All posts by dashinte

THE GERIATRIC IT PEOPLE

 

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For the last 15 years we were invited by our friends, M and V to their birthdays’, to their children birthdays’ parties, to Christmas lunches, to Australia Day lunches etc. We meet their parents, aunties and uncles, all of them in their late seventies, early eighties, all of them very active, eating, drinking and enjoying the parties. As a joke, I used to call these events, “The Geriatric Parties”, although I admire very much their vitality, intelligence, wisdom and mainly their “joie de vivre”!

I am going to refer to the IT people in their late fifties, early sixties because I am in both: in IT and early sixties. Now, the majority of us are employed full time or contracting, as project managers, database administrators, solution architects, infrastructure specialists, applications owners, etc. and it seems perfectly normal to be part of the IT workforce. In my opinion there are only two issues with this picture:

  • If you are made redundant or your contract comes to an end it is very hard to find a new job/contract. Normally you will believe that with your experience in IT, with the knowledge accumulated in 35-40 years of work will be pretty easy to get the next job, but it is not. You will get replies from the employment agencies or directly from the employing companies, stating that you are over qualified for the position or that they are looking for a specific skill that you do not have, but the truth is very simple: you do not get the job because you are in the late fifties early sixties bracket and you are classified as a geriatric!
  • The market for very short contracts/consulting jobs is almost inexistent and I strongly believe that many companies will greatly benefit from such jobs. Let me explain: a lot of IT specialists in my age bracket will be very interested in short term consulting jobs, where they can share their work experience and can be very valuable assets, but at the same time they can enjoy one or two months breaks between contracts.

There are many solutions for the issues mentioned above; I just want to highlight several:

  • Educating the business owners, CEOs, stakeholders about the existence/presence of this important senior workforce, via conferences, emails, articles, social media
  • Contact your parliament and senate members and request a national program, government sponsored for senior IT personnel
  • Find investors, brave enough to finance a “senior” only IT company!

And if you do not believe me, just watch a fantastic movie starring Robert de Niro called: The Intern”!

I was called “an aging rock star” or as my T-shirt mentioned: “a geriatric hippie” and I am happy to be both, but I know that I can add value and experience to any IT company interested of having an enterprise architect as a consultant, knowing that I am also an infrastructure architect, a data and applications architect, a backup architect and a decent UNIX/Linux SME.

I can be contacted at: ilie.mihut@dashinternational.com.au

THE ENTERPRISE ARCHITECT DILEMMA

 

Architect

 

 

I choose the above picture from the Matrix Reloaded movie and yes, he is The Architect. The reason for choosing him is because there is a serious resemblance between The Architect and an Enterprise Architect (EA). The Architect was running sixth iterations of The Matrix in order to get the perfect one and in a similar fashion, the Enterprise Architect is running cycles of a business solution, starting a new cycle every time the business is having an issue or is diverting from the initial parameters.

Unfortunately, in Australia the perception of what is the role and the attributes of an Enterprise Architect is not the right one, and here is my dilemma: Should I accept an Enterprise Architect role answering to the IT Director? After careful consideration, my answer will be no, because a yes answer will negate the very definition and role of an Enterprise Architect. The EA and his team should answer to the CEO or the Board of Directors not to the IT Director (or CIO).

What an Enterprise Architect does? Amongst other things, he/she will look and analyze your business as a whole, will assess the issues and determine the business needs and will come up with a business solution for the future. To implement the business solution and reach the future state, the IT has to be aligned to the business needs and goals and now, the EA Team (Data Architect, Application Architect, Infrastructure Architect, Network and Network Security Architect, Mobility Architect) will design specific solutions for each mentioned domain in order to achieve that goal.

When the whole solution is designed, reviewed and approved, the IT components (data, applications, infrastructure, network, security etc.) can be implemented by the IT Department or by a third party entity based on the needed skills and qualifications.

I strongly believe that the Australian businesses’ CEOs and Board of Directors, need to be informed and educated regarding the concept of Enterprise Architecture and the role of an EA via seminars, articles papers published in CEOs magazines etc. Only when they know what an EA is and how the Enterprise Architecture framework can help a business, only then the full benefits of such a methodology will determine rapid business growth, flexibility in a challenging market and the back end of modern and very adaptable IT.

I will close with the memorable words of The Architect: “Hope, it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness!”

PS For more details about the subject, or having me as a consultant: ilie.mihut@dashinternational.com.au

THE ANATOMY OF A DATA CENTRE TRANSFORMATION PROGRAMME

 

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How do you end up starting a DCT programme?

Here are some possible scenarios:

  • The business goals and requirements are no longer properly supported by the existing IT infrastructure.
  • Your company has acquired one or several companies with their own data centres and IT infrastructure.
  • Dramatic innovations in your business domain require rapid adaptation to new technologies and implicitly new IT technologies, super-fast networks, mobility solutions, social platforms based marketing and advertising options, etc.

As a CEO of a company in one of the above scenarios, you will get messages and hints from the business, the customers, the stakeholders, the employees and IT people complaining about various issues, like productivity, sales, advertising, connectivity, etc. You can go for a quick fix (happened a lot!) and ask the IT director to purchase new servers, storage and network appliances, which will show some improvements in short term, but you will be dead wrong.

The CEO should initiate the DCT Programme and become its major sponsor. In order to assess the magnitude of the business and DC transformation, you need an Enterprise Architect – EA) and a team of consultants: Business Architect, Applications Architect, Data Architect, Infrastructure Architect, Network Security Architect several Business Analysts and several SMEs in the software, operating systems, servers, storage, and network areas.                                     Very important, the Enterprise Architect should report to the Board of Directors and not to the IT Director because you need an independent, professional transformation design, unbiased by the IT.

Here is a possible sequence of the actions:

  • The business assessment process will involve in the first stage data/information gathering about the business by means of interviews with the stakeholders, business owners, managers, employees and also with a set of business (web based) questionaries which should be mandatory for everybody in the company. The answers to the interviews and questionaries will be analysed by the EA team and the results will give an overall, good picture of the present status of the business and also will allow the EA team to perform a gap analysis between present and future state of the business and develop a very high design (vision) of the future status of the business. Once the business vision is presented to the stakeholders and is approved it becomes the goal of the DCT Programme by means of transforming the IT (Data, Applications, Infrastructure) in order to align it to the business needs and achieve the business goal.
  • The Discovery process will allow a precise assessment of the Present Mode of Operation(PMO) of the applications, data and infrastructure employing a couple of procedures: interviews with the applications owners, support teams, end users, technical questionaries; data, applications and infrastructure audit via physical, applications and infrastructure specific audit software tools. The combination of a top-down (from applications to the hardware) and bottom-up (from hardware to the applications) audits and producing an applications interdependency matrix will fine tune the PMO status.
  • Based on the business vision of the future state, the EA team will produce a Future Mode of Operation (FMO) status for the applications, data and infrastructure. Another gap analysis will be performed between PMO and FMO of the above mentioned components and the results will constitute the fundamental of the High Level Design (HLD) document for the Transformation. The HLD document will present the future state of the applications, access and applications mobility, future state of data, data storage and data protection, future state of the infrastructure, if it is a hardware refresh, virtualization or migration to cloud. The HLD will present also the data replication, the backup and archiving, the network security and a mobility solutions. It is possible to add some high level financials at this stage. The HLD will be peer reviewed amongst the Solution Architects and presented for review and approval to the stakeholders and it will have several iterations and alterations until everybody will approve it. Be aware of the legacy applications owners, they are very protective of their applications and do not like any kind of change. It is quite possible that the approved HLD will have a few legacy applications “transformed” via the good old “lift and shift” method of the belonging servers!
  • A new artefact, the Detailed Design (DD) solution document will be created based on the approved HLD. As the name suggest, the DD will have all the technical details for the Transformation, all hardware new racks locations, physical and virtual servers, storage and network appliances IP addresses, applications connectivity ports,  data replications, backup and archiving details, DR fail-over details, inter-DC connectivity details, redundant multi-Telco internet connectivity details and many, many more.  Also, will have detailed financials. The DD document will be as well pee-reviewed by the Solution Architects and reviewed /approved by the stakeholders. After approval the DD becomes the official document for implementing the transformation.
  • The Implementation phase is what we were waiting for. Paradoxically, the input of the EA team at this stage is minimal. Did I mentioned that from the beginning of the Programme there was a Program Manager and a team of Project Managers (PM) assigned to the Transformation? Well, yes, they were working hard behind the scenes, getting resources for the whole Programme, getting approvals for the SMEs to perform the physical audits in the DCs, submitting and following the purchase orders for all the new equipment, making sure that the designated area in the DC has the proper racks, requested power, connectivity, Internet access, etc. The Solution Architects will assist the PMs with the conversion of the DD document into a detailed implementation plan, taking into account the business requirement for zero or Minimal Down Time (MDT) for the Production environment, not mentioning the approved Change window for Prod environment which is usually Saturday 11:00 pm to Sunday 5:00 am.

And you know the two words you do not want to hear on a Sunday at 1:00 am? Roll back!

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  1. The above is a very high level presentation of a transformation scenario. If you want more details or need help with a similar project, contact me: ilie.mihut@dashinternational.com.au

 

The DATA CENTRE TRANSFORMATION (DCT) Story

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If you follow the wise words of Master Yoda regarding the Sith Lord: “Always two there are, no more, no less. A master and an apprentice.” you will be all right with the number of data centres required for a proper Data Centre Transformation project.

The analogy is correct for “old style” data centres with a Master -Production data centre and an Apprentice – Disaster Recovery (DR) data centre.

Nowadays we find more and more the Master- Master (Active-Active) scenario where the Production data centre actively fails over to the DR data centre with little or no human interaction.

The future (and some companies are already there!) will present to the business a 100% business continuity solution (0% down time) where there is no difference between the two data centres. With ultra-fast fibre optic connectivity between the data centres, with massive virtualization and cloud integration, with multiple feeds from multiple power grids, all the applications will be always available running on a “Prod” server regardless that the server is up in data centre one or data centre two.

A DCT project is a never ending one and not because of the new technologies emerging every day, but because the businesses are continuously evolving, changing and so, the IT should transform and adapt accordingly.

The key principle for the IT is to listen to the business, to align the IT to the business needs and not the other way around. If, as the IT entity, you do so, every change, every struggle the business has should be converted into a transformation project, from replacing a few servers, to virtualization, to cloud, to a total transformation of the existing data centres or maybe migration to new data centres altogether.

 

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Contrary to popular belief, the virtualization is not as widely implemented as it should. Many large or enterprise size companies have between 20% and 40% of their servers virtualized. The reason behind this is the presence of legacy applications and the complex challenge to virtualize those applications.

Even worse is the percentage of cloud based infrastructure and applications. The main concerns about moving to a cloud based IT solution are data security, lack of control (for shared public based clouds) and cost.  Evidently, a cloud based solution has a different model for the above mentioned concerns. What the CEO and main stockholders of any company should know besides concerns is that a cloud based solution presents the company with huge business opportunities, makes the business more agile and accelerate exponentially any change.

So, both virtualization and cloud are the two main components of the DCT for the near future.

A major role in understanding and accept the modern DCT projects is the transformation of the organizational culture. As part of it, the technical IT people, which are very technology focused need to be educated to think not about infrastructure, storage servers and network, but about the services they provide to their customers (which are ultimately the business). As part of the cultural change are the stakeholders and change management. Instead of implementing a DCT project and tell the business to use it, is much better to have a consultative approach, listen to the business needs and align technology and DCT to the business needs and challenges.

I leave you with the words of wisdom from Keith Duncan, head of data centre design and delivery at Telefonica O2 regarding DCT:

Be bold and confident. “We all live in a zero tolerance environment so pay close attention and be realistic in execution.”

Align data centre transformation to the business programme. “This is a big one to take away. Rather than taking the technological approach, tack more to the business programme and projects and dovetail with them.”

“Take the business with you, get stakeholder investment and sell it to the business.”

Cultural change is very important. “It is not just about technology. Transformation of culture of the organization is just as important as the introduction of new technology.”

The Loneliness of the Late Shift IT Worker

The Loneliness of the Late Shift IT Worker

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Today we are not alone, we have the great social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and we have thousands of “friends”. Well, this is not true; I think that we are more alone than ever.

Last millennium and last century (1997- 1999), as an exploration geophysicist I spent a few years on seismic vessels, trying to discover the elusive oil hidden under the sea.

We worked on the five weeks on – five weeks off deal, twelve hours shift, no weekends and after that five weeks of holiday. I was lucky working together with my wife so we had our five weeks breaks together.

A lot of our colleagues were young, in their mid-twenties. The pay was good, they learned very quickly that swearing is an important part of the crew vocabulary and then they went home for the five weeks break. Now, all their friends and family were working during the week. These young guys spent their days drinking, mainly alone, because their social skills were kind of limited too, and after a few years spent working on the boat, they slowly became social rejects.

We left that job, mainly because we had enough of jumping from little shitty plains to little shitty helicopters every five weeks.

Early 2000 I started my IT career as a UNIX administrator. For several years I built a few hundred UNIX and Linux servers in Sydney, Melbourne, Seoul (South Korea), Wellington (NZ), just to mention a few cities benefiting of my skills as ‘Ilie the server builder’. After a while, I was so good (and bored!) building servers that was enough just to look angry at a server and the operating system will install by itself, the network ports will auto-configure and the root password will be off course: GOD!

When you do IT support for a major bank and the year is 2000, you have to physically be in their data centre for any change, upgrade, build etc. let’s not forget that the approved change window for Prod environment was normally Sunday morning from 00:00 am to 4:00 am. It was a very wired feeling to be alone in that huge data centre, the only other people being the two fat security guards at the reception. I will always remember the humming noise made by all those hundreds of servers, it was like you were listening to the “ghost in the machine”, or to the UNIX God!

In 1997, while in Houston, Texas for 6 months of training for the exploration geophysicist job, I started jogging influenced by one of my colleagues, Roberto, the Italian from Perth. In a few months I was jogging 9 miles every morning and enjoying it a lot. I kept that habit for many years everywhere we went.

So, for a few years I combined the loneliness of an IT support guy with the loneliness of the long distance jogger and, for reasons known only by me, I liked the second one better!

Today, the IT support area is totally changed, remote connectivity is getting better every day, virtualization, cloud computing and mobility are evolving at a frightening pace so the support guy role can be done almost 100% remotely, the approved change windows are more relaxed. Yes, you can perform your change from home using your laptop, yes you are not physically in a data centre and yes you are still alone!

Unlike the long distance runner, who has the forest, the park, the beach, the sky and the sea, an IT “runner” was alone in a data centre and is alone is his own home. I believe that the IT companies badly neglected this very important aspect of their employees’ social life.

In order to heal that IT induced loneliness and stress, the companies should start by acknowledging this issue and by looking at ways of fixing it. It has to be done professionally; picnics and barbecues will not do. My suggestion is to have a team of work psychologists, together with the HR and the IT guys coming up with a proper solution. No, I do not know the solution, I wish I did… I only work here!

 

IT AND ENTERPRISE MOBILITY

IT AND ENTERPRISE MOBILITY

 

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Image from: (http://www.xcubelabs.com/our-blog/enterprise-mobility/infographicenterprise-mobility/ )

 

 

For us, maturity and ageing mean less mobility. Paradoxically, for Information Technology, maturity means more mobility.

Considering that the tablet market did not exist in 2010, and today there are millions of tablets used for work, the transformation is spectacular and it is happening at a very fast pace. But the tablet market is just the tip of the mobility iceberg. Underneath there are: cloud computing, mobile applications, mobile health, mobile payments, social media, mobile collaboration and wireless technologies.

Because the innovation rate in cloud computing, social platforms software and mobile devices is faster than the enterprise adaptation rate, the IT compartments have to adapt to the new reality or will become irrelevant.

If a company decides to implement the bring your own device (BOYD) policy, it will have an integrated input from the users, business units, human resources, legal, developers, network and security. If the focus will be only on security and the company decides to use server-hosted virtual desktop (SHVD) technology, meaning that the data is not kept on the mobile device, it is possible that this solution will make the user experience worse, reducing productivity and also increasing the wireless LAN dependency with a possible need for network upgrade.

When a company will decide to move toward an enterprise mobility solution there will be tradeoffs and compromises in the following area: Network Dependency, Security Risk, Dev/Support Cost, User Experience and Support/Management Cost.

For the mobile solution it is strongly recommended to use an enterprise architectural methodology like TOGAF which provides the company and the IT with a framework integrating all the major issues and interdependencies.

The Enterprise Architect team will have representatives from HR, legal, business, IT and users. Such a methodology like TOGAF (I am a certified TOGAF practitioner!) will help create a cyclic solution which reiterates among the interdependent tradeoffs in order to fine tune and refine the mobile architecture solution. The final goal of a mobile solution will be to achieve the protection of sensitive data of the enterprise regardless of the type of the mobile device or the owner of that device and that is called endpoint independence.

 

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Introducing an enterprise mobility solution will dramatically change the definitions of work place, working hours, office hours because being mobile, work flexibility is not an option, but a necessity. The users will integrate their personal and professional information on the mobile device and the expectation is that the new mobile applications will allow users to access the company data at any time, on any device, anywhere.

A mobility solution will require investment in mobile infrastructure like: Wi-Fi access points (Aps), distributed antenna systems (DASs) and SHVD. On top of that you need system management tools in order to monitor, diagnose and mitigate issues.

A major factor to consider with a mobility solution is security. On top of “traditional” security issues like malicious software and device theft, mobility adds new issues like: endpoint ownership, no dominant operating system and very short device life cycle. The IT department has to define how user authenticate from mobile devices. On option is the use of mobile device management (MDM) software.

 

10 Specific Benefits of Instituting Enterprise Mobility (http://blogs.clicksoftware.com/index/what-is-enterprise-mobility-an-enterprise-mobility-definition/ )

Steve Bynghall, a researcher at the Digital Workplace Group, outlines the ten specific advantages that he sees resulting from enterprise mobility:

 

1 Portability – Extend digital communication and capability to all employees, leading to engagement

2 Availability – Increase productivity and deliver critical operational information in real time

3 Sharing – Enhance customer service and encourage knowledge transfer and learning

4 Access data in context – Access critical knowledge to provide better customer service and enhance productivity

5 Capture data in real time – Access business intelligence in real time and achieve better productivity through process involvement

6 Improved user experience – Better engagement and higher adoption among your workforce

7 Personal ownership of devices – Reduce costs and increase adoption and engagement

8 System independence – Gain process efficiency and reduce costs

9 Geolocation – Improve the process and enhance productivity

10 In-built camera – Scan data and record video and photos for knowledge sharing for improved processes and enhanced productivity

IT as Daily Bread and Butter (ITasDBaB)

IT as Daily Bread and Butter (ITasDBaB)

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The idea of this article started with the movie Blackhat where a hacker (Black hat is used to describe a hacker (or, if you prefer, cracker) who breaks into a computer system or network with malicious intent. Unlike a white hat hacker, the black hat hacker takes advantage of the break-in, perhaps destroying files or stealing data for some future purpose.), breaks into the network of a nuclear power plant in China, inserts a RAT (Short for Remote Access Trojan, a Trojan horse that provides the intruder, or hacker, with a backdoor into the infected system. This backdoor allows the hacker to snoop your system, use your infected system to launch a zombie (attacks on other systems), or even run malicious code.), takes control of the appliances controlling the cooling water pumps and produces a meltdown incident.

The fact is that today and probably exponentially increasing in the near future, we are exposed and using “smart” appliances in all aspects of our life and I am not talking about mobile phones and tablets, but smart cars, buildings, home appliances and more.

It is very convenient to control your home appliances remotely via the Internet. You can cook your meal, get your coffee, chill you wine and turn on your favourite music while driving home from work because all modern cars are provided with a computer which has WIFI and Bluetooth capabilities.

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Image taken from: http://askebiz.com/blog/smart-buildings-intelligent-solutions

As per the above image, a modern smart building will allow you to manage energy, lightning, elevators, water, access and security, High-speed Internet, WIFI. IP Telephony, VPN Access, Smart Devices, Interactive media and many more.

I am a great believer in the future of all this smart devices, appliances and buildings. The future will present us with smart buildings integrated into smart communities and smart cities and there will be massive implications for the society, culture and family. I will tackle the social implications of “smart” everything in another article.

Returning to the movie Blackhat mentioned at the beginning, as in every good American movie the bad guys (hackers) are caught and punished. The problem is that you punish the bad guys but the damage is done, people died, millions were lost and that cannot be undone.

The solution is kind of simple: use security measures and common sense in order to stop the bad guys accessing your mobile phone, car, building, laptop etc.

As per below image, the Building Automation managers of the smart connected appliances and buildings systems are slow in improving the cybersecurity of those systems and that is kind of scary.

 

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Above image from https://securityledger.com/2016/02/ibm-research-calls-out-smart-building-risks/

I will live you with a very basic message: the cybersecurity of your home, building, tablet mobile, car etc. is paramount, invest to protect your assets, your data your identity. It is money well spent and will cost you far less than having your property hacked, stolen or damaged by some dude wearing a black hat!