Category Archives: Job

Solving problems: A structured approach

This posting is ~3 years years old. You should keep this in mind. IT is a short living business. This information might be outdated.

What is a problem? A problem is an obstacle, that has to be surmounted. Solving a problem is connected with obstacles. Or more general: Problem solving is a process to get from an unsatisfactory to a satisfactory situation.

Most of us get paid for solving problems. It’s irrelevant if you are paid for solving technical problem (e.g. My computer doesn’t work), or if you are paid to create solutions for customers (e.g. design infrastructure for a Citrix XenApp farm). At the end you solve a problem.

Every problem has characteristics, that can be used to describe it.

  • Solubility

Not every problem is solvable. Think about “Squaring the circle“. But often a problem seems to be unsolvable because it’s not well defined. If Initial situation, obstacle and target situation are not clearly formulated, you won’t be able to solve the problem.

  • Decomposability

If you can decompose a problem into multiple subproblems, it is a hierarchical problem. Otherwise, it’s an elemental problem.

  • Effort

The effort to solve a problem is always different.. A problem is theoretically solvable, but it may require such a high effort, that it is practically unsolvable.

  • Subjectivity

Even if a problem is well defined, it appears different in regard to complexity for different people.

How to start?

First of all

  • Understand and define the problem

This is most important part. Before you try to solve a problem, make sure that you have really understood the problem. Then you should define the problem. Only a clearly defined problem can be solved. And it’s much easier to solve a clearly defined, than a vague problem. If it’s a complex problem, then you should try to

  • Simplify or decompose the problem

A simplified problem can help you stay focused. If you can’t simplify a problem, you can try to divide it into subproblems. With a clearly defined, simplified/ structured problem, you can start to

  • Find the root cause

Collecting information is the key. Collect information about what happened before, during, and after the problem has occurred. Identifying the root cause for a problem can be a time consuming task. But let me say this clearly: Information is the key. Information that help to find the root cause are not only observations (e.g. logs, error messages etc.). You can can use the results of systematic tests. Collect as much data as you can.

Sometimes it can be useful to create a hypothesis.

Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories.

If you see that System A is affected, but system B should be affected too, but it’s not, it might be time to create a hypothesis. With a hypothesis in mind, you can try to prove it. Test the hypothesis by performing tests and collecting data. This strategy is called “hypothesis testing”.

At some point, you should have identified the root cause. With the now known root cause, you can

  • Create solutions and select the best one

Sometimes it’s easy. But sometimes it’ not that easy. A trade-off analysis can help to identify the best of multiple solutions.

  • Create an action plan

Even if you only have to disable a specific feature, it’s a good idea to formulate an action plan. Even if consists only of three lines… You should state clearly

  • WHAT you do
  • WHY do you have to do it, and
  • HOW to you plan to check it

With these steps, you should be well prepared. It doesn’t matter what kind of problem you are trying to solve: The process is basically the same.

Other problem solving methods

Over the years many problem solving methods have been developed. Kepner-Tregoe is one of them. Other well known methods are:

  • A3 Problem Solving
  • PDCA
  • Eight Disciplines (8D) Problem Solving
  • Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA)

A3 Problem Solving has been developed at Toyota for their Toyota Production System (TPS). It’s an often used method in Lean Manufacturing. A3 helps to solve problems by pretending a structure (WHAT IS and WHAT IS NOT the problem, describe the problem, root cause, solution etc). This strucure is placed on an A3 sheet paper (that why it’s called A3). The process is based on the principles of Deming’s PDCA cycle.

PDCA, or Plan-Do-Check-Act (sometimes Shewhart-Cycle) was made popular by Dr. Edwards Deming. Plan-Do-Check-Act refers to the four phases of this cycle.

  • Plan: Plan the change
  • Do: implement the change
  • Check: Check the sucess of the implemented change
  • Act: Take action based on the results of “Check”

Eight Disciplines (8D) Problem Solving was developed by the Ford Motor Company. The D0 phase is the starting point for the D8 process, but it’s not counted.

  • D0:  Plan for solving the problem and determine the prerequisites
  • D1: Establish a team of people with the required skills and knowledge
  • D2: Describe the problem
  • D3: Define and implement containment actions
  • D4: Determine and verify the root causes
  • D5: Plan permanent corrective actions for the observed problem
  • D6: Implement the best permanent corrective actions
  • D7: Modify management systems to prevent a recurrence
  • D8: Congratulate your team!

The Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a highly structured, systematic approach for failure analysis. There are different FMEA alalyses:

  • Functional
  • Design
  • Process

FMEA is based on inductive reasoning (forward logic). FMEA is based on a highly structured process, which can be represented as followed.

  • Structural analysis: A system is divided into its components
  • Functional analysis: Identify the function of each component
  • Failure analysis: Identify the possible failures for each component
  • Calculate the risk: Risk Priority Number = occurrence ranking x detection ranking x highest severity ranking
  • Optimize: Optimize the component to mitigate the risk

No matter what, stay organized

The key to successfully solve problems is to stay organized. Solving problems isn’t magic. It is a very structured process that gets better with increasing experience. Try to create your own, structured method. Or use one of the mentioned problem solving methods. But in general:

  • Always try to describe a problem
  • Try to simplify or break it into smaller problems
  • Search and verify for the root cause
  • Develop a solution

VCP6-DCV Delta Beta exam experience

This posting is ~4 years years old. You should keep this in mind. IT is a short living business. This information might be outdated.

Today, I took my very first VMware beta exam. I took the 2V0-621D exam, known as the VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization Delta Beta Exam, at a local Pearson VUE test center. This exam is a possible migration paths from a valid VCP5-DCV, or any valid solution track VCP, to the VCP6-DCV certification.

The benefit of a beta exam is the low price (currently 50 US-$) and a chance to upgrade the associated certification, in this case the VCP6-DCV. This was the main reason for me to request the authorization and schedule an appointment at a local Pearson VUE testcenter. When I pass the exams, that would be a very effective and simple upgrade.

Exam topics

The blueprint for the delta beta exam consists of 10 sections and it covers a bit more then only VMware vSphere 6.

  • Section 1: Configure and Administer vSphere 6.x Security
  • Section 2: Configure and Administer Advanced vSphere 6.x Networking
  • Section 3: Configure and Administer Advanced vSphere 6.x Storage
  • Section 4: Upgrade a vSphere Deployment to 6.x
  • Section 5: Administer and Manage vSphere 6.x Resources
  • Section 6: Backup and Recover a vSphere Deployment
  • Section 7: Troubleshoot a vSphere Deployment
  • Section 8: Deploy and Consolidate vSphere Data Center
  • Section 9: Configure and Administer vSphere Availability Solutions
  • Section 10: Administer and Manage vSphere Virtual Machines

Each section includes one or more objectives. In opposite to exam 2V0-621, the VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization Beta Exam, the delta exam doesn’t include the objectives

  • 7.4: Troubleshoot and Monitor vSphere Performance
  • 7.5: Troubleshoot HA and DRS Configurations and Fault Tolerance
  • 8.3: Consolidate Physical Workloads using VMware Converter
  • 10.3: Configure and Maintain a vCloud Air Connection

Manfred Hofer highlightes this already in a blog post about his exam experience. But instead, the delta exam includes the objective

  • 9.3: Setup and Configure AppHA

So if you take the delta beta exam, you better take a closer look at VMware AppHA.

The exam

The exam consists of 75 single and multiple choice questions. You have 90 Minutes time to answer all questions. If you are a non-native english speaker, you will get 30 minutes extra. The questions are not always related to VMware vSphere 6! There are also questions about vSphere in gerneral, or prodcuts around vSphere, like Replication or AppHA. In my case, the questions were very unevenly distributed over the blueprint sections. I got a relatively high number of questions involving HA, DRS, Resource Pools and troubleshooting in general. Carefully reading the question and answers was very helpful. In most cases, I was able to eliminate wrong or unlikely answers. Answers must not be correct, sometimes answers were “best fit” answers.

With 75 questions in 120 minutes, I had more than one minute per question. That’s much more time as you get in the VCP5-DCV (vSphere 5.5) exam. There you have to answer 135 questions in 120 minutes. After 60 minutes I clicked the “End Exam” button. Now I have to wait. The results will be published after the end of the beta phase. This may take 6 to 8 weeks.

I don’t know if I passed the exam. In fact, I did not really prepare for the exam. I have the documents just flown over. But it was a very nice experience.

Selected as PernixPro

This posting is ~4 years years old. You should keep this in mind. IT is a short living business. This information might be outdated.

Yesterday, at 02:13am (CET), I got an awesome e-mail:

Dear Patrick,

I am pleased to welcome you to the PernixPro program!

I’m very happy to be part of this program!

PernixData | PernixPro

This program is similar to the VMware vExpert or Microsoft MVP program. It’s designed to spread the magic of PernixData FVP. I am totally convinced of PernixData FVP. Because of this, I’m very pleased to be part of the program. Thank you for the recognition!

If you want to know more about the Pernix Pro program, make sure that you take a look at the corresponding website.

PernixPro

Exam experience JNCIA-Junos

This posting is ~5 years years old. You should keep this in mind. IT is a short living business. This information might be outdated.

The Juniper Networks Certification Program (JNCP) consists of different tracks, which enable you to demonstrate your skills with Juniper products and technologies in the areas most pertinent to your job function and experience. There are three main areas:

  • Junos
  • Support
  • Product and Technology

The Junos area consists of three tracks:

  • Service Provider Routing and Switching
  • Enterprise Routing and Switching
  • Junos Security

The “Service Provider Routing and Switching” track focuses on service provider and telecommunication (M-, MX-Series, Routing with OSPF, BGP, MPLS etc.), the “Enterprise Routing and Switching” on enterprise routing and switching in LAN and WAN (EX-Series, MX-Series, Spanning-Tree, VLANs, Routing etc.) and the “Junos Security” track is focused on the Juniper Security products (SRX-Series, Routing, Firewall, VPN etc.). All three tracks have the Juniper Networks Certified Associate – Junos (JNCIA-Junos) as a prerequisite. This is an entry-level certification and it covers the following objectives:

  • Networking Fundamentals
  • Junos OS Fundamentals
  • User Interfaces
  • Junos Configuration Basics
  • Operational Monitoring and Maintenance
  • Routing Fundamentals
  • Routing Policy and Firewall Filters

The certification is compareable to Cisco CCNA (Routing & Switching, Security) or HP ATP (FlexNetworks or TippingPoint Security). The certification can be achieved by passing the JN0-102 exam, that can be booked at Pearson VUE and which is delivered as an proctored exam. The exam costs ~100 € (depending on taxes). A Fast Track program for different certifications is available, so also for the JNCIA-Junos. If you pass a pre-assessment exam, you can get a 50% discount exam voucher for Pearson VUE. I strongly recommend to take the pre-assessment exam and save 50% costs. The voucher can only be used one time. So if you fail the first attempted, you have to pay the full price for the second attempt. It’s strongly recommended to get a CertManager ID before you schedule the exam. Otherwise you can’t get your eCertificate. You can get a CertManager ID later and connect it with your Juniper accounts. You can get a CertManager ID here.

To pass the exam you have to answer 70 multiple-choice questions in 90 minutes. I can’t tell you the passing score, because it’s not officially published by Juniper. But it’s compareable to other entry-level exams I passed in the last years. Nothing special. You get the result (if you passed or failed) immediately after the exam. But, and this was new to me, you get only a provisional score report! Juniper states on its homepage:

Juniper Networks then performs industry standard statistical analyses on all exam results to ensure compliance with the Juniper Networks Candidate Agreement and JNCP exam security policies.

It seems that Juniper tries to avoid that people pass the exam that have used braindumps or that have thrown a coin at each question. You get the final score report within three business days. I passed the exam on friday (based on the provisional score report) and today I had the exam listed as “passed” in my CertManager account.

Exam preparation

You can prepare for the exam in many ways. Juniper offers three different trainings that cover some of the exam objectives:

You don’t have to take a classroom or virtual training, you can prepare yourself for the exam. Juniper offers an excellent free software documentation, the Fast Track Self-study Guides and different Day One Guides (e.g. Day One: Exploring the Junos CLI). If you like CBT, try the course on Pluralsight: Juniper JNCIA-Junos – Introduction to Junos OS (thanks to Chris Frisch for developing the course!). Hands-on experience is strongly recommended! You can get cheap SRX 100 or 110 on eBay. Or try Juniper Firefly Perimeter, a virtual SRX. You can use it for 30 days without a license. Don’t make the mistake and buy Juniper 5GT or SSG series! They are running ScreenOS, not Junos! If you think you are well prepared, try the practice test that is offered by Juniper. If you pass the practice test schedule your exam at Pearson VUE.

The exam

I passed the Fast Track pre-assessment exam some weeks ago and scheduled an appointment for last friday (24. October). I had not much time to prepare for the exam. I used the Fast Track Self-study Guides (two PDF with ~ 160 pages) and a Juniper Firefly Perimeter to prepare for the exam. Since I’m quite familar with the SSG and SRX, I know how firewalls policies, routing and routing protocols work. As above mentioned the exam consists of 70 questions that have to be answered in 90 minutes. There is no bonus time for non-native speaker. Some questions can be answered really quick, but some questions, especially question with an exhibit, need more time. As far as I’ve seen all exam objectives were covered. I can’t reveal any details, but reading the study guides is not enough to pass the exam! You should be familiar with converting decimal to binary and IPv6. You should also be familiar with IP routing, subnetting, longest route match etc. Know the Junos CLI and the syntax for the important commands. You should also know how Junos routing engine and packet forwarding engine act together. Don’t waste to much time with basic questions. And very important: READ CAREFULLY! Some questions are nasty if you haven’t read the question, the exhibit and the answers…

I finished the exam after round about 60 minutes and passed it. I felt the exam as challenging, compared to other entry-level exams.

What’s next? I think I will start prepare for JNCIS-SEC and maybe JNCIS-ENT. The latter is more of a hobby because my employer does not sell Juniper EX. But in any case: It opens future options and learning new things is always a good thing.

Problem analysis with Kepner-Tregoe

This posting is ~5 years years old. You should keep this in mind. IT is a short living business. This information might be outdated.

When you deal with problems in IT, you often deal with problems where is root cause is unknown. To solve such problems, you have to use a systematic method. Only a systematic method leads to a fast, effective and efficient solution. One of the most commonly observed methods in my career bases on approximation. We all know it as “trial and error”. Someone tries as long until the problem is solved. Often this method makes it worse than it was before, and it often leads to wrong conclusions, and furthermore wrong results. If someone draws a wrong connections at the beginning of the analysis, this leads to a totally wrong path. I would like to illustrate this with an example:

John Doe tried to monitor VMware ESXi hosts with a HP Systems Insight Manager (SIM). The VMware ESXi were running on different HP ProLiant models. John noticed, that some of the ESXi hosts showed more information than other hosts. After a very quick Google search he quickly concluded, that this was related to iLO 4 Agentless Monitoring, because those hosts, that showed all information, were ProLiant Gen8 models.

As you can imagine, this was dozens of miles away. The solution was simple: The Gen8 models were installed with ESXi images from HP, which includes the necessary agents. This example shows another very ugly behavior: Googling around, in the hope to find a problem description that sounds similar. This is often done by entering a error message into Google, selecting a search result and trying the proposed solution. And quite often the article is not even read, simply scrolled down to the solution. It’s unlikely that the same error message can have different causes, which need different solutions.

What could be a systematic method to solve problems? I’d like to introduce to Kepner-Tregoe (KT). KT stands for two things: A consulting company founded by Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe, and for a method. KT is mentioned by ITIL as a component of the Problem Management in the Service Operation phase. You can use KT for problem solving, decision making or potential problem analysis. I will focus on the situation analysis and problem analysis. The situation analysis is common for problem solving, decision making or potential problem analysis.

The Kepner-Tregoe method

The KT method is based on a rational process and it’s divided into four different processes:

  • situation analysis
  • problem analysis
  • decision analysis
  • potential problem analysis

Behind each process is a question you should ask.

The situation analysis

During the situation analysis the question is “What’s going on?”. At this point, the problem analysis hasn’t started. Before you can analyse the problem, you have to clarify the situation, outline concerns and set priorities. Ask yourself about the current and future impact, how much time do you have to find a solution, and at which point a solution could be impossible (limitations because of time, budget etc.).

The problem analysis

 The problem analysis consists of five consecutive steps:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Describe the problem
  3. Create hypotheses about the cause
  4. Test the hypotheses
  5. Verify the root cause

Use the 5 Ws to define the problem. Only a problem description, that includes the 5 Ws is capable to fully describe a problem. Such a description will help you, and your colleagues, to understand the problem.

  • Who is affected by the problem?
  • Why is this important to solve the problem?
  • What are the symptoms?
  • When does the problem occur?
  • Where does the problem occur?

If you created you problem description with the 5 Ws, you can concretize the answers with “IS” and “COULD BE but IS NOT” aspects. Let’s pick up the example from above:

Who is affected by the problem? HP ProLiant G6 and G7 models running VMware ESXi.

A HP ProLiant G7 model with VMware ESXi image “IS” affected. A HP ProLiant G7 and Gen8 model with a HP custom Image for ESXi “COULD BE but IS NOT” affected.

As you can see, this will dramatically reduce the number of possible causes, especially when you add the problem description and the symptoms. But this also shows another fact: You have to take a detailed look at the affected components/ systems, and you have to take care, that you not miss any deviations between the components/ systems (in the example all hosts were running ESXi 5.1, but some of the hosts were running a VMware image, some hosts a HP custom ESXi image). You also should identify what changes are made in the past. This may be answered by the “When?” question (When does the problem occur? After demoting one of the four Active Directory Domain Controllers).

Now it’s time to create hypotheses about the possible cause. Depending on the problem description, the past changes and the “IS” and “COULD BE but IS NOT” aspects of the problem, it should be possible to create one or more hypotheses.

With one or more hypotheses, you have to test each of them against the “IS” and “COULD BE but IS NOT” aspects. The question is: Can the hypothesis explain the “IS” and “COULD BE but IS NOT” aspects? One of the hypotheses will best explain the “IS” and “COULD BE but IS NOT” aspects. This is the most probable hypothesis.

Verifying the root cause is the last and trickiest part. You have to verify your assumptions and reflect the way, how you have come to the decision what the root cause is. If you are sure that you have identified the root cause, you can develop and implement a solution. After the implementation, you have to verify the result. Is the problem solved? Yes? Fine! If not, you have to involve this into the test of the other hypotheses.

Summary

Kepner-Tregoe is a totally rational method. It’s hard at the beginning not to make quick assumptions and to reflect. It’s something you have to train. I guarantee that you will get better with each problem you solve. KT problem analysis was used during the Apollo 13 mission. And what should I say? It worked! So give it a try.

EDIT: Kepner-Tregoe informed me over Twitter, that there are two groups on LinkedIn, where you can get more information and talk to other KT practitioners.

vExpert 2014 benefits

This posting is ~5 years years old. You should keep this in mind. IT is a short living business. This information might be outdated.

In addition to the benefits that VMware grants to vExperts, a couple of vendors grant also benefits to vExperts. This includes free licenses, subscriptions or other offers. This is only a loose compilation of vExperts benefits.

VendorOfferLink
SolarwindsVirtualization Manager NFRhttp://bit.ly/1gYJtBB
VeeamBackup & Replication NFRhttp://bit.ly/1esRaFn
PluralsightAnnual Plus Subscriptionhttp://bit.ly/1esTa0o
TintriPolo Shirthttp://bit.ly/1eJqgE2
DevolutionsRemote Desktop Manager 1y NFRhttp://bit.ly/1iRVXfm
Login VSIVIP programhttp://bit.ly/1esPY4M
Hewlett-PackardStoreVirtual VSA NFRhttp://bit.ly/1m4J6gt
Darren WoollardSticker & URL Shortenerhttp://bit.ly/1noB4gb
DataCoreSANsymphony-V NFRhttp://bit.ly/1iUXd2N
Proximal DataAutoCache NFRhttp://bit.ly/1eLKoWa
VSS LabsvCert Manager NFRhttp://bit.ly/1eTncKP
UnitrendsEnterprise Backup for VMware or Hyper-V NFRhttp://bit.ly/1eWqn4Q
SymantecBackup Exec V-Ray Edition NFRhttp://bit.ly/1eTFcEO
Royal TSRoyal TS/X NFRhttp://bit.ly/1jtpNbB

I also recommend to check the following blog post:

I will add further offers to this list. Feel free to leave a comment and to point me to similar blog posts.

Pluralsight: Free subscription for tech VIPs

This posting is ~5 years years old. You should keep this in mind. IT is a short living business. This information might be outdated.

Already in the last year I noticed, that Pluralsight was giving tech VIPs one year of free subscription for their online training. This 1y subscription has a value of $499! Yesterday I saw a tweet with the offer for this year’s tech VIPs.

To use this offer, you have to be member of at least one of the following programs:

  • Microsoft MVP
  • VMware vExpert
  • Citrix CTP
  • Salesforce MVP
  • ASPInsiders
  • Friends of Red Gate
  • JavaOne Rock Star

Because Pluralsight had a focus on developers in the past, some of the programs may be new to you. After the merge with TrainSignal, courses about networking, virtualization, microsoft server technologies etc. were added to Pluralsight.

There is a blog post where you can sign up for this free subscription. Because I’m a paying member (pre-merger TrainSignal), I afterwards sent an email with the request to update my current account. Today I got an email with a subscription code. Yeah! THX Pluralsight, really great of you!

Note: Pluralsight offers over 1000 online trainings for developers and IT professionals. You can watch the courses online or offline and they are made by the best authors in the business. I’m a paying customer since a couple of months and I came due to the take over of TrainSignal to Pluralsight. So I used Pluralsight before I was awarded vExpert 2014. I really recommend it. It’s easy, convinient and effective. A perfect addition to my daily business and my way how I learn new stuff (playing in the lab, reading etc.)

Homelabs: It’s evolution, baby

This posting is ~5 years years old. You should keep this in mind. IT is a short living business. This information might be outdated.

A discourse is going on in the community. I can’t say who has started the discourse, but the number of blog postings to this discourse is an indication for the interest at this topic. But what’s the topic?

Homelabs

A homelab is the datacenter of the poor man. Some people have the luck to use a fully populated data center for test and study purposes. Our job requires to work with the latest technology and products, so we need an environment for test- and study purposes. Back in the days it was sufficient to have some VMs on you computer or laptop. But as virtualization moved into the data center, it was necessary to have this in the lab. At this point homelabs began to explode.

Why homelabs began to explode?

Lets assume that you wish to play with VMware vSphere. Playing with a single host is lame. So you need at least two hosts to build a cluster. If you want to use the cool features like HA, vMotion, DRS etc., you need shared Storage. Virtulization without VMs is also lame. So you need some CPU power and memory. Wow. At least two hosts and a shared storage. That escalated quickly… Okay, lets look at Microsoft Hyper-V. Mhh… at least two hosts and a shared storage if you seriously want to work with it. Now you have two options:

  • Physical Equipment
    • real server HW
    • Whitebox HW
  • Nested Enviroment

Physical HW has some benefits, because nothing is shared or virtualized. If it’s server HW, the chance is high that it’s on the HCL and you will not face issuses due to unsupported HW. But there are disadvantages: Think about space and power consumption, heat or the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor – higher is better). Real server HW will violate requirements to space and power consumption, heat and WAF. You can go for whitebox HW, which means that you build your own server out of different components, that are not necessarily supported. But it’s cheap (if I look at Franks and Eriks homelabs this is not necessarily true…), you can focus on power consumption, noise and WAF. But what if you get in trouble because the HW is unsupported? What if HW currently works, but with the next release of VMware ESXi or Microsoft Hyper-V not? You can skip dedicated HW and go for nested environments. In this case you virtualize virtualization environments. Sounds spooky? Yes, sometimes it is. And it has some disadvantages, especially in case of performance or things that simply didn’t work (VMware FT with 64 bit guests). But it’s easy, and that is a big advantage. All you need is VMware Workstation, Fusion or ESXi and AutoLab. An awesome source for nested environments is virtuallyGhetto, William Lams blog.

The “scientific” discourse

There are some really nice blog posts came up in the last days. Take a look into the comments section!

Frank Denneman – vSphere 5.5 Home lab
Erik Bussink – The homelab shift…
Erik Bussink – Homelab 2014 upgrade
Vladan SEGET – vSphere Homelabs in 2014 – scale up or scale out?

It’s evolution, baby…

… and sometimes there are different, at the same time extending developments. Time will show which architecture will make the race. I chose server equipment, because due to some circumstances I came to four HP ProLiants. But I will not run them at home. ;)

Reducing the friction: On-site installation

This posting is ~6 years years old. You should keep this in mind. IT is a short living business. This information might be outdated.

Scott Lowes “Reducing the Friction” posts inspired me to write a bit about a part of my job.

A significant part of my work is the on-site installation of newly purchased equipment. That’s one thing my customers really like. I’m not only the pre-sales guy that is doing designs and workshops, but I am also the guy who installed the things which he has thought up. This prevents finger pointing if something isn’t working as expected. I usually come into play after the rack installation and cabling. At this point I’ve done a lot of work. After the order confirmation one of my first activities is a meeting with the customer to plan the installation. This meeting is the formal project kickoff and a result of this meeting is a project plan, milestones, goals etc. You should note that project management is a important part, but It’s not done by a dedicated project manager. A dedicated project manager is only involved in bigger projects, but not for the usual “4-hosts-1-storage-dual-fc-fabric-1-vsphere-cluster” projects. At this point I start to structure the project. I create work packages, define activites, goals and configuration details with the customer. I use mind maps for it. In the end I have a big mind map with all work packages, activites, milestones etc. The process of thinking through the project is the hardest part. You need a certain amount of project experience. You should define as much as you can with the customer. Hostnames, IPs, VLANs, volume names, pros & cons of certain configurations, define a default password with the customer etc. – the more you define with the customer, the less you have to discuss and ask during the installation phase. You shouldn’t discuss the design with the customer at this point. If you have to discuss the design during the kickoff, either the requirements have changed or you sold something that don’t satisfy customer requirement. Now the task is to implement the design. After the kickoff you should have all you need, to go through the installation. I try to use digital media during those kickoffs. Either I use my iPad for notes and sketches, or I write it directly into a mind map. I use UPAD with a Bamboo Stylus Duo on my iPad and Mindjet MindManager on Windows.

Before you begin with the installation you should ensure that you have all software, all licenses and all information you need. It’s annoying when you start during installation to download software. Sometimes you can’t avoid it. In this case you should ensure that you have a fast and working internet connection. Another cause of delay and friction is a laptop that isn’t working, a empty battery, a missing power outlet, missing tools and software (for example terminal emulation, missing serial cables, tools etc.). To me it’s uncomfortable to ask the customer for cables or tools. It looks disorganized.

During the installation you should make sure to keep the track. Follow the work packages and activites. Do it step by step. If you’ve more experience, you can try to do thing parallel, for example install ESXi onto the hosts and update the FC-Switch firmware. Document your work and what you’ve configured. If the customer is with you, explain what you are doing. This shows that you don’t do this for the first time.

What's inside my box (Laptop, Cables etc.)

Patrick Terlisten/ www.vcloudnine.de/ Creative Commons CC0

When I go to the customer, then I have a medium-sized box with me. Everything I need is in this box. You can see on the picture: HP 6450b laptop with Windows 7 (used only for installations), tools, different serial cables, different TP-cables in different length, serial port ExpressCard, a Juniper 5GT firewall, power supplies & socket strip, antistatic mat, USB disk (offline WSUS, Windows Server VMware templates, lots of software etc.) and velcro.

Of course I only have the box with me when I’m working with HW. For example updating vSphere enviroments, firewall, networking or pure consulting projects I do without my box. :) For my daily work I use a Rimowa Salsa business trolley, in which I store notebook, iPad, power supply etc.

Disorganized work is something I really can not stand. It looks unprofessional and it’s error-prone. The better you prepared, the better the result will be.

How do you organize your work in case of a on-site installation?