March Madness

So whats been happening lately? Well not too much guys and that is mostly down to Telstra and their glorious inability to add extra ports to an exchange in a growing suburb.

While planning the move to Toowoomba one of the decisions we made was to live close to my parents. Hopefully this would allow us to see them more but it would also allow us to help out around the house. Frankly, they aren’t getting any younger and there are things they can’t do anymore – like painting the outside of their house – that I do have the ability to help with.

We ended up finding a really lovely house in Wyreema (located here) about 16k’s from Toowoomba proper. They have their own ADSL 2+ enabled exchange and I know they get excellent speed having speedtested my fathers connection during visits. All in all it seemed like a great fresh start for my wife and I. I got a great Phone and Broadband package from iiNet connected no worries at all. Except that for the first time ever I was confronted with those words that no-one ever wants to hear.

“No spare ports in the exchange”.

I work in IT. I work in IT for a small business. The notion of their being such a thing as office hours is so laughable as to not really be all that funny. I require a solid internet connection to be able to perform most of the functions of my job which include performing remote maintenance outside of business hours. If I were in BrisVegas this wouldn’t be such a big deal. I’d simply sign up on iiNet’s fantastic 20GB a month 4G mobile broadband plan (available for around $80/moth) while I waited for a port to become available in my exchange. Heck I’d do that here too because the Optus 4g in town is fantastic.

You’ll notice that I phrased that last bit “in town”. I say in town when referring to anywhere in Toowoomba because as soon as you pass the sign saying “Welcome to Wyreema” you basically kiss access to any mobile phone network other than Telstra’s goodbye.

And therein – as they say – lies the rub.

If we lived in actual Toowoomba proper there’s a fairly good chance we could have had access to fibre internet. At the very least we would have had access to an exchange with more ports than Wyreema’s so we probably wouldn’t have had the issue with there being no ports available to us. If there was a delay it would have been easily rectifiable without it being necessary to pay $180 for a paltry 12GB of 3G data.

Yep. It’s 2014 and I have no other option but to pay $15 per Gigabyte of 3G mobile data because I can’t do my job without it. At least it’s tax deductible though.

I could understand probably understand Wyreema running out of ports in the exchange if it were a tiny little place with maybe 20 houses but its not. It has experienced some pretty major growth over the last few years and there are plans for more housing estates (we live in the newest one) to start going in soon. It’s just a shame that Telstra can’t be bothered to even pretend that they are keeping up with that growth.

Otherwise, I’m loving this city and I’m loving my work. The traffic is light, the weather is great and the people are (mostly) friendly. It’s just a shame that I might have to wait forever for internet that’s not a complete rort.

What came next

Wow. Its very nearly February 2014 and frankly it might actually be by the time I post this… we’ll see how it goes.

I don’t really even know where to start this post but by Cthulhu a lot has happened since I last posted on November 5. Huge amounts of things. Life altering and breathtakingly staggering things. It will take several posts to cover everything and there is a lot that I can’t talk about, but here goes nothing.

In mid December I was offered what, at the time, I believed to be the challenge that I’d been seeking. A chance to walk into an established business with more of a professional (read: white collar) clientele than I had previously been dealing with and as they say in the HR world “really make the role my own”.

If you’d asked me three weeks ago, I’d probably have told you that far from me making the role my own, the role was making me its bitch. Every. Single. Day.

Call it arrogance, or ego, on my part but when taking the role I truly believed that the owners had over-stated the challenges facing the business. The longer I stay, the more I believe that not only was my assumption resoundingly wrong, the owners were, if anything, drastically under-stating the monumental scope of the challenge I’d signed up for.

If you’d have asked me on the 15th of December when I accepted the job, this role was going to be one in which I could learn some new things, but also one that wouldn’t really stretch me in any way.

How very wrong one person can be.

I have to be very careful as to what I say next because there is an ongoing legal proceeding in which I might be called as an expert witness.

I was taught years ago that no matter what else you let slide, good, usable, tested and trusted backups are worth their weight in gold. Your clients pay you to cover their asses because they don’t have the knowledge, inclination and/or time to do for themselves what they pay us to do.

The backup regime put in place by my predecessors is an absolute travesty.

It’s hard for me to properly express in words the gravity of what I have discovered while auditing the backups on the sites that I have been allocated. Where scripted backups should be occuring on a daily basis via scheduled task, most of these scripts have been either disabled, straight out don’t work or both.

On the larger sites that have a third party backup solution in place, not a single one of these has been functioning correctly when I’ve audited it.

I should put this in perspective for you. A large majority of the clientele that I’ve been looking after for the last 6 weeks are in the medical industry. These clients have responsibilities and duties under Federal statutes that cannot ever be voided and come with zero limitation of liability. One of those responsibilities is record keeping. most of these practices are required to keep accurate records for 25 years from the date the patient was last seen. “We had a server crash and lost everything” simply doesn’t cut it.

Its not just the Medical Practitioners that the inability to limit liability extends to. If you guessed that it extends to the IT services provider as well you would be absolutely, positively correct.

Add into the mix that we have been experiencing nearly 40 degree heat this last month and that several sites have thrown drives in their RAID arrays and you can see why my days have stretched out from their normal 10 (or so) hours out to 15 -21 hours.
Add to this out BAU efforts, the fact that there is 0 (zero) uniformity, even between sites rolled out on the same hardware plans – the jury is still out on whether this was intentional or just incompetence – and that we are still engaged in the normal and never ending process of building, commisioning and decommissioning servers and it all adds up to an extraordinarily hectic schedule.
Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not in anyway complaining about any of this. On the contrary, I feel compelled at this point to let you in on a secret:

I genuinely believe that I have stumbled on the opportunity of a lifetime.

In December I thought I was signing up for a job that would give me security and the opportunity to add a little diversity to my skills. These last 6 weeks have instead been a baptism of fire and every single day I’ve had to put my money where my mouth is. This role is testing me in every possible way, not just as an IT technician, but as an IT Professional.

I can tell you, though it may sound arrogant, that I’ve learnt more in the last 6 weeks then I had learnt in the last 3years. I’m without question twice the technician I was 4 weeks ago. In another month I’ll probably be twice the technician that I am right now.

I’m growing as an IT professional too. In the later days of working for myself I feared (almost constantly truth be told) that I was stagnating. That my skills, while I was pushing myself to develop them, simply weren’t being stimulated enough or even in the right way.

There are no such fears anymore.

Finding things

Firstly, by way of update on the job front, I’m currently moonlighting in a warehouse. Its soul destroying back breaking labour and not particularly technical, but their IT systems are decrepit and I’ve already had to fix several issues. It’s stinking hot and ridiculously humid most days already so I’m not looking forward to actually doing this over summer. Added incentive to land a real job then.

As far as writing goes, I’ve produced a couple of pieces over the last week. The more I write these pieces the more I’m learning about the process of writing and how I actually write, which is good and bad. Which one occurs on any given day is probably fairly dependent on your point of view.

I’ve received a gifted copy of a popular virtualisation vendor’s VDI offering today. I’m not quite ready to disclose what exactly it is, but I saw it demonstrated earlier in the year. I wrote a post about the event I was at. It shouldn’t be too hard to draw a conclusion from that. I am _REALLY_ looking forward to cranking it up and reviewing it.

In other news, @tolstoshev of SpiceWorks fame is in the country living it up on a holiday. He’s doing the major cities (sorry Perth you get screwed again) so y’all should buy him a coffee or a beer.

From here on out is where it gets crazy most years so there might not be many posts until January, but I’ll see what I can come up with.

PS. I’m still looking for ideas so if you have any software/services/other that you would like reviews or opinions on just let me know. After all, other than moonlighting, I don’t have all that much to do.

Reboot: Successful. Free Agent Status: Confirmed

So, as of today I am officially a free agent.

There have been a rather large number of questions in the past 3 weeks about where I go from here. Its only in the last week that I’ve really started to formulate a plan on that.

From where I sit right now this can only really work two ways:

1. I can find a day job and continue to write on the side. This will basically be the exact same setup as before, except that someone else is handling the payroll and (hopefully) 95% of the stress. This is a good option because it means that I get a regular paycheck and I get to start rebuilding the relationship with my wife that has suffered because I’m a workaholic with no off button.

2. I can freelance the fuck out of myself and see if I can make real job of this people “paying me to write things for them” side business that I’ve had going on. This is almost certainly what I’m going to end doing. Right now I have a moonlighting job and with careful management of our money this will support my wife and I through Christmas and beyond. What I’m looking for are opportunities to write articles that are both interesting to me and informative to a large readership. I have started to develop a relationship with The Register and I’d like to see that bloom into something further – whether that be a staff writer position, or an ongoing contract to provide several pieces a month.

I’d also like to get to know a lot more about the unseen technologies that are shaping our everyday lives. This means talking to a lot of people and hopefully getting clearance to go and look at some of the larger, and more interesting, facilities in South-East Queensland to see how these professionals are implementing the technologies of today and planning for the future.

To this end I have started to compile a list of places that I’d like to see if I could visit and that could provide great fodder for articles. So if you know anyone that can help me get into any of the following places, please don’t hesitate to give them my details:

a) A Desalinisation Plant – Specifically the Tugun one. The plant is currently in “Hot Standby” mode meaning it can be brought back into operation with 72hrs notice should the drought recur. Although currently in this state it would still provide a fascinating insight into large scale industrial monitoring systems and the infrastructure needed to drive them.

b) Any of SEQWater’s Dam Monitoring facilities. These guys have locations where they monitor all of South East Queenslands water assets, and perform tasks such as water forecasting and statistical analysis. I can see them using “big data” to aid in these tasks. Fascinating.

c) As above but substitute Traffic Monitoring, Electricity Generation and/or Distribution, etc.

I’m devilishly curious about how all of this unseen technology affects us in every day life. How has it changed from 10, 25, 50 even 100 years ago. Has technology made it more cost effective to do certain things? Has it improved certain functions of the business? Has it necessitated or facilitated a reduction in staffing? Has it meant that the entry bar has risen for positions at these facilities? There is just so much we don’t know that is controlled by this “hidden technology” and I would love to get the opportunity to uncover some of it.

So what does everyone else think of this idea? Do any of these ideas sound interesting to anyone else or am I all on my lonesome at the fringe again? If you have a suggestion for anything else that you think should be covered don’t hesitate to send a suggestion @wigginsix on twitter, or hello@wigginsixsolutions.com if you prefer email.

Selling Out.

You might have noticed that things have been a bit quiet on the post front lately. There’s a very big reason for that. We’ve been growing like a weed. In the last few months we’ve said goodbye to our largest and longest standing client and taken on as many new clients as we could possibly handle. Even after all this, still the work has continued to roll in.

Growth is great. Growth is fantastic. Except when it isn’t.

This growth, organic and unexpected, has happened faster than I have capacity to deal with, personally and professionally. Last Wednesday, for the first time in longer than I can remember, I was forced to take a personal day. This wasn’t totally unexpected given the breakneck pace I’ve been operating at, but the real reason behind the day off is quite simply that I’m verging on burnout. I’ve looked at a number of options to deal with this (including hiring someone to help out) but the toll the last few months have taken on my personal life is huge and I simply don’t believe it’s sustainable in the long run.

These aren’t the only reasons for my decision, but what it boils down to is this:

Today I made the decision to sell out.

One of the local businesses that I’ve been working with over the last 18 months have been trying for a while to get me to sell out to them. Last week they presented me with an offer to purchase the clients and contracts associated with my business. It’s a good deal. They get the money making side of the business while I retain the Wigginsix Solutions Brand and Website.

So what does this mean going forward?

Effectively immediately we are no longer taking on clients. Any new client inquiries will receive referrals to other local businesses that can help them. Existing clients have been notified and will be transitioned over the next few weeks.

Hang on, you haven’t mentioned what you’ll be doing…

To be honest that’s because I really don’t know. The business taking over has capacity for growth that I don’t. This means that they also have more staff and, while I would have been happy to join them, there simply wasn’t room for me on their payroll.

I’m back to being a free agent then.

So if you’re looking for a slightly used sysadmin/presales engineer/project engineer/infrastructure architect/solution designer/IT manager then I might be your man. You can contact me by sending an email to hi@wigginsixsolutions.com.

Thats really it for now.

Aaron Milne

How To Pitch Me

I had the best pitch meeting I’ve ever had today. Shout out to Scott O from Tecala. He came prepared and he pitched well.

I’ve mentioned before in a previous post that I’m exceptionally busy and this continues to be the case. If you’re interested in pitching me here’s what you need to know:

1. I’m busy. Keep your pitch concise and to the point. If we have an hour to chat it pays to remember that while yes I am (technically) a C-Level employee, I am first and foremost a technical guy. Keep the deck pitch to no more than about 10 minutes. If I need to know more about your deck I’ll ask and if we have time I might even ask for you to go back over some of it. I would really hate for you to have to cut short your product demo because your deck presentation ran long.

2. If you’re local to Brisbane then I would love to meet you for coffee. A coffee place is a great venue for us to chat without pressure as long as there is no live or overly loud music because I can’t block it out. When you meet me in person, I might come across as arrogant, distant, a know-it-all or, on one of the rarer good days, I might come across as a genuinely nice guy. Please don’t be offended either way.

3. I might write a post about something that comes up in our meeting and sometimes that post won’t be favourable. Deal with it. On the flipside, I might write a post complimenting you on your pitch meeting.

4. Feel free to send me cool tech, or to offer to send me somewhere on your dollar. This does not entitle you to coverage, favourable or otherwise, but I will do my best to write an article about whatever it is that you provide me for review. This will be an honest assessment of my time with your appliance/service/product/team. If, for some reason, you want to pay me to write a review be aware that “hey we’d like you to review X for X dollars” is acceptable but, to quote Trevor Pott, “why $vendor’s 10 gigabit Ethernet is something everyone should buy” is not. If you want to sit down with me for longer than an hour, or send me somewhere, then you’re gonna need to give me notice. For longer than an hour at least a months notice will likely be needed; for longer than a day, I’ll probably need at least 2 months.

5. Last, but not least, I run a company and need to fit this in around a very busy schedule. This also means that I get it when you have to reschedule and it will never, ever, bother me. Life happens. We all get sick, we all get injured, we all have emergencies and scheduling issues. By the time we hang up, or I finish reading your email, I’ve already moved on.

I think I’ll leave it there for tonight. If you have any questions or comments on this you can contact me at hello@wigginsixsolutions.com or on +61 7 3040 2810 between 7am and 6pm AEDT

Good morning, good afternoon and good night.

AJM

Great Product, I’m Interested, But American Start-ups Still Just Don’t Get Data Sovereignty.

Several weeks back I published a piece on The Register about data sovereignty. I believe that data sovereignty is one of the single greatest issues facing those in the IT services field today. I also think that given the implications of the absolutely obscene reach the NSA and other similar organisations have in terms of intercepts, data requisitioning and so forth, companies offering global XaaS services aren’t doing enough to protect their clients.

On Saturday morning I interviewed a start-up about their offerings. During the interview the issues surrounding the fact that they are using S3 and EC2 for their back-end were brought up. While I wasn’t given the brush off, I simply don’t feel that the answers I was given went far enough to allay my fears, or the inevitable fears of my clients. In an effort to make the initial setup and configuration of their software as simple as possible that they have made a grievous error. The CTO bragged today that they have tested set-up and installation, including downloading, and that it can be done in the real world in less than 5 minutes. He also remarked that no change to the firewall was necessary. When I put this together with my seemingly innocuous questions regarding whether they were using SSL, and a related response about HTTPs, I find that they must be transmitting my data via HTTPs.

HTTPs is good, but it is also one of the most common security protocols used on the web. Which means that data, once intercepted can be made to sit up and beg. It might not even be Prism and the NSA doing the intercepting. It could simply be a competitor or it could be another foreign power. Frankly it doesn’t matter. Using HTTPs to transmit data, no matter how washed isn’t something that I would consider good enough to secure my MY data and therefore it isn’t enough to secure my clients data.

At this point I feel compelled to admit that I haven’t tested installation and set-up, or gone anywhere as near in depth as I plan to, but looking around the account they provided me I’m stunned. My first impressions are that it really is as simple as it seems to get usable data out of the system and into formats that can make the most difference to the sysadmins and systems guys that need it. My mind has been blown and it’s a real struggle for me currently not to shout that from the rooftops.

At the same time though, I’m quite disappointed. I say disappointed because my mind lit up with the possibilities associated with this service during the interview. I’m yet to have a really good play with it but I’m almost certain that this appliance will become part of my tool kit. As a sysadmin with multiple clients across multiple sites, utilising multi-generational equipment, maintenance can be an absolute terror. I want this appliance and associated service to be the absolute ducks nuts. I want it to be everything and more.

Most of all though, I want to be able to use it and if there are issues surrounding data sovereignty and security then I simply won’t be able to. Which is a shame because this could solve the very real needs of many, many SME sysadmins.

VMware Series 2013

Today I attended the Brisbane leg of VMware Series 2013. Considering I regularly make the business case to my clients for including VMware as part of their infrastructure, it’s always worthwhile seeing which local cloud providers offer services that can help me do this.

After seeing the demo’s this morning and talking to the representatives of several companies I have the following to report.

1. The new technologies coming out of VMware are amazing;

2. The partner ecosystem is alive, well and thriving; and

3. Today I met several vendors who haven’t forgotten that SME’s exist.

Point number three made today worthwhile for me. I met Cameron from Nutanix who’s a great representative for products that are phenomenal and game changing. I spoke to the guys at the Veeam booth which made part of me squeal with delight.I also got speak to, and see a demonstration by, Luke Brown of ZettaGrid. These guys truly understand the Australian Tech Scene as a result of being a product of it. They also understand that not everybody is an Enterprise customer with Enterprise scale budgets or needs and they allow for that too. Thanks for that ZettaGrid. You’re my still one of my favorite and definitely one of my preferred local cloud providers.

Bravo VMware for putting on a great day, and thank-you to everyone who took the time to chat to an SME IT provider today even after you realised you couldn’t sell me anything. You guys rock.

A Final Post On Asperger Syndrome

On Wednesday, 13/07/2013 my post regarding Asperger’s was republished by The Register. To say that the response, both public and private, from clients, friends, family, colleagues (past and present) and strangers, has been overwhelming would be an understatement. The article spent around 48hours in the top 10 most read articles on the site.

I’m stunned, and truly, sincerely, touched. The decision to share that part of me wasn’t an easy one. I don’t crave attention of the sort that was thrust upon me by its publication, and once I have it I really don’t know what to do with it.

I strongly believe that the following post belongs on a personal blog, not a business blog, however as I posted the original post here, it makes sense that this should go here too. After this I will no longer be posting on the subject. I am by no means an expert on it. If you believe that you, or someone close to you suffers from Asperger Syndrome, talk to your GP.

Here goes:

1. Why isn’t your phone number displayed on the website?
This is a question I receive from many sources. It comes down to workflow. I get a lot of inquiries on a daily basis and find it easier to manage those inquiries if I receive them by email. I also spend quite a lot of time everyday with clients, or deep in concentration. Stopping to answer my phone can cost me quite a lot of time in lost productivity, where answering an email does not. I have also published my phone number previously and been bombarded with Telemarketing, Scam calls and Scam SMS’s. Until someone comes up with spam filtering for phone calls and SMS, I’ll continue to accept your initial inquiries through my website, or by referral email.

2. What are the prejudices mentioned. How can they affect clients business ?
Like most IT Professionals I’ve encountered situations where I’ve had a bad experience with a particular piece of hardware or vendor. Unlike most IT professionals I have a tendency to hold a grudge, regardless of how baseless that grudge may be. For example: I loathe Sony. I don’t have any reason to loather Sony, other than that I had a bad experience with a Sony mobile phone in 2007. Unfortunately because of that I will never buy anything Sony produces. Ever. This is bad for my clients because it means that even if a Sony product was the best solution to a particular problem, I am highly unlikely to recommend that product because of personal issues. I don’t forgive easily and I don’t forget. The Sony issue is just an example though. They don’t make hardware or offer services that my clients are likely to use so its one that I don’t have to give up. Having said that I have developed checks and balances that are designed to defeat my personal prejudices. So far it’s always worked. I won’t ever rule out a product, service or vendor simply because of my personal prejudices.

Regardless of how I feel I will always do whats best for the client. After all, they are paying.

3. What is a lack of functional empathy? Are you a Sociopath/Psychopath?
No, it doesn’t mean that I am a Sociopath/Psychopath. I have Criminal Minds to thanks for the rise in this question. The term functional empathy is a misnomer. Known in clinical circles as Atypical Empathic Response, it simply means that in circumstances where most people would feel empathy for another person, such as noticing that they are displaying body language indicating that they are upset, I have none of the normal empathic response. Its not that I don’t notice, I probably do on some level, its that my brain doesn’t process this in the same way as those without Asperger Syndrome, and I come off as uncaring, aloof or arrogant. Also, because I don’t associate an empathic response with small details, I quickly forget them. Hence the reference to forgetting little Johnny’s name.

4. Asperger Syndrome isn’t real/devastating. You can learn to stop being like you are. Etc.
Not so much a question, but I would like to take the time to respond to this. I can attest to the fact that Asperger Syndrome is real, and that people with Asperger Syndrome struggle everyday. Some will never be diagnosed and will live forever incomplete. Part of me is non-functional and for years I had no idea why I was barely able to tolerate or function in situations that everyone else I knew was comfortable in or easily able to handle. Some of what I am can be controlled through medications. Some of what I am can be controlled through behavioral therapies/management regimes. At the end of the day though, I am what I am and will do the best I can with the hand I’ve been dealt, both personally and professionally.

To conclude, if you weren’t aware of Asperger’s previously I hope that I have helped you to become more aware. I dearly hope that this understanding helps breed more tolerance. The world can always use more tolerance. We are, after all, all unique. Some of us are just a little more unique than others.

AJM

PS. How do you catch a unique squirrell? Unique up on it.

Prejudices In IT: A Response

I consider Trevor Pott to be a good friend. This evening he posted an article on The Register discussing prejudices in IT. I’ve been thinking hard about this exact problem for several months now. As a consultant to the SME market, every single prejudice I have directly effects my clients IT infrastructure, potentially for 10 years.

Like Trevor I have a disability as well. I live everyday with Asperger Syndrome. The problem with Asperger’s is that those with it display (to quote Wikipedia) “Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody, and physical clumsiness… as well as a lack of functional empathy”. To explain, I’m a living breathing walking encyclopedia on a few, narrow and extremely limited topics. If I care about something, I care about it to the point of minutiae. If I don’t care then it may as well not even exist.

On a professional level this might seem to be a massive boon, but as a result of my lack of functional empathy it is like juggling chainsaws over a pit filled with crocodiles, while it rains acid.  Everyday I force myself into situations that I’m not cut out to deal with socially. One of the reasons that I am so damned good at what I do in IT is that computers don’t talk. They don’t expect me to know that they have 3 kids, two in highschool and one in primary, and remember to ask about them during my weekly, fortnightly or monthly site visit. They don’t ask me how my day is going and expect me to realise that its not an invitation for an in depth discussion on what I learnt about Nutanix.

So how does this relate to my prejudices and why should this matter to my clients? Frankly, my prejudices matter because what I recommend to my clients must be the absolute best solution for their needs. Point blank, no excuses, period. If its not then it can drive their business into the ground. They matter because clients often don’t have the skills to whether the solution I offer them is the best solution possible. My clients have to trust my word.

I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings. My Asperger’s means that sometimes I will get bogged down over the slightest detail. It means that I will agonise, long after it’s implemented and running like a well oiled machine, over parts of your Solution Design. It also means that I have systems in place to deal with the prejudices that I have developed during my years in IT. Know this – regardless of my prejudices, I will always, ALWAYS, do what is best for you and your business. I know my shortcomings, and if you’ve made it this far, now you do too.

I will design for you, and assist you in implementing, the best IT Infrastructure that I can. This is what you pay me to do. Just please don’t be too upset if I forget little Johnny’s name.