Happy New Year

I have a lot of stuff to talk about this next year – including a few things that you should be on the lookout for.

1. vSphere 6

2. Windows 10 / Windows Server “Threshold” (2015)

3. 10TB Hard Disks

4. Containers – probably not my favorite thing in the world, but a few companies are making a dent

I’ll try to be a bit more vigilant in the coming year writing.

List: 10 Ways to Get a Job in IT

When I first started out in Enterprise Information Technology, a lot of times people would ask me how I landed the job I had. I had virtually no official training, I had very few hookups in the industry and I was a younger kid. This is a list of 10 things that I did and would do to land myself a job – so without further adieu, here we go:

1. Clean Up

Not surprisingly, there is a stereotype of nerdy people (and not all IT people are nerds mind you, but the misconception is that we are all a bunch of nerds) that they dress funny and don’t practice proper hygiene. Maybe people just think thatVelcro we sit around all day playing video games and just can’t find time to shop for pants that aren’t high waters or shoes that aren’t velcro. I’m not trying to say that all IT people are like these, but take a look at yourself in the mirror – is your hair long and messy? Are you thinking about getting a sleeve of tattoos? Are your nicest pair of shoes a set of New Balance white velcro shoes?

Something that I had a lot of trouble with (and I still think it sucks), is that people base a lot of their initial opinion on you based on how look. First opinions, often incorrect, are the ones that tend to stick. If you can land a job interview and you show up wearing jeans, casual shoes, or plaid flares that are 2 inches too short and white socks – with your hair looking like you just rolled out of bed, people, and especially potential employers, are going to have a REALLY hard time taking you seriously. It doesn’t cost a fortune to look nice – certainly you could spend a fortune if you have it laying around, but it really isn’t that expensive to find a pair of nice slacks, a button up shirt, maybe a tie or a bow tie (these really aren’t that nerdy anymore), some black dress socks and some decent looking dress shoes. I could put together a really nice, professional outfit for under 50$ at Kohls.

Do yourself a favor – find some decent looking clothes and a nice pair of shoes. If you want a nice pair of shoes that will last quite a long time, I highly suggest checking out the clearance section over at Allen Edmonds. Stay away from the Penny Loafers, Boat Shoes and Driving Shoes, and get yourself a pair of Oxfords, Wingtips or Dress Boots. Don’t forget to wear dress socks with these shoes – white shocks just won’t cut it.

The other important part of this is that if / when you land a job, don’t stop being clean. It’s a bit of a lifestyle change really – you need to transition out of being a gamer kid living in your mom’s basement to a working professional (and once again, I think it sucks, but it is just the way is).

If you need a serious style overhaul, buy “A Well Dressed Gentleman’s Pocket Guide“.

Lastly, you don’t need to stop being you – I have always dressed slightly unique and perhaps a little eccentric and I can still look professional while still maintaining quite a bit of my own style.  Cardigans, sweater vests, vests,  bow ties, fun dress socks, suspenders – most of this okay if you wear it right.

2. Get Passionate

The problem with a lot of IT people is that for them, it’s a just a job that pays the bills. At an interview once, I heard a story about a guy on the network team who went to the companies datacenter and made a firewall change, and then left the datacenter to go out to lunch. Meanwhile, the IT team is getting alerts about networking having all sorts of problems because of this firewall change – so they call the guy and let him know that he made a problem. He promptly tells them that he is on lunch and will fix it when he is done with his hour lunch. This is a problem to me – this shows a clear lack of passion and caring about your job. Something that sets a good IT person apart from the masses is one that cares about the users that are being served. I can’t help but care so much about whether or not someone that I have no idea where they are, who they are, why they are using one of our sites is having a good experience and that the system is up and performing optimally. I love being the first person who notifies the team that I’m taking care of an issue that we may have gotten an alert about. I care about whether or not our servers are working properly and if our storage systems are optimized. I think that is the mark of a good employee.

If you are looking for a job in IT because you think you’ll make a lot of money and it’s just a nice fat paycheck, you’re not going to get very far. You need to care about it and you need to live it. Most IT jobs are going to be 24/7 on call rotation. If you have a problem with that because you just don’t think that will work for your lifestyle, than it’s probably not the job for you. I’m on call 24/7, but I’ve set our environment up in such a way (because yes, I care so much) so that it’s extremely resilient and I rarely have to do much work after hours, other than standard maintenance and updates, and even those are non-interrupting to end users.

Get passionate about it. Care about it. Mean it. People can sense when you are passionate about it or whether or not it’s just some job to pay the bills. This doesn’t mean you have to be on your computer with your email open non-stop, but if you get that email at 9 P.M. about there being an issue and you have time to take a look, do it. Don’t wait for someone else to handle it – you do it.

Lastly, do the stuff no one else wants to handle and get passionate about it. We have a certain web application that is written in a pretty obscure programming language and no one wanted to take responsibility for it because no one in our company knows this programming language (it was written by a vendor). Nobody ever updated the server or really even touched it. I took it upon myself to learn quite a bit about that language, how it works, what it needs server side, and pretty much took ownership of that server. This is important because, once again, it shows that you care.

3. Don’t Lie on your Resume

There are some people who think that because they know something about a particular brand of software or hardware, that suddenly they know everything and are an expert on it. I’ve found that a lot of times, people interviewing want you to explain your experience with the things you write on your resume. For example, let’s say you’ve played around with Windows Server – don’t suddenly claim that you are an expert on Windows Server – unless of course you really are an expert. If you’ve installed VMware Workstation once or twice, don’t claim that you suddenly know all about VMware – there are a lot of products out there revolving around VMware that are MUCH more in depth than Workstation. Make yourself look good, but don’t lie to do it.

Most of the time, within about 5 minutes in to an interview, the interviewer will know whether or not your legit or a full of garbage based on how you respond to some of the questions they ask you.

Do yourself a favor – don’t lie on your resume.

4. Don’t Be Cocky

So you know about networking and storage – you’ve worked with a few vendors and are considered pretty well versed with them. That’s great – now don’t be cocky about it. A lot of IT people who have a little bit of experience suddenly think they should be paid 200,000$ per year and that they deserve a job because they have that experience.snob

Fact of the matter is when someone comes in to an office with that kind of attitude, the interviewer is turned right off. You are supposed to be in there selling yourself to them and more or less convincing them to hire you – not that they suddenly owe you a job.

There is a distinct difference between being confident and being cocky. You do need to be confident (provided of course that you do know your stuff) and confidence is different from cockiness in how you present yourself. Cocky people tend to act snobbish, as if the job they are interviewing for is somehow beneath them. Confident people tend to go in there with their head and eyes up, ready to see what they can offer the company and the company can offer them. Cocky people go in expecting to be immediately hired. Confident people go in hoping to be immediately hired but are just thankful for the opportunity. Cocky people go in with a set amount of money in their head for compensation, confident people have an amount in mind, but it depends on the work environment, benefits, systems infrastructure and management style.

The best thing you can do is go in with a humble, yet confident mindset.

5. Find your niche, but don’t limit yourself to it

There are tons of different systems that power an information technology infrastructure. There are things like networking, storage, servers, software like SQL Server or hypervisors like VMware or Hyper-V. Find out which one you understand the most thoroughly – and then pick up lots of little things about the other ones.

The economy right now is such that companies are not doing a lot of hiring – why hire 3 separate pieces of a team when one person can do all three? For example – networking, storage and servers are the backbone of most companies infrastructure – why hire a storage engineer / admin, a network engineer / admin a systems engineer / admin when there are people out there who have a very good understanding of storage and a moderately good understanding of networking and servers? It’s good to find a niche and to become an expert at it, but don’t pigeon hole yourself in to a corner by only sticking to one area of expertise.

A good example of that in the systems administrator’s word is the server operating system market. There is basically Windows Server and Linux. Some companies are Apple heads and use Mac OS Server (though I have yet to see a company that does). There are, in a lot of places what we like to call a “Windows Guy”. The guy that has been using since like… Windows 3.1 and refuses to ever use anything else. They see Linux as an inferior operating system and won’t touch it. There are also the opposite – the people who believe ONLY in GNU / Open Source and won’t touch Windows. This is no good – don’t limit yourself. If you feel like you already an expert with Windows Server – learn Linux. There are various applications that it can do just as well as Windows without the added cost. Same with the Linux guys – if you think you’re an expert with Linux, learn Windows Server – there are things that Windows Server does exceptionally well.

Find what you’re good at and what you love, and then expand to new things.

6. Get Creative

Most people don’t think of information technology as an art – or really as anything creative. That really is not true. When designing a system infrastructure, it takes some pretty serious creativity because there are far more than one way to make it work. There is nearly a limitless amount of things you can do – you could use HP servers, you could use Dell servers, you could use a number of storage vendors and a number of different network and storage area network protocols and cables. There is ethernet, 10 gigabit ethernet, fibre channel, Infiniband, there are server companies all over the place, you could even build your own servers if it’s cost effective enough. There are blade servers, rack mount servers, 1U rackmount servers, 2U rackmount servers – there is quite literally an infinite amount of ways to do things.

Don’t be afraid to have an opinion on things – it’s not bad to be opinionated about things, but be sure that you do research and know what you’re talking about. Opinions start out based on experiences – you can’t just say that you don’t like Seagate Hard Drives because the name is funny. That won’t cut it and if you tell a potential employer that, they will just scratch their head and go “huh”.

When documenting, be creative. When designing networks, be creative. When have an interview, be creative and set yourself apart by that.

7. Get Visible on the Internet

One thing that I recommend to people is to get visible on the internet. Start a blog, like this one that documents your experiences with things and how you made things work. Get on LinkedIn and get some contacts going on there – once again, don’t lie on there, but get on there and get visible. Don’t post selfies of yourself doing a duck face, but post professional and meaningful things about the industry and what sets you apart from the other dorks looking for jobs. Post your opinions and more importantly, why you came to the conclusion you did. If you have little experience, use it as a learning journal – that’s what this site started out as.

Another thing I recommend people do is to build yourself a website that has some of your information on it. Mine is over at http://www.bradleygagnon.com – domains are cheap, web hosting is pretty cheap, and designing / building a site like that just adds to your creative abilities and your tech savvy. Again, don’t lie on it and once again, don’t put selfies or cat pictures on it – it’s a professional profile of yourself and you are attempting to sell yourself to potential employers. Mine has my resume on it, but it also builds on my resume by having a lot more specifics. Make sure it’s modern and user friendly and not something that looks like it came from 1999. If you’re not sure how to do this, learn it (expand your niche… remember?).

8. Stay on top of Industry Trends

What is the current Intel Xeon processor generation? What are the most common types of storage area network protocols / types? What is the current memory standard for memory speeds in newer servers? What does ECC mean? What is “read caching”? What does NAS mean? What is NFS?

You need to stay on top of industry trends – depending on what field you are going in to, you need to know what’s out there. If a potential employer asks you an interview question specific to their environment, you need to have the knowledge to be able to answer it. If they ask “We are thinking about upgrading to a fibre gigabit internet connection, what do you think?”, you need to understand what this means. If you are looking to be a storage engineer and you ask about their environment and they say the are using EMC VNX, you need to know all that this entails, even if you’ve never used EMC products. If you are looking to be a systems administrator and they ask what the best process is to migrate from Red Hat Enterprise 6 to Red Hat Enterprise 7 is, you need to know all that this means.

It’s a constant thing that never goes away. Things are constantly changing and you need to know what’s out there. For most enterprise IT teams of any size, upgrading and improving the systems infrastructure (software and hardware) is a constant thing. It doesn’t stop. We upgrade things all the times – servers, storage, networking, Windows Updates, vCenter Server, ESXi and Linux to name a few – you need to know as much as you can about the trends with each thing that you are responsible for and then some – and don’t get lazy and start slacking. Keep up with them.

9. Learn to communicate

Alright, let’s face it – it’s pretty hard sometimes to talk to people. I’m not much of a people person nor do I enjoy talking that much. I love writing and emails because I don’t really have to “talk” to anyone. Either way, learning to communicate is pretty important – especially when you have ideas that you need to articulate out to co-workers or to your boss. If you can’t seem to spit out what it is you are trying to accomplish, people will have a hard time working with you – you need to able to communicate clearly and quickly what you are doing, what you are hoping to accomplish, etc…

This one really kind of goes along with getting passionate and caring about what you do. When you really care about something, it’s really easy to talk about it. I get really in to conversations about anything having to do with the industry because I care about it.

When I make any changes in anything having to do with our infrastructure, I document it out and I email the entire IT Team exactly what I’m doing, how long it’s going to take, if there is any possibility of any kind of alert or downtime – even if these people have no idea what I’m talking about, they still get the email. It’s important that you be able to communicate clearly. Some people are born with that skill, but for most of us, it’s something we need to learn.

10. Don’t pull the Recruiter / HR Person’s chain

If you are not interested in a job, tell them as soon as you know. If you are interested, tell them. Don’t sit around thinking about it for 3 weeks – make a quick decision and go with it. You never know, this recruiter may never want to work with you again or give you a bad reputation with other companies if you don’t answer the phone, are a jerk, etc…

For the most part, these people are trying to help you. Sometimes, I’ll admit, they are a little annoying and overzealous (I’ve told them before that I’m not interested in a job that they may have and I still end up getting more calls about it, and how it’s a big salary increase, etc… and I have to tell them again that I’m just not interested… again). Here is – don’t piss them off or burn the bridge with them. Be polite, respectful and friendly when either taking a job or refusing an offer.

Bonus:

Try not to mention your gaming habits on your resume – even if it’s a hobby. That is looked at poorly by most companies.

 

Update on Unitrends

A higher up at Unitrends read my article on here about Veeam vs Unitrends, and a pretty high up at that company gave me an email, asking how they could improve their product. I have to say that it was quite unexpected and sometimes I’m surprised at the readers that I get on here – I’m just some nerdy IT guy I guess, and I don’t know. I mean I realize it’s the internet, but I guess I’m not always aware of the readership I get. I just kind think this is more documenting my experience with products and stuff.UNI_Logo_RGB

Either way, I kind of told them a few of my gripes and he thanked me and let me know that some fixes were going to be in the works with them. A few of the things they highlighted to me were better error reporting in the “Failure” emails and better uniqueness criteria when scanning for VMs – this will help a LOT with cloning and replication because there won’t be the duplicate UUID error that we’ve seen in the past.

Overall, I am really appreciative of a company that is willing to listen to people – especially someone like me who works for a smaller company with a smaller environment. I work in the field and I understand that most issues are only issues when someone reports them, however, in the past when reporting issues, it seems like they just go in a queue somewhere and that’s that – you never really hear about it again or ever see anything happen with it. It’s nice to know that Unitrends listens to their customers and cares how their product performs, and even if I have had my troubles with it, it seems like they genuinely care about whether or not your system works for you and want to make improvements to it so that it works for everyone’s environment – even us with our smaller environment.

I’m not sure if I complained about this or not last time, but I had a small gripe about the CPU on our particular box being under constant load due to deduplication – at the time I thought this was a problem. I did a little power monitoring and found that the box is really only using about 320 watts (on average, as there was more CPU utilization during backup periods, which are the little spikes you see in the graph – obviously power usage went up slightly, and during the lower times it would drop) which in our environment is totally acceptable for more space. If this appliance were for something else, it might be an issue, but since it’s sole purpose is backing up and archiving data, that higher CPU utilization is not a problem to me.CPU

In the mean time, we have decided to extend our service agreement and get into a newer physical appliance as well, so we will see how that goes. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about this in the future.

Common Sense in the Cloud Era

We’ve recently been hit over the head with the news reporting a supposed hack of Apple’s iCloud Service (perhaps not the service itself, but it could have been brute force password hacks, the “I forgot my password” questions or maybe even social engineering, all of which is still considered “hacking”) and the distribution of private photos of celebrities. This post may get slightly political, but I will my best to keep the political undertones to a minimum and attempt to focus solely on something that these celebs may be lacking and that is something called common sense.

We live in a cloud era. I detest that word because it means so much, yet it’s often misidentified or people just don’t have a clue what it means – there is the private cloud, the public cloud, the hybrid cloud – cloud this, cloud that, iCloud. What exactly is the “Cloud”? In this case, it just means somewhere other than you local device. I can, on my Android phone, set my photos to be backed up to “Google Drive”. This would be part of Google’s Cloud. It’s no longer local to my phone but it is offsite somewhere.

This has a lot of good things about it: I could lose my phone, but hey, my photos are still on Google Drive. I could trash my phone and not be able to get anything off of it, but hooray, my contacts are still sync’d with my Gmail account. This also means that once it is no longer on your device, that you no longer have complete control over it, and it is suddenly much more suceptible to hack attempts. Let’s face it, the only way you can get to something that is ONLY on my local device (provided internet / data connection is turned off) is to get my phone out of my physical hands and in to yours. This is true up until the point that is no longer only on my physical device – once it’s uploaded somewhere on the internet, there opens up a lot of new possibilities.

If you have something of value (in the celebs case, I would say, against better judgement, that naked pictures are of value), you become a target. That’s right, if you have anything of potential value, you become a target – and to the celebs out there, now that the hackers know that you keep naked pictures on your phone, you are about to become even more of a target.

There is a LOT of publicly available information about celebs. That means when choosing some “I forgot my password” questions, you need to do better than your birthday (public domain), your dogs name (public domain), your first boyfriend / girlfriend’s name (public domain).

So here it is – if you don’t EVER want incriminating data / photos to end up in the hands of the masses, don’t keep it somewhere connected. The “cloud” is only as safe as you make it with your passwords and guess phrases and it will NEVER be 100% foolproof. Even if you choose a password that is 48 alpha numeric characters long with special characters – if your password reset questions are simple and easy to guess (based off of information that can be found publicly), it’s still somewhat easy to get access to your accounts. Even if you choose insanely hard password reset questions and crazy long alpha-numeric passwords, if the software has a bug in it, it STILL may not be safe. This is the era we live in.

The advice of someone like me who works with cloud based devices is that you should never keep anything incriminating anywhere that may be remotely public and even then, it’s just not a good idea to take naked pictures and keep them on your phone. That has absolutely zero common sense to it, and to some people, it’s deemed as valuable information, which makes you a target.

I don’t think that the celebs can blame anyone but themselves for this happening to them, but I do still feel bad for them. I would not wish that to happen to anyone, but I find it pretty crude that the people that kids look up to are doing this kind of stuff, and really, it’s about common sense.

8GB FC, 16GB FC, 10GBe iSCSI or 1GBe iSCSI. Which is right for your storage area network?

This is something that I’ve had a lot of first hand experience in, and it’s something that I’ve taken quite a bit of time to look in to as well. The answer to this question is going to be the basis of this write up, and if you don’t really want to read much further, I’m just going to say this: it really depends on your environment. There are pro’s and con’s to each of these, and we’ll hit each of them.

First off, if you are considering upgrading your main storage array, chances are that you are also going to be looking at an entirely new storage networking infrastructure. The reason for that is that things are evolving pretty fast in the storage area network world. The seemingly affordable 10GB ethernet is making a dent, 16GB fibre channel has hit the market (though not strictly affordable for a business our size) and storage arrays featuring each of these are a possibility.

My first major suggestion: do some heavy monitoring of your current environment. See where your peaks are and where your low times are. See how much storage bandwidth you are currently using. Watch your disk queues and see if there are reads or writes just sitting in the pipe waiting to get served up.

Let’s talk about bottlenecks for a second. Bottlenecks can happen at three main places: the server, the switch, or the array, and most bottlenecks happen either at the network or storage array. Sometimes they can be caused by network misconfiguration or by the actual disk in the storage array not being able to keep up with how fast you are requesting reads writes. Sometimes these bottlenecks can be misinterpreted by monitoring as well.

Storage

I’ll give you a quick inside tip: getting relatively high IOPs does NOT depend on the speed of your storage area network. Of course, you do need bandwidth for sustained transfer speeds (if you are doing large reads and writes), but if your traffic is bursty and requires some relatively high IO in short bursts (SQL Server comes to mind), you don’t need a lot of bandwidth. What you need is fast response time and fast IO. Now, that being said, how do you get high IO over… let’s say 1GBe? It’s all in how the array handles your IO.

Let’s say for example that you are disk bound (this meaning that the disks in your array just can’t keep up with the reads and writes, which is a fairly common issue among all spinning drive arrays, unless you have enough spindles to keep up with it or a fat read / write cache). Basically what this means is that as your servers are pushing out writes and trying to get reads and the disks just can’t keep up with how fast you’re trying to push / pull the data – this means that your storage bandwidth is not an issue – its the actual storage array that is having trouble filling that bandwidth – though monitoring may interpret that as bandwidth lag, because you’ll see your storage bandwidth being hit kind of hard because the network is waiting to get reads and writes.

Monitoring is essential, but it’s also VERY important to know how to interpret your monitoring – you need to monitor multiple places – your network, your servers, and your storage and be able to interpret all that data. Most ethernet and fibre channel switches have SNMP on them which can be used to monitor specific ports. ESXi has many types of monitoring you can use – from things like VMTurbo to Operations Manager. Using SNMP and a graphing program like LogicMonitor or Observium you can really drill down to the port level and see which servers are using a lot of bandwidth and / or storage utilization.

When you get a nice array on the back end, you’ll be shocked at how little bandwidth it actually takes to get pretty high IO, but monitoring, when selecting a storage area network, is your best friend. You need to know you current environment and not really listen to the salesperson. The salesperson is trying to sell you something and you are trying to make the best purchase for your environment. In this case, you need to know as much about your environment as possible so that you don’t spend a ton of money on things that you will under utilize.

There does need to be happy medium though between growth potential and your current bandwidth. If you are planning on growing to more servers and more IO, you need to plan accordingly.

VMworld and VMware Updates

I have to say, VMworld was pretty fun this year and it’s bringing forward a LOT of really good (and needed) updates to the vSphere suite of products. Veeam announced Veeam 8, which has some sick new features too. I’ll touch on all these later. For now, let’s talk VMware.

Fault Tolerance for VMs with up to 4 CPU Cores

Honestly, I was expecting better, but this is a HUGE improvement over a single core CPU. That was one HUGE limitation for Fault Tolerance in our particular environment. I know that VMware suggests using one CPU on some VMs (like small domain controllers), but I find that it takes FOREVER to update these VMs when they only have a single core.

vSphere Web Client that can manage ESXi Hosts

To be honest, I’m not a fan of the web client. But…

Updates to the Web Client for Stability and Speed

Alright, this is awesome. They demoed this at VMworld and I have to say that it looked MUCH more responsive and I’d say it was it bad need of an overhaul.

VMFS 6

Apparently there will be a lot of nice tweaks around VMFS and LUN Provisioning

VVOLS

This is a pretty sweet technology that will most likely replace the idea of RDMs and has been in development for about 2 or 3 years. More info on that here: http://blogs.vmware.com/vsphere/2012/10/virtual-volumes-vvols-tech-preview-with-video.html

All in all, nothing really huge was announced (other than Veeam 8, which is going to be excellent) other than some cloud stuff.

RoyalTS (Again)

Once again, I absolutely need to call out a program called RoyalTS. Perhaps you remember when I wrote about it before? RoyalTS

I need to write about it again, for few reasons, but the main one being that it is, quite simply, a really, really nice piece of software. I honestly don’t remember what I used to do before I started using it. Just for those of you who don’t know what it is, in a nutshell it’s an RDP, VNC, and SSH client. Basically it allows you to save credentials for desktops on a folder level, connect to numerous desktops / SSH sessions.

Anyway, they’ve released a new version (v3) and it is filled with new features and a pretty overhauled GUI. I don’t know why this company isn’t getting more traction among systems administrators because it quite literally is one of about 3 programs that is always open on my computer (along with vSphere Client and a web browser).

I would HIGHLY suggest checking it out and forking over the money for either an individual or business license and at least trying it out. I’m honestly surprised these guys didn’t have a booth at VMworld, because I definitely would have stopped by and done some high pressure sales, and even brought my beautiful wife to attract the nerds in (/sarcasm).

Changes Coming

I’m going to start redesigning this site – a pretty big makeover. So please bear with me if there is any wierdness.

Discontinuing Compiling DF-Kernel

I’ve decided to discontinue compiling the Ubuntu kernel that I used to keep moderately up to date. I’m doing this for a few reasons:

  1. I’m not really an avid Ubuntu / Linux Mint user anymore. I tend to use more enterprise based releases (CentOS / RHEL / Oracle Linux) and rolling releases (Arch).
  2. It takes a long time. Compiling takes a toll on your computer / HDD and it takes too long and I really don’t have the time to do it anymore.

For now, I would suggest checking out this link: http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/