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On the why of social media

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As I write this blog post, I am a little inebriated.  There is some madness to the method and some method to the madness.  The alcohol occurred as a byproduct of a fairly irrelevant social obligation to a friend, but a long (and probably irritating) rambling conversation with my wife triggered something of a revelation about internet usage for me.

I have a theory about the popularity of social media amongst adults: we use it because we want to talk about the things we think about and care about.  But we want to do so without irritating or offending the people in our real world lives that we care about.

One great example from my own life: I sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my high school and college years.  Days of youth and experimentation, drunkenness and wild drama llamas.

I really want to talk to about many of these events and people with others, because I am still to this day fascinated by many of them.  They are sociological puzzles, and my mind likes puzzles.  Why did this person behave like this?  How did they (or didn’t they) change with time?  How did this event 15 years ago contribute to who this person is today?

My wife doesn’t care.  And, to be fair, why should she?  She’s as fascinated by intellectual puzzles as the next nerd…but these people mean nothing to her.  They are a dizzying array of names and places and events all wrapped up in drunken memory, nostalgia and might-have-beens.

So, I want to discuss my thoughts, and ponder the imponderables, and think on how these people were reflections of the society of the time, their parents, their schooling and so forth.  It fascinates me.  But I don’t want to bore my wife to tears.

So I write a blog.  I talk on a forum.  I fire off only vaguely comprehensible missiles on social media.  I suspect – though I have little proof other than some intellectual puzzle solving – that this is ultimately why so many of us “waste time” on these mediums, too.

We want to be wanted.  We want to talk to others who think like us, and nerd like us and care about what we care about.  We want our past to mean something and our future to hold hope and promise.  And as much as we love, respect and admire our friends, family and loved ones…few of us ever find that perfect combination of individuals in our real lives that share an interest in all of the bizarre aspects of our personality.

Social media is the 21st century equivalent of howling our loneliness at the moon and seeking relevance in the tedium of our existence.  It is a lifetime of missed opportunity, sexual frustration, confusion, misunderstanding, screw-ups, mistakes, successes and triumphs.  It is our emotions of the moment mixed with curiosity and the desire for validation.  It is a social lubricant even if the only we’re trying to disinhibit is our own selves; to allow ourselves to think the thoughts that bother and fascinate us.

We like to think that as adults we are so much more put together than we were when we were kids.  But somewhere deep inside us there is a scared, confused teenager trying to figure out what to do with everything from impulses and instincts to thoughts about hypocrisy and questioning authority.

We turn to the internet as a place that seemingly has no consequence…even if we know better.  The people we talk to are avatars.  Names, but not faces.  They come and they go; if we offend one group, there are a billion more to choose from.

Being an adult is about having learned what not to say and to whom we must not say things.  Social media is the pressure valve; the outlet for all that we suppress.  That’s why we love it.  That’s why we hate it.  That’s why we’re ashamed of it.  And that’s why we can’t give it up.


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  • Published: Feb 7th, 2015
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  • Comments: Comments Off on On being a horrible, no good, very bad person.

On being a horrible, no good, very bad person.

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So I wrote a tweet that caused a minor bit of a stir.  I used the word “whore”.  It is offensive.  I knew it was offensive.  The purpose of the tweet was to offend.  But where Twitter’s 140 characters causes the loss of critical nuance is who I meant to offend, and why.

The tweet in question is here. It reads “Do you work for $vendor? Do you tweet? You’re a tech whore. Cope. Stop getting all shocked when others call you biased, or when they are.”  (I corrected a typo here in this blog.  The original tweet contains a typo.  “Getting” was spelled “gettong”.)

Now, I understand that some individuals will choose to take great offense to this tweet for a number of reasons.  Oh, and yes, I knew that I as wrote it.  You can vilify me doubleplus extra for that, if you’d like.  There are lots of things mean and bad and terribly unkind there, but the one everyone is going to get caught up in is the use of the word “whore”.

That’s a bad word

Some people equate “whore” with prostitution.  It can easily be argued that such a significant portion of our population makes this connection that everyone else – including myself – should fall in line with this particular interpretation of the word.

You know what?  That’s fair enough.  I’m not even going to really debate that.  I am certain there are piles of academic papers, horrible stories of personal trauma and reams of complicated logical flowcharts that explain why I should use the language as others dictate.  I am a horrible, very bad, awful person in their eyes for using the bad word “whore”, and I accept that.  Let’s move on.

Now, I don’t equate “whore” with prostitution.  Why?  Because I don’t accept that the negative connotations of the word should apply to prostitutes, in large part because I don’t actually have any problem with prostitutes.  (Yet another thing some segment of the population can hate me for.)

If men, women, transgendered individuals and whatever other wild and wonderful combinations our species have to offer wish to engage in companionship (sexual or not) for money, I support them in their choice.  I’m not in a position to judge them or their choices, and I don’t have the bizarre religious baggage that so many folks so about the subject.  Whatever consenting adults choose to do is their business.  Have fun, folks.

To me, a “whore” is something else entirely.  A whore is someone who compromises their ethics for money.  For a lot of people, prostitution would be a pretty major compromise of their personal ethics, and so I find that the two concepts (and thus the usage of the term) have become very wrapped up and intertwined with time.

This is made doubly true by the fact that a huge percentage of our population views prostitution as offensive, even degenerate.  There are lots of people who are unable or unwilling to understand that many people choose of their own free will to engage in prostitution and that doing so isn’t a compromise of their personal ethics, because their personal ethics are simply different from the person busy casting aspersions.

If you pay me to perform an act that I feel compromises my ethics, and I do it, I’m a whore.  Whether or not the act in question is sexual in nature isn’t particularly relevant to how I use the term, and my usage of the term is not arbitrary.  It has evolved with this level of nuance as a reflection of how society at large treats the subjects under discussion, and yes, because of the emotions the term evokes.

Social media whores

The tweet read ” Do you work for $vendor? Do you tweet? You’re a tech whore. Cope. Stop getting all shocked when others call you biased, or when they are”.  I want to expand on this.

Twitter’s 140 characters don’t really allow much depth.  The first thing to get out of the way is that this isn’t aimed at “everyone who tweets”, but specifically at “those people who follow me on Twitter.”  Almost exclusively, people who follow me on twitter are involved in the technology industry, and they are all pretty active on social media.

This tweet was inspired by yet another public social media pissing contest between representatives of powerful vendors in the technology space.  Two very senior individuals in these companies (who really ought to know better) were slinging mud and otherwise engaging in tearing down the competition.

These individuals are not bad people.  They are not overly hostile people and how they will behave when not talking about their employer (or competitors to their employer) is completely and totally different to how they behave when shots are fired in marketing anger.

These individuals generally hold everyone else to a high standard of Wheaton’s Law, and usually prefer to see people on Twitter talking about what makes their products great, not trashing the competition.  Yet when it comes to the products they work on, and the company that pays them, they compromise their ethics.

This is very, very common in IT.  So much so that those technologists who are moderate to heavy Twitter users and don’t compromise their ethics surrounding discussions about their employer/product/competition are notable for their rarity.  (Or because they don’t seem to have any standards in this regard at all; either for themselves or that they hold others to.)

Is my making a blanket statement that encompasses all my followers into this “you compromise your ethics for money” statement an overreaching overgeneralisation?  Probably; I have a bad habit of that.  There’s yet another reason I’m a horrible human being.


The other element of us technoweenies all being whores on social media is bias.  We’re all biased.  Even if only because we are exposed disproportionately to information.

If you have two products from two vendors, and you spend 8 hours a day learning why Product A from Vendor Y is awesome, but only a few hours a week on the benefits of Product B from vendor Z, you are going to end up biased.  Even if you try very, very hard not to be.

The truth is, human memory – and human cognition in general – is really quite fallible.  We are prone to all sorts of weird logical errors.  Our memory does weird things that makes eyewitness testimony horribly unreliable.   We suffer from decision fatigue and ego depletion that make us prone to bad decisions when under stress or when tired, and it makes the whole faulty memory thing worse.

We make emotional judgements, even when we like to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings.  We associate products, brands and – most especially – our employers into our sense of self.  Our sense of self-worth is associated with how well the brands to which we have become loyal perform.

In other words: not compromising ourselves on behalf of those who pay us (or those who make our lives easier in other ways) is really, really hard.  We do it subconsciously, and most of us never stop to think about any of this, even for a second…let alone actively work to correct our perceptions, actions and reactions to compensate for the above.

Are we really all whores?

You might think it unfair of me to use the term “whore” in the tweet in question, even if we accept my own personal definition.  I stated that my definition of “whore” was “someone who compromises their ethics for money”.  Is the usage of the term justified if what’s being discussed is a subconscious compromise of ethics rather than a conscious one?

That is the debate I hoped to elicit.

The truth is, I don’t really have an answer to that.  Even within my own definition of the term, and within the framework of my personal ethics, I’m working that one out.

On the one hand, the information about the fallibility of our own minds is out there.  It’s not exactly news; much of this research is decades old.  I certainly expect educated professionals to have heard of it…and perhaps expecting that is unfair.

Or perhaps not.  Most of those who are following me on twitter are individuals who use social media to magnify their personal and professional footprints within the technology industry.  Knowing the sorts of things I discussed above about how our brains work would seem to me to be a pretty fundamental bit of information for accomplishing the task at hand.  The task at hand, to be perfectly clear, is “influencing others.”

Do bear in mind that a huge chunk of my followers describe themselves as “influencers”, hold professional titles like “evangelist” and join professional groups whose stated aim is the maximization of influence and/or participating in evangelism.  These are people who seek to wield social media as a weapon, and there is no small part of me that feels they need to be properly trained before being let loose on the field in full colours.

Some of these people are perfectly conscious of the fact that they make compromises for their paycheque.  And some of them admit it openly, even with good humour.  Others are deeply offended by the concept.

So are they whores?  That is up to everyone who reads this to decide.  That anyone is taking the time to contemplate the question at all was the whole point of the tweet itself.  (Yes, you can offend people into thinking.  It is a thing.)

And for those of you who want to vilify me for using an emotionally and politically charged term to accomplish my ends, I accept your scorn.  I am a bad person, and I say mean things.

But to be fair, I warned everyone about that in my Twitter bio.

*For the record, I count myself amongst the social media “whores”.  While I own my own company – and thus the ability to be slave to it is rather minimal – I am absolutely slave to products and vendors that make my life easier.  Out of respect for the companies to which I have a sense of brand tribalism, I’m not going to list them here, because they don’t need to be SEOed with a blog post using the word “whore” umpteen times.  Suffice it to say that I am aware of my own bias, and I do put real effort into countering it, many times refusing to take on a client or discuss a given vendor because I know I cannot be objective.  I don’t always succeed, but I do at least try.

My raw, unedited notes about VMworld 2014

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Below are my raw, unedited notes for VMworld 2014 San Francisco.  These are published mostly as background for the article I wrote on vSphere 6.0 on The Register, which can be found here.

These notes then are mostly of historical interest and serve mostly to contrast what I noted at this event against what people are noting about VMware today.  The notes raw and unedited:

In truth, VMworld 2014 felt like an exercise in hyping the status quo, from all sides. Partners were terrified to talk about anything for fear that – and I quote – “they would get Nutanixed.” (I think I have at least two different CEOs saying that on film, if I dug through the GoPro.) If I wanted to get any information out of people about what was upcoming, I had to sign a half dozen NDAs in blood and agree to talk to them off-site because “they couldn’t risk VMware getting wind of their ideas.”

This probably accounts for the functional lack of any interesting announcements from partners at the event. What was announced was all minor evolutionary stuff. Everything beyond that occurred in closed quarters, and most folks would only talk to me if it was me alone. “We’ll talk to you, Trevor, but we have to ask these other folks to stay outside because we don’t know them or anything about them.” There was absolutely not that level of paranoia last year.

And, to be frank, VMware’s announcements were pretty limp too.

1) EVO was a huge disappointment. Maybe it will evolve with time, but I just felt sad as that unfolded.
2) vSphere failed to show up to the ball. I’d like to think it’s because VMware is actually listening to the community and rethinking its stance on “Web Client Only” for 6.0, but I’m too cynical to really believe that. Still, whatever the reason, VMware felt 6.0 wasn’t ready for prime time and they delayed it. Even knowing that it would get bad press. That’s gutsy and I have a lot of respect for it. (Even if the reasons aren’t likely to be the reasons I want to be the case.)
3) VVOLs are still a pipe dream. Sads.
4) Pointless rebranding exercises designed to make us even more confused, and the incremental evolution of some products (like VCAC, SRM, vCloud Suite, NSX, PowerCLI) to a new subversion number. So far so boring.
5) vRealize was announced which may or may not just be a layer of ease-of-use lipstick on existing technologies. The buzzword bingo was so thick I couldn’t tell and I still haven’t had a chance to sit down and cut through it.
6) Expansion of various public cloud offerings into the PaaS and SaaS arenas, all targeting USians (and mostly US.gov). Pass.
7) Some handwaving about Docker. I still haven’t seen the ability to vMotion something from a Docker container on one system to a Docker container on another, so I’ll yawn until someone can explain to me why I should care. Docker seems great if you want to rearchitect your programs…but if I was going to do that, why wouldn’t I just rearchitect for AWS?
8) New certifications. Yay?
9) Some endpoint stuff; Workspace Suite/Airwatch/Horizon that looked interesting. Vague promises that virtualising GPUs might suck less in the future. When it arrives, I’ll be pumped.
10) VMware bought cloudvolumes and which is nice, but then I started looking at pricing out the full endpoint solutions and went back to Citrix.
11) VMware announced Project Meteor, but I had stopped paying attention because it was in the future and I was pricing out Citrix.
12) “The Web Client will be faster, oh please, oh please stop hating it”. No mention of if all the other issues with the web client will be addressed. Everyone still hates it.
13) VMware vCloud connector now does layer 2 extensibility  I cheered.
14) VMware ROBO licensing announced, but I set up a meeting with Pistoncloud to discuss their offering after I realised the pricing was about 2x what I could sell it to my clients for, and even then would leave no margin for me.
15) vSphere 5.5 U2 comes with a C# client that talks to some of the new features!  I cheered, then almost died from the shock.

So, unless I missed something the only items that I took away from the event were:
A) Why was vSphere 6 delayed
B) If I ever get bored, assign time to figure out what the hell vRealize is supposed to be
C) Find out from someone when VMware will launch their version of Horizon that can compete with Citrix on GPUs. Will it be remotely price competitive?
D) vCloud connector has grown up into something awesome! Figure out how to use this with a Canadian VMware cloud provider that has zero legal US attack surface. Sell to clients.
E) New C# client that postpones need to move to Openstack for another year. Sacrifice goat to $deity in thanks.

There were a handful of partner discussions that were interesting, but I’m not allowed to talk about 95% of them, rendering those somewhat moot.

You know me as being the guy who never pulls punches, so let me be blunt: I am not remotely the only person who feels that VMworld 2014 was a bust. The most popular in-joke is “VMware threw a VMworld and forgot the VMworld”…though I prefer my more pitch #StorageWorld2014.

Storage, storage, storage, as far as the eye can see. What can any of you demonstrate that will differentiate your products for me?

If VMworld 2013 was the year I realised how important Hyper-V and Openstack support were to the ecosystem partners in the virtualisation industry, 2014 was the year I heard systems administrators and CIOs openly discussing adoption of alternative hypervisors. Where 2013 was the year where people looked at you funny if you said you were trailing Openstack, or using Hyper-V in production, 2014 was the year where those who only used one hypervisor vendor were practically ostracised to the edges of the gathering.

VMworld 2013 was about the vendors on the floor seeing demand for heterogenous environments, something that was provably uptaken in by VMworld 2014.

VMworld 2014 was about the vendors living in fear of telling VMware what they were up to, for fear their ideas would be stolen and cloned before they had a chance to build a market presence. It was also a year of some very open – and very bitter – griping by dozens of vendors about the politics – and the cost – of being a VMware partner. What will that mean for VMworld 2015?

Based on that, I have a lot of questions about VMworld 2015. I am talking to about 100 different vendors on their views and thoughts, but I am increasingly getting the feeling that VMworld is about to abruptly cease to be “the conference in the IT industry where the future is revealed and the backroom deals are made.” The real question is; what will be? Where will companies go to instead? Will the 2015 east-side startup ghetto be deserted? Will the 2015 west-side vFavellas choose instead to go to BUILD? Will “FossetCon” minicons expand dramatically?

These are questions I don’t have answers to, but am working on finding out as vendors de-stress and do their VMworld 2015 postmortems.

What is clear to me is that there is a brewing crisis of faith amongst the VMware ecosystem partners. Given that VMware’s greatest strength is its ecosystem – and when combined with the ever increasing reports of VMware’s internal politics being “a thermonuclear wasteland” – I am curious how this will play out and what it means for VMware as a whole.

VMware is clearly a powerful and capable technology company. They were able to birth EVO:RAIL in record time, and have managed to create many of the world’s most notable best-of-breed products over the years. They’re enormous, rich, have all the most important companies as their clients and they are still growing their customers and partners every year.

VMware isn’t going to fall. It isn’t going to collapse or evaporate or suffer some major financial cataclysm. That said, VMware may be on the cusp of stagnation. It has been bleeding its top talent for years, has alienated customers and partners alike (vTax, PEX, Web client, “getting Nutanixed”, difficulty/cost/timeframe for being a partner, time to get drivers certified, etc,) and shows no sign of dropping its prices deal with the reality of very capable competition from both Hyper-V and Openstack.

Something has to give. What will change, and who will profit from that change? Secrecy, fear and stagnation were the currents underneath VMworld 2014. Will they drive the flow of the industry through 2015? Only time will tell.

Reflections on VMworld

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It’s been over a year since I’ve posted a blog here.  The last time I posted, VMworld was just over and the feeling of community with the various people I’ve met was strong.  Now that almost a year has passed it’s time to look back on what VMworld actually meant to me.

What a year it’s been!  On the one hand, I haven’t written nearly as much – here, or anywhere else – as I would ideally like.  On the other hand, I’ve made a lot of headway getting various business-related arrangements dealt with.

In many ways my world now revolves around VMworld.  Before one VMworld is over I’m already working with clients to plan for the next.  Everything in tech marketing seems a sprint from one major conference to the next, but VMworld is the big one.

Looking back on VMworld

I spent an awful lot of time analyzing VMworld 2013 from an intellectual standpoint.  “What does it mean to your career” or “what does it mean in terms of making connections with vendors/the community/etc.”  I think I’ve been asked to write that schtick at least a dozen times since then.  It has been analysed and reanalyzed so many times that I think to rehash that from an intellectual level is pointless.

So instead, I want to analyse VMworld from an emotional standpoint.  Without allowing myself to head too deep into things, what are the surface memories?  The bright, sharp emotional moments that float to the surface?

My clearest memory of VMworld 2013 is vBeers.  It was a tweetup held in this hot, cramped bar called the Chieftain.  I remember sweltering.  I remember ordering too much to drink…and I remember encountering some of the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

The counterpoint to this would be a vendor party I attended that was absolutely flaccid.  There were very few attendees, a lot of marketing and chest-thumping by one of the company founders…and not a lot of prominent community members.

The entire event was basically some hoary old executives who all used work together way back when pretending they didn’t despise each other.  They managed it just long enough to see whose  social status had changed in the interim since the last phallus measuring contest, then it was back to trading pointed barbs and a quick evacuation of the premises.

I remember the worn, harried look on the faces of Matt Stephenson and Rick Vanover.  Normally possessed of boundless energy, the event sucked the life out of them and by the end they were mere shells so obviously needing a good vacation that I wished I could do something to help.

I remember certain influential individuals engaging in name calling on Twitter, where they attacked a startup full of good people for no better reason than that this startup had the termidity to compete with a startup their friend worked at.  I remember the sinking feeling of losing respect for those individuals who – until then – I had held in the highest of esteem.  It felt like having your childhood heroes die.

There were booths; so many that they blurred into insignificance and there were interviews and food that I wasn’t sure was food.

Above all, I remember the friends I made.  For all the exhaustion and the heat, the too many parties and the overdoing it on multiple fronts, I made some great friends at VMworld 2013, and that made every moment worth it.

How to succeed at throwing VMworld 2014 Parties

If you are running a VMworld party, let me give you some free advice: nobody cares about your product or your company.  What they care about is meeting and greeting the people they know, or have only “met” on social media.  They want to meet their friends’ friends.  They want to talk, and socialise and that has some very real consequences for how to design your party:

Make sure you have some “key influencers” going. I don’t mean “key influencers” in terms of “these people have highly read blogs.”  I mean “people that other people actually want to spend time with.”

You can have one of the top read blogs of all time but still be an arrogant, egotistical douchecanoe.  Don’t invite these people.  They probably feel they’re too good for you anyways and so you’ll just expend innumerable resources trying to get them, only to have nobody show up because – in truth – nobody can stand being in the same room as these guys.

Instead, troll the vExpert pages and do some research on twitter.  Who are people that other people seem to be eager to meet up with?  If you’re in a bind, reach out to other marketing types who know the VMworld scene for who the charismatic friendly types are.  The community is great, you will get helped.

Don’t try to talk about your product at the party. If your party is bumping, people will remember who you are.  Make sure you give away a bit of swag to all attendees that helps them remember who you are, maybe with a little “thanks for coming” note by your CEO and a very brief blurb about what you do and why people should care.  Give them a link to follow what will contain some nice short intro videos and your various whitepapers.

Don’t crank the music up to 11.  People don’t go to these parties to be deafened.  They want to talk to their friends.  To you.  To everyone.  They want to socialise, and they can’t do that if they can’t hear themselves think.

Don’t cram the place so full that people can’t move.  You want people to move, to mingle.  You want them to make friends and to associate your party with positive emotions a year down the line.  Those positive emotions will become associated with your company, and that right there is the holy grail of marketing.

Consider adding a panel discussion or two to your party.  You are at an event full of nerds.  Believe it or not, inviting a bunch of them to a place where you will give them intellectual stimulation in their chosen profession, food and tasty beverages pretty much guarantees they will like you.

Parting thoughts

People are tired, harried and stressed out at VMworld.  It is their natural state.  Try to work around the other parties going on during the event, and the major items at the event itself.  Many people will want to attend both your party and those of other vendors…even your competitors!  Consider pre-arranging transport not only to and from the event but also to and from other major parties.

Special needs should be taken into account.  Someone with a wheelchair might not be able to take a regular taxi (though a towncar or most of the vans will generally work.)  Someone with special food considerations might be a little upset if the only food on offer is yummy, yummy bacon.

What will really set you apart from the hundreds of other companies that blur into insignificance – either at an after party or in the event itself – is to make the people you are reaching out to feel special.  Virtually every vendor treats attendees like so much chaff to be sorted in the desperate search for wheat.

In the age of social media, remember that even that “chaff” that you dismiss and discard as not relevant to your short term tactical requirements can have far more influence than you suspect.

The goal of VMworld should not be sales.  Very few people attending VMworld are in a state of mind conducive to making rational purchasing decisions.  Your goal should be to raise awareness of your company amongst those who attend, and amongst those who don’t, by means of social media amplification.

Focus your resources on one singular question: “how can I make the lives of the people attending this conference less stressful?”  Succeed, and you will have turn a random bit of “chaff” into a staunch evangelist for your company.

Pull that trick off enough times and, instead of leaving this spectacularly expensive industry event with a handful of new customers and a few thousand e-mail “leads”, you’ll walk away with an unstoppable army of believers.


Chris Dearden has a dissenting view to offer:

Its a great Article & I agree with many of the points in it – working for a vendor that I believe does VMworld pretty well ! It all comes down to knowing your audience-being able to staff a booth with smart people to talk technical, to providing something a little higher level for the less technical but influential people – many delegates will have come along with their boss, who ultimatly may hold the purse strings. If you can sucessfully connect at both levels that you have a really sucessfull event.

Panel sessions at a Vendor party ? possibly a little far for me ( personally ) There is a lot of info to take in at these things, so I’d personally want a little bit of time to let my mind rest.

I absolutely agree that “knowing your audience” is the key to victory, be it in love, a military campaign or in technology marketing.  My personal experiences and understanding of the VMworld event state that “non-technical individuals” are in the distinct minority at these events.  That said, I could be wrong.  Alternately, you could be desiring to target “non-technical individuals” instead of – or in addition to – technical ones.

In my opinion, there is no party or booth design, no marketing campaign, no sales pitch that is universally effective.  It is a statistics game.  Who are you targeting?  Why are you targeting them?

Are you targeting the exact same people or companies that every other startup – and all of the majors – are targeting?  Are you irrelevant in the face of overwhelming competition, or have you found a niche where you can be profitable, and expand outwards from there?

There is an old Native American saying that goes “if you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both.”  No individual or company can please everyone.  You must decide whose affections you need to draw.

Where my advice differs from traditional marketing, sales and the established mantra of extant vendors and startups is that I honestly and earnestly do not believe that targeting the CIOs of the Fortune 2000 at conferences with slavish obedience is going to net you victory.

Every single vendor, sales geek and marketing nerd at every single conference wants a piece of those same individuals.  If you blur into insignificance for me, a nobody, imagine how antlike you appear to them.  How many times have they had the same pitch? Seen the same fevered desperation in someone’s eyes?

How likely, really, are they to leave their established “preferred vendors” and pick you…and do you honestly and truly believe in your heart of heart that it is the hurried pawing at them during a conference that will win the day?

The above reasoning is why I recommend a different, more community focused path.  It will help you reach out to more than just the same Fortune 2000 companies that everyone else is targeting.

This could well help you find a profitable niche.  But also because it could well help you create trust and respect amongst a community of vocal evangelists that could translate into a grassroots movement around your product…or even your community managers.  (See; Veeam, Unitrends and even VMware itself.)

I respect Mr. Dearden’s opinion in this matter, and I respect him as well.  He has a great deal of experience and knowledge, and – quite frankly – he plays in richer waters than I do.  For all my florid prose, I am still small time, and still a Silicon Valley outsider.

Consider both opinions.  Consider the evidence of your own experience.  Discuss with your coworkers and even your competitors.  Choose for yourselves the best path, and good luck to all of you.

Enjoy VMworld 2014!

Podcasting for Cancer

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If you’ve been paying attention to my twitter – or that of many other vBloggers and vExperts – then you’ve seen me talking about Podcasting for Cancer.  I have been asked by more than a few people why I started this.  What’s the point?  What am I trying to achieve?

Many questions have filtered in amongst the overwhelming support for the idea.  As the project is taking on a life it’s own more and more people are becoming involved.  I thought it would be a good time to talk a little about the whys and wherefores so that all those people who are doing excellent work are given the kudos they are due.

Why I did this is simple: a friend of mine – Gabriel Chapman – has just learned that his mom’s cancer has moved into her lungs.  This is after recently losing his dad to the disease and two of his grandparents before that.  Before I had heard of this, everything that could be said had already been said by others.  No amount of platitudes or sympathy will make something like this better.

I felt wholly inadequate in the face of that frustration and sorrow.  My own worries and concerns seemed small and petty.  Gabe is a good guy; a friend…and he is hurting.  The urge to do something about that is powerful, as is the feeling of inadequacy as I flailed about trying to thing of something that might make even the smallest amount of difference.

I’ve never lost anyone to cancer; not while I was old enough to remember.  Nonetheless, I tried to put myself in his shoes.  I could imagine feeling trapped, impotent, isolated; the whole world turned against you, everyone living their lives while you feel like you’re underwater, struggling for air.  I thought about this and decided that the one thing that I could provide for my friend was the feeling that he wasn’t alone.

vPeeps are amazing

Pushing a few knobs on Indiegogo and filling out some forms isn’t exactly a huge burden.  Putting some time and effort into social networking and rallying the troops around this also isn’t a big deal  I have spent enough time amongst the vBloggers, vExperts and vVendors that make up the VMware community to know that if I only pushed that first domino, they would rally behind it and we would make that $5000 goal.

Gabriel Chapman is well liked.  Cancer is a terrible disease that has touched almost everyone’s life.  Put these two things together and I knew that if we (the community) set out to raise money in the Chapman familiy’s name then that money would get raised.

More importantly, I hoped that Gabe would be shown that even in this very dark time, he is not alone.  He has made an impact on an entire community and made quite literally dozens of friends, all of whom are there for him in whatever way we can possibly help.

The community did not disappoint.

A life of its own

What I didn’t expect was exactly how quick and enthusiastic the response would actually be.  Everyone seems willing to donate time to being on a podcast or a webex as part of the effort.  People are spreading the information through social media, contacting vendors and trying to keep momentum going.  $5000 looks to have been a very shortsighted goal.

The driving forces behind this explosion of community have been Jon Harris and Jonathan Frappier. They’ve taken my very simple idea and infused it with energy, ideas and passion that look set to grow Podcasting for Cancer far beyond anything I could have imagined.

There is talk of tying the event in with Movember and even running it as a regular yearly thing.  Brainstorming and strategy sessions about how to drum up vendor support and really catalyze the community followed.  Discussions were had to get other community organisations – like vBrownbag, vDB and VMUG – behind the project.

In two days these gentlemen have taken an idea I hadn’t really thought out completely and turned the knobs up to 11.  They are amazing.

I set out on this journey with nothing more in mind than making a friend feel less lonely and helpless.  The community response – exemplified in the efforts of “the Jons” – might just change the world.  If there is a bag of kudos to be heaped here, it is upon them.

Thank you, all of you…and let’s keep on podcasting for cancer.

VMworld hats


I’m a sysadmin attending a conference for sysadmins. I’m a journalist who wants to write up news, reviews and do in depth hands-on investigations of new and interesting technologies.

I’m a marketing consultant working as part of larger marketing teams organizing everything from booths at the event to the minute fiddly details of “the message”.  My clients are both startups, but one of them is parked inside the booth of a 13-billion-dollar company and I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that not only do my ideas get airtime amongst their very experienced team, they are acted upon.

I’m a serial conference afterparty attendee but also someone who’s helping put one together. I’m a game/contest player and also someone helping organise them. I’m attending 5 webexes a day and helping run more than a few of my own.

There are even a few things I’m participating in which I can’t talk about yet because I’m under NDA. Oh, and I still have networks to take care of; at least two of which are undergoing some fairly major overhauls in preparation for the Q4 silly season.

Somewhere amongst all of this I am trying to train up some more sysadmin bloggers so that you lot can have a more diverse range of voices than just mine.  I’ve got a pair of them attending VMworld with me; others I’m bringing into interviews (or having them run interviews) in the hopes that they can skip some of the embarrassing faceplants that I had to go through.

I don’t sleep much anymore, but man, VMworld is going to be a blast.

Storage for the SMB

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As some of you following me on Twitter know, I am in the process of trying to spec out a storage and virtualisation upgrade for one of my clients.  The requirements are as follows:

12TB initial deployable storage, scalable to 50TB.
1TB of virtual host RAM across the network.
It can cost no more than $35K.

The client has several hosts already; 8x 64GB hosts are already in play given them an installed capacity of 512GB of virtual RAM.  The storage subsystem, however, is over 6 years old and 100% virtual-host local.  I am losing disks on this thing left right and center (300GB WD Velociraptors are crafted from the raw evil of the universe from whence politicians and lawyers spring) so the time to replacement on this is measured – at maximum – in the 3 month range.

This setup must be – quite literally – bulletproof.  I won’t be in the office 16 hours a day any more.  This has to be able to deal with hardware failure.

Call it paranoia if you must, but I don’t trust the standard SAN configurations.  Redundant PSUs, dual controllers, dual-port hard drives…but single motherboard, CPU and RAM.  The storage and power subsystems are redundant, but there are still single points of failure!  You’ll pardon me if I don’t place faith in platitudes that say “the statistics on motherboard/CPU/RAM failure are so low that the risk calculations make our product awesome!”

We are talking about a company betting their entire business on one device that has a single point of failure here.  There isn’t room for that company to ever be in the wrong spot on the statistical curve.

So my preliminary solution is block-level replication across multiple hosts.  In this case, a Supermicro server using an LSI controller with CacheCade running on Windows Server 2012.  Server 2012 gives me dedupe for file-level sharing, Distributed File System Replication to move file-level-shared items from primary to failover node as well as SMB 3.0 and MPIO support.  I plan to use the native Server 2012 target for block-level replication between the two hosts unless it proves unstable, at which point Starwind would do fine.

The LSI controller allows me to provide bulk storage using spinning rust, then accelerate that storage by simply plugging in SSDs and designating them as cache.  This makes the most frequently used blocks go faster, driving up IOPS while keeping the cost of overall storage down.

Preliminary calculations on the server hardware without disks have the following components for around $5000:

Chassis: Supermicro SC846BE16-R1K28B
Motherboard: Supermicro X9SRi-F
CPU: Intel Xeon E5-2620
RAM: Kingston 64GB (4x 16GB) DDR3-1600 ECC REG Kit
NIC: Intel X520-DA2 E10G42BTDA
RAID: LSI 9280-16i4e
RAID BBU: LSI LSI00264 MegaRAID LSIiBBU08 Battery Backup Unit
RAID Module: LSI LSI00292 MegaRAID CacheCade Pro 2.0
RAID Cables:   LSI Mini-SAS cable CBL-SFF8087SB-06M (x3)
OS: Windows Server 2012 Standard

Disks are another matter.  Fully laden we’re talking about $8800 worth of disks per server. 4x Crucial M500 960GB SATA 2.5″ 7mm SATA3 (CT960M500SSD1) for flash acceleration and 20 WD RE 3TB SATA3 (WD3000FYYZ).

That would make my storage nodes $13800 each or $27600 for the pair.  That could be a little higher if I need to use the Starwind iSCSI target.  Still, that leaves around $5000 to buy a pair of compute nodes with 512GB of RAM between them; entirely doable in today’s world.

More realistically, however, I would deploy these systems without being fully laden.  I would stick to 12 of the spinning rust hard drives and 2 of the SSDs.  That would put the disk load at $5000.  Which means $10K per node for ~30TB usable at ~30K IOPS with room to expand that by another 24TB of spinning rust and 2x SSDs.

So for ~20K$ I get ~30TB of storage at ~30K IOPS redundant enough that I can actually *shoot* one of the nodes and the system will keep working.   What’s more, when PernixData hits general availability (and assuming it is priced anywhere near reach for an SMB like this) then you can simply “make it go faster” by tossing some Intel 520 480GB SSDs into the compute nodes and enabling PernixData.  Instant upgrade!

This is a preliminary design, mind you.  There’s still a lot of work to be done – not the least of which is to see if off-the-shelf solutions can match or beat it – but it’s still really, really cool.

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  • Published: Mar 18th, 2013
  • Category: Uncategorized
  • Comments: Comments Off on Subscribe now and update this; only $24.99/user/month!* (*Regional restrictions apply)

Subscribe now and update this; only $24.99/user/month!* (*Regional restrictions apply)

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I’m not exactly known for dissembling.  When I have a beef I say what’s on my mind; today I have a beef with subscriptions.  Specifically, I have a beef with Microsoft’s subscription policies and how they seem to be taking over for the pseudo-ownership of perpetual licensing that Microsoft themselves introduced us to.  (Much to IBM’s dismay.)

You are nothing but a wallet

Subscriptions give Microsoft power they simply didn’t have before; turn the knobs even a small amount and they can post growth every single quarter.  Tie it all together with massive amounts of vertical integration and they have a mechanism to perpetually drive up Average Revenue Per User (ARPU).

You’ll note that ARPU is a figure often bandied about by other monopolies, duopoloies and oligopolies.  Telecommunications providers, utilities companies and so forth use this as a measure of success.  They have as much market share as they are ever going to get in their markets; spending on R&D to enter adjacent markets isn’t a Wall Street sanctioned business strategy so they work on driving up ARPU with as little investment as humanly possible.

A great example is a telco/ISP entering the IPTV market; they can buy commercial, off-the-shelf technologies that allow them to use their existing infrastructure and investments to deliver a new service they can charge extra for.  This is bad for consumers; ARPU pushes are generally tied to anti-competitive action which pushes the limits of legality in order to prevent anyone else from offering the value add service in question cheaper or more conveniently.

More to the point, perhaps, is that end users have a vested interest in driving down the ARPU; generations of individuals have been raised to believe capitalism – the very foundation of western society itself – will provide more and better goods and services for less money over time.  Technology and automation are supposed to deliver more for less; people tend to be opposed to getting less and paying more.

Turn the knobs

Cutting to the heart of the matter, Microsoft wants the nice, steady, recurring revenue stream that subscriptions can offer.  That and tying everyone’s data up in their cloud locks them in such that Microsoft can now make hostages not only of enterprises on SA agreements but SMBs and even individual users too.

Microsoft have had a stranglehold on large enterprises for ages now. Every time they make a change to the SA agreement the market howls, but ultimately they have no choice to they pay up.  The subscription model looks like a great way to get at consumers and SMBs that have thus far resisted.

Microsoft want to milk those folks for more money as they see refresh cycles lengthening; people don’t buy computers (and thus new Windows, Office, etc licenses) every three years.  They are dragging it out; 6, 8 even 10 years between refreshes.  This is a tempting revenue stream.  But let’s face the truth: these people don’t have the money to give.  If Microsoft really pursues this as aggressively as it appears they are gearing up to do then they are going to spend more on PR trying to make up for squeezing these folks than they’ll ever get in return.

Another major problem is that the concept of subscriptions is inextricably tied to the perpetual upgrade model.  Microsoft has a noted history of rolling out massive user interface changes, user-hostile licensing changes and outright stinker versions of operating systems and applications without so much as a whoopsy-daisy.  There are users and businesses out there that simply do not want to be part of the perpetual upgrade scheme.  They fear – rightly, to my mind – that well-documented tendency to screw us.

It’s a trap!

This subscription thing is folly.  Microsoft’s position isn’t nearly so secure as it likes to think.  While it has the nuts of large enterprises in a vice, the same is absolutely not true of the consumer or SMB markets.  It can lose both entire markets.  Depending on whether or not you count tablets as computers you could rationally make the argument that on the consumer side it already has.

Microsoft is replicable.  If it becomes something that consumers and SMBs start seeing as a disposable vendor of tat – or gods forbid one amongst many competing and equal service providers – then Microsoft is done for.  That would put Microsoft into a market not unlike the mobile telcos; sure, it would be part of an oligopoly, but it would be loathed and despised.  Microsoft would be talked about in the same sentence as lawyers, politicians and the scum that grows on our shower tiles.

This is fine and dandy when you’re a monopoly; horrible when you’re part of an oligopoly of functionally interchangeable vendors.  When you’re the one at that party with the bad reputation then the user churn you are going to experience is frightful.  Unlike telecommunications, however, there aren’t 100 years of laws in place to prevent new entrants to the market.

“Any kid in his garage” can no longer enter the market and take away Microsoft’s toys, but any company large enough to front a decent public cloud very much so can.  For the first time in decades Microsoft needs to care about PR.  Unfortunately, their PR and marketing bodies aren’t prepared to fight this battle.

Speak the Lingo

Microsoft is at heart an enterprise vendor.  It is used to dealing with companies where all you have to do is wine and dine the right person to win a multi-million dollar contract.  Hookers and blow will get you in that world what honour and fair pricing never could.

Sadly, that isn’t the way of the rest of the world.  Consumers – particularly younger consumers – are functionally immune to marketing.  You can’t just lie to them and expect them to buy it.  Worse, these street smart young punks – increasingly with actual technical experience – are entering the executive level and taking jobs as CIOs.  These people won’t be bought with calamari and strippers; they need TCO, reliability and – believe it or not – a sense that they are getting treated fairly by their vendors.

Will Microsoft figure the above out before or after irreparable harm has been done to their reputation and/or market position?  How many more Apples and Googles do they need to create through their own astounding lack of understanding?  Microsoft can choose to own the market tomorrow, or they can piss it all away.  The choice is theirs.

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  • Published: Mar 18th, 2013
  • Category: Uncategorized
  • Comments: Comments Off on Stepping back a bit…

Stepping back a bit…

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I’ve talked before on these pages about the tech support issues imposed by Windows 8’s new UI, as well as the licensing issues that make truly managing a mobile Windows 8 experience prohibitively expensive.  I want to dive into how this affects the wider Windows 8 experience and the ecosystem that surrounds it.

And we back this all up how?

Beyond the user interface issues, Microsoft’s vision of the future has another item that really bothers me: how exactly are we supposed to back this all up?  One of the reasons I like the VDI model is that it allows me to invest once in an expensive infrastructure designed to be resilient and reliable.  My home system has a RAID; it backs up to a NAS, that NAS synchronizes to a mirror counterpart at the office for off-site recovery.

In my vision of the world the endpoint is irrelevant; it is a disposable commodity designed for ease of use relative to the individual environment you happen to be in.  Kiosk, phone, tablet, notebook, desktop; where you are determines the best form factor to use and you simply log in and access your environment from there.

Any applications local to the machine should be cheap or free.  They should have a very similar interface across all devices and become a part of the “background” of using the device.  If you lose the endpoint – or the hard drive dies – it doesn’t matter; the critical stuff is centrally provisioned.  If you want to do this in Microsoft’s world, you have to pay; far more than individuals or most SMBs will ever be able to afford to.

In Microsoft’s vision we all use applications installed on physical devices to get things done.  We all buy a copy of each app for each physical device.  We have personal customized environments that synchronize with Microsoft’s cloud.  Our data synchronizes with the cloud using Microsoft’s <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SkyDrive”>Skydrive</a>.

Applications bought through the Windows Store will sync their settings too, so the obvious implication is that we should buy all of our applications there if we want our environment to be portable between devices.  Even Windows 8’s inbuilt repair options treat non-Windows-Store apps as irrelevant second-class software.

Microsoft is at the center of this universe.  Microsoft’s operating system, Microsoft’s applications, Microsoft’s store, Microsoft’s devices, Microsoft’s cloud services and Microsoft’s enterprise support applications.  Try to break out of this Microsoft on Microsoft on Microsoft synchronized to Microsoft and supported by Microsoft universe and your experience becomes decidedly second rate.

Utilizing a dominant position in one market…

Everything about the new Microsoft endpoint experience – including the very design of the user interface – is designed to lock you in to their ecosystem and keep you there.  Power users and SMBs who can’t afford the complete stack pay the price for Microsoft’s vertically integrated ambitions.

Similarly those companies and individuals with privacy concerns or who are subject to laws restricting where we can synchronize personally identifiable information are out of luck.  We are told we “aren’t the majority” (I beg to differ) and that “alternatives are available.”

Microsoft is very careful here.  They know vertical integration is a legal minefield for a company convicted of antitrust violations.  You can work around every issue mentioned here if you want to.  The workarounds range from frustrating to ruinously expensive.  The only way to get a relatively smooth experience is if your entire world is Microsoft, top to bottom.

I doubt this is illegal, not quite.  Microsoft aren’t preventing competition here, they are merely making competing offerings obviously less appealing by designing every individual product they make for maximum integration.  The morality of this is basically determined by if you believe the rights of the corporation to protect its profits outweigh the rights of consumers.

We’ve been fighting that ideological battle for so long I am not sure there is a middle ground to be had.  I sincerely hope there is.  Microsoft make great products; it would be a shame if they simply decided that the chunk of their market me and mine occupy was simply not worth supporting or listening to.

Bad for us; Microsoft makes great tech that we want to use.  Bad for them; we’re noisy, irritating types that tend to head on out and create alternative solutions when none are provided for us.  It’s generally pretty expensive to do so…but right now, so’s the alternative.

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  • Published: Mar 18th, 2013
  • Category: Uncategorized
  • Comments: Comments Off on Tech support in Windows 8: not a fan

Tech support in Windows 8: not a fan

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It has taken me over a year, but I think I have finally been able to crystallize what it is about Windows 8 that bothers me so much.  Why exactly does this interface – which others seem to have no troubles with whatsoever – get under my skin so much?  By every reasonably measure, both Gnome 3 and Unity are far worse UIs; while I loathe both of those as well, there’s something extra-special about Win 8 that has been hard to define.  What gives?

Hello, IT

The real burden here is on anyone trying to do tech support.  Microsoft argues that tech support should be done via remote tools: GPOs, RSAT, PowerShell, InTune and System Center.  You aren’t supposed to actually log on to another individual’s computer; you are to use these tools to control another system from within your own heavily customized Windows 8 instance.  In practice, I’ve found a few bugs in this approach.

The first is that home users and the majority of SMBs cannot afford Microsoft’s expensive tech support suite, nor the systems administrators required to use it.  Tech support at the home level is usually a family member or friend; it is often done by accessing the person’s PC physically or through remote support tools such as VNC, LogMeIn or Teamviewer.

In this scenario the heavy customization of user profiles advocated by Microsoft is a support burden, but not nearly so much as the loss of high information density tools like the Start Menu.  Let’s take a moment to think about what that tool really was.

It was access to your system’s various mounted file systems via “My Computer.”  It allowed you to browse the local network via “My Network Places.”  Rick clicking on “My Computer” got you access both to the “Computer Management” MMC console (via the manage option) and to the “System” control panel (via properties.)  Right clicking on “My Network Places” got you to where you could change network adapter configurations (via properties).  You could map network drives, search for a file, launch an application from the run box get a list of installed applications (via “All Programs”) or go into the control panel if you needed to really get into it.

All the basic administration tasks were available here within a couple of clicks of each other.  All from one interface that hadn’t appreciably changed in over 15 years.  Someone familiar with one version of Windows could easily administer another one.  There was familiarity through consistency; a boon to the hordes of desktop administrators who were maintaining generations of different OSes for friends, family or as one more line item on their job description for their SMB employer.

The argument is frequently made that this is where the search functionality comes it.  “The majority of people” can simply do what needs to be done via search.  I disagree.

The names of things change over time; Microsoft seem to expect us to learn a whole new dictionary of terms with each OS iteration.  Search for “Network Properties” on Windows 8.  Try “Network Adapter”, “WiFi” or “NIC.”  Try “Local Security Policy”.  Some of these come up under “settings” if you search – which is yet another click to get at them – others don’t come up at all.

To top it off, the loss of the start menu means either using the slow charms bar or shortcut keys to get at search.  This doesn’t work so well through remote support applications, especially not if the individual doing remote support doesn’t full screen their remote support session.  That’s fairly typical in my experience; us techy types are typically doing research on our PCs; punching stuff in to Google to find the solution to whatever is plaguing Aunt Tilly.

We can have the same argument about the ribbon bar; it moves the buttons around on you, doesn’t quite have everything you need, can be a pig to add anything that isn’t “what the majority use every day” (such as reading headers on an email in Outlook) but it does offer customization.  Therein lies the issue; customization.

The Start Screen isn’t a replacement for the start menu.  It is a replacement for Quick Launch.  In fact, it is a fantastic improvement over Quick Launch; Live Tiles can provide a density of information about your most frequent apps not dreamed of since the Active Desktop days.  The ability to curate and pin applications of your choice to the front screen makes it very much a user-definable experience; it is what quick launch should have been.  It is, however, absolute crap if you want to access apps that aren’t among those most frequently accessed items.

That’s bad for tech support.  Things that make tech support harder make the new Windows seem worse than the old, even if that isn’t true for many portions of the operating system.  Overlooking tech support and power user needs will ultimately reflect poorly on Microsoft.  It’s a problem that ultimately affects us all.

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