Year: 2014

Q4 The Pressure Cooker

As an SE I’ve never had an easy Q4. http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/ryly-61697

Even if you are in the rarified air of having completed your quota there will always be pressure from the business to bring in the right deals now. This pressure will come down onto the sales team and a portion of it to you. Everyone has their own way of dealing with it; it’s months like these that you remind yourself you are the SE and not the rep and should be able to sail through the rough waters without getting thrown off the boat, head downstairs and batten down the hatches.

You will work with reps in your time as an SE who will attempt to throw you off the boat, this highlights a poor understanding of the roles and responsibilities and a poor working relationship. You either need to fix this, directly or with your manager or find another partnership. That’s a big call as you might be wedded to the vendor you are working for, we often are as SE’s, but reps that take all the glory and are not prepared to take any of the blame for a poorly executed quarter are dangerous to your health. In my experience these reps don’t often last long, the step up and pressure of vendor sales has been a leap too far for them. You’ll know if you are there or not.

Why am I talking about pressure? I am in the end game, its Q4, the last month, the last weeks. Time is running out, I’ve just stepped off a plane, my 4th week away in a row. I’ve crisscrossed the country eight times, I’ve burnt a lot of jet fuel, I’ve stood up in front of countless customers, written two multimillion dollar proposals, seen reps and SE’s breaking down as purchasing departments decide to change the procedures and sign offs at the last minute and I’ve watched the pressure literally melt some minds.

So as an SE what do you do? I think I am lucky, in that my generation of SE’s have all had other jobs before we landed on our feet as a Sales Engineer. It’s that experience that gives us perspective at these times. We know that the pressure cooker we are in is different to those in the armed forces, police, education or health care . It’s still real, it still causes real problems but we have the immediate release of perspective.

What if you are new to the game, what if this is your first Q4? Everyone is different but I highly recommend in practising how to switch off and not bring Q4 home with you. If you work in an office this could be finding a spot where mentally you dump work and pick up home, a corner or set of lights on the way home is the point you  tell yourself you are in home mode now. It takes time but this does work. Or as many do these days burn it off by cycling home.

If you work at home, as I do, you’ll need to practise switching on and off work.  This is hard, you’ll have no train or bus journey to manage this over, you’ll need to be able to do this like flicking a switch. This is a really important SE skill, you’ll need the full support of your family to get this job done right, to travel as much as we do without worry.  Make time for home, especially in Q4.

I’m home now, my kids are laughing with me, I’ve dropped work off outside and the pressure has been lifted.

Hang in there my SE fraternity, good luck closing out, Q4 is almost over.

Image: Boat by Stephen Jones

#LifeofanSE – Let’s Begin

Welcome to the Life of an SE.  The world of the SE, a.k.a. Sales Engineer, Systems Engineer and more recently Solutions Engineer is for me and I’m sure many aspiring and current SEs an interesting one.

No day is the same, demands are constant, travel a given and listening and talking at the same time required. No one really knows how on earth they ended up doing the job, I’m sure that is changing but for  my generation we are a band of high functioning misfits who just know how to explain stuff.

There are some good resources out there  that can help you on your path.  The best for me is Mastering Technical Sales the website is full of interesting information and resources and the accompanying book Mastering Technical Sales by John Care and Aron Bohlig a book you will need, I reference it on a regular basis.  

Here I don’t intend to repeat their good work but to give you a blow by blow account of my working life.  Through that I aim to draw on what is working and what is not.  I will drift into the past I’m sure but there has been a lot of that and experience in this role can be a good thing.  I’m starting this 8 years in and in Q4 (I must be mad) but hopefully you’ll discover why I consider myself very lucky indeed and many describe being an SE as the highlight of their career.

Wherever you are good luck!

Where are the Innovators, Gartner Symposium 2014? 

I’ve just come back from the Gartner Symposium ITXPO on the Gold Coast #GartnerSYM. This was my trifecta having been to the 2012 and 2013 events.

Gartner opened the event with the keynote on Tuesday morning by hammering in hard their new definition of the market. With a brief introduction touching on constant change and the Internet of Things (IoT) we were introduced to the “Digital Business.

According to Gartner “Digital Business” represents this current age of technology and its impact on all companies.

Attendees were told to embrace risk, to focus on building a new talent pool with experts in mobile, user experience and data science and to understand that disruption will accelerate the decline of markets.

The message made a point but I don’t think went far enough, time was still dedicated to telling everyone to keep the foundations secure and solid. Like a rock everyone was told. Almost as if Gartner wanted to keep their feet secured to what they know and trust and not be too innovative themselves. This was a shame but like all vendors Gartner have a product to sell and as much as we try and swim in the new oceans we always like to look back at what made us successful and pays the bills. Jumping from the boat isn’t easy, especially when it looks like the party is still in full swing.

Gartner made a good job of selecting other keynotes that focused on the impact of change and innovation.

Andrew McAfee @amcafee of MIT challenged us with information on change and automation, he touched on topics of his research and in his book The Second Machine Age http://www.secondmachineage.com/. Anyone listening to this either left thinking well it’s still will not happen to me or probably rushed to lock themselves in a bunker and wait for Arnold Schwarzenegger looking machines to take over the planet. All should have been left with the impression that the rate of change is exponential and we have a fantastic opportunity as well as responsibility to capitalise on this.

Guy Kawasaki @GuyKawasaki http://www.guykawasaki.com/ took us through his rules on innovation. Not surprisingly it was very well delivered. It didn’t take Guy long to win everyone over. If you could take a bit of that sparkle, energy and experience into a role in your organisation just imagine what the results would be. Although would you because he’d probably be running the joint in a couple of weeks. Just how many of the audience will cut their presentations down to 10 slides and 20 minutes I’d love to know. I’m certain no one will invest in dog food dot com but I’m sure there will still be mission statements made at expensive hotels in and around the golf course.

These two in particular helped support and promote the main theme Gartner were delivering, it’s just a shame that the real innovators appear to still be on the outside.

Citrix Provisioning Server – Cache in device RAM with overflow on hard disk

I first wrote about Citrix Provisioning Server (PVS) in 2012 and focused on a feature called vDisk Update Manager.  Back then PVS was at version 6.0, the current release is version 7.1 and again it’s worth time looking at a small change that has made a massive impact.

In this release Citrix has introduced the vDisk feature Cache in device RAM with overflow on hard disk.

Before we leap into cache first lets wind back a little and quickly look at PVS.  I have to admit that in a lot of recent work I have been using Citrix Machine Creation Services (MCS) not PVS, I’ve been neglecting one of Citrix’s imaging technologies because I’m not managing a production site and therefore not having to deal with patching and updates or worrying about backend performance.  A lot of the work I do is demonstrations and proof of concepts therefore convenience is good for me .  I’ve certainly found MCS useful and have a number of customers doing really good things with the utility in production at scale.  However the ace PVS has always carried is the ability to redirect the locations of disk writes and it’s a trump card as good as any you carried in the playground.

Why is that important?  It’s been well documented that virtual desktops create lots of writes, in small blocks too.   Although we are far from the early days of desktop virtualisation and therefore this no longer comes as a surprise (if it came as a surprise I’d argue you didn’t really understand desktops before you started), PVS has come up with the perfect answer with its new write cache option.

There are now six options for the vDisk Cache type:

  • Cache on device hard drive
  • Cache on device hard drive persisted (NT 6.1 and later)
  • Cache in device RAM
  • Cache in device RAM with overflow on hard disk
  • Cache on server
  • Cache on server persisted

I have only ever used PVS with XenDesktop and XenApp and have only ever looked at Cache in device RAM and Cache on device hard drive.  I’ve always liked the idea of caching things in RAM, its fast and has become relatively cheap but fill it up and you have no where to go.  Well you do it crashes the server instance and that in the end does give us somewhere to go the exit door!

The second option, up till now, has been move those writes to a hard disk on the host and take them away from your storage.  The theory, we don’t wan’t to keep them with our pooled desktops so let’s write to a location thats out of the way, of the network and cheaper.  Many production environments use this and it works very well.

But now we have the ultimate hybrid; Cache in device RAM with overflow on hard disk.  We can use the RAM option without the risk.

To implement this feature is a straight forward procedure.

Make sure you have a disk to overflow to, if you are using the XenDesktop Setup Wizard in PVS this is created for you.  If not you do need to have this; it will need to be part of your VM as  local disk on the host and will appear as the next available drive letter in the VM when it boots (note- the streamed disk will normally be the first disk).

You are now ready to switch on the feature in the vDisk properties.  Remember that to do this the disk has to have no locks. The feature is found in the properties section of the vDisk, in your Store.

Once enabled you are asked to select a value for the Maximum RAM size in MBs.  This is the amount of RAM to use as the cache, in the example below I have used 512MB.   Note you should make sure you have an additional 512MB or RAM assigned to your VM.  You can play around with these numbers to find the best fit for your environment.  I have found that with good storage and server based hardware 512MB works very well, however in older environments and some labs I’ve increased this number to 1.5GB to get good results.

 

 

 

The Rise of the Complex Workplace

It’s been twelve months since I managed to find that time for blogging spot in the work life balance venn diagram.  That point has arrived thanks in part to actually thinking about one thing for more that a couple of days, finding the time to do a little reading and spending a lot of time in airports and hotels.   The reading piece is mostly due to the airport and hotels bit of my recent life.   At times that is just the #lifeofanse, if only I hadn’t eaten steak every night!

At this moment I am on my way back from Citrix mForum in Sydney (see bottom of article for the presentation), going via Adelaide, before I finally get home.  At mForum I was given the chance to present on and demonstrate some business use cases for our technology.   The presentation wasn’t long and therefore I’d been asked to focus on just three topics.  But rather than just jumping into the use cases I wanted to set the scene, so spent a little time thinking about what’s driving change, how we are reacting and why change at all.

So Why Change?

As IT professionals I believe we have to change, the ground has shifted, devices like the iPad are only few years old but their impact has been significant.

Consumerisation has leaked into the workplace the same way the ocean washes over a sandcastle at the beach.  It can start as a trickle eating away at the walls of a lovingly created fort; it can be encouraged with a path to follow or arrives in an almighty rush.  The end result is the same, what you had has changed forever.

Gartner in a definition of Consumerisation states “… Consumerization can be embraced and it must be dealt with, but it cannot be stopped.” 

I’ll agree that it cannot be stopped, every workplace has its own examples but dealt with sounds a little too harsh to me and embraced a little too welcoming, maybe excepted?

Why do we have to except this change, the Economist has an interesting article on this topic and states: “The PC may have been personal; a smartphone or tablet, held in your hand rather than perched on your desk, is almost intimate, and you can take it almost anywhere.”

Dealing with intimacy in IT is nothing new.  Just try updating someone’s PC when they have their own desktop background and shortcuts to their favourite sites.  Miss them out of an update and you’ll be in trouble! Or just listen to people in the office talk about their computer “come on you stupid thing”, or “excellent job” you’ll hear.  I’ve even seen people pet them!

So the devices brought into our workplace, this unstoppable wave is more than handholding, pretty packaging or the ability to be mobile.  Although I’m sure all those factors play their part.

Anyone who has a tablet or phone these days has their own set of apps and data with them and for me it is this combination that drives this true demand for constant use and companionship.  It is this demand; device, apps and data, that is causing greatest disruption and therefore this is the true impact of consumerisation.

Each new factor (data, apps and device) is having a compound effect, therefore leading to greater and more unforeseen complexity.   The ocean has washed over the enterprise.

mForum Presentation

9 Step Guide to Delivering a Successful Solution

The aim of this post is to produce a repeatable guide to designing an endpoint solution, where the endpoint is the interface to consume information.

Step 1 – Understand the Business

  • Survey your user base
  • Speak to a range of business units
  • Speak to people in different geographical locations
  • Meet with peers in industry verticals and share information online

Understanding the business is more than just being in a business or industry segment for a period of time.  People and practices change, getting to grips with what is happening around you will help you judge and meet demand.

The knowledge you gain will help you add value to the conversations you have.  If you add value people will want to engage with you and are going to trust you when you present them with a solution.

Step 2 – Define the Requirement

It’s important to document the first conversations with the customer or business unit that is seeking a solution.  Gathering the initial information in a format you are comfortable with works well but it’s important to send your notes back to everyone in the meeting in a format everyone can access and understand.  Keep to bullet points and get agreement that you understood the needs and responsibilities of everyone in the meeting.

Step 3 – Engage Relevant Partners

Knowing when and where to use a value add partner is a critical component in the success of any project.  Be prepared to share knowledge but make sure you set the agenda.

Step 4 – Scope What You are Going to Achieve

Scope out the aim, this is the ultimate end goal and break down the project into objectives.  Understand and communicate who is responsible for each objective and seek approval from the project owner that you are moving in the right direction.

Step 5 – Demo and Mock up a Solution

A visual representation is always a great way to present your solution back to the business.  If you have the ability to customize a standard demo environment this will help with quick changes and allow for a repeatable approach.

Step 6 – Request Feedback

If you are struggling to engage the business further the demo is a good point to ask for feedback.  Bringing partners back in at this stage for comment is always worth while but as with any partner engagement it is important to control the agenda.

Step 7 – Deliver Solution Overview

After analyzing the feedback put together the final solution proposal and overview. At this stage you should be able to provide a cost model or enough information to the project management team to organizing costing.

Step 8 – Seek Acceptance

When the solution overview has been delivered seek acceptance from the business and look to confirm the next steps on the engagement.

You should now be at a point where each party engaged understands what the final outcome will look like, what it is going to deliver and who is going to manage and cost the delivery.

Step 9 – Stay Engaged

Throughout the project stay engaged during the process.  It’s important to be there at any kick off meetings to make sure those picking up tasks have access to you during the project.