Category: General


Well the year is starting to wrap up – Twitter avatars look a little snowier and analysts are digging deep into their prediction boxes in the attic to see what 2012 is going to “be the year of <insert technology>”.

 

If you make no other resolutions in the coming 2 weeks or so , make this one , “I will attend a user group meeting” – for example the next London VMware User Group meeting is on the 26th of January, so its a nice early one to tick off the list. If you’d like to sign up for the meeting , head on over to here and sign up. If you feel you need a little more convincing on why a user group is for you, then read on.

 

7 Reasons why you should go to a usergroup

1. Its an educational event – Not only is there a chance to pick up some handy info from the sponsors and members presentations , for instance “how to build 1000 hosts in 10 minutes with VMware auto deploy” by Alan Renouf from VMware , or dabble in “A little orchestration after lunch" with Michael Poore – you could even brush up on those skills to complete a certification such as with Gregg Robertson’s VCP5 Tips & Tricks session.

2. Its a social event – a chance to meet with people who share similar sets of day to day issues as yourself , so its the perfect place to bounce an idea around with a peer group of very bright people

3. Its a fun event – from Alaric’s jokes at the welcome to the laughs and war stories at the pub afterwards its good humour all the way – just because we work in IT doesn’t mean that we’re socially crippled!

4. Its a free event! even lunch and a swift half at the pub later is covered

5. Its an interactive event – Its not just a day of PowerPoint overload , you can get involved with the hands on lab sessions , on this occasion sponsored by the guys over at Embotics, I’m sure you’ll have built a self service cloud portal before you can say “boo!”

6. Its a networking event – People pay quite a lot of money to marketing companies to be able to have “breakfast” with like minded peers for the purpose of networking – being in IT we’re much more practical , we’ll do it for free at the usergroup! Find out the gossip , who’s hiring & who wants to be hired. You might just find that next rockstar position you’ve been promising yourself!

7. Its a community driven event – think you can do better than the guy on stage ? got something worth saying ? well you have the opportunity to prove it at a user group – We love the sponsors, but what makes it a *user* group is the member driven content – it could be a panel / open roundtable or just an aspect of your day to day techie life that you think you’ve done well and would like to tell people about

 

Hopefully there is something that will strike a chord above – and I’ll see you on the 26th!

I used to spend my life in conference calls – its a symptom of working for a global organisation , where your boss and co workers are separated by thousands of miles. It got so frequent I almost felt like I was hearing the familiar bleep every time someone left the room. Occasionally calls would be accompanied by some form of online component , be it livemeeting , WebEx , gotomeeting or any number of similar collaborative tools. More often than not these would be used to display meeting minutes , or to check that colleagues working from home had actually bothered to get dress that morning!

In contrast , a meeting in the office itself used a much more simple tool – a whiteboard. Nothing says brainstorming than 3 or 4 guys fighting for the marker pen by a 6 by 4 foot expanse of shiny white potential. The cloud at the top of any diagram would inevitably get doctored to become “the internet sheep” but a good diagram would remain , almost like a trophy for a few weeks afterwards.

What I think I’m trying to say is that I miss my whiteboards. When I’m not visiting customers, I’m at home in the “office” ( spare room ) and I’ve been banned from putting whiteboards up for now, so I started to think about the alternatives. The thought struck me while I was watching some Training CBT’s , which of course feature the presenter using a tablet as part of an onscreen whiteboard.  Almost all of the tools I use for online collaboration allow some form of whiteboarding, and for everything else , there is always MS paint !

I needed to get myself a tablet , but not break the bank – a quick hunt of my local tech forum confirmed that the weapon of choice for a serious “tabby” as I shall now refer to tablet users seems to be the Wacom Series – they look like pretty handy bits of kit , but at an equally handy price. I know I’m not going to be making heavy use of my tablet for any illustration or photo retouching so an A4 sized beast is probably out of scope – still even the smaller tablets looked a little bit out of the price range for what was still an experimental purchase.

 

Trusty Trust…

Whilst hunting for a second hand tablet on eBay, I noticed a fair number of tablets by the familiar , if a little “cheap and cheerful” brand Trust. The tablets seemed to be pretty reasonably priced at about half the cost of the equivalent Wacom , and with some surprisingly positive reviews. I eventually found the same tablet for almost half the price on Amazon The photo is slightly misleading as I wouldn’t say the surface bends quite that far – I was almost under the impression you could roll the tablet up , which would have made it very portable. It is flexible , but I’m still not sure what sort of purpose the flex servers , other than weight saving. The pen requires a single AAA battery , but its not really affected the balance of it.

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In terms of usage , it was very straightforward – the Windows 7 Installs on both my laptop and desktop picked it up straight away , though there is a supplied driver on CD for some extra tweaking. At the moment I am having more success with the tablet on my laptop rather than desktop – my desktop uses two monitors , which effectively cuts the tablet resolution in two – its still ok for annotating a PowerPoint slide , but I wouldn’t really feel happy drawing a diagram with it. Speaking of drawing, I realised one key element – If you can’t draw on a whiteboard , using a tablet isn’t going to make it much better! I’ve been doing a few test diagrams , and while I think they are probably a bit more personal than freehand with a mouse , I’m not sure if I would really feel happy presenting them to a customer – perhaps I might be better of sticking with Visio after all….

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One of the more fundamental tasks a good IT professional should undertake is also often one of the least favoured. For a long time I’m sure there was a direct pathway in my brain between “Writing Documentation” and “boring school work” – whilst my education was not quite "Tom Brown’s School Days” Its certainly not something I would class as my favourite pastime. On the whole if I an application has been designed reasonably well you may not think that detailed documentation is really needed, however consider the plight of your peers – during any knowledge transfer stage, detailed documentation is an absolute godsend and will earn you many many management brownie points.

With a half decent screen grabbing utility and a copy of your preferred note taking software, I have often looked on with dread at the task of documenting a multi step wizard, for example cloning a virtual machine. Clicking through each step, taking a screen shot , then noting the exact response isn’t the most fun way to spend an afternoon.

 

I bumped into an old colleague on a long train journey last week & as we were swapping war stories ( one of an IT Pro’s favourite ways of passing the time ) we got round to talking about documentation and he told me of a novel way to make use of one of Windows 7’s hidden Gems..

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I believe the tool was intended as one for end users to be able to document a problem to then pass to a support desk. However its also an excellent way to record a process for documentation resources.  Simply run PSR from the start menu – then click start Record. The resulting file will open in IE or you can edit with Microsoft Word.

Good news for non windows users , the tool also works in Server 2008 R2 – So you should be able to connect to a windows server to run through the wizards where possible.

 

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Above is a screenshot I took using PSR on a windows 2008 VM – I particularly like the way that the area I clicked is outlined in green ! Hope this helps with some of the knowledge transfer pain!

For a tool that helps documentation , there really isn’t that much on it from Microsoft. As good place to start would be

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/How-do-I-use-Problem-Steps-Recorder

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I was recently very flattered to be asked to be a guest on the Infosmack Deep Dive podcast on Cisco UCS  Entitled “What do UC in UCS “ The show featured regular hosts Nigel Poulton and Rick Vanover who got a little bit of a pitch about the benefits of UCS from myself and David Owen , a fellow vExpert , vSoup Guest & UCS aficionado !

 

The Infosmack show is one of the first tech podcasts I started listening to and was “right chuffed” to be invited on the show – I’ve been to a live recording of the show with hosts Greg Knierman & Marc Farley in London and would like to think we were able to bring a little bit of that energy into talking about UCS !

 

You can check the show out here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just a quick post to raise a glass to a guy who is great , not only is his Birthday very close to my own  , but as the social media kingpin for VMware is in the eyes of many the driving force behind the VMware virtualisation community. My own “social media” exposure started in the late 90’s on IRC & I have been part of many online communities and the one surrounding VMware and virtualisation has got to be one of the strongest I have come across.

I was able to share a beer with John at the Tech Field Day Fenway park reception & he’s as modest as he is smart. Who else would be able to put up with us rowdy geeks every week as part of the round table podcast – at VMworld he’s constantly around , be it on camera or at the booth. I believe the scope of what he achieves exceeds the mandates of “just doing his job”. The vExperts and the VMware community would not be what it is without your input !

 

Some say he can grow his beard at will and that the VMware logo was based on his hidden birthmark. All we know is he’s called  John Troyer Smile

 

 

If you have been hiding under a rock for the last couple of weeks , you may not be aware that VMware held an online launch of its next generation Cloud platform , vSphere 5.0. It seems some of the announcements went down really well , and other parts , lets just say , not so well judging by the twitter reaction…

Have a listen to the show… here

No, I’m not buying a Prius ! Its much better than that , As of today I’m no longer with my current employer – it was an amicable parting of ways and I would recommend them to anyone interested in the Datacenter space , especially around the Bucks / Beds areas ! If you are, please let me know.

 

I will be starting a new role next week with Veeam as a Solutions Architect for the UK & Northern EMEA – being part of the “dream team” of staff helping existing & new customers get the best from their investments – you never know you may be unlucky enough to see me at a tradeshow near you at some point on “Booth Babe” duty. I’ve known the company for a few years and am really looking forward to being part of a team of professionals with such a great drive and approach to technology & the people that use it.

 

I will continue to blog and co-host the vSoup podcast and will endeavour to keep both a plug free zone ! While I don’t normally make a huge thing of pushing my employers I felt it important to post in the interests of disclosure. Outside of my job I will not be receiving any additional sponsorship from Veeam for the blog or podcast.

I’ve spent more than my usual amount of time in an around airports this week – Travelling to and from the Tech Field Day event in Boston , then hung around with a few of the other delegates before their flights back.

 

It seems that one of the other delegates flights had a pretty severe delay on it due to the incoming flight being late. We realised the only way his flight would be on time would be if they used a different aircraft. My mind immediately went off on a bit of a tangent to Cisco UCS ( as you do ! )

 

The flight plan consists of a number  , a given size and model of Aircraft and a source / destination. With me so far ? The flight plan is given to a particular aircraft , so plane #767-4001 becomes Delta Flight DL270 going from Boston to Heathrow – and will be known as DL270 while that Flight is in use. If for some reason there is a problem with 767-4001 , the airline can opt to use a different plane , for example 777-4002 , which is not quite the same model and in fact has a few more seats & flies a little faster. The plane is still able to take of and land under the identity of DL270.

 

This is very much like a service profile – its not fixed to the hardware ( plane ) and can be associated with different hardware ( which may not be of quite the same specification ) should you require. Its is purely a definition of what would make up that profile just in the same way that we have defined flight DL270 to fly me from Boston back to London.

 

Now if I could only persuade my UCS Chassis to serve complimentary drinks…..

I’ve been keeping a weather eye on the Kaviza “VDI in a Box” solution since I came into contact with it about 12 months ago – I really liked the way they offered a hypervisor agnostic VDI solution  built on its own grid technology to offer stateless desktops hosted on local storage. Its a product that would make VDI within the SMB space a viable option due to not requiring expensive shared storage.

 

The previous ties with Citrix were not exactly a secret – the product made use of the HDX protocol for offering a rich end user desktop experience and the Citrix investment was pretty well publicised. I hope that the product will remain hypervisor agnostic ( although the best price point has been historically achieved using Xen as the hypervisor as the product will not run with the free version of ESXi ) and continue to offer what should continue to be a very strong VDI solution for smaller deployments.

 

Press release from CItrix about the acquisition: http://www.citrix.com/kaviza

 

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SolarWinds have just launched their latest product in their Admin focussed line of tools and while the underlying focus and data is bread and butter to the network admin , the usage seems focussed towards  a more security admin / HR role.

So , why the departure from the more conventional monitoring and management toolset? The first point Josh Stevens , SolarWinds “Head Geek” made was that the Community asked for it. One of the things that impressed me about SolarWinds when I saw them as a presenter at Tech Field Day was their attention to the IT community – through programs like thwack.com they keep a finger close to the pulse of what admins and other IT Pro’s are actually using their toolsets for and more importantly , what they would like to use it for. I’m a big fan of end user driven development – give the community some option / say in how you evolve after all without users/customers where will you be ? The best example of this would be the user driven feature set of dropbox – see www.dropbox.com/votebox for more details ! Much of the work of a system admin is driven by compliance requirements , be it within a security or regulatory context. The Device Tracker fills a niche currently only occupied by CiscoWorks in terms of tracking connected devices , but adds historical data tracking.

UDT Constantly scans your network devices for connected MAC and IP addresses, keeping a record of what is connected to what – this allows the tool to do a few neat things such as.

- Tracking down problem users / machines : you know the IP of the machine that violated your AUP ,  but not sure where in the building they were at the time ( handy if you hotdesk ) , if you know where your switch ports go to , then this tool could help you match up who was sat at what desk.

- Capacity Planning : So you’ve cabled all of your switch ports to your structured cabling , but how many are you really using over a given period ? Identify unused ports and spare capacity at the access layer.

 

The product seems pretty well integrated with the Orion NPM toolset – using the same interface and familiar look & feel so Admins will be able to pick it up and play right away. The only missing piece of the puzzle is a closer look at clients connected via a wireless network but I’m assured that will be in future version.

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SolarWinds are offering some hefty pre-release discounts on User Device Tracker – which starts at $1700. For more details , head over to the SolarWinds Website