Two Books

Pulling Apart

I’ve had these two books floating around my house for the better part of six months now. I’m not exactly proud of it, but it is a fact of life. I have always had an issue of focusing on a single project at a time and putting other things away.

So here the books sit, two different from my own head made into concrete (and somewhat heavy) objects. I’m exaggerating, obviously, but sometimes I will sit and stare at the two books for minutes at a time and not open either, afraid to make a poor decision about my future and “waste” time on something I should not.

That’s how I’m feeling right now, pulled apart in a sense. The IT Ops person in me really wants to dig into systems programming and automation while the iOS and Apple user in me wants to dig into iOS development and Swift. Is there a decision that I really need to make here or can I have it big ways?

The pull, however, is still there. In a day and age where it feels like we are told to specialize more and more, the idea of instead working to be as much of a development “generalist” as possible seems to be passé.

However, I still feel that mobile is the future and that mobile has two different sides. There is the big iron of large servers on the backend and the mobile front ends which are lighter and allow people to use all if that power to get things done. It is an interesting dance between large and small, nimble and lumbering … kind of cool.

Maybe there is a way to do both?

The Phoenix Project

Review: The Phoenix Project

Back when Mrs. Sallie Draper joined our team at Martin Luther College’s Network Services, she recommended a book for our group to read. Being the person that I am, I filed it away to read in the future and bought it for my Kindle and then promptly forgot about it for far too long.

That book is The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford.

I regret that I did not pick it up sooner because as soon as I began reading its tale, I was engrossed and finished it in a single day. I don’t often do that anymore with three kids, but I found the time to do it this time.

it is billed as “A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win”, and that is a good synopsis for the entirety of the book. It is fiction about how a company falls to the bottom and then bands together to work to the top.

I’m going to try to stay away from any spoilers because I do recommend that you read this book if you work within the IT departments of any company or organization even if the story isn’t totally applicable to your size or sector.

The story is split into two halves, even if the split isn’t where you would expect it to be right away. It follows the old saying of “things will get bad before they get better”. It really does for this story but the whole it worth it to get the mind thinking about what the future might bring.

Those reading the book closely will find the agenda the authors have quite early, and you need to be aware that while they are not selling anything in the specific sense … they ARE selling an ideal for how IT should operate within the business and I tend to agree! That, of course, makes it easy to recommend the book.

It is an easy read and, I feel, time well spent.

Highly recommended.

MacBook Air

Best Setup?

What would my ideal setup look like at the moment?

I have no idea.

I like having a desktop because I worry less about things breaking and can just set things up and forget about it. I have a keyboard, mouse, and speakers ready to go whenever I might need them without having to fuss around with either cables or a docking station.

On the other hand, I like being able to take everything that I am working on with me wherever I am going. Even those things I don’t want to toss into a cloud storage provider’s folder … which can be a few things. I also can set up my development environment and not worry about syncing any changes around. I’m lazy, setting things up take time and settings things up to sync takes time too.

I’ll admit that I also like to have one machine follow me around because I can get attached to technology quite easily. Is that a good thing? Probably not, but it does affect the decisions I make on what to purchase.

Using my Lenovo ThinkPad X220 with a docking station, even just a little bit, has opened my eyes to what is possible when you can have a simple plug-and-work situation with a portable computer. A docking station makes getting started super simple and allows me to not even worry about hooking up additional items. I just set the ThinkPad in the dock and begin working once openSUSE has worked out the settings. It is extremely slick.

While I do not expect Apple to adopt a docking station port like the ThinkPad has, Thunderbolt provides some of the benefits with a single cable to either a Thunderbolt Display or a Thunderbolt dock. Eliminating the need to connect a USB cable, Ethernet cable, Thunderbolt cable, and audio cable and instead just hooking up power and a Thunderbolt cable is a definite win.

I like openSUSE a lot (I think I can safely say that it is currently my favorite distro), but my heart still belongs to OS X, even if my head tries to convince me otherwise. It is cemented even more by the fact that Apple still makes the best overall computers for me. I’m the most comfortable with them, and the mental loops I can work myself into trying to decide on new hardware + software is not worth switching to anything else full-time.

The decision is made easier by the dearth of excellent native software available for desktop Linux. Server Linux is left out here because Linux is the king of the server (as far as I am concerned). OS X has a ton of high-quality native software and many of them with companion apps on iOS. It makes the experience of moving between mobile and desktop a lot easier. With what was announced at WWDC, I think we are going to see even more moving in that direction.

When the rubber hits the road, this is what my mind has settled on for the moment:

  • An 11″ MacBook Air or (PLEASE APPLE PLEASE) 12″ MacBook Air, not even maxed out or anything, but adequate to handle the computing needs of me from day-to-day. With Apple moving all of my photos to iCloud in Fall 2014 and iTunes Match already keeping my music safe for me, it will mean I have a lesser need for large amounts of storage with me at all times.
  • A Thunderbolt dock of some sort both at home and at work. It will also entail a power adapter so that I would hook up the two cables and then get to work. It would allow me to keep my mouse and keyboard, Ethernet cable, external hard drives, and sound hooked up without needing to worry about hooking up an individual cable for each thing.
  • A single 27″ monitor in each location. I’d give up my multi-screen layout for a single large monitor. ASUS has some models I might look at to accomplish this.

I have no idea what my iOS load out is going to look like after the Fall since the inclusion of larger-screen iPhones might make me rethink the iPad’s role for me. This change to a MacBook Air would also move the current Mac mini to a server role since I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into OS X Server 4.

Of course, this will all change tomorrow so feel free to ignore it.


BrainShare: The Next Generation

I just stole the title from this article over on Novell’s Cool Solutions titled, obviously, BrainShare: The Next Generation … which you should go and read.

While it speaks generally about BrainShare and Novell, the overall message is a useful one for any information technology company of department:

How do you spread the word about technology choices to the next generation of IT professionals?

That’s my quote up above, feel free to steal it. It has probably been said 1000 times in the past, so I don’t claim any real ownership of it.

However, the question still stands. Many decisions are bore out due to context that is long gone, or long perverted in our minds, and so new decisions are often made without the benefit of understanding why the old decisions were made in the first place! What a waste of time, effort, and resources!

One of my favorite things to do is to listen to the stories about why certain technology decisions were made. Who was there. What were the options. What was tried in the past. Ultimately, why the decision to go with one technology in one way over others. They all provide valuable insight into not just the technology, but into the organization as a whole. You learn about internal politics, decision-making structures outside of the organizational tree, and tons of other important cultural information.

I mean culture as in what is there, not what some people in the organization are trying to push.

For me, BrainShare 2014 is going to be another part of that. Novell has been the backbone of our IT infrastructure since 1995, and it looks like it is going to stay a major part going forward. In order to adequately serve the campus, I’ll need to also get to know Novell better and Novell, me.

Going to conferences, talking with other users, trying out the new (AND THE OLD) technology is all part of the same goal of retaining knowledge from the past while also looking to the future so that we can make better decisions with more information to provide the best services we possibly can.

So I look forward to attending BrainShare 2014 and many conferences to come in the future as I navigate providing the best systems and services I can for today and the future.

Sinking Ship

When Disaster Strikes

It isn’t a matter of if, but when.

Something is going to go wrong and you are going to be left holding a bucket to a quickly sinking ship. In that time of crisis, it would have been nice to have some sort of disaster recovery plan laid out so that you don’t have to think as much when your tech is on the line.

That is what I am working on right now.

Here is what I have mapped out as our initial run at this:

  • Everything will be stored on our college’s Google Drive account. We have a folder shared among all of the employees in our department and we can share the Disaster Recovery folder will additional people if there is a need.
  • The main document will be a spreadsheet outlining the names of the servers, what area the server is located, what rack they are on, IP addresses, administrative user names (passwords will not be housed in here for obvious reasons), operating system version, what services are currently running on those machines, a link to another document with more information for that machine, what order the servers should be brought back, and then a comment field for any additional funny business.
  • Additional documents will be created for each server. This document will outline any additional information needed for installation of the operating systems, settings, software installation, and other stuff that might be important to know.
  • A document outlining the network topology for the campus.
  • List of emergency contacts for various systems and also contacts for various important vendors (like Comcast, our telecom, etc.).

The idea is to have a document with a strong overview of the entire server infrastructure and then further information if that is needed for anything. The harder part will be keeping these documents updated for the future.

We will handle the passwords some other way (yet to be determined) and then make sure that the people who need to know about this know about it.

Even if some disaster doesn’t strike us in the near term, it will still be good to just take a look at how things are setup currently and see if there are any areas where we can improve our tolerances without upsetting too many people.

It is never a bad thing to be vigilant.