Review: Effective Monitoring & Alerting

Effective Monitoring and Alerting by Slawek Ligus was not quite the book I had originally thought I was starting. I was looking for something more prescriptive and I read something far higher up the stack. It wasn’t a bad book, but it was something different from what I went in expecting.

The book takes a high-level look at how to keep alerting from getting out of hand. That is the overall message they are trying to get across. Here is the overall message:

  • You need to make sure you monitor the proper things in the proper way. This brings about a deep understanding of the system as a whole and also forces you to really figure out what dependencies the distinct of parts of your system have in order to be certain you are monitoring things that matter.
  • Armed with that information, you move onto mapping out what should be shooting off alerts. This gets directly to the data about dependencies because we want to be certain that we alert only on the parts of the system that are failing, not on those parts dependent on the failed area.
  • The entire idea is to make sure that the alerts getting sent out are needed and useful. There is talk of standardizing the names of the systems and alerts so you can know exactly what is happening right from the start.
  • There is a huge focus on making sure the alerts are truly actionable and needed so that you don’t give your IT operations staff alert fatigue. The idea is to alert on things that can and need to be fixed and on nothing else.
  • This means monitoring everything but alerting on just a small subset. You can use the monitoring data for capacity planning and also trying to find issues before they start, but you will constantly be changing the alerting thresholds so that only the most important ones are sent through.

That’s the overall look. As far as this review goes, it comes down to this: I would definitely read it again, but be aware of what the book is going to be about. It is NOT prescriptive at all, but it is short enough to be useful even for the smallest of operations department.

Review: Web Operations

I’ve been on an “IT operations” kick with my reading recently, and my choice this time was a little different from the others I have been reading.

Web Operations: Keeping the Data On Time by John Allspaw, Jesse Robbins is not immediately applicable (or at least obviously so) to the situation I find myself in every day. It is also an older book, so in the intervening four years some things have changed, but it is remarkable how much of what was being talked about as “the future” has come to pass.

The first fifth of the book was easy to read and then the middle two-fifths was a bit of a slog. I’m not 100% sure why that was, but it was just the way it was. Then I hit my stride again and finished it out within a few days and things went well from there.

If you are looking at some of the difficulties of working in large-scale deployments for the web, this is the book for you. If you are looking for some guidance on how to try to contain the complexity of modern system deployments, this is the book for you. If you are looking for prescriptions … um, you are going to need to look elsewhere.

This book is meant to give you a good, 10,000 foot view of web operations from top-to-bottom. From overall architectural choices to an overview of the what NoSQL can mean (I told you this was looking into the future we live in now), each chapter will take a different look at a certain aspect of web operations.

I recommend it to any system administrator who is trying to get their head around the inherent complexity of IT operations today, but you are going to need to pace yourself. I went ahead and setup a recurring task in OmniFocus so that I would at least read a few chapters each day.

Review: Time Management for System Administrators

Continuing along my IT operations book kick, I recently picked up Time Management for System Administrators by Tom Limoncelli on SysAdmin Appreciation Day 2014. Considering I continue to struggle with managing my own time at work every day while not dropping numerous proverbial balls, I thought it would be a good book to dive into.

After reading the book over the past week I have come to two conclusions about every time management book:

  1. Every modern way of managing your time comes back to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. When you peel everything away, this seems to be the rock upon which all modern ways of managing time is built.
  2. The best books about managing time take the general ideas from Getting Things Done (GTD) and then narrows it down to what matters for that segment of the population (e.g. system administrators) and adds some additional items that are not included within the larger, generalized GTD way of doing things.

With those two things in mind, I cannot help but recommend this book to any person who works even slightly within IT operations on any level. Not only does it take GTD and focus on how the general principles can help system administrators (even if Tom does not lay out the book that way), it adds all of the things that a system administrator needs to think about in order to free up time to get actual work done.

Instead of rehashing the book, I’m going to lay out some changes I am going to make in order to take some of the lessons from the book and apply them to myself.

  • I’m taking the time to really keep track of my tasks, even if it will take some time to break the habit. If something is worth doing, it is worth tossing into OmniFocus and then taking care to make sure I apply a due date to it so that I have it in front of me. The Forecast view within OmniFocus is where I spend most of my time since it combines the tasks I need to do with the calendar events I have for the day. I’ll adjust things in the future (and I will blog about what I am now doing), but just moving back into a more robust task management application is a big step in some sort of direction.
  • Usually infrastructure projects which eliminate work for myself and others takes a backseat to other work that needs to be done, but that is going to change. Being able to get automated systems setup for password management and account creation will free up our current staff to better use their time on things which benefit the entire campus. I will also be looking into a payment gateway to allow students to purchase print credit on their own, but there are other issues (like refunds) attached to that plan.
  • I am planning on spending some time digging into Ruby or Python as an automation language, and not as a web development language as I had in the past (Ruby on Rails).
  • I will have weekly meetings regularly and scheduled for regular times so that I don’t have to think about when they are going to happen or worry about setting up a mutually beneficial time for all of the parties involved. Either they can make it, or they can’t and we wait until the next week.

There will probably be more, and I’ll outline some in greater detail in the future (hopefully), but they also all seem relatively common sense. I believe that is the reason they will make the largest difference.

The important part right now is to make some changes and stick with them. Progress is the name of the game, not perfection.

So, head out and grab the book and read it for yourself. I have a paper copy on order already so that I have it at my desk whenever I need a little extra help.

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.

Review | The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

A Link Between Worlds

I don’t have a lot of time to play video games anymore. I’m giving that as an excuse for the fact that it has taken me so long to complete the game (it sat in its plastic wrap for months before I broke it out).

Please do not let it deter you from picking it up and completing it if you have no already done so. Quite simple, A Link Between Worlds is a joy to play and harkens back to a much simpler time for both video games and the entire Zelda series. It’s hard to describe how fun the game was the play, but I’ll do my best.

Also, you can listen to the second part of This One Podcast Episode 103 where Phil and I talk about A Link Between Worlds in a larger context.

I will also try to keep spoilers to a minimum and focus more on the overall gameplay and game since that is the important part.

Comfortable to Play

The first thing anyone who has ever played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past will notice is how comfortable this game is. It is immediately familiar, but not dull or boring as it would have been had it been a remake of the original. It is set in the same world, but it is still a new game.

I would liken it more to the difference between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. They are obviously tied together, but they are entirely separate games.

In the TOP episode I linked to above, Phil and I discuss our own personal preference for simpler games (which is a terrible way to describe them). For me it boils down to needing to make fewer decisions at a given time. When you only have four buttons and two dimensions … your mind can focus on and enjoy other things.

The game flows much like A Link to the Past and that is to its benefit. There are no obscenely long tutorials here, just encouragement to get going and start saving the world. The cut scenes are sparse and tasteful which means there are few minutes-long forays into story telling. I think I counted three in total.

A Link Between Worlds is a game you can easily settle into a groove with. You’ll flow from area to area, instinctively knowing what it is that you need to try to accomplish and then going forth and doing so. The game also, quite quickly, eliminates the tedium of moving from place to place as well so that you don’t feel like you need to backtrack over terrain over, and over, and over, and over again …

Button-Mashing Goodness

There are obviously times when you will need to be careful and take steps to make sure every swing of your sword is going to count … but when you only have a single button dedicated to the sword it enables button-mashing to come back into full effect.

It is haphazard in any way, but it is the viable defense and offense. It is a simple way to clear yourself of obstacles … and it is enabled because the game designers were limited in what they could do with a single button and two dimensions.

I say: good.

This speeds things up considerably. Need to get from A to B and enemies are in the way … start swinging and don’t let up until they are gone. It allows the game to flow from place to place quickly.

Again, I say: good.

Music for the Mood

This is a short review, but I do want to comment on the music. Obviously A Link to the Past has many iconic tunes that are still with us and the soundtrack for A Link Between Worlds is not going to reach that stage. It is not because it shouldn’t, but because it is more derivative than A Link to the Past. Because it is a direct sequel, the music is instantly familiar.

However, the arrangements done are excellent and of an extremely high caliper. Especially near the end of the game, we get to see them pull out the stops and fit the music to the mood extremely well. Just a splendid melding of tone.

There isn’t much more to say besides the fact that I still smile every time I hear any arrangement of the Overworld theme.

The End

This game is good, excellent, and well worth any amount of time or effort you can put into it. It not only puts aside any fear I had about Nintendo coming into it, but it also emphatically states that there is a lot of life left in 2D games.

A Link Between Worlds definitely calls back to a time when games needed to be simpler because they had less to work with, and I think that is a good thing. Tacking on decisions and extra fluff just because you can is a poor reason to do so.

End Screen

Verdict

Purchase a 2DS or 3DS and play this game TODAY!