Friday, January 20, 2012

IT Efficiency VS Pragmatism

My lovely (amazing, and supremely intelligent) wife sent me a link to an interesting IDC article about Government reducing costs through Cloud Architecture. Its your standard analysis article that mostly gives you the (oft dangerous) executive overview but this one sets us up for some good discussion about the shift in IT in the government sector.

I recommend giving it a read.

Scott Fulton gets a lot things right in his analysis. It is true we're seeing a massive shift in how governmental agencies approach their compute strategies. With budgets shrinking into oblivion most agencies are forced to put everything on the table as they plan out their future. Until recently most application vendors in the public sector required dedicated hardware for their software. Getting a new app meant getting more hardware since vendors would not support their software in a consolidated environment. This was probably compounded by the fact that many application vendors were also trying to push their own hardware as part of the contract.

Now that most app vendors are comfortable with virtualized environments new strategies are becoming possible. This is a very Good Thing (tm).

Intra-Agency cooperation isn't quite as rosy a picture as the author makes it out to be and maybe I can use Minnesota as an example.

Mr. Fulton really seems to like the possibility of smaller agencies taking advantage of larger agencies' compute investments. True, this has been advantageous for some counties and cities. The State of Minnesota has offered cloud services to local units of government for quite some time. The State has gone all in on cloud for its own services (email, Office 365, Sharepoint) so it is certainly eating its own dogfood. The reality is that the bigger agencies are often not a reliable partner.

The problem for local agencies is that politics on the State-level change as often as the wind direction. With a two-year budget cycle, power mongering, and constantly changing staff the State's local agency customer doesn't know what to expect, sometimes even on a month-to-month basis. Mostly due to politics, the State has a history of forcing changes in delivery methods down local-agency customers' throats.

My experience with local units of government is that they take a much longer view of things. Even IT purchases are looked at from a 5-10 year perspective. I suspect this is because elected officials are more easily accessed by their constituents and also have to live with their decisions in a more tangible way. Many of the organizations I know would recognize that a State-provided cloud service will save money from the start but then would immediately ask how this would affect them 5-10 years from now.

In Minnesota, at least, we have a pretty fantastic push toward better connectivity. The State, much to its credit, is working hard on bringing fiber-speed connections to most counties. The speed of these connections means that local level governments have some opportunities for collaboration amongst each other that they didn't have before.

In the end that's what it all comes down to: connectivity. Without that all the cloud computing in the world is useless.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Should We Be Working Hourly?

I've been reading some of the thoughts other people are writing about value-based consulting and alternatives to traditional workplaces. I enjoyed the idea of unlimited vacation time one company had set into policy. All of this got me thinking: Is it appropriate to pay knowledge/information workers by the hour?

What are we paying people for?

Paying workings an hourly wage is certainly a decent way to pay people. This has been the paradigm of unionized labor for decades. The amount you are compensated is based on one metric - attendance. Keeping your job is based on two metrics essentially - attendance and productivity. Your presence is easily measured. In a manufacturing or manual labor environment your productivity is easily managed.

In the world of knowledge workers does attendance matter? For that matter, how do we manage productivity for someone who is working in their mind?

Obviously, employers have been solving this issue for ages by paying salaries rather than hourly. Its a step in the right direction but its a solution that's just too easy to abuse and burn people out.

A system I'd like to see someone try would be a combination of salary and value-based compensation. Finish a project and get compensation based on meeting the metrics or set goals.

Its something I could see working in public sector. I think it would encourage creativity and reward efficiency.


Friday, January 6, 2012

VMware Upgrade Project

One of the exciting purchases approved at work for 2011 was an upgrade to our VMware environment. The purchases were almost all hardware, which is a good thing since our current production equipment has been running 24/7 for four years now. We've been getting by on ESX 3.5. Its time to get modern because the writing is on the wall for incompatibility soon.

The new equipment is:
2x HP DL380g7 servers (1x 6core Xeon X5649, 48GB RAM, 4GB Flash storage for OS, 6 NICs)
1x IBM N3400 filer (12x 600GB 15k SAS)

I've been working hard on bringing my VMware skill set up to date with a ton of reading. Fortunately, because everyone else in the world is a VMware customer, there's lots and lots of content in communities all over the internet. I've also been enjoying Mastering VMware vSphere 5 by Scott Lowe (published by Sybex and read on safaribooksonline.com). Doesn't go into detail on a lot of things, but its a good overview of the product and implementation tasks.

So far I've got ESXi installed on the servers. Next week will involve preparing storage for the environment and installing the latest vCenter server. After that I'll start cold migrating servers over! Can't wait to be up to date with enough storage to do work again!