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Archive for January 2012

War Games for Sysadmins

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The beginning of a calendar year is a great time to make wild predictions, so here’s one…within the next 10 years we’ll see a new class of system administration tools that allow freelance sysadmins to virtually team with an organization’s existing IT staff to help debug operational problems within that organization’s applications and/or infrastructure.

Key features I’d expect to see in these tools:

  • Ability to take a snapshot of an organization’s live environment, or a portion of it, and run that snapshot in the cloud. The environment would have all PII and other identifying info (e.g. IP addresses) removed to ensure that the sysadmins would not know on whose infrastructure they were operating. The result is that the freelancers would have their own sandbox in which to experiment, debug, and come up with potential solutions for a stated problem.
  • Ability to set parameters on which freelancers may work on a given type of problem, including allowing only pre-qualified freelancers (e.g. Resources from consulting firms with whom the organization already has a relationship)
  • Ability for freelancers to ask questions of the requesting organization about symptoms of the problem, or other background information that might be helpful in the debugging process.
  • Ability to screen share the snapshot environment and ability to pass control to the organization’s sysadmins, or to a member of a freelancer team.
  • Teaming capability where multiple freelancers can pool their talents to try and solve a particularly multi-disciplinary problem(e.g. A sysadmin and a network guy team up to debug a thorny NFS issue).
  • Replay capability so that the organization can see the solution implemented by the freelancers and validate that it would indeed meet their needs before compensating the freelancer (and before implementing the changes in their production environment!).
  • Identify common solutions to common problems and institutionalize that in the system to reduce time to resolution of those problems. Allow a requesting organization to potentially solve common issues themselves without having to involve the freelancers.
  • Payment system to ensure that freelancers are compensated if the debugging steps they suggested are successful.
  • Rating system for freelancers and participating organizations to ensure a high quality, trustworthy marketplace.

I don’t think that corporations would be willing to put their entire infrastructure stack out to be examined by a bunch of nameless, faceless freelancers. However, I think they would be willing to take specific applications with well understood datasets, like a problematic MS Exchange server, for example, and allow a PII/anonymized version of it to be worked on by a set of vetted, trusted freelancers. As I’ve said before, system administration is becoming more social, and over time it’s not unreasonable to think that ‘social’ would extend to on demand outsourcing of infra and app debugging with a virtual team component.


Written by John Gannon

January 3, 2012 at 10:56 pm

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Becoming a better public speaker in 2012

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This year I am making an effort to become a better public speaker by participating in a local Toastmasters (specifically, Pacers Toastmasters) group.

When I tell people I joined Toastmasters, they usually know it is a public speaking and leadership club but they don’t know about and are often curious about what goes on at a typical meeting. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Prepared speeches: 4 members give prepared and (hopefully) rehearsed speeches that range from 5-10 minutes in length, and one member gives a short inspirational speech that is a minute or two in length.
  • Evaluations: Each of the 4 prepared speeches is evaluated by an evaluator. The evaluator gets up in front of the members and spends up to 2 minutes discussing positive aspects of the speech as well as areas for improvement. There is also a General Evaluator who evaluates the evaluators as well as the speakers who delivered the prepared speeches.
  • Table Topics: One of the members leads a session of extemporaneous speaking, where he/she invites each member up to the stage to give a 1-2 minute speech on a topic that was only revealed to them as they came up on stage.
  • Grammar and Timer Reports: One member is responsible for counting and reporting on all of the “filler words” (umms, ahhs, you knows, etc) used during the speeches and evaluations. Another member is responsible for timing all of the speeches, and at the end of the meeting shares those times with the group. They also give you the hook if your speech runs beyond its allotted time :)

If you have interest in improving your public speaking skills, you owe it to yourself to check out a local Toastmasters chapter meeting. Our club welcomes guests who pre-register, so that they can get a sense of what the club, and Toastmasters in general, is all about. If you think you might be interested in checking out the club, visit our website and follow the directions related to attending meetings as a guest.. We’re a pretty welcoming bunch!

Written by John Gannon

January 2, 2012 at 10:42 pm

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IDEs belong in the cloud

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A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to play around with Ruby and naively thought that it would be easy to get started. I’d download Eclipse, and a few Ruby packages that weren’t shipped with MacOS, and then be off to the races. Fat chance. What I thought was going to a leisurely evening of writing sample Ruby apps turned out to be a marathon debugging session, wrestling with dependencies, error messages, and anything else that could have possible gone wrong — before I had the chance to write a lick of my own code. It reminded me of being a sysadmin, poring over log files and reading cryptic StackOverflow posts trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with my setup. It just should not be this hard for someone moderately technical to start coding up a simple app.

Fortunately there are some companies building cloud hosted IDEs (definitely should have started there in retrospect), like eXo, Cloud9 and Kodingen, who will take slot of the “getting started” pain out of your coding experience. Spend less time monkeying around with libraries and dependencies and more time developing cool stuff. I like it.

The other cool thing about cloud hosted IDEs is that it opens up a ton of innovation in terms of 3rd party developers being able to expose their libraries to those IDEs as a web service. Individual users of the IDE could simply select modules and libraries from a service catalog of 3rd party devs, and it would just work, with no hacking or tearing out of ones hair :) I can also see someone making a play to develop some kind of middleware layer where 3rd party Devs could upload their libraries as-is, and that middleware would make the libraries available as a web service to the Cloud IDEs. Maybe github is the right home for that middleware-as-a-service?

I think this is a really interesting space but I’m sure I’m missing some of the nuances. Let me know what I may have overlooked in the comments. I appreciate any and all feedback.

Written by John Gannon

January 1, 2012 at 10:51 pm

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