Make the open web cool again?

It looks like the open web is having a sort of renaissance in certain segments of the web. You can read some articles from John Gruber, Dave Winer, and Joe Cieplinski.

The term open web is amorphous and means many things to many different people, so trying to nail down a single definition and meaning is akin to nailing Jello to a wall so I’m not going to try to do it.

However, I will throw my hate in the ring and state that I have similar questions about where the web is headed and the continued increase in influence the largest of companies. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others do not seem willing to concede control to users and this worries me.

GusDay 2015 Recap

My boss, a coworker, and myself jumped into a school-owned vehicle before 6:00 am on Friday and started the 2-hour trip to Macalaster College to attend GusDay 2015. It was the first GusDay any of us had attended in the 15 years since the first GusDay at Gustavus Adolphus College in 2000 and 2001 and has bounced around various private colleges in Minnesota and Iowa since then.

I would estimate we had over 200 in attendance, which was pretty cool. I’ve been to both larger and smaller conferences than this, but I like the size sitting around 200 members. It isn’t so huge that you get lost in the larger group, but it isn’t so small that you can’t find someone to talk to.

The trip was uneventful and the location was great. Macalaster has wonderful facilities and staff and I would like to thank everyone who worked to put on GusDay 2015. It was a wonderful event and I hope that I can attend again in the future.

From here on out, I’m just going to recap the talks I was able to attend and then some closing remarks.

Opening Keynote

It emphasized collaboration, which is an important part of working in technology within any organization, but especially within higher education. The need to build partnerships both inside and outside of the organization is one big thing that I took away from it. I know that is something we have definitely been working on within our own IT department.

I will present this list:

  • think carefully why you work
  • don’t burn out
  • don’t work too hard
  • don’t waste your time on a job you don’t like
  • contribute to civility and kindness
  • pick up the phone
  • don’t become a product evangelist
  • do presentations
  • do collaborate

The “don’t become a product evangelist” hit close to home for me. I need to try to keep myself above the fray when it comes to turf wars within technology because it is just not worth it.

Session 1 – Just Checking In…How Do We Know How We’re Doing?

Great talk on making sure that you are checking in with people regularly, not just when things are going wrong (or getting pulled into an office every time you walk by).

The presenter uses a personal email to the people he supports at regular intervals just to see how things are going. I believe he stated that he supports around 170 individuals as part of his tech evangelist role. The idea is also to pay attention to changes that might be happening for those people and to check in after the change has occurred.

That is something I will try to get in the habit of doing after upgrades or major changes (like a few I have floating around in my head right now).

The discussion also changed quickly to how to get faculty to buy into technology and the answer was something I have heard many times: get some “pioneer faculty” to try things out and then go out and evangelize from there.

There was some talk of using a CRM to “manage” those relationships, but I have the added benefit of being at a small enough school that I could walk around and talk to everyone once a month or quarter if I just set up the schedule to do so myself.

Session 2 – Upgrading Campus Wireless

Not much I haven’t heard before but one item I had not thought about was the option of leasing the hardware to keep the budgeting consistent (at least through the life of the contract). I know that wireless is high on the priority list right now so it is something I will look into.

Concordia University started with around 80 access points (Cisco) in 2003 and this last summer pushed out over 200 access points (Aruba) as part of their upgrade. One thing they would do differently is not tear out the entire network at the same time. I would tend to agree.

Luckily, we did that last year.

One item I do want to look into is what vendors are available for cabling. They have a vendor to handle their cabling (and running fiber). At MLC, we traditionally pull our own cable and fiber. Something to look into, at least.

Session 3 – Extending Help Desk Support Beyond the Business Day

This is one session where my jaw dropped more than once. It wasn’t in a bad way, but it was a reminder about how different things can be for us at MLC.

That two presenters (one from Macalaster and one from Bethel) both manage more than 50 student workers each year. At MLC, we average one student worker … maybe two or three if we are lucky. That definitely changes how you would do things.

There was discussion around password resets, satellite stations in the library, and help desk software (which bled over into lunch, which was great). Some organizations are using a 3rd party to cover the hours when they are not open so that they can offer 24/7 support for online and distance learners. I don’t think that is doable for us, but it was interesting to hear how other places handle the help desk.

Session 4 – Creating an RFP

This was the surprise session of the day for me because it was so full of good ideas for us to implement at MLC not just when dealing with vendors, but when thinking through even internal projects. The amount of time spent putting together requirements was refreshing.

It really was more around project management in my head than anything else. You aren’t spelling out every minute detail of how things should work, but you need to have some requirements so that you know what you need (and to spend the needed time thinking through that before you even begin contacting vendors) and you also need to spell out your selection criteria so that you know if a solution will fit your needs or not.

The other fresh idea in my head was the idea of managing your vendors. You, as an organization, need to set the agenda ahead of time along with any parameters. Otherwise a vendor can walk all over your people and your time. This was backed-up by talking with the IT director of another organization a little later about some of his experiences. The need to manage your vendors cannot be stressed enough.

Another item was how these things were driven: from the users, not directly from IT. We need to work on enabling people to better take control of their own workflows and then use IT as a means to getting their work done … better.

Session 5 – Nimble Storage

I was able to avoid the vendor sessions for the rest of the day, but the Nimble Storage session I was not going to miss. This directly relates to our current project of consolidating our storage on campus to a single vendor.

You can read more at their site, but my boss and I were impressed enough that we are going to be looking at them as our storage vendor for the future. I’ve heard only good things about Nimble from others so I’m excited to see what they can do on our campus.

Closing Statements

It was a great conference and I hope that we can get back there again in the future. While here are many differences between our institutions, it is always fun to get together and talk about what we are doing, how we are doing it, and what we are looking at in the future.

Macalaster can really put on a show and who knows, maybe Martin Luther College will host a GusDay at some point in the future

For me, the way forward is the same as it has always been … try to provide the best services we can in the most responsible way possible. GusDay is one way of doing that. If you don’t get out there and talk with people, how are you ever going to know what is going on?

I’ll See You at BrainShare 2014

I’m looking forward to being able to attend BrainShare 2014 at the beginning of November. I’ll be there spending as much time as possible learning about the mobile and file-sharing options from Novell and NetIQ and especially focused on our upcoming Novell OES migration.

Before that, however, I will have the opportunity to speak with my education IT friends at the TTP BrainShare Summit 2014 happening on Saturday and Sunday. I will also have the pleasure to speak there on Saturday. The title of the talk is SmallOps: My First Year in IT Operations at Martin Luther College, and much of it will be familiar to those who read this blog but I’ll post what I can after the talk.

It should be a good time and if you happen to see me, just grab me to say “hi”!

Converting Xen Appliances for XenServer Import

It is no secret that we use many Novell technologies at Martin Luther College to enable our faculty, staff, and students to get their work done. I’ve blogged about such things many times and I’ll be continuing to do so in the future. I have plans to bring Filr and ZENworks on campus soon to alleviate some specific needs we have and I have already deployed the new iPrint here to serve as part of our printing solution.

All three of these solutions have one things in common: they are available as virtual appliances for ease of deployment.

However, one hitch is that Novell only provides appliances for three virtualization platforms: VMware, Hyper-V, and Xen. XenServer, our platform of choice, is the one that is missing. The bare Xen image won’t do, initially, because it provides nothing more than a raw disk image and a configuration file.

Initially I just used the VMware image provided as an OVF which imported into our XenServer infrastructure just fine but was incomplete. I could not easily get the XenServer Tools installed and I still wanted to get the paravirtualized kernel so that I get some optimizations within XenServer. I also cannot easily take advantage of the high availability features of XenServer without the tools installed.

Workable, but no ideal.

This is how we are currently running the latest iPrint appliance (currently version 1.1). It has been working extremely well, but if I can find a way to run things in a more optimized way, I’m all for it. So I spent a day in IRC asking how I might be able to convert a Xen image to something more amenable to XenServer import.

Enter xva.py. A simple Python script “… to aid the migration of xend based Xen virtual machines to XenServer and Xen Cloud Platform.” That would do it! So I moved onto attempting the conversion of the Filr 1.1 appliance that was just released!

All of these steps are being done on Apple OS X but most steps should be transferable to any UNIX-like system. So let’s do this!

  1. Download the wanted Xen appliance from the Novell site. I chose Filr 1.1 as my test appliance because I want to test Filr.
  2. Unarchive the download. You should have a folder with a raw disk image and a xenconfig file. My Filr disk image is 21+ GB in size once it is expanded. The xenconfig file is only 179 bytes.
  3. Open your terminal application of choice and move into that newly created appliance folder.
  4. Grab xva.py and drop it into your appliance folder. I used curl http://www-archive.xenproject.org/files/xva/xva.py > xva.py to just grab it directly from the site. I have also made a local copy so that I have it for the future.
  5. Now is the fun part. Make sure you have enough free disk space to handle making a copy of the disk image. Also, make sure that xva.py is within that appliance folder. It will just make things easier.
  6. Next I ran the following: python xva.py -c Filr.x86_64-1.1.0.653.xenconfig -f Filr.x86_64-1.1.0.653.xva which will inspect the image and then output the whole thing as an XVA for import into XenServer. The xenconfig file contains the name of the disk image and other parameters needed, so you don’t need to include those.
  7. Now you wait.

When it is complete you will have a new XVA file that you can import through XenCenter into your XenServer infrastructure. Logging into the appliance later will allow you to install the XenServer Tools.