MacBook Air – My First Week

As many of you know, I am now a convert to the Cult of Mac.  I finally broke down and bought a MacBook Air this past week.  I’ve spent some time using it and I think I’m about ready to give my first impressions based on what I’ve learned so far.

My primary reason for getting a MacBook was to spend some time learning the OS.  I’ve taken the OS X Snow Leopard Administration exam already thanks to my Hackintosh and the time I’ve spent troubleshooting some of my friends’ MacBooks.  If I’m going to seriously start to work on deploying them and working on them, I figured it was time to eat a bit of my own dogfood.  Thanks to Best Buy running a nice sale on the entry-level MacBook Air, I leaped at the chance while I could.  I knew I wanted something portable rather than having a 21″ iMac on my desk.  I did spend a lot of time going back and forth about whether I wanted a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.  The Pro does have a lot more expandability and horsepower under the hood.  I would feel a lot more comfortable running virtual machines with the Pro.  However, the Air is an ultraportable that would come in very handy for me on my many recent travels with things like Tech Field Day.  The SSD option in the basic Air was also a lure, as my SSD in my Thinkpad was the best investment I have made.  Add in the $1000 (US) price difference, and the Air won this round.

I’ve used OS X quite a bit in the last 6 months, but most of my experience has been on Snow Leopard.  Lion wasn’t much different on the surface, but it did take some time for me to relearn things at first.  I spent the majority of my time the first couple of days finding things to replicate the tasks that I spend most of my time doing each day.  I installed VMware Fusion as my OS virtualization program thanks to my status as a VMware partner, and I installed MS Office thanks to my Microsoft Gold Partner status.  Afterwards, I looked back over the lists I had compiled for Mac software, such as those found in the comments of my Software I Use Every Day post.  I settled on OmniGraffle for my drawing program and TextWrangler for my basic text editor.  After installing the drivers for my USB-to-serial adapter, I figured I was ready to strike out on my adventure of using a Mac day-to-day.

I’ve already encountered some interesting issues.  I knew Outlook at my office would be broken for me thanks to some strange interactions between Outlook 2011, Exchange 2007, and Exchange Web Services (EWS).  Outlook 2011 might as well be called Outlook 1.0 right now due to the large amount of issues that have cropped up since the switch from Entourage.  Most people I know have either switched back to using Entourage or have started using the native Mail.app.  I have decided Mail.app is the way to go for me until Outlook 201x comes out and actually works.  I also have to remember to use the Command (⌘) key for my CTRL-based shortcuts when I’m in OS X proper.  The CTRL-key commands still work in my terminal sessions and Windows RDP sessions, so the shift in thinking goes back and forth a lot.  I’m also still trying to get used to missing my familiar old Trackpoint.  I like the feel of the MacBook trackpad, and the gesture support is quickly becoming second nature.  However, the ability to navigate without taking my hands off the keyboard is missed some times.  I also miss my Page Up and Page Down keys when navigating long PDFs.  I know that the scrolling is very smooth with the trackpad, but putting a PDF into page mode and tapping a key is a quick way to go back and forth quickly.  The other fun thing that cropped up was a ground hum from the power supply when recording Packet Pushers show 78.  Thankfully, Ivan Pepelnjak was able to help me out quickly since he recently got his own MacBook.  If you’d like to read his thoughts on his new MacBook, you can go here.  I can definitely identify with his pains.


Tom’s Take

When I announced that I had finally fallen to the Dark Side and bought a Mac, the majority of the responses boiled down to “about time, dude”.  I can’t help but chuckle at that.  Yes, years ago I actively resisted the idea of using a Mac.  I’ve started to come around in the past few months due to the fact that most of the software that I use has an equivalent on the Mac.  Given the fact that I’ve already had to start running some of my software on a Windows XP VM instead of natively on Windows 7 64-bit, the idea of switching wasn’t that abhorrent after all.  I don’t know if the Air is ever going to replace my every day Windows computing needs.  I know that carrying it around on trips is going to be a lot easier than lugging the 8-pound Lenovo behemoth through the TSA gauntlet.  Maybe after I spend a little more time with OS X Lion I’ll finally get my processes and procedures to the point where I can say goodbye to the Redmond Home Improvement Corporation and settle down with the Cupertino Fruit Company.

VMware vSphere: What’s New [5.0] – Review

As I spend a lot of my time in training and learning about new technologies, I thought it might be a good idea to start reviewing the classes that I attend to help my readers figure out how to get the best out of their training dollars.  Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the 2-day VMware vSphere: What’s New [5.0] class.

If you are thinking about becoming a VMware Certified Professional (VCP), you’re going to need to go to class.  It’s a requirement for certification.  I don’t necessarily agree with this though.  No other certification I hold requires me to go to class.  The CISSP requires a certain level of experience, and when I looked at the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) requirements, they said that their required class could be waived with demonstrable experience.  So the fact that VMware is making me go to class is kind of irritating.  That’s even taking into account that my employer sees the usefulness of staying certified and lets me attend a large number of classes.  I really feel for the independent contractors that need to be VCPs to get into the field but can’t afford to either pay for the class or take the time off for 2-4 days to attend one.  There should be some kind of waiver for people that can demonstrate experience with VMware.  Yes, I know that if you are a 1-step removed VCP (VCP4 in this case) you don’t have to go to class.  Yes, I know that there are very good reasons to make people attend class, such as keeping current with new technology and ensuring your certified user base is up on all the new features.  Yes, I know that the costs of the class are necessary for things like facilities rental and materials.  Just because I understand why it’s required and why it’s so expensive doesn’t mean I have to like it.  But, I digress…

I chose to take the 2-day What’s New class because it was a quicker way to go through the requirements as well as being valid for upgrading my VCP3 to a VCP5 until February.  The 2-day What’s New class is a condensed version of the 4-day Install, Configure, and Manage (ICM) class that introduces VMware to those that are new to virtualization.  Being condensed, the prerequisites for the course state you must be familiar with VMware.  While you don’t need to be intimately familiar with every aspect of the hypervisor and it’s settings, you had better at least be comfortable logging into vCenter and doing some basic tasks.  There won’t be much time for hand-holding in the What’s New class.

The materials for the 2-day class are a 270-page student manual with the slide deck from the class printed in note-taking format and an 80-page lab guide.  The student guide has ample annotations of the slide deck as well as space for taking notes in class.  The lab guide has places to record the information for your student lab pods so you aren’t constantly flipping back and forth to remember what your vCenter or ESXi servers are named.  The lab guide went into good detail about each task, making sure that you knew where to go to enable features or perform tasks.  The lab guide is great for those that want to do a little more practice after leaving the class in a personal lab environment.

The material covered in the class focused on the new features in vSphere 5 and how it’s different from vSphere 4.  Special attention is paid to the new storage features and the new deployment options for ESXi servers, like stateless Auto Deploy.  Thanks to the ample amount of lab time, you have a great opportunity to reinforce the topics with actual examples rather than just staring at static screens on slides.  If you get a really good instructor (like we had), you can even see live configurations of these topics on their lab machines.  Rick, our instructor, made sure to show us live examples every chance he had rather than just relying on stuffy slides.  He also did a great job going into depth on topics that deserved it, like VMware HA changes and elections.  By the way, for anyone that has ever complained about HSRP elections or STP root bridge selection, you should really check out http://www.yellow-bricks.com and get Ducan Epping’s vSphere Clustering Deep Dive book.  Therein, you will learn in vSphere 5, 99 is greater than 100 when performing HA elections.  I’ll give you hint: lexical numbers don’t follow normal rules…


Tom’s Take

Overall, I found the condensed version of class to be a much better value than the 4-day ICM course.  On the other hand, I’ve also been working with VMware for the last 3 years, so I had a good grasp on the basics.  For someone that isn’t familiar with the way virtualization works, the 4-day ICM class will give you a much more measured understanding and more time to play with the basics.  For those that have already gotten their feet wet with VMware and are just looking for a tune up or need to go take the VCP5 exam, you can’t go wrong with the 2-day short, short version of the class.  It’s going to save you a good deal of time and money that you can use to buy more licenses for vRAM.

If you’d like to see more details on the VMware education offerings or sign up for a VMware class, head over to the VMware Education Website at http://mylearn.vmware.com/portals/www/

Wireless Field Day 2 – Nerds Without Wires

Wouldn’t you know it?  I’m headed back for round two of Wireless Field Day.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to the first assemblage of the preeminent wireless minds in the industry today.  Now it appears an encore is in order.  January 25th through the 27th I’ll be joining some August company for 3 days of immersion in the hottest technology driving business and personal computing today:

Not bad, eh? These people represent the brightest minds in wireless networking and having so many back from the first Wireless Field Day makes this event a very good opportunity for me to interact and learn from the best.  Of course, I’ll be sure to pass my learning on to each and every one of you with a multitude of blog posts and discussion at the event.

Getting Involved with Tech Field Day

With this being my fourth Tech Field Day event, I’ve had a lot of experience with the people around Tech Field Day.  They are always looking for thought leaders to join in the fun and impart knowledge while they absorb a large amount of knowledge from the best and brightest in the industry.  There are a couple of ways for you to get involved:

1.  Read the TFD FAQ and the Becoming a Field Day Delegate pages first and foremost.  Indicate your desire to become a delegate.  You can’t go if you don’t tell someone you want to be there.  Filling out the delegate form submits a lot of pertinent information to Tech Field Day that helps in the selection process.

2.  Realize that the selection process is voted upon by past delegates and has selection criteria.  In order to be the best possible delegate for a Tech Field Day, you have to be an open-minded blogger willing to listen to the presentations and think about them critically.  There’s no sense in bringing in delegates that will refuse to listen to a presentation from Meru because all they’ve ever used is Aruba and they won’t accept Meru having good technology.  If you want to learn more about all the products and vendors out in the IT ecosystem, TFD is the place for you.

3.  Write about what you’ve learned.  One of the hardest things for me after Tech Field Day was consolidating what I had learned into a series of blog posts.  TFD is a fire hose of information, and there is little time to process it as it happens.  Copious notes are a must.  As is having the video feeds to look at later to remember what your notes meant.  But it is important to get those notes down and put them up for everyone else to see.  Because while your audience may have been watching the same video stream you were watching live, they may not have the same opinion of things.  Tech Field Day isn’t just about fun and good times.  Occasionally, the delegates must look at things with a critical eye and make sure they let everyone know where they stand.


Be sure to follow the Tech Field Day account on Twitter (@TechFieldDay) for information and updates about Wireless Field Day 2 as the date gets closer.  There will also be live streaming video of each presentation on-site, and the videos will be uploaded shortly after the presentation.  If you want to participate in the fun, you can use the Twitter hashtags #TechFieldDay or #WFD2 to make comments or ask questions during the presentations.  I will have a Twitter client open during the presentations and will be happy to relay your questions or comments to the presenters and delegates (if no one else beats me to it, that is).  I’m going to tag all my event-related tweets with those hashtags, so if you are being overwhelmed with the volume coming from the event, feel free to filter those tags or unfollow me for the duration of the event.  There’s usually so much to talk about that I get carried away sometimes, so I won’t see it as an affront, I promise.

Tech Field Day Sponsor Disclaimer

Tech Field Day is made possible first and foremost by the sponsors.  Each of them is responsible for a portion of the travel and lodging costs.  In addition, the sponsors also chip in to pay for the after-event gatherings each day.  However, the sponsors also understand that their underwriting of Tech Field Day in no way guarantees them any consideration during the analysis and writing of any blog posts or reviews.  That independence allows the delegates to give honest and direct feedback and opinions of the technology and the companies that present it.

Network Consumer Reports

I’m a huge fan of Consumer Reports magazine.  They do a great job of reviewing all manner of products from household appliances to SUVs.  They provide unbiased reviews for all products because they do not accept any outside advertising from companies nor do they accept any free samples from manufactures, instead choosing to purchase all of the items they review outright.  This gives them a substantial amount of credibility in the industry and their opinion has been known to influence the direction of many manufacturers, especially in the automotive arena.

Why is it that reviews in the networking space don’t have the same reputation?  Networking manufacturers are quick to refer to Gartner numbers or Tolly reports that back their equipment as being superior to their competitors.  For the most part, mention of either of these two names around network rock stars brings groans and cat calls.  The general consensus that I get from people I’ve talked to is that many of these reports are simply bought and paid for.  Joe Onisick has a great blog post about talking with the founder of Tolly about this very subject.  Many reports that are sponsored by a company are (suprisingly) critical of the sponsor’s competitors and give favorable reviews to said sponsors.  Not all that shocking when you think about it.  Even discounting the idea that the report could be massaged in favor of the sponsoring company, the odds are good that an unfavorable review would just be buried and never see the light of day.

This pattern of sponsored reports tends to leave the average network rock star jaded and distrustful of any testing that they haven’t done themselves.  Alas, when moving into a new field or testing equipment outside of the comfort zone it becomes quite easy to get lost and being making mistakes or missing key features or options.  Why can’t we do something about that?  Maybe we can…

I’d like to see a Consumer Reports type of service for networking.  It would have to adhere to the same rules that the Consumer’s Union uses for Consumer Reports.  No advertising, which also means that the reports can’t be used by the vendors for the purposes of selling their product.  That means no touting of the latest scores of the newest switches from Network Consumer Reports (NCR).  Also, all the equipment would need to be purchased outright from the vendors or through distributors or value added resellers (VARs).  This would also introduce some difficulties, as many vendors require complex designs before equipment will be sold or require the interaction of a VAR in order ensure the equipment will be installed correctly.  In order to ensure they fairness and impartiality of the tests, these people must be excluded from the configuration process and only be around for purchasing and delivery.  Only members of NCR would be allowed to install and configure the equipment.  Naturally, it’s going to take some skilled people to do that.

When the equipment for a given test or scenario arrives, it will be configured based on best practice guidelines for the vendor/manufacturer.  These practices should be found on the vendor’s website and be easily available.  No shortcuts or undocumented configurations would be allowed at first.  This is to ensure fairness as well as making the vendors responsible for the documentation that is provided to customers.  For a given test, traffic generators would be used to simulate all kinds of traffic patterns in a real world environment.  That would be similar to things that the real Consumer Reports does, like measuring fuel economy themselves rather than relying on the manufacturer’s EPA fuel economy numbers.  I’d rather see numbers I can believe with strict definitions of traffic rather than seeing tests that provide advantages, such as using different packet sizes for throughput versus latency.  Numbers you can trust are very important.

Once the tests are run and the reports have been generated, each vendor will be contacted with the reports and offered a small window of time to “tweak” things.  You have to offer this chance because invariably vendors begin grousing about not having a chance to fix the broken things.  Let’s say they are given 24 hours to modify the base configurations to increase throughput or reduce latency with the same traffic types used in the first test.  After the 24 hours, the tests will be readministered and the results recorded. However, any changes from the best practices will be documented.  If the new, “tweaked” configuration provides additional advantages, the report should then ask why those tweaks are not included in the best practices.  Each vendor will only be able to work on their own equipment and will not be informed of the results of any other vendor’s test.  In fact, they won’t even be informed which other vendors are being tested.  This is to ensure that no one has the opportunity to spread fear, uncertainty, or doubt (FUD) about a different competing solution.  Facts only here, folks.

After all of this, the reports will be published for all to see.  Perhaps there would be some kind of subscription service to reduce the astronomical cost associated with the acquisition and setup of the equipment.  This would only be necessary to avoid the need to rely on angel investors or the independently wealthy to capitalize such a large project.  Once the reports are published, the subscribers can trust in the content and use it however they see fit to begin to plan new projects or purchase equipment.


Tom’s Take

Why is it so hard to find a voice to trust when it comes to network reviews?  Why do I have to constantly ask myself “Who is behind this report?” I never worry about that when I read Consumer Reports.  I can trust the information they provide because I know it isn’t bought and paid for.  It would be wonderful to have something like that in the networking/storage/server space.  I’m sure the people out there right now do decent jobs of reviewing equipment, but none of them are the go-to type of publication like Consumer Reports.  Of course, bringing that kind of reporting to the IT world has a lot of huge challenges. Between getting capitalized and trying to find a way to buy large amounts of gear without raising any fuss from vendors, it would be a large undertaking.  However, if you can provide credibility with your reports and aid people in making good decisions for their businesses, I think you could make a go of it.  Let’s hope that this isn’t a pipe dream sometime down the road.

*Note: Consumer Reports is a trademark of Consumer’s Union and my use of their publications for examples in this post should not infer any kind of endorsement.

Aerohive Branch on Demand – Bring Your Own Office

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is enabling people to provide their own equipment for work.  But what happens when people aren’t just satisfied bringing their own Macbook to the party?  What happens if they want to bring their office to your office as well?  With the large surge in teleworkers and contractors being brought on inside companies and their ability to do the majority of their jobs without having to step foot into the corporate office, the need to provide connectivity and security for a home workspace is now becoming paramount if the Bring Your Own Office (BYOO) movement is going to take off.

The current solutions to this problem either involve using some off-the-shelf consumer product to address the issue or buying an enterprise grade solution to implement.  Both have their strengths and weaknesses.  Consumer-grade devices are dirt cheap and get the job done.  However, there is very little in the way of scalability and configuration management.  Unless your remote worker is good at configuring Linksys or D-Link, you could be in for a fight.  Also, consumer grade equipment doesn’t have the service and support necessary to run an enterprise on a regular basis.  On the flip side, enterprise equipment does have a great degree of manageability and support to provide robust service for your teleworkers.  Provided, that is, you are willing to invest the large amount of money that it takes to get it setup.  In fact, the investment is usually so high that reclaiming the equipment is top priority in the event that the teleworker leaves the company or completes the contract.  How then do we as network rock stars balance our need for cheap remote connectivity with our desire to have manageability and security?

Enter Aerohive.  I saw Aerohive at Wireless Field Day back in March of this year and was pretty impressed by their HiveManager product that they use to provide configuration and management for their controller-less access points.  They’ve also given me a briefing about the 4.0 release of their HiveOS firmware.  They were kind enough to give me a sneak peak at their Branch on Demand product that was announced November 15th.

Aerohive Branch on Demand utilizes Aerohive’s experience with creating cloud based management for devices and couples it with a new branch router device that can provide simple connectivity for your branch/remote offices or teleworkers.  All of the provisioning for these devices is done in HiveManager, so the only instructions your remote workers need is “plug the yellow cable into the yellow slot and plug the other end into the Internet”.  I think even my mom could do that.  Afterwards, the router checks in with HiveManager and pulls down the configuration so your teleworker can connect back to the home office.  Your user connects via SSL IPSec VPN to allow any device to access corporate resources, whether it be a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone (EDIT – Stephen Phillip was kind enough to notice that I mixed up SSL and IPSec in my notes on this.  The BR series use IPSec to connect back to the central site due to the increased performance for special traffic like voice).   The same polices that you have in place in your corporate office are extended to the remote worker as well.  You can either choose to tunnel all traffic back to the home office to be scanner and permitted, or you can split tunnel the traffic so that non-corporate packets exit locally.  There is a bit of apprehension on the part of most network rock stars for a setup like this, as splitting the traffic does introduce the capability for nasty things to infect the remote machine and then be introduced back into the corporate network.  Aerohive thought of this too and uses a cloud proxy to redirect the split tunneled traffic to a filtering service such as Websense or Barracuda to ensure that all those packets are “cloud washed” before they are permitted back into the network.  That alleviates the stress of not knowing where your branch users are going as well as preventing large amounts of traffic from being needlessly tunneled back to the corporate sites just to go out to the Internet.

All of these features come with HiveOS 5.0, which means that current users of the AP 330 and AP 350 gain the ability for those devices to function as routers.  You can even connect a 3G/4G USB modem to the USB port on the device and turn it into a backup interface for connectivity in the event the primary WAN link goes down for some reason.  At launch, the branch routers will support a small list of USB modems such as the AT&T Shockwave or Momentum, but as the software matures and drivers become available a wider variety of these devices will be supported.  This would be a great idea for those that live in areas where solid Internet connectivity isn’t always a given or for a user that spends a lot of time on the road and needs corporate VPN capabilities where they aren’t always available, such as in the middle of an oilfield or a parking lot.  No need to setup a cumbersome VPN client or worry about usernames and passwords and tokens.  Just give them an Aerohive branch router and let them go.

There are two models of branch routers available.  The BR100 is a 10/100 5-port device that includes a 2.4GHz 802.11n radio and a USB port for 3G/4G backhaul.  It retails for $99, or if you’d like to use the Network-as-a-Service subscription, you can get the device for the same $99 price point, only it includes software updates as well as tech refreshes for two years, so when a new update to the BR100 comes out, you’ll get that device for nothing.  There is also a BR200 that will have 5 GigE ports and dual 2.4/5GHz 3×3:3 802.11n radios as well as two PoE ports and crypto acceleration.  The BR200 will be out sometime next year.


Tom’s Take

I think Aerohive has finally found a good use case for the cloud.  Having your hardware managed by a cloud-based application means that you can always find it no matter where it might be.  If you are already an Aerohive customer that finds yourself in need of a branch router solution, this is a no-brainer.  The same management platform now allows you to control your access points as well as your branch users.  The ability to push the same policies from desktop to Destin, FL is very powerful and cuts down on a lot of stress.  If you aren’t a current Aerohive customer but know that you are going to need to add some teleworking capacity in the future, you can’t go wrong looking at this solution.  For $99 a device (and $999 for the VPN termination software) the solution is very inexpensive and gives you a lot of flexibility to build out instead of needing to worry about scaling straight up.  After all, letting your users bring their own office should cost you yours.

If you’d like to learn more about Aerohive’s new solutions, head over to http://www.aerohive.com.  There’s also a nice short introduction to the product over at the Packet Pushers site.


Disclaimer

Aerohive provided me with an advanced briefing on the Branch on Demand product for the purposes of preparing this blog post.  The did not ask for nor were they promised any consideration in the creation of this article.  Any and all opinions expresses within are mine and mine alone.

Unable To Access User-Defined Storage Service

In my VMware vSphere: What’s New [5.0] class this week, I learned why having a lab environment to test things is very important.  I also learned that some bugs are fun to try and fix.

vSphere 5 introduced a lot of new features focused on storage.  One of these is Profile Driven Storage.  This allows users to create tiers for datastores and ensure that those profiles can be attached to VMs at a later date.  This would be very useful for someone that has ultra-fast SSD arrays like those from PureStorage alongside SAS or SATA arrays.  You can define the gold tier as the SSD array for VMs that need fast storage access, silver tier for slightly slower SAS drives and bronze tier for the large-but-slow SATA datastore.  I like this idea of allowing users to define their storage capabilities into easy to assign tiers.  However, we hit a bug when we tried to implement it in the lab.

After we created the tiers in VIClient, we went to assign them to the datastores from the Home -> Datastores and Datastore Clusters section.  When we right clicked on the datastore and chose “Assign User-Defined Storage Capability” we got hit with this error:

Unable To Access User-Defined Storage Service

Huh?  You let me configure the silly thing?  It’s got to be there somewhere!  Let me assign it to something.

Odds are good that if you are seeing this error, you’ve also installed the vSphere Web Client.  Another great option for users that don’t want to install the VMware Infrastructure Client, the Web Client allows you to access VMs from Firefox or Internet Explorer and manage them just like you would from the VIClient.  This would be useful for those out there that are running OS X and currently don’t have a way to manage VMs unless they launch the VIClient from a virtual machine or other emulated environment.  The Web Client software needs to be installed on a Windows (or Linux) machine in order to respond to requests from web browsers.  For many users that run OS X, the logical choice would be to install the Web Client service on the Windows-based vCenter Server and then use Firefox to remotely access the web client afterwards.  That’s what we did in the lab.

The problem lies in that the Web Client service conflicts with the Profile Driven Storage service.  I’m not sure if they use the same port numbers or if they just collide in memory space or something.  As long as the Web Client service is running, the Profile Driven Storage options cannot be configured on a Data Store.  The fix is somewhat simple:

1.  Open the Service console on your vCenter server.

2.  Find the VMware Web Client service.

3.  Stop or disable it.

4.  Restart VIClient.

Simple, huh?  You can now assign the User-Defined Storage profiles to all the datastores you’d like.  When you finish, close out VIClient and restart the Web Client Service so your Mac folks can administer VMs.  Just remember that every time you want to use Profile Driven Storage, you’re going to have to bounce the Web Client service.

One can only hope that this particular bug gets fixed in an upcoming point release of vSphere 5.  Not a show stopper, but I can see how it could cause issues for those that don’t know from the less-than-helpful error message where to look for help.  I’m just glad I found it in a learning lab and not in production.

BYO(a)D

I’ve talked about the whole Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement before and how it reminded me a lot of social circles in high school.  Now, a few months later, it appears that this movement has gained a lot of steam and is now in the phase of “If you aren’t dealing with it, you need to be” phase for enterprise and corporate IT departments.  I also know that it must be gaining more acceptance when my mom started asking me about that whole “Bring Your Own Computer to Work Day” stuff.  To give you an idea of where my mom falls on the tech adoption curve:

Yeah, it’s going to be popular if my mom has heard of it.  It also hit home last week when the new guy came into the office for his first day of work toting a MacBook and wondering what information he needed to setup in Mail to connect to Exchange.  Being a rather small company, the presence of a MacBook sent hushed whispers through the office along with anguished cries of fear at such a shiny thing.  We shackled him with a ThinkPad and took care of the immediate issue, but it did get my brain pondering something about BYOD and what represents it.

When I talk to people about BYOD and how I must now start supporting new devices and rewriting applications to support various platforms, the response I get is overwhelming in its unity: Will this work on my Mac/iPad/iPhone?  I hardly ever get asked about Ubuntu or Fedora or Froyo or Blackberry.  No one ever worries about using Ice Cream Sandwich to access the corporate Citrix farm, and not just because it isn’t out yet.  I find that far and away the largest number of people driving the idea of platform-agnostic service and application access tend to be fans of the Cupertino Fruit Company.  In fact, I am almost to the point where I’m going to start referring to it as BYOAD (Bring Your Own Apple Device).  Why is the representation so skewed?

At first I thought it might be a technical thing.  Linux users, after all, tend to be a little more technical than Mac users.  Linux folks aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty with file permissions or kernel recompiles.  They also seem to understand that while it would be nice to have certain things, other ideas are so difficult or impossible that it’s not worth trying.  Such as Exchange access in Evolution Mail.  Access to an Exchange server would make a Linux mail client an instant killer app.  The need to incorporate non-free code, however, is very much at odds with the “free as in freedom” mantra of many Linux stalwarts.  So we accept that we can’t access Exchange from anything other than a virtualized or emulated Outlook client and we move on.  Fix what you can, accept and work around what you can’t.  In a way, I tend to believe that kind of tinkering mentality filters down to many of the Android users out there.  Cyanogenmod is a perfect example of this, as is the ability with which users can root their devices to install things like VPN clients.  Android and Linux users like to see all the gory details of their systems.

I was lucky enough to attend a panel at the Oklahoma City Innotech conference that dealt with the new realities behind BYOD.  The panel fielded a lot of questions about software to ease transitions and security matters.  I did ask a question about Apple vs. Android/BlackBerry/Linux BYOD adoption and the panel said more or less that OS X/iOS access comprised up to 85% of their requests in many cases.  However, Eric Hileman was on the panel and said something that gave me pause in my thinking.  He told me that in his view, it wasn’t so much the device that was driving the BYOD movement as it was the culture behind each device.  As soon as he said it, I realized that I had been going down that road already and just hadn’t made it to the turn yet.

I had unconsciously put the Linux/Android users into a culture of tinkerers.  Curious engineers and kernel hackers that want to know how something works.  Nothing is magical for them.  They know every module loaded in their system and can modprobe for drivers like second nature.  Apple fans, on the other hand, are more artistic from what I’ve seen.  They don’t necessarily like to get under the hood of their aluminium marvels any more than they have to (if they even can).  To them, magic is important.  Applications should install with effort and just work.  Systems should never crash and kernels are pieces of popcorn, not parts of the operating system.  Their mantra is “It just works”.

Note that I didn’t say anything about intelligence levels.  Many of the smartest people I know use Macs daily.  I’ve also known some pretty inept Linux users that ran the OS simply because it couldn’t get as screwed up as Windows.  Intelligence is a non issue.  It comes down to cultures.  Mac people want the same access they’d have if they were running a PC.  After all, the hardware is all the same now with Intel chips instead of PowerPC.  Why should I get access to all my apps?  Apple is free to create interfaces into non-free software like Microsoft Office since they don’t have the “free as in freedom” battle cry to stand next to as much as the Debian fans out there.  For the Mac users, it doesn’t matter how something gets done.  It just needs to happen.  Software that doesn’t work isn’t looked at as a curiosity to be dissected and fixed.  Instead, it is discarded and other options are explored.


Tom’s Take

Thanks to Steve’s Cupertino Fruit Company, we have a revolution on our hands that is enabling people to concentrate more on creating content and less on having all the right tools on the right OS to get started.  Many of my peers have settled on using MacBooks so they can have a machine that never breaks and “just works”.  It’s kind of funny to think even just 3 or 4 years ago how impossible the idea of having OS-agnostic applications was.  Now I can go out and buy pretty much whatever I want and be assured that 85% of my applications will run on it.  As long as I’ve dabbled with Linux I’ve never felt that was a possibility.  To me, it seems that the artists and designers with an eye to form needed to cry out over the engineers and tinkerers that hold function in higher esteem.  We may yet one day get to the point where OS is an afterthought, but it’s going to take a lot more people bringing their own fruit to work.

Meeting Attention Span Request

To Whom It May Concern:

Due to an overwhelmingly full schedule of meetings, I have decided that my participation in them is unnecessary.  Therefore, I would ask that you fill out the following form prior to the scheduled meeting so that I may know when it is appropriate to tune out whatever is being talked about and begin doing real work on my laptop/iPad/iPhone/Etch-a-Sketch.  Please indicate the meeting subject from the list below:

  1. This is a weekly scheduled meeting to discuss why things haven’t improved since the last weekly meeting.  About 3/4ths of the way through, we will begin to plan for next week’s meeting where we discuss why things haven’t improved since this meeting.
  2. Your attendance in this meeting is to provide an aura of professionalism and reassurance while I spout off randomness to a customer.  You will be required to listen to my ramblings without comment or dissention until the customer asks you if this is correct.  Your required response is to nod and answer in the affirmative while trying to avoid saying anything that might make me look foolish.
  3. This meeting is a complaint-based diatribe focused on one or more persons/departments/divisions.  Odds are very good that you are not among the subjects being complained about.  However, an audience is required so that the affected subjects may be shamed into proper behavior/performance.
  4. This conference call will begin 5 minutes late and continue with late attendees beeping in and forgetting to mute their speaker phones.  After restarting several times due to interruption, the call will progress to the third slide in the deck before a number of attendees begin asking where to obtain the slide deck so that they may follow along in another application besides watching the slides being shared.  After directing the attendees to a download site, the call will then devolve into endless pointless questions on pedantic subjects until the majority of the attendees disconnect in frustration.  We will then call a meeting the next day to discuss the effectiveness of the conference call.
  5. This customer call is a valiant attempt for you to talk them out of doing something terrible to their computer/network/data center.  The customer will explain what they are attempting to do in very generic terms.  After the look of incredulity, you will be required to explain the deep technical details of why this procedure or setting will not work and may in fact cause more harm than good.  After the customer reveals they have made the change already before this call, you may be excused to wander down the hall and mutter quietly to yourself.

Thank you for your assistance in expediting the discovery time of the useless point of this particular meeting.


If you would like to download a PDF of this document for your own use, you may do so from this link.

One Syllable Tech Support

Shannon Hamilton: You wanna say something?

Brodie Bruce: Yeah, about a million things, but I can’t express myself monosyllabically enough for you to understand them all.

 – Mallrats

Full blame for this one gets laid at the feet of Erik Peterson for this little gem:

In an effort to avoid clogging the Twitters with endless hastags of #OneSyllableTechSupport, I instead decided to unleash a few of them on my blog.  After all, where’s the fun of not sharing some of my favorite short retorts to users?


I don’t know.

I think you broke it.

You should call TAC.

Did you bounce it?

I have no clue.

What did you touch?

Why did you call me?

What changed?

Can I talk to your boss?

I will go home.

Do I look mad?

Who else can you call?

That’s not my job.

My phone is off.

He said it would work.

I need to hang up now.

Don’t call me again.

I need a beer now.


Feel free to contribute in the comments below.  Remember, two syllables is too many for some people.

Declaration of Independence

Independence Hall, Philadelphia PA

Blogging is a very fun way to get your ideas out in the open and generate discussion about them.  It’s a great way to show people how your mind works and how you can apply critical thinking skills to problems.  It’s also a wonderful way to sneak movie references into long form prose.  But what happens when the words coming out of your mouth aren’t necessarily yours?

This blog is the sole creation of myself.  I take ideas from all over the place and write about them.  Some people stoke the fires of my creative mind.  Others say things that get me going off on a tangent.  Ultimately though, the words that spill out on this page are mine.  They represent my thoughts and feelings.  Though inspired by many sources, in the end the posts and comments I make belong to me.  I don’t consult anyone before posting.  Only rarely do I inform anyone about a pending post, and even then it is simply to ensure I’m not revealing privileged information or breaking the law.  Sometimes I’ve been contacted about material I’ve written and questioned about my feelings on the matter.  While I do reserve the right to change my mind in relation to a subject, I do take umbrage at being told to change my mind against my wishes.

It’s no secret that some people out there are simply regurgitating information being fed to them.  Public relations people come up with creative ways to write about things that look very humble and interesting at first, only to find later on that you’ve been led into a sales pitch by the nose.  I don’t like this method of tricking me into forming an opinion.  At the same time, I also realize how easy it can be to fall into the same trap when I am the content creator in question.  I’ve always tried my hardest to stay independent when it comes to the opinions and information disseminated on this blog.  I’ve done this because I owe it to my readers to ensure my impartiality and disconnection from things.  I want people to know who *I* am, not who someone or something thinks I should be.  Due to my involvement with Tech Field Day and my related posts, some in the community have accused me of being a vendor shill.  I regurgitate information I’ve been told to post without regard for accuracy.  In return, I receive some unknown benefit or use my influence to gain an army of acolytes to stroke my ever-growing ego.

I hope you all know by now nothing could be further from the truth.

When I talk to vendors or companies about my blog, I make it very clear from the start that I am independent.  What does that mean?  It means I write with three tenants in mind:

I Write What I Want – You can show me presentation after presentation and speak to me for hours on end about your product or cool new widget.  I may whittle this down to a 3 paragraph post.  That’s my prerogative as a blogger.  I tend to cut the fat away from things when I post them as a courtesy to my readers.  If I think something you have is cool, I may focus on it.  I also reserve the right to talk about your presentation and delivery methods.  The point is that I choose the topic.  I’ve been sent “suggested topic” emails in the past from companies.  I trashed them as soon as I read the subject line.  These are my words, and I’ll be the one to choose them, thank you very much.

I Write When I Want – As a rule, I respect product embargoes.  If you have a big PR campaign that is firing up next month and you give me a product briefing, I’ll respect the street date for your information.  However, don’t expect me to churn out a post timed to be out on the day of launch.  I choose when to post my information.  I do this to avoid traps like a company asking me to hold any negative opinions until months after launch to ensure the hype machine is operating at full efficiency.  Or worse yet, asking me to post the day before a competitor’s new product comes out in an attempt to steal their thunder.  I time my posts so that I don’t overload people with information.  If I need to put off talking about something for a day or two, that is my choice.  Having a pushy PR person breathing down my neck to contribute to the hype machine before launch day tends to get on my nerves.

I Write If I Want – Obligation is a funny thing.  Once you’ve been locked in by it, you have effectively lost your free will.  Tech Field Day works like this: I write if I want to.  Sure, the companies involved with Tech Field Day usually see me as a way to generate some press about them.  However, it is never expected that I am required to write about a presenting company.  I write about you because *I* want to, not because you want me to.  Requiring me to make a post about your widget is a great way to make me not do it.  Imagine if Walter Cronkite was told he must write about the president’s new social security plan if he ever wanted a one-on-one interview again. Crazy, right?  Journalists choose their topics ahead of time and do research.  The topics they don’t think will be important get shelved.  Much is the same with me.  Rather than flood your RSS feeds with useless garbage, I try to bring entertainment and information.  Inviting me to a product briefing in Rome and then telling me I have to write five posts about it to “pay” for my trip will get you a kind “no thank you”.  Persistence will be met with less kind words.

Keeping those things in mind every time I sit down to write helps me ensure that my opinion is independent and accurate.  If my opinion is bought and paid for, it serves no purpose for anyone.  If I become a mouthpiece, my mind is no longer of use to the community.

What about you?  What about the bloggers that are just starting out?  How can you remain independent?  Sometimes the choices aren’t as easy as black and white.  PR people get paid to influence opinion.  At best, they are a useful tool to help a company’s image.  At worst, they aren’t much better than con men.  The shady ones can trick you into doing what the want quite subtly.  They will give you suggested posts or offer to help you have a more effective message.  They’ll ask you for editorial control over your writing.  They may even write your message for you over the course of communication.

The key to remaining independent is to remember: When the words coming out of your mouth aren’t yours, you are no longer independent.  If you find yourself being coached by a vendor in what they want you to post, you’re now an unpaid employee of their PR department.  Don’t give in.  Make sure your terms are clear up front.  Ensure that the vendors and manufacturers know your feelings.  Don’t start down the slippery slope of letting someone else choose your words for you.  It’s okay to ask for advice so long as you keep in mind where the advice is coming from.

I do want to make it clear that there are some vendor-employed bloggers that I consider to be independent.  Christofer Hoff and Brad Hedlund immediately come to mind.  These guys might be employed by a vendor, but they aren’t shills.  They give their thoughts freely without reservation and make sure to define themselves outside their day jobs.  I try to do much the same.  While I do work for a Value Added Reseller (VAR), I consider my blogging activities to be a totally different aspect of my career.  I refuse to kowtow to a vendor or manufacturer for preferential treatment.  I’m nice to those that have earned my respect.  I’m frosty to those that have earned a cold shoulder.  I’m consistent because there is nothing coloring my opinion beyond my own thoughts (and the occasional glass of bourbon).

Tom’s Take

I hold these blogging truths to be self evident: All bloggers have the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of blogging happiness.  At the same time, they have the responsibility to be sure their voice is the one being heard, not someone else.  Bloggers are powerful tools in the new media because we are independent voices that express opinion without reservation.  Some won’t care what I have to say about the newest Acme Widget, but others most certainly will.  I won’t influence a product success or failure, but I can swing a few people one way or the other.  So I must be sure that my thoughts and words are carefully chosen to reflect what I feel.  I also need to be sure that no one else writes my words for me, either by overt action or shady inaction.  To let me readers be subjected to marketing fluff or untrue opinions that I didn’t write would be a great injustice in my mind.  To that I pledge my blogging honor.