What’s an SLA Worth?

Imagine a data centre service provider who offers a 100% availability SLA.  That’s pretty impressive.  Most of us aim for the five 9’s, e.g. 99.999%.  99.9% is even good with no more than 60 minutes outage in a month.  You’d have to be pretty sure of yourself to offer a 100% SLA.

For a data centre, that is actually achievable but you cannot cut any corners.  I’m lucky enough to work with a service provider who can live up to their claim of a 100% SLA.  They invested heavily in the building, people and processes to have a Tier IV facility with no single points of failure.  They haven’t had an outage since they launched in 2001.  As a result their customers can build their brand name on this.  We’re able to say that our service extends their philosophy and our service hasn’t had an outage since we launched earlier this year.

But I know of others who do claim a 100% SLA.  In fact, one of them is having their 4th major outage in 2.5 years …. right now as I type this – if you’re in Ireland it’s not hard to guess who I’m talking about.  I’m not even counting the little mishaps that they have on a recurring basis … some we know about through web forums, blogs, word of mouth, etc.  I’m not going to poke fun at them.  There’s some good people in there who’ll be stressed out right now through no fault of theirs.

However, we do have to look at the people responsible for the SLA being offered.  Their clients are depending on that SLA.  They’ve reflected that to their customers, e.g. if my hosting provider gives me a 99.99% SLA then I can pass that on to my clients.  However, if my data centre is up and down like the proverbial w***e’s knickers then I look like mud to my clients, whether they’re internal or external clients.

If you’re looking at a hosting service provider then please check out their SLA. If they claim 100% then that’s very audacious.  I’m not saying it’s impossible, just very hard.  Look at their track record and see if they live up to it.  If not, then can you believe other fantastic claims about senior staff on site 24*7, huge bandwidth, "everything is possible", etc.  Here’s what I’d do:

  • Ask for the SLA.  Check out blogs.  Web masters are always quick to point out faults so their forums are a good place to check.  If they have a status site then check it.  See if the explanation for a fault stays consistent.  If not, don’t deal with them.
  • The 2am Test: Drive up to the data centre and knock on the door.  If anyone is even in, ask to speak to the senior staff the company claims is on site 24*7.  If they lie, walk away from the sales negotiation.
  • Ask for proof of certification claims, e.g. I’m an MCSE.  I have an ID number that people can check out for proof of my claim.  I’d say the same applies for CCIE’s.  If they lie, walk out.
  • The real kicker: ask them if they do XYZ.  Let XYZ = some thing you’ve just made up off of the top of your head.  If they say yes then walk out.

Am I sounding harsh?  Honestly, no.  We all expect sales people to stretch a little.  But taking things this far is too much.  Imagine if this stings you?  It shuts down your business.  If you’re a reseller your clients will blame you, not the hosting company.  You’ve got a business reputation to maintain.  If you’re in the mission critical world then outages such as this are not tolerable.  They can possible kill people.

If you’ve suffered a hosting power outage again in this 365 day period and it’s affected your business then check out an alternative.


The hosting company having the outage finally came back online after 2.5 hours – sort of.  Some servers are still not responding.  Assuming this is their only outage this year (and it wasn’t) that’d give them a 99.97% uptime.

EDIT #2:

I just checked that company’s web site uptime (they host it themselves in their data centre).  It’s available 99.87% of the time over the last 2 years and they had 97.74% uptime in September 2008.  Not quite 100% or even 99.9%.

MS Live: Their Own Worst Enemies

I don’t know what’s been going through their heads lately at Microsoft Live.

  • The first thing was that the Statistics functionality would randomly fail.  You’d click on stats and get a dead link.  Hit refresh enough times and it would load.  That seems to be better since MS deployed an update to the templates/layouts.
  • The Live DNS servers fail intermittently.  My blog goes offline due to DNS failures at Live every now and then.  It’s happened twice in the last couple of weeks that I know of.  I hope the DNS service is geographically dispersed.
  • The worst is the new buttons for managing the sites.  They’re supposed to be drop down buttons where a menu appears and you select an option.  The menu does appear but the button also is a link which loads another page before you can select a menu option.  3/4 of the administrator functionality in unavailable because of this.  Someone needs to crack a few developers heads together over this one.

It’s pretty annoying.  These are very simple things to sort out.  I know it’s a free service but if MS wants to generate revenue from advertising then they need to make the service more easy and reliable than options from alternatives such as WordPress.

The IT Infrastructure Shake Up

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that things are changing drastically in the IT infrastructure (IT Pro) world.  Last year I attended a talk by Don Jones who scared the ***t out of an audience.  He said that in a few years time, there would be much fewer IT Pro jobs.  What we’d have is a smaller set of junior or operator engineers, almost no one in the middle and a small group of senior engineers.  Those who would rise to the top and stay in IT would be those who could learn something inside-out and learn to leverage automation.  And to get to that level, these engineers will have to be interested in their jobs, not be one of those 10-till-4 types I’ve discussed before.  Key to their success will be the ability to learn on their own and to provide business solutions, not IT ones.

How this is going to happen is becoming evident now.  You’ve probably heard of Cloud Computing and SaaS but I’ll quickly talk about them. 

Would you build a nuclear power plant in your back yard if you need electricity in your house?  Probably not, but we take this approach whenever we need a new business application.  Take a CRM application.  It might need a database and an application server.  If fault tolerance is required then you need more servers, clustering, etc.  All this IT complexity is added to non-IT companies every day and they find themselves becoming accidental IT companies.  Sure, there are consultancy and field engineering companies but they don’t take the pain away.  For example, when a CRM must be upgraded there’s more servers, operating systems, a costly project and a data migration.  The non-IT company finds itself immersed in an IT project that consumes time and money and puts their business data at risk.  It’s not just CRM either … it’s everything from the SBS server, tape backups, databases, ERP systems, risk management, etc.

The principle of Software as a Service (SaaS) is that you should avoid this on-site installation and consume applications on an as-needed basis.  Your service should be like a household utility, e.g. sign a supply contract for electricity and turn the power switch on and off as required.  You know how much a unit costs and you can budget accordingly.  We’ve seen how companies like SalesForce and Google have done this with their services.  Microsoft isn’t far behind (BPOS) either.  SaaS isn’t just for special online solutions.  You can cut the costs and complexities of owning many solutions, e.g. a DR site, your internal IT systems in an outsourced deployment, etc.

This all requires a service delivery mechanism.  Some companies like Google and MS are big enough and skilled to host their own solutions on the Internet in high quality data centres.  However, smaller or niche companies looking to build a SaaS service can’t build something of that quality.  They need a quality data centre (not a computer room) because their business is dependent on this facility.  Not all data centres are the same either.  You’ll want to check them out and get advice from people who know the industry.  Don’t base any decisions on web sites, press releases, marketing or your own IT experiences.  The data centre world is very complex and full of many deep pitfalls that can end your career.

So if you cannot build your own data centre for your SaaS product then you can use Cloud Computing.  The idea is simple.  A service provider owns, manages and leases an infrastructure.  You simply subscribe for the functionality you require as you need it.  Most software developers aren’t IT infrastructure experts so building and managing a best practice and secure architecture is hard for them.  With a good hosting partner, they can use this black box solution called Cloud Computing to rapidly get the server/network resources they need and grow/shrink them as customer demand changes.

Before I go any further, not every application will be SaaS and not every server will migrate to the cloud.  Some organisations just won’t be able to for security, unionisation or complexity reasons.

Here’s the rub for IT pros.  If you don’t work for one of these cloud computing firms you might not have a job in 10 years.  Think about this … if your employer can reduce costs and complexity by using SaaS applications or servers that reside in the cloud then do they really need you?  They already perceive IT infrastructure departments as a cost centre that eats up budget and delivers 80% of what they promise … late.

So where I am thinking most IT pro jobs will be in the future?  In the data centre that hosts cloud computing infrastructures.  Operators are junior staff that look after the physical infrastructure.  They rack servers, run cables and look after the NOC.  They’re the first point of call for support issues.  There’s always a good number of these folks to maintain a 24 operation (… or there should be.  Try knocking on the door of any data centre you’re considering at 2am to check out promises of 24 hour on site presence.  You’ll be surprised who makes claims and who fails to live up to them!).  The folks who design and deploy systems will be the senior engineers.  In a large facility these will often be specialists, e.g. firewall CCIE’s, messaging experts, server OS guru’s, DBA’s, etc.  Not only must they understand complex technologies but they must know how to handle huge workloads efficiently.  They’ll be managing a huge number of machines and applications so automation will be critical.  Using correctly designed solutions they can take control of the network.  Have a look at the concepts of Optimised Infrastructure and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

We’ve heard the talk about outsourcing before.  Some companies did bring in IT companies to replace their IT staff but there’s no cost savings there.  Quite the opposite to be honest when you replace like for like at a higher daily rate.  But being able to access subscription based services from a quality data centre with centralised expertise and management systems will give the financial and business reasons for employers to reconsider their IT situation.  This isn’t just me talking, it’s every big brain out there.  I attended a session in Barcelona that said IT will have completed a swing that way in 10 years time.  If you’re an application developer then you actually need to be engineering your SaaS solution now or it’s already too late!

If you’re an IT Pro and that’s your career choice rather than an accident then my advice is to get really good at something and learn how to use automation to manage a network.

“I’m a PC” Or Is It “I’m Another Useless Advert”?

This is the latest advert effort from Microsoft:


That is to replace these useless adverts that have been cancelled:


and …


All these adverts have something in common (more than just sucking).  They fail to mention what it is they are selling and why people should want those products.  Of course, they do have a history of quality advertising:


Steve Ballmer has matured and mellowed with age 😉


Microsoft Reacts to Apparent Vista Failure

As a marketing exercise, Vista has been a failure.  We see lots of sales figures but these are totally distorted by how Microsoft sells Software Assurance and uses SKU’s, e.g. by a copy of Windows Server 2003 today and the EOpen site shows a W2008 purchase.  The same applies with XP and Vista.  If a corporation with SA buys a desktop CAL for an XP deployment, they have bought a Vista license with downgrade rights.  And talk to people on the street … they either hear that Vista is bad or they don’t like it.

It’s one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t things where MS had to "fail" at some point.  Do you keep 100% backwards compatibility or do you just have a cut off and say anything for XWP or W2K no longer works on Vista?  MS chose neither and got caught in a mess.  There’s an argument that we should blame 3rd party software developers for incompatibility issues.  I’d agree with that to a fair amount.  The customer just doesn’t care about that; what they care about is that they can’t use their LOB applications on Vista because the OS changed.  We can discuss application compatibility toolkits but they just add more complications and difficulty to admins.  MS fails to recognise that admins struggle to keep up with most IT challenges.  Not everyone is rocket scientist or has time to decipher poor documentation or incomplete online examples.  Software virtualisation would be cool.  However this is only an option for bigger businesses and, again, is only available to SA customers.

Businesses also wonder why they should adopt Vista.   What is in it for them?  How does it improve on XP?  Collaboration … pfft!  You need Office, SharePoint and Exchange for that.  Security?  Somewhat but the "killer app" was BitLocker which was witheld from most purchasers by only putting it in Ultimate (1 in 1000 machines on a network allowed to run this) or Enterprise (which on SA customers can use).

We were expecting that in just over 1 year we should expect Windows Vista R2 and in 1.5 years we would get Windows Server 2008 R2.  Those who disliked Vista were also saying they’d wait for Windows 7.  Here’s how MS has reacted.  R2 is shelved.  Windows 7 has been accelerated and will be the next OS release from MS.

Don’t expect things like UAC to disappear.  Some changes will not be undone.  MS’s challenge is to give business a reason to want to upgrade.  Personally, I see some reasons to go with Vista and W2008 but those aren’t enough for many customers.  I think MS also has to step out from the basement and listen to customers who aren’t USA Fortune 500 companies.  Not everyone has 1000’s of IT staff and limitless budgets.

Oh – hiring Jerry Seinfeld to talk about shoes with Bill Gates in a very unfunny advert won’t fix Vista’s marketing woes.  Even people fired from the BBC’s Apprentice have learned that mentioning the product helps an advert work.

A Forgotten Skill: Listening

In some ways in my education and career, I’ve been lucky.  In college we did "Communications" for two years where we were forced to do public presentations and learn about how to interact with customers, etc.  I’m not saying I perfected this (because I didn’t!) but I picked up a few handy tips.  One of them is listening.  I am a geek that does get excited about my work and I love to get involved in discussing a problem.  I’ve found that there’s times where I need to force myself to sit back and say nothing.  The benefits of doing this cannot be measured.   In my first job after college, I was lucky to work with some great consultants and I got to see masters in action.  The best of these was one of the quietest people you’d ever meet; not exactly something you expect for a consultant that cost customers £1,000/day back in the mid 90’s.

I was involved in a politically sensitive project a few years ago.  I was working as a consultant on a site where an implementation project had been slow to get off the ground.  The project manager and the staff felt uncomfortable with the projects architecture and direction.  With no knowledge of the customer I was sent in to see what I could do to help.  I spent two days in a meeting with 20 or so staff members.  For the first 4 or 5 hours, I did nothing but ask short quick questions, sit back and take notes.  My notebook (which I take everywhere) was filling up fast.  This customer was complex both in terms of infrastructure and organisation.  I wrote up a summary and a general plan for how to move forward.  The feedback was positive.  In fact, they were genuinely interested.  We ended up have a series of these meetings where we would focus on different goals.  I’d kick things off and let the staff explore the issues.  My input was to either steer things back on course or to steer the exploration towards new sub-issues.  I was purely exploring the problems and the possibilities of potential solutions.  In fact, in the meetings I talked very little at all.  Most of my talking was before/after the meetings or at lunch.  I’d submit a document with my findings and proposal.  This would then be followed up by the staff (who were capable but relatively inexperienced with the technology in question) or some of our other consultants.

The key to success was forcing myself to listen.  It’s amazing what the difference is between hearing and listening.

I’m on both sides of that fence now.  I’m a service provider and a consumer of services/goods.  As a service provider I still have to listen to the market and to the individual client.  I tend to work with clients who might not be experienced in what we do so I have to get quite involved in teasing out their requirements and proposing alternate/better directions for them.  The key is in hearing their business and technology requirements and translating that into a platform that they can build on.

My experience as a consumer (for the first time since 2005) has been interesting to say the least.  For most things, I tend to be self sufficient.  Firms I work for (that let me do things my way) don’t need consulting skills the way that some others do – they save money and develop internal expertise.  But there are times where I need specialist skills.  In 2003-2005 I was lucky to work with a hardware supplier who I treated as a partner.  Our sales contact was educated about their products and I got great service from them.  Today, I work with a great network service provider who I can trust the same way.

But not everything is smelling of roses.  We’re about to make a significant hardware purchase.  Unlike most companies, this isn’t something finite with X CPU’s and Y GB’s of disk; this is just a foundation which will be followed by continual purchasing.  I’ve been leading the interaction with several hardware vendors of different types.  I couldn’t have been clearer about telling them each to listen and to work well with me on this.  I am evaluating them to see if they are firms I can work with over the coming 3 years.  It’s funny because the number of competitors whittled themselves down very, very quickly.  The losing competitors are ruling themselves out because they haven’t read emails or listened to me in meetings/on the phone.  Most salesmen seem to think that people only think in numbers.  Me?  That’s still very important but enjoying my day at work is important too.  I don’t need some person wrecking my head all day long and ruining our relationship with our clients.

A simple skill that requires no €2,000 training courses such as listening can be a major tool in your arsenal.  I struggle myself at times with it but when I force myself, things work out much better.  I’d highly recommend it to anyone that’s a service provider.  As a consumer, I’d recommend that you evaluate your service providers ability to listen too.

IBM Support Sucks Too

We have a support contract at work for our IBM servers and storage.  The contract defines it as 24*7 with 4 hours response time.  I logged a call 24 hours ago for a failed disk.  24 hours later I get a phone call from "Droopy" who can’t get me an engineer.  What?  Breach of contract (by 20 hours) is what IBM offers as an enterprise service.  I asked to speak to his manager.  "He’s busy".  OK, I’ll speak to his manager’s manager.  "He’s busy too".  Friggin muppets.  Imagine how much worse it’ll be when IBM hands over their server and storage brands to Lenovo?

Anyone looking at IBM hardware – forget it.  Do yourself a favour and talk to Dell or HP. 

Why I Dislike IBM Director

I inherited a number of IBM servers with this job.  They perform a critical business service for our customers.  Luckily, the architecture we use is very fault tolerant.

Over the weekend we deployed updates in a staged manner to our production network – after testing of course.  On Sunday morning, I woke up to an email from System Center Operations Manager 2007 (gotta love it!) saying that one of the servers we patched on Saturday night was not responding to agent heartbeat requests.  Uh oh!  This was one of those IBM boxes.  We have triplicate redundancy so I knew I could let it wait until Monday morning.  To be safe, I suspended updates for the remaining production boxes.  I didn’t suspect an update but I wasn’t taking any chances.

I came into the data centre this morning and found the server sitting on a BIOS prompt.  Hmm.  That’s not good.  It had detected a problem with the external disk storage and was waiting for administrator approval to boot up.  What?  Hello?  Note: the failure was nothing to do with the server-internal boot disks.

I checked the Direct Attached Storage (DAS) and it was all green.  I booted up the server and saw the DAS was not being connected.  I shut down the server and powered down the DAS.  I powered up the DAS and was greeted with beeping … non-stop beeping.  The front panel now showed a chassis alert on the DAS and one of the disks in the RAID5 array was alerting as well.  Huh!?!  Why didn’t it tell me this when the server already knew there was a problem?

I powered up the server.  Now it didn’t prompt me.  But it did tell me the external disk was degraded.  Fine, the hardware knows there’s a problem.

I logged in and found there were no hardware logs or any sort of interface into the IBM director agent.  Nothing.  Sweet F.A.  The consultants (before my time) who installed the hardware had set up an IBM director console on another box for centralised monitoring.  I logged into it and sure enough, there were no alerts.  Hold an a *beep*ing minute; the hardware knows there’s a problem but the monitoring agent from the hardware vendor doesn’t have a clue?

OK, maybe it was the central console at fault?  I’ve never trusted it.  I went on to the SCOM console but found no alerts or health degradation on the IBM Director monitors.  That made it certain in my mind, the IBM Director agent was clueless.

So here’s my summary why I would recommend people to steer clear of IBM hardware in an enterprise deployment based on this little story:

  1. The DAS failed to show an alert on the front panel or disk despite the server not being able to boot up because it detected a failure.
  2. The IBM Director agent failed to report an incident of any kind.
  3. There’s no user interface to the IBM director agent on the server.
  4. A failure of a single disk in a RAID5 array in a DAS caused a server not to boot up.  That’s just stupid.
  5. We’ve all heard that Lenovo are taking over the server and storage business.  My experience of them with their support was awful – A call open for around 4 months and 2 months of that with the regional director taking a personal interest.

I’m now left wondering how long I’ve had a failed disk on this server considering it didn’t give any monitoring alert or visible notification until I reset the DAS chassis.

How would HP handle this?

  1. The SIM agent would have alerted on this and shown it in the HP SIM log and in the SIM web page on the server.
  2. The HP SCOM management pack for SIM would have alerted and sent all of the required/responsible administrators/operators/"business owners" a notification of the failure.
  3. The disk would have shown an alert light immediately.
  4. It’s unlikely that the server would have been prevented from booting up unless there was a complete failure of the boot disk.
  5. I would have had the storage back to a healthy state within 4 hours of opening a call with HP.

That’s a very different experience and one you expect to have from enterprise class servers and storage.


As you can guess, I was concerned with the lack of h/w monitoring that the IBM Director agent gave me.  The horrid response from the MD was that we’d have to check that the logical disks in question were present on a daily/manual presence.  Yuk!  I’d a better idea: let SCOM do the work for me.  I’ve created a distributed application that entails on the dependancies I can think of for this service, including the presence and health of the logical disk in question.

It was funny to see that the HP management pack allowed me to include discovered HP hardware objects but there were no classes for IBM hardware.  Come on IBM; you gotta play better with others!  Not everyone wants to buy consultancy-ware like Tivoli.

Are VMware Bonkers?

Judging purely by all my Hyper-V posts as of late, you might think I was anti-VMware.  Far from it.  I reckon they have a great product.  It’s not perfect.  In my opinion, they need to start playing nice with others and provide better end-end management of their enterprise solution from centralised management solutions.  I’m not just talking about placement of VM’s (Virtual Center); I’m talking about health of hardware, health of VM’s, hypervisor performance, etc.  On that they could take a page from Citrix, e.g. Presentation Server.  Pricing is something else they need to reconsider too, e.g.pay less for the product and maybe make the profits from the support or management services.

Now I’ve just read something rather interesting on Bink.  Some regional director is spouting that the days of the operating system will be over in 5-10 years.  Oka-ay then.  I for one, am not throwing my OS books into a fire in the back garden tonight.  Is this really how VMware are thinking?  Is this how they think they will survive the serious entry of Microsoft/Citrix into the enterprise hypervisor world?  This is not good; not good at all.

Is industry moving to the hypervisor?  Yes.  But not all machines are candidates for virtualisation.  I certainly don’t see the virtual appliance replacing the operating system.  Is the operating system changing?  Definitely.  Windows Server 2008 already features component based installation.  You can get an even smaller footprint using a Core installation.  And Core isn’t so scary as I found out for myself.

Credit these comments to the kook bank and don’t expect to see this looneytune making a big splash in the future.

Credit: Bink.

Ramsay’s IT Nightmares Revisited

Way, way back I talked about the parallels between running a restaurant and running an IT infrastructure/business.  I’d been watching Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and everything Gordon Ramsay was saying rang true to me.

In my original post I pointed out the following as being keys for a successful IT implementation or business:

  • Ingredients: Use the best products that are suitable for your business.  Don’t just look for what is cheap or what you’ve been comfortable with in the past.  Anticipate your future growth and requirements.  Engineer flexibility.  Learn from your mistakes.  And don’t accept mediocrity or down right awful software.  You’ve also got to find the correct blend of ingredients.  Find solutions that work together as easily as possible.  In my college software engineering classes we learned that sometimes buying in the more expensive off-the-shelf solution that did the job was often cheaper over the long term than developing internally or reconfiguring something cheaper.  Be open to those alternatives.
  • Good communication: This is a 3 way process including the owner/management, staff and the customer.  The business needs to listen to the customer to know what service to provide.  Don’t just expect the mountain to come to you.  It doesn’t work like that for us mere mortals.  The owner/management must communicate their vision to the staff.  And the owner/management needs to listen to the staff because they are the eyes and ears of the business.  If the business has recruited well, then they have hired experts.  Use that internal expertise and develop the business using well founded knowledge instead of pipe dreams founded on misinterpretations of breakfast seminar.
  • Keep it simple: I’m all for being creative.  That little script here or a scheduled job there can be the difference between being OK and looking like a genius to your customer.  Building an enterprise out of a cobweb of that is pure nuts.  Imagine an administrator planning on managing many hundreds of mission critical Windows servers via scripts?!?!?  Talk about a nightmare.  I can install SCOM to do that in 3 days and have a 100% completely managed infrastructure with reporting, in-depth control and trust in the solution.  Sometimes doing the MacGuyver thing is cool.  Sometimes you’ve got to step back and thing bigger and simpler.  It’s almost like a state of mind where you let your focus drift back from the detail while keeping it in vision.
  • The customer: There is no business if there is no customer.  That customer might be the business you work for – they can "leave you" by outsourcing your job if you don’t cut the mustard.  And they still might just do that if management has a brainfart to cut costs, e.g. a company laying off 15 staff and replacing them with 77 consultants :-).  It might be a traditional customer who will leave you or never sign a contract if what you provide isn’t what they want or need.

I’m going to add a couple of more bullet points to this:

  • The owner/management: The latest series of Kitchen Nightmares showed how a restaurant can fail if the owner is not up to the job.  This applies equally in IT.  I’ve worked for a few companies in the last few years and I’ve seen how the owner/management can steer a boat towards the inevitable fall over a waterfall.  Whether it was those who locked themselves away in an office and surfing the web and chatting with friends about pipe dreams, those who think they know everything there is to know and put their fates in the hands of a consulting firm that’s being screwing up and ripping them off for years while ignoring advice to the contrary or those companies that split IT into competing factions where work is not done because it falls between the cracks.  One thing that was common was that their IT infrastructures were 100% s***.  I was brought in and either given nothing to do or they didn’t want to listen.  Unless the captain wants to work, the boat will never reverse course.  It’s more than just talking.  You’ve got to get down and get your hands dirty.  Decisions need to be made.  Work must be done.  Changes need to start at the top.  Sorry!  I’ve also had the opposite experience where the owner/management are completely committed and passionate about the success of the enterprise.  I’m lucky to be there right now.  I enjoy starting work in the morning for the first time since 2005.  That energy feeds from the top through the staff.
  • Staff: You must recruit well.  I guess I see three types of administrator/engineer.  There’s the 10:00-16:00 person who comes in to to a job.  They don’t care about the job.  They have no passion.  They don’t learn.  Anything new is work for consultants or contractors.  Anyway, "I just want to be doing XYSTSJ instead of this.  This is just to pay the bills".  Those folks are in the vast majority in the business.  They produce s*** and the infrastructure is s***.  There is the hard slogger.  This is the person who comes in 100% committed to working their best.  They want to learn and they are good, honest people.  There only downfall is that despite their great work ethic, things can be done a little bit more efficiently.  Then there is the lazy admin.  Lazy; isn’t that bad?  Not necessarily.  I class myself as a lazy admin.  I’d rather have someone or something else do the hard work for me.  Such as?  Why not let the network look after itself?  It is possible, you know.  It’s not just marketing.  I’ve done the Dynamic Systems Initiative and Optimised Infrastructure thing before.  A team of 3 of us ran 170+ globally located servers and were doing 3 hours a day of troubleshooting.  We could focus the rest of the time on more interesting work and on projects that added value to the competitiveness of the business.  In this case, being "lazy" was a good thing.
  • Passion/Commitment: Being in this business mean spending more time than just 7.5 hours a day a the office.  To be the best you’ve got to be flexible and work that little bit more.  All of the alpha geeks I know read IT blogs, books, etc after work.  They go to evening seminars.  The best owners/managers I’ve worked for make personal sacrifices for the sake of the business and their staff, e.g. coming in on that evening to help out an engineer who is working on a severity 1 issue or being in the office when there is a maintenance weekend, even if they have nothing to do.  This is a key to success.

So that’s what I’ve learned from the restaurant business over the last series of Ramsays’ show and how it applies to our business.  I just found a YouTube video where he gives 5 keys to success.  They seem to apply to our business from what I’ve seen over the last few years:

  1. Passion: Everything you do as a leader influences the staff.
  2. Commitment: Don’t get into business if you’re seeing it as a hobby.  This isn’t a way to get yourself away playing golf, cruising around town in a fast car or playing Playstation all day long.  This is work, not just for your employees but also for yourself.
  3. Competition: Know them.  Strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats – good old SWOT analysis from the marketing classes back in college.  Knowing your competition means you can beat them.  The best American Football players spend more time studying their competition in film rooms probably more than they’ll be in the gym or on the practice field.  Be able to offer something more, better or different.
  4. Creative Input: Don’t just rest on your laurels.  Always look for something new.  Invest time and money in R&D.  If you don’t, you will stagnate and your competition will leap ahead of you.
  5. The Customer is king: I’ve seen a company in a dominant position become the most hated company in their industry.  Awful sales ("sell them everything and we’ll break the bad news to them once the contract is signed"), atrocious support, failing operations and a laissez faire attitude from management turned off the market from them.  Their name became synonymous with everything that you could do wrong.  Ramsay makes an intersting point.  Some chefs cook for other chefs.  That’s wrong because you’re forgetting to cook for taste.  In our business, don’t do something because it’s cool or it’s geeky.  Do something because it makes your job easier or because it adds something of value for the customer.

Those who know me will find it a little funny that I find so much in common with a chef who’s famous for having a bad temper.  I don’t see any similarities at all 🙂