.

Part 2:  Enough negativity!  What are the benefits of HCI?

How to choose a vendor you can trust

Columnist Rob Enderle has spent decades watching and working with vendors. Here’s a look at how he chooses which vendor to go with and why.

One of the issues we all have is knowing whether you can trust a company or not. There are classes of companies like cable firms and cellular carriers where the smaller ones often stand out because they seem to care about you while the bigger ones constantly trick you into paying more than you intended with fake deals and empty promises. T-Mobile is the only large firm in this class that seems to actually care about its customers. In fact, their continued success appears to be slowly getting their peers to change in our favor.

In the IT space we often get enthralled with the technology and promises given to us from a vendor only to be blindsided because they never really intended to follow through. Meanwhile, other firms measure themselves largely by their customer’s loyalty and not by tactics designed to simply milk your wallet.

I’ve had decades of looking and watching vendors, and have worked for and with a large number of them, here is what I look for when choosing a vendor when my job depends on it.

Start at the top

There has been an unfortunate trend to stick people at the top of companies that have no background in what the firm does. Yahoo was an excellent example of this, choosing unqualified CEO after unqualified CEO with a board unwilling or unable to actually staff the job with someone who knew what they were doing. This isn’t the CEO’s fault any more than it’s a lower employees fault. Being put in a job you lack the skills to accomplish is a setup for failure.

Worse is when they hire an opportunistic climber from either inside or outside the company. These folks are working for the perks and become famous for their illicit affairs, misuse of company property, and acting like a bad clone of inbred royalty. Their people grow to hate them, they surround themselves with people that lavish praise on them, and while they are seldom held accountable they often crash and burn their firms, killing any and all potential.

What you want is a CEO who cares about their firm, who takes care of their people and engenders the kind of loyalty that good leaders are known for. They can come from inside or outside, but you can tell from how stable their direct reports are and how loyal they are. They also demonstrate loyalty to their customers.

Measurements

Firms that measure themselves largely by nature of how much money they make exclusively are increasingly common. This is an unfortunate result of the growth of “activist investors” and hedge funds, which have largely replaced individual investors who often got into a company for retirement not for a large quick return.   I’m coming around to the idea that if you get a choice, choose private companies over public because they don’t have to deal with this BS and more often don’t have to choose between keeping you happy and spiking the stock to your detriment.

Look for companies that place a high value on customer loyalty and customer satisfaction. Look for companies where keeping you happy is more important than finding creative ways to charge you for things you really didn’t need or to fix problems they themselves have created.

The best companies should treat you kind of like family. They get that the cost of getting a customer back is far higher than getting a customer in the first place and that keeping a customer happy is the only sure way to long-term success. This often depends heavily on the sales force as the primary interface and you’re looking for relationships which are long lasting and a sales force that has little churn.

If the firm can’t stabilize those that you depend on they can’t assure that promises made are kept because the people that made them simply won’t be there to carry them out. We are talking about behavior where the firm acts like they believe making stuff work is at least as important as closing the deal rather than disappearing after the sale with the attitude that they did you a favor by selling or giving you the product you are now struggling to implement.

This is particularly noticeable with firms that largely make their money off of advertising and seem to act like they did you a favor by giving you an extremely sweet deal that they may have lost money on.   Yes, you save some cash, but chances are you’ll spend more just maintaining the mess you bought and eventually you’ll be forced to realize that the more expensive product from a firm where your relationship is an asset and not a liability would have been the more prudent choice.

Take care of you people, and they will take care of you

There are firms that rarely do layoffs and firms that do them as a matter of course. Firms that seem to understand that practices like forced ranking destroy a company’s capability to execute and turn employees against each other and firms that treat their employees like replaceable pieces of meat.   At the end of the day it is those employees that you depend on to take care of your needs, but if they are being constantly abused they’ll focus on covering their butts rather than covering yours.

Favor firms that treat their employees like you’d like to be treated. In this scenario, you’ll likely find that you get a better overall experience. Managers and executives that are smart tend to emulate successful firms.

You have choices, choose wisely

We have choices, some of us make those choices largely on price. Unfortunately, you may find that the seemingly cheap offer from a firm that, after the purchase views you as a liability, is actually the most expensive. Before you make that crucial choice look into the hearts of the firms you are choosing between. Is the CEO a hard working executive loved by their employees or fake royalty tolerated by them? Are the executives stable and loyal or in constant churn and undependable? Are the employees taken care of so they’ll take care of you or focused on survival and barely able to take care of themselves?

These are all things you should consider on your path to choosing a vendor that will have your back rather than become another painful thing you wished you didn’t have to manage. While this practice could, in aggregate, eventually make for a better world, what it will most certainly do is make your job far less stressful and less filled with regret.

Reposted from CIO.com

Defining your pace as a change agent

When new leaders join organizations, they bring with them their passion and energy for business. Quite often, they see and hear many things that need to change, and change quickly. However, the best leaders understand the need to slow down and fully examine the organization, the staff and the culture before making any sweeping changes. Further, they are aware of how critical it is to get the perfect balance between their desire to move forward and the team’s need for guidance and exceptional communication.

Understand the team’s perception of change

Many leaders are hungry for success and see further ahead than others in the organization. This often makes it difficult for them to look at the business from other people’s perspectives, which is imperative. Even more, the team may not see the vision of the new leader, and frustration can ensue. In turn, frustration often leads to constant changes in priorities, and then to confusion and impatience.

How can leaders avoid short tempers and aggravation within the organization due to proposed changes? They must study how team members are directly or indirectly impacted, and do the background work necessary to successfully make changes. Asking questions and really listening to the answers will give them insight into how others see the proposed changes. Most importantly, leaders must overcommunicate — by repeating the message over and over at the start.

Change and context

Tolerance for change varies from one business to another; every business is unique. The context of change in the new organization is important, and listening to the stories and advice of team members can help leaders to understand those contexts. There are many factors that affect change tolerance, and getting the balance right is key. Systems and processes can help immensely, as can proper communication, expectations, measurement tools and schedules for implementation.

Change resistance

Nearly all resistance to change is emotional in nature, which is why calm and rational explanations for change might cause uproar. New leaders need to understand their teams’ emotional attachments to the way things are, and they must find ways to connect with team members on a more emotional level. A calm approach and a story of how the change will benefit the team will help people get on board.

Put in the time, and finish what you start

Leaders must understand that they can’t step in and start demanding changes on day one. They need to take the time to survey the landscape, look for areas of opportunity and formulate a plan for positive improvement. Further, they must have persistence and patience to finish the upgrade project they start.

In almost all cases, there will be obstacles that were not easy to foresee, but a true leader is nimble enough to work through them and quickly get back on track. The leader must be committed to leading change and dealing with any consequences.

Self-awareness

Leaders must be self-aware, and they must understand how to balance their personality and leadership style with that of their team. Leading change at a slower pace to decrease resistance and resentment is wise, as is encouraging change at a fast enough pace that the team does not get frustrated that nothing is happening. The key is balance: If there is a large gap between the pace the leader expects and that of the organization, it can cause problems and failed leadership.

Continually monitoring how changes are implemented, and how the changes are impacting the team, is critical to instituting fruitful changes in an organization. Keeping the lines of communication open, the pace appropriate, the processes simple and the team members committed are all keys to success when making positive changes. One of the key themes is that sometimes moving slower equates to moving fast during a time of change. As I have stepped into my journey with a new organization, these are the areas that I am focusing on as a change agent.

Reposted from CIO.com September 2015

CIOs embracing hybrid cloud and software-defined data centers

Companies building mobile and Web applications to support their digital businesses depend on a mix of private and public clouds to exchange data, said Bill Fathers, VMware’s executive vice president and general manager of cloud services.

Fathers said companies are struggling to deal with a “fundamental shift in application deployment patterns,” That’s forced CIOs to think about “network architecture and data residency.” In short: how data is moving back and forth between various on-premises systems and cloud environments the apps connect to. VMware is aiming to address these challenges with its unified hybrid cloud, which includes server, storage and network resources designed to enable companies to run any application on any device. The company announced several new software products in support of this initiative.

VMware made its name selling server virtualization software, which allows companies to run multiple instances of an operating system on servers, a major shift from the traditional one-OS-per-box approach. Virtualized computing is the hallmark of today’s Web-scale cloud environments, which use commodity servers and software to address spikes in demand. Thanks to considerable internal development, a talent infusion and acquisitions, VMware has extended its automation technologies to storage and the network, offering a software-defined data center that is intended to compete with public cloud services from Amazon Web Services and others.

VMware gains trust among CIOs seeking hybrid clouds

The hybrid cloud approach appealed to Mike Benson, CIO of DirecTV, who began using VMware in 2008 to virtualize servers. DirecTV has since incorporated VMware storage and network virtualization. Benson said DirecTV must plan for massive spikes in content demand for such things as boxing fights and professional football via TVs as well as computers, smartphones and tablets. He supports this content with a mixed bag of private, public and hybrid cloud services. “Unified hybrid cloud is our strategy,” Benson said during the general session. “We’ve moved from manual, rigid delivery to software-friendly delivery.”

“Software-friendly delivery” is essentially a software-defined data center, which enables companies to provision virtual compute, storage and network capabilities automatically rather than setting up equipment and installing software on it. Such software cuts provisioning time for days and weeks to seconds, and is a big selling point for VMware’s unified hybrid cloud strategy.

hybrid-cloud-vmware

CIOs such as Tribune Media’s David Giambruno finds this approach is liberating. In 2014, the media company split into Tribune Media and Tribune Publishing. Giambruno remained with Tribune Media, the parent company, but the publishing spinoff took all of the infrastructure with it, leaving him with the daunting task of standing up a new IT environment to support more than 200 applications and 7,000 employees. “I wanted to take the infrastructure out of the way, and let people do whatever business process transactions they require on any device,” Giambruno said.

Giambruno said he used VMware’s software to virtualize 1,200 virtual machines, supported on 70 physical servers, which he says allowed him to easily move applications between the organization as needed. “It’s way simpler bringing up new infrastructure and copying my apps [virtually] rather than picking up literally thousands of servers and moving them [to the new company],” Giambruno said. He also virtualized the network, and later, the storage capabilities, all of which are supported by a lean IT staff of 43 people.

The VMware system then senses when compute, storage and network capabilities are reaching their capacity threshold and emails and administrators, who then approve the provisioning of new resources. The system does the rest. Giambruno calls it a software-defined data center. But it’s also a hybrid cloud, connecting with human resources software such as Workday and budget forecasting software from Anaplan, among other software-as-a-service providers Giambruno uses to operate the business. “It’s what I call indiscriminate computing; my ability to move my assets wherever but maintain security and availability,” he said.

Plenty of clouds to go around

Giambruno and Benson are outliers. The majority of CIOs are still struggling with integrating various components of on-premises, private cloud and public cloud solutions and haven’t committed to a software-defined data center. VMware must also contend with competition from public cloud providers such as AWS, which has made it simple for anyone from marketing heads to developers to purchase compute resources with a credit card. Netflix, Airbnb, the CIA and other high-profile organizations run large portions of their businesses on AWS, which reported revenues of $5.97 billion for fiscal year 2015.

VMware is confident that there is room for multiple cloud providers, particularly those that can help them build software defined data centers in which the infrastructure can be programmed on the fly rather than manually set up and installed. But it marks a cultural shift that’s not going to happen overnight, Chris Wolf, vice president and CTO of Americas, said. “There’s going to be some resistance and it’s going to feel a little uncomfortable for the average technologist in the trenches, but they’re going to look back and say ‘Why did we ever do it that way?.'”

With business increasingly relying on Web and mobile applications to serve their customers, VMware has the opportunity to add new levels of efficiency at the server, network and storage layers, says IDC analyst Matt Eastwood. “They’re going to grow by taking share from traditional hardware infrastructure providers.”

It’s still early days in this journey. But with CIOs still struggling with how to build their digital businesses, it’s incumbent on VMware and other infrastructure companies explain why a software-defined data center supporting a hybrid cloud is preferable, he said.

Reposted from CIO.com September 2015

Why should your business embrace Desktop Virtualization?

Stop for just a moment to think about how your business uses computers and other digital devices. Chances are that each individual device has its own operating system as well as installed applications. These are then connected to one network. Each time there needs to be an operating system or application upgrade, you need to send out personnel to each device in order to complete the process. This is both time consuming and uses up a lot of resources. Now, enter in to this equation the plethora of smartphones, tablets and other devices employees utilize at work and the complexity changes even further.

Desktop, or endpoint, virtualization enables a central server to manage and deliver to individual desktops, laptops and other devices remotely. Basically, IT staff can mange, upgrade and provision all company devices virtually instead of running around and having to do it manually. Simply brilliant.

The massive gains of control alone should be reason enough for you to implement desktop virtualization. But if you remain on the fence, then consider these other benefits:

  • Super fast operating system updates.
  • Safe and secure data as continuous backups are taking place.
  • Easy and fast business expansion. Any number of additional workstations can be added to the network quite easily.
  • Software applications and updates can be implemented after hours as not to disrupt work flow.
  • Applications are always available as they are delivered from one central server.

The adaptation of desktop virtualization is key in saving your company time and money. Give us a call if you are looking for IT solutions.

The Death of IT

A call to action

From the beginning of (business) time, (automation) tools have been utlized to create competitive advantage. As these tools become commodity, competitive advantage decreases. Requiring no specialized skills to implement or maintain, cloud-based services will replace the complexity of yesterday’s systems. In the near future, the ‘anything as a service’ model will be the death of today’s IT.

This idea is not novel. Back in 2003, Nicholas Carr wrote “IT Doesn’t Matter”, published in the Harvard Business Review. Carr argued that as the availability of technologies increase and costs decrease, they become commodity and lose any competitive differentiation. They no longer matter, he states. So, if this same concept has been described before, why bring it up now? The relevance of Carr’s statements some 13 years later demands a call to action by business managers and IT personnel. The commoditization of this generations automation tools is at hand.

Cloud-based utilities and ‘as a service’ offerings will transform businesses to a model where every business unit selects and maintains its own technology. These technologies will natively integrate to ensure business workflow consistency. New generations of business-people, raised in a digital world, are inundating the market with tech savvy expertise in various business practices. New businesses are cropping up daily where the entire business tool-set is born in the cloud. These organizations begin with flexible and scalable technologies and are not tethered to traditional data center models with limited capabilities. Businesses are demanding a new level of agility to reduce the risk of being out-competed.

Salesforce is used by many organizations in this manner today. Simple configuration changes can be leveraged to effect major competitive differentiation between one implementation and the next. In most cases, the people responsible for creating these new workflows within Salesforce are not traditional IT but are tech savvy resources from sales, HR, marketing, and/or finance.

Companies from every vertical are becoming Big Data companies.  They are mining information from their user base to enhance their product offerings and their focus is less on existing products and more on data analytics that will allow them to provide the technologies and services of the future in whatever form they take. In a like manner, many traditional businesses are becoming technology companies. Think Amazon, Uber, AirBnB, Netflix, Crowdfunding or any other organization that leverages technology to remove barriers. The real competitive advantage of any organization is its data and how that data is used to move assets from lower value uses to higher value uses.

In the not too distant future, every business user will be a technologist and every technologist a business user. Network solution providers will deliver simple, secure appliances that create a large flat networks allowing unfettered access to the internet of things. Security will be an inherent part of every device, appliance and system. Innovation will be delivered at the speed of business through integrated Software as a Service (SaaS) tools. So, if all businesses are becoming technology companies and none of them need IT teams, what is the future of the information technology industry?

As referenced above, data (and how it is used) is the real value of the organization. Information technology teams will be required to focus less on the infrastructure and more on the data itself. Truly successful IT personnel will align themselves with the goals of the business. Organizations and individuals that can make the transition will find increasing success in a digital economy. For those of us in IT positions today, the increasing rate of technology adoption (https://hbr.org/2013/11/the-pace-of-technology-adoption-is-speeding-up) will likely mean we have to adapt to survive.

We (IT) can proactively begin the process of aligning with the business, becoming change agents in our existing roles, adopt a forward-looking mindsets and champion this transition.

  • Continue to execute well on existing platforms while transforming the culture of IT within our organizations.
  • Understand how the data within our organizations can be utilized to make valuable business growth (or cost-avoidance) decisions.
  • Adopt a service (not infrastructure) mindset.
  • Deliver value to the business through innovation.

Lock in your relevance.  Foster change.