Managing IT: Defining A Next Generation Network Monitoring (NGNM) Solution…

I often assess the network monitoring tool offerings and the solutions out there are many, varied, featured, and a mess. Recently, I’ve been writing emails to leaders and sales people regarding their tool. This post is an accumulation of those emails with the points to debunk the myths and sales-speak claiming “next generation network monitoring” (NGNM) tools when it’s a miss. When I talk to peers who manage IT, this is what network monitoring means to real IT people.

If you’re selling a network monitoring solution, please read.

Core Functions

Business Intelligence Driven

  • Meaningful, amazing, action compelling reporting. Most canned reports are lame and don’t add value.  Give IT Managers and System Engineers reports that are incredibly insightful.
  • Create fear… Show people how bad performance of the physical network, Active Directory, Exchange, and SQL environment is… Shock or affirm me.

AI-Driven Discovery, Identification, and Monitoring

  • Manually defining hosts and services is so 1980s… NGNM tools discover what is out there, where it is, and give visibility to what should be monitored.  Unleash the tool and let it do the work.
  • Leverage AI to determine what things are. Manufacturer recognition, SNMP and WMI. Profiling works. Apply the concept here.
  • Leverage the cloud by providing the database centrally. Don’t make me track down SNMP Mibs.
  • Go beyond hosts and MIBs. Monitor IP Addressing (IPAM), Storage platforms, and cloud services.

Business Views, System Views, And 360 Views

  • Include the physical datacenter. 2D/3D model of the datacenter, what’s in the cabinets, etc. Take what is discovered and place it in this vide.
  • System views. Dynamically create core infrastructure views: LAN and WLAN. But also Active Directory, DNS, DHCP, Replication, SQL, SharePoint, etc. Identify unknown servers and services, forcing Engineers to get involved and document what is out there.
  • Business views are good ways to see how systems interoperate, but affect the whole. WAN goes down, this is what it effects. Especially important when LAN meets Cloud services.

Intelligent Configuration Change Management

  • If your scanning anyway, alert on changes to the environment. The tool needs to be able to fire alerts when they see a change from point A to point B.
  • Connect to Change Management systems, like ServiceNow or ServiceDesk.

Workflow Automation

  • Alerts trigger actions.  Open a ticket.  Run a script.  Stop and restart a service.
  • Virtualization automation.  UCS automation.
  • Or offer to plug into MS SCCM or VMWARE Orchestrator.

User Experience (UX)

  • Clean, object based, tablet friendly user interface. Tabbed interfaces are great, if done smartly and intuitively.
  • Use tried and true web UI navigation, such as breadcrumbs. Should take no more than 3 clicks to get to pertinent data.
  • Dashboards and core technology modules should be modular, configurable, and reset-able.
  • Adding URL’s or jump offs by host. NGNM says, “This server is running Splunk and here is the jump off.”

Documentation Repository

  • Documenting systems is a major problem in the majority of IT shops. The NGNM should begin to leverage what it is gathering and offer to put together the documentation.
  • Provisioning documentation and configuration snapshots (Check outhttp://sydiproject.com/ to see a starting point).  NOC should be able to leap off the site to where the docs are.
  • Change Management “changes” should be reflected in documentation.
  • Give me something I can print. PDF preferable. Something I can give auditors.

Education & Community

  • How do people spin up on the NGNM? Wiki is good, but there are better ways to educate and sell value.  For example, YOUTUBE.  Show me how to win.
  • An active community full of ideas, helping each other, examining use cases, and growing the influence based on wins.  Include me into a community of people wanting to win.

\\ JMM

Managing IT: How To Approach The Weekly Tactical via DBM

This post may help put together and aid in the approach to your weekly Tactical meeting.  Keep in mind, the point of DBM (Death By Meeting) is to not have tactical or strategic discussions randomly during the week, but to push those to designated days.  The rest of the week is actually getting work done!

Tactical = of, relating to, or constituting actions carefully planned to gain a specific end.  Or in layman terms, it’s focusing and planning specifically on what’s happening or needs to happen that week.

How To Set The Environment For An Effective Meeting?

  • 1 Hour.  Make sure there is time.
  • Get everyone away from their desk or phone.   Make sure people are focused on you (the manager).  Do not allow interruptions.
  • Get people involved.  Ask questions.  Encourage academic conflict.  Enforce brevity, but effective communication.
  • Consistency.  If the meeting is scheduled for every Monday, then dammit it’s every Monday.  IT leaders need to be dependable, reliable, and consistent.
  • Disciplined.  This meeting isn’t Romper Room.  Get in, do the meeting, keeping it light, and get out.  Respect others’ time.  Keep the horseplay elsewhere.

What Is The Meeting Agenda?

Only these three parts:

  • The Lightening Round – Quick round-table on each one of your staff members.  Report two or three priorities for the week.  Give 1 minute per team member.  Total Time:  No more than 10 minutes.
  • Progress Review – Reporting of critical information or metrics.  Are there benchmarks or KPI needing to be reviewed?  Total Time:  No more than 10 minutes.
  • Real-Time Agenda – Spontaneous agenda creation.  What issues need to be addressed to ensure short-term objectives are not in jeopardy?

How To Handle The Lightening Round

  • Write them down and track during the week.  Did the staff member actually do what they said?  This is management 101 here – ensuring expectations are being met.
  • If you give status updates to your leadership weekly, this round can be immensely helpful towards that end by providing that list and any explanation derived via the Real-Time Agenda.
  • If a staff member states a priority that conflicts with yours, DO NOT correct during this round.  Make a note and add to the Real-Time agenda.  That way discussion can be had.
  • Remember… This is a quick priorities state!  Don’t let staff members rattle on for 2-3 minutes about low priorities.  Top 2-3 priorities and move along.  (Hardcore managers might do 3-4 priorities).

How To Treat Progress Review

  • Typically, performance metrics or KPI is discussed here.  If your teams do not have any performance metrics or KPI, then you may not be managing your team to their potential.  You can’t manage what you can’t measure!  Skip this part if you don’t have something real to talk to the group about.  Don’t waste time unless you have benchmarks or metrics your team has to aspire to hit.
  • If you do, this part is about sharing those numbers.  This could be the time to congratulate the team on meeting KPI, but it’s not the time to berate the team or dive into the whys behind missing KPI.  Save that for Real-Time Agenda if you can correct the team’s course tactically.  Otherwise, save for Strategic meeting where brainstorming or remediation/training can be had to correct the course.
  • Focus on the criticals.  Like % Uptime.  Or % Backup Failures.  Do not focus on non-criticals.  Just move on.

How To Approach The Real-Time Agenda

  • This is the meat of the Tactical meeting.  However, what’s important to remember is the meeting dynamic should focus on your team members’ issues first BEFORE the managers.  In other words, if you have 4 issues to speak about during the meeting and your team has 5 issues, you start with your team’s issues first.  This way your conditioning your team to think for themselves and realize they are responsible for the end result.  Not constantly looking for management direction.
  • Easiest way to approach is to ask team members for topics to discuss.  If no one responds, you continue on with your agenda.
  • Your agenda should not be 2 miles long.  Keep it focused on what’s happening that week.  Critical tasks needing focus and addressing.  Ensure your people have the resources they need.  Underscore accountability.  Reassure, if necessary.  Don’t threaten or demean in front of the team.  Remember RICERespect, Integrity, Communication, and Excellence.  Set the example.
  • Don’t allow people to “remember” items during your agenda.  Ask them to hold on that topic and place towards the end of yours.  Try to give them time, but if time runs out, then address individually with the team member after the meeting.  Make sure you emphasize with your teams that they need to come to the meeting prepared, mentally and organized.
  • Do NOT allow team members to insert strategic items in on the Tactical.  Tell them that topic will be deferred to the next Strategic meeting.  It takes real discipline to tell people to wait, but it must happen for DBM to be effective.
  • Do NOT short change your team.  Make sure YOU are ready for the meeting.  For a Monday meeting, prepare on Friday.  Not 30 minutes before.  Not 1 hour before.  People will see hastily prepared agendas and question the value of the time, if you can’t even properly invest.

When The Strategic Issues Pile Up…

  • In any business and culture, something will occur that will force meetings focusing on Strategic subjects.  And, as tempting as using Tactical for quick decisions, it’s not the correct venue, folks.  Write down these strategic issues and start compiling a list.  When the list becomes substantial, it’s time for a strategic meeting.
  • Can you mix a Tactical meeting during a Strategic meeting if they fall on the same day?  Yes.  I typically do DBM meetings on a single day.  Just plan for 1 hour dedicated to Tactical issues.  Preferably at the top or the bottom of the meeting (ie, 1st or last hour).

Any questions?

I hope this helps you achieve more predictable results.  It’ll take practice to get into a groove.  Don’t be discouraged if your people initially don’t understand it, show negativity, or even verbally condemn it.  Change is always stressful.  As a leader, it’s your responsibility to provide reassuring direction during change.

Once your staff understands the structure and is disciplined and consistent, take a good look at your meeting schedule.  I bet it’s less, isn’t it?

\\ JMM

Observations: Key Words to Indicate Requirement Levels

One of my peers use this reference to “Stop the Insanity” with nebulous language when asking for technology. He cited, and I quote:

Please keep in mind that the key words “MUST”, “MUST NOT”, “REQUIRED”, “SHALL”, “SHALL NOT”, “SHOULD”, “SHOULD NOT”, “RECOMMENDED”, “MAY”, and “OPTIONAL” in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119.

\\ JMM

Learning IT: Got The Skills And Certs To Prove It?

Do you or your people have the necessary certification and competencies?  If not, here is list of resources I routinely push people to who need help getting their education in higher concepts kick started:

Free Sites

  • Microsoft Virtual Academy – Free IT Training.  Start here.  And learn everything you can get your hands on!
  • Microsoft Technet Events & Webcasts & Virtual Labs  – A plethora of concepts and technical deep drives. Go watch one during your lunch break.  Even better, Virtual Labs are Microsoft’s products in a virtual environment. Most have labs attached to actually learn the product.
  • Born To Learn – Blog on Microsoft Education Opportunities – Some free, some discounted, has a monthly spotlight/discount program.
  • VMWARE Hands On Labs – Learn VMWARE on their infrastructure.  Many have videos and narrative attached.

Not Free

User Groups

  • DFW Cisco User Group – http://cisco-users.org/ – Since 1996, the longest and most successful Cisco user group.  Cisco and many local IT organizations sponsor.  Everything from Cisco routing and switching, Cisco security, Cisco VoIP, certifications, IPv6, and even SolarWinds.
  • DFW IT Professionals – http://dfwitprofessionals.com/ – Another long running group that is more generalized and focused on the Microsoft stack, virtualization, and collaboration.
  • VMUG (Vmware User Group) – http://www.vmug.com/index.php?mo=cm&op=ld&fid=217&gid=78 – Another large and long time running group focused on the virtualization dogma we know as VMWARE.  Check to see if there is one in Denver.  I bet there is!

\\ JMM

Learning IT: College And System Engineering Career Path…

This is a response to a young IT prospect with sights set on an engineering or disaster recovery team career.  One specific question was what college classes should be taken and career path.

I wanted to spend some time on your questions and give a larger opinion on higher education as it pertained to my career.

Before I answer, let me preface that I am “a college dropout”.  I have been to three separate colleges in my lifetime and for personal reasons a hard decision had to be made.  I currently am enrolled (again) at University of the People to obtain a Bachelor’s in Business Administration.  Looking back, I could easily argue that I’ve been in college for most of my adult life.

That said, the question I often get asked is, “Does a college degree help you get into Information Technology?”  The answer is it depends on you and your capabilities.  It depends on your work ethic (working hard), your character (seeing it through), and your ability to understand what your see and read (comprehension).  Information Technology requires you to possess five principles:  You must be able to commit to reading, you must be able to communicate effectively, you must commit to constant learning of this trade, and you must be able to troubleshoot under pressure.  And the last IT success need is to find a good teacher or mentor, now and through your career, on how you execute on that.

So, does a college degree help you in any of these areas?  An argument can be made that colleges teach people how to think, so the answer is yes.  I would never want to talk you out of an college education.  In all cases, obtaining a degree and having a career in Information Technology will pay off as your experience in the industry grows.  My wife would argue that it’s far more beneficial to obtain your associates first, then roll into a bachelor program as it gives you baby steps in your journey.  Last, degrees become important mid-career onwards, when looking at senior leadership positions in traditional companies.

In my experience, however, I’ve worked with horrible IT people with both Bachelors and Masters degrees.  These folks don’t know their trade and lean on their degree, which makes life harder for colleagues and peers.  You’ll certainly run into them in your travels, if you haven’t already.  So the point needing made here is a college degree alone will not guarantee you success.  You must have these capabilities and principles first.

Now, to your questions:

  • Do you view Applied Science degrees and Certificates of Completion in a different light than say a more generalized degree such as BS in Computer Science or BS in Business Information Systems?

I place higher value on industry certification + experience than college degrees alone.  You must start at the beginning.  You must get entry level IT experience, learn the business of IT, and obtain knowledge with gazelle intensity. As time goes on and experience develops, make the career moves needed to move towards SE/DR/BCM.  Again, degrees will help you there, but there are so many avenues to learn technology that you will have to embrace, whether your degreed or not.

  • Is there a different education path that you may see as more valuable?

Everyone is different.  If the capability exists (time and financially) to become degreed now, certainly proceed and focus on it.  Juggling career and college is harder.  Taking a lesser responsibility job to focus on college is smarter.

If your already juggling, it may make sense to obtain certifications across disciplines to show value to employers.  Thinks like Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTia are popular.  Many colleges will take certifications as credit also.  Vice-versa, many college classes give you the training from the class so you could take the certification class.  Talk this possibility out with your college counselor when thinking of what classes to take.

Again, this is where mentoring with a leader is key in determining your goals.  Mapping out a 2, 5, 10 year plan, with financial goals behind it.  Think through this carefully before determining education paths.

  • While they’re not really discussed after earning the actual degree or certificate, what types of elective courses would you recommend I take that would benefit my career in order to get the most out of my time in college?

College is the opportunity to learn many things.  My father suggested to me to take classes that span multiple career fields in case something didn’t work out.  Learning accounting, marketing, and communications has actually enhanced my IT career.  So, make your considerations things you would like to learn and go for it.  When your invested in your interests, the higher the chance for success.  That makes specific classes to take harder to answer for you.

  • After attaining the degrees over the next couple of years, I’ll probably only have 4-5 years of total experience in IT; all of which is coming from my current technical support position. Would you say that’s enough to pursue a position in Systems Engineering, or is there additional experience or education that you would recommend?

Depending on your depth of knowledge and work ethic, it could net you an entry level SE position that you could grow into.  If you set your sights on small/medium sized companies, your prospects may improve as salary and experience go hand in hand.  In other words, larger companies are a great place to learn and get experience, SMB companies are a great way to grow to the next step as they will take more risks than larger companies.  Larger companies do take risks, but these companies often make the investments in their people who show strengths in the values, capabilities, and principles I explained above.

This email was probably not what you’re looking for and I regret if you walk away from this with more uncertainty.  This email is probably the most honest career advice you will get.  Everyone’s journey is different, the decisions you make, the challenges you will face, and opportunities presented will all determine the choices and course corrections you will need to make.

Good luck and keep in touch.

\\ JMM

Observations: Change Management is evolving. What we are going through is becoming the norm…

This is a recent conversation I had with one of my team members regarding frustration with today’s state of change management:

I had lunch with one of my former employees yesterday who is working in SMB healthcare.  His biggest complaint is drowning in audit requests and change management due to their compliance and legal changes.  My take away from our lunch was he is going through the same evolutionary and painful change processes we are.

Although it’s sometimes hard to reconcile, Change Management teams work really hard under the auspices of what this team is forced to manage and enforce.  It’s a ton of stress if you think about the entirety of IT.  Change Management is evolving.  What we are going through is becoming the norm when audited by SOX and PCI rules.  Other companies are struggling as we are.

As IT Engineers, we need to be patient.  My coaching to you is to not criticize, complain, or rail against these processes.  Change is uncomfortable.  How we figure out how we can embrace this and embed them into our culture is how we will be gauged on success.  To win, we need to open to changing culture, the concepts of continual education, and be a positive part of the solution.

Food for thought.

\\ JMM

IT Training: EMC vLabs

EMC vLab is a cloud based, virtual lab environment providing 24/7/365 access to hands-on labs for showcasing EMC products and solutions.

Please feel free to take a look around our site and the vLab offerings and if you want to see a lab in action, contact me or click on “Live Chat” for a hassle-free, no obligation test drive. Also keep an eye on our calendar for a Hands-on-Lab event that may be coming soon to your city!

Two options for finding more about vLab and what we have to offer:

vLab has an EMC Community Network (ECN) site open to customers, emc.im/EMCvLab or https://community.emc.com/community/connect/presales/vlab-interact

vLab has a Twitter account @EMCvLabHere is a list of vLabs that are currently available to access:

Here is a list of vLabs that are currently available to access:

Achieving Availability and Data Mobility Nirvana:VPLEX Metro

AppSync RP and ItemPoint with Exchange

AppSync with SQL Exchange and VMware

Avamar 7.0 VM Recovery & Instant Access

Avamar 7.1 Exchange 2013 DAG Backup and Recovery

CTA-Archiving-and-Recalling

CTA-Implementation

DataDomain RMAN Direct with DDBoost

Data Protection for XtremIO 4.0 with RecoverPoint 4.1.2

Deploying Hadoop with EMC Isilon and Vmware

Deploying Hadoop on Isilon

Deploying ScaleIO in a VMware ESX Environment

Disaster Recovery using RecoverPoint

DPA 6.2 Data Protection Advisor

D2 4.2

EMC Avamar 7.0 Oracle RMAN Backup and Recovery

EMC Avamar 7.1 VM Recovery & Instant Access

EMC Captiva 7.1

EMC Data Domain Boost for Enterprise Applications: MS SQL

EMC Data Domain Boost for SAP HANA

EMC Documentum Capital Projects

EMC InfoArchive 3.2 – Application Decommissioning

EMC Integration with SAP LVM

EMC Kazeon 4.7

EMC NetWorker and RecoverPoint-The Data Protection Continuum

EMC Networker 8.2 with Exchange 2013 DAG

EMC Service Assurance Suite 9.3

EMC Storage Analytics for VNX Overview

EMC Storage Solution with OpenStack

EMC ViPR SRM 3.6 – Visualize, Analyze and Optimize Your Storage

EMC VNX2 File Migration

Federation Enterprise Hybrid Cloud v2.5.1

Introduction to CloudArray 5.1

Introduction to ProtectPoint with Oracle Recovery Manager (RMAN) on the VMAX3

Introduction to VMAX3 Family

Introduction to VPLEX and VPLEX Integrated Array Services

Introduction to VPLEX Virtual Edition 2.1

Isilon Cluster Setup, Config & Mgmt

Isilon Enterprise Ready with OneFS 7.1 Enhancements

Isilon InsightIQ 3.1

Isilon OneFS 7.1 Management, SmartConnect and SmartDedupe

Life Sciences Solution Suite

MetroPoint Overview Using RecoverPoint 4.1 Simulator

 

NetWorker 8.1 Oracle RMAN Backup and Recovery

NetWorker 8.1 Protection for VMware

NetWorker 8.2 for SharePoint 2013 and SQL Server 2012 AoAG

NetWorker Snapshot Management: NAS Data Protection Lifecycle

Networker with Data Domain

Next-Generation Storage Monitoring for VNX Family

Oracle AWR Reports for Mitrend Analysis

Performance Analyzer for the VMAX3 Family

RecoverPoint for VMs

RecoverPoint vRPA Deployment

Recoverpoint_Simulator_v4_0

Replication Manager 5.4.0 Simulator

RM and RP with Oracle on VNX

RSA Archer eGRC 5.5 SP1 P1 – Demo v10.0

RSA Archer, ECAT, SecOps, SA – Demo v10.1

RSA Archer 5.5 SP2, VRM 1.1 SP1 – Demo v10.0

RSA Authentication Manager 8.1 SP1 Demo v1.03

RSA Data Loss Prevention 9.6

RSA ECAT 4.0 – Demo 10.0

RSA ECAT 4.0, Security Analytics 10.4 – Demo v10.1

RSA IMG aka Aveksa Demo v1.0

RSA Web Threat Detection 5.0.1

SourceOne Archiving and eDiscovery 7.1.2

Syncplicity for End-Users and Administrators

The Isilon Data Lake with Spark and HBase

Unisphere Analyzer For VNX2

ViPR Controller 2.2 – Automating Delivery of Storage Services

ViPR Controller 2.2 – Cinder Integration

ViPR Software-Defined Storage Administration-Configuration

ViPR 1.1 Storage-as-a-service Development and Integration

ViPR 2.0 Storage-as-a-Service Development and Integration

VMware NSX Introduction

VMware vSphere Integration with the VNXe3200

VMware vSphere Integration with VNX2

VNXe3200 Management and Snapshots

VNXe3200 Unisphere Management

VNX2 Storage Management and Administration

VNX2 Storage Monitoring For Your Business Needs

VSPEX BLUE – Build and Manage Your HCI Appliance

VSPEX Private Cloud with Hyper-V

VSPEX-SharePoint 2010

xCP 2.1 and xPression 4.5 SP1

xPression 4.5 SP1

XtremCache Performance Benefits

XtremIO v3.0 XMS GUI and CLI Simulator