Tag Archives: small business

How to get started with social media

A few months ago I wrote a post on how I use various social media sites, but realized I didn’t share how I arrived at those use cases/decisions so here it is.

First and foremost  identify what you hope to get from your social media experience. If one of your goals isn’t to share knowledge then re-think why you are trying to use social media.  I have heard, well read, that Twitter is one of the largest groups of people who love to share their knowledge and experiences.  When I decided it was time to be more involved I had several reasons – becoming more involved in a community I was passionate about, learning from others, sharing my experiences and meeting others who shared similar interest were my key drivers for getting started with social media.

Next you will want to identify the key areas you want to focus on.  For me this was an easy task as I had decided to veer off my (at the time) current career trajectory and re-focus on more hands on/engineering type roles that would hopefully revolve around virtualization, VMware and other related technologies.

Once you know what information you want, do some research and identify what networks are most active in that area.  I find Twitter to be much more active with others in the VMware/engineering space versus Facebook so I started with Twitter and later expanded into other networks.  While I use some platforms in a similar manner, I also have specific uses for others.  For example Twitter is my primary social network where I will engage openly with everyone, and use Google+ in a similar fashion while leveraging circles to share more personal information such as pictures of my family with just a limited subset of circles.  You will likely also find yourself involved in groups with no real tie to a particular social media site/tool such as local meet up groups, blogs or webinars.

Now, develop a plan.  Once you have identified the reasons why you want to be involved, and which communities are most active your plan could be as simple as taking time to focus on one specific aspect and expanding into other areas as you become comfortable in others.  For example, after several attempts and “figuring out” Twitter, I focused simply on using it as a tool to stay up to date on information from various vendors who I enjoyed working with.  This made an easy transition into following others who were talking about the same topics, learning from and meeting those people.

Finally –  push yourself.  It is easy to stay in an area you are comfortable – with people you know, information or skills you may already excel at but you won’t grow if you do not challenge yourself.  One area that I just stumbled into was being more out going, as typically I am quiet and reserved and don’t go out of my way to talk to people.  One night I just happened to see someone I follow on Twitter who lives out of state ask where he could get dinner just a couple towns away from me as in was in the area for work, several other people who already knew him suggested some places and others even were going to meet him there so I just threw myself into the mix and had some great conversations over dinner with people I had never met – that was far outside my comfort zone.  Of course in a scenario like that, ask first don’t just show up!

If you are struggling with how to get started, leverage social media as a means to get information and learn and you will likely find that over time you will start engaging and sharing more information naturally as others are already doing.

 

Cloud Management of VMware hosts using VMware Go for new admins and SMBs

VMware Go is a is a cloud based management solution for (small) vSphere deployments and includes features such as  the IT Advisor, ESXi and vCenter installation automation and patch/inventory scanning (though my free version is prompting me to upgrade to Go Pro for those right now).

As I am setting up a new lab environment, I thought I would poke around at some of the features.  I did a basic ESXi install leaving all the defaults.  As I drill into the inventory for this host, VMware Go identified two potential configuration problems I should correct – setting an NTP server and changing the IP address.

host

Typically the IP address could be set via the vSphere Client, DCUI or command line and NTP via the DCUI or command line, but VMware Go is targeted (IMO) towards the small business or IT shops with little to no VMware experience so having the ability to set these items via a web interface seems very useful.  Click the Apply NTP Settings button worked flawlessly for the suggested NTP server (you may want to use an internal NTP source in your environment).

ntp

There is an import VM feature, but this only works from a VMware Server instance (VMware on Windows) and since that has long since been out to pasture, not sure how useful that would be.  Being able to communicate with VMware Converter running on the network seems like it would be a more useful feature.  I also have the ability to scan the host for patches, since I installed the latest 5.1 release there were none to install so I downloaded 4.1 Update 2.  Adding the host was again easy and straight forward, though the NTP setting originally threw an error but trying to apply again worked correctly.  Running a patch scan worked as expected this time, I found the missing patches and automated shutting down VMs, putting the host into maintenance mode and rebooting the server.  One thing to remember, these are “updates” not “upgrades” so you cannot bring a 4.1 host up to 5.1 or even bringing a 5.0 hosts up to 5.1.

patches41

One feature I would like to see, especially for the small IT shop who isn’t comfortable managing ESXi directly is the ability to rename the hosts, currently both my hosts are named “localhost” and have the ability to to manage other basic IP settings such as subnet mask, DNS servers and gateways.

If the free version from VMware Go is nothing else, its a great tool to keep your ESXi hosts up to date with latest patches.  As I get further in my lab setup (vCenter etc…) I will write up additional features that are available in VMware Go and activate my VMware Go Pro trial.

My first written “design” proposal – can you help me rip this design apart?

For the past 12 years I have straddled design, administration and management for various systems including VMware and never having the opportunity to really master any one specific aspect.  As I have decided to focus on VMware design, I am hoping all the VMware gurus can (nicely) rip this apart.  I think my ego is ready for a butt-kicking – its the only way I will get better.  While this first written design happens to be a very basic setup – a small business wanting to have some CAPEX spend before the end of 2012, I’d still love your feedback.  This is also written as part of a proposal, and more detailed documentation would be created as part of the actual implementation.  Dell is the vendor of choice for most (if not all) of the hardware so if you don’t like Dell that is certainly fine but would appreciate your feedback on the high level aspects of what I have written and how I can improve.  Also, storage is intentionally light right now as I am still going back and forth with a few vendors.  Here it goes…

Company X wishes to purchase and implement the necessary servers, storage and networking devices to support their business and future needs, including the ability to host Microsoft Dynamics GreatPlains.  The network will be built on two physical servers with shared storage to support the necessary Windows and VMware Operating Systems.  An initial system design was provided, however updated based on the 12/17/2012 meeting.  This design factors in the ability for additional capacity to support the growth of the company.

Phase 1: Infrastructure Design

The following items needs to be considered as part of the design to ensure performance and availability:

  • Storage
  • Networking
  • VMware Host (ESXi)
  • VMware vCenter
  • Virtual Machines (VMs)
  • Backup and Disaster Recovery
  • Expansion

Requirements:  Provide basic network services (Active Directory, DNS, DHCP) and security (Group Policy) and the capacity to run Microsoft Dynamics GreatPlains during 2013 (possibly during Q2) and support future growth.

Assumptions:  Power, cooling, space and internet access will be provided and available.

Constraints:  While the driving factor is to purchase the best available platform by the end of 2012, budget is a constraint in building a true n+1 configuration.

The current server room may be too small for a server rack and there is currently no dedicated AC to maintain < 70deg F temperature.

Risks:  Several single points of failure including:  internet access, core network switch and storage.  A failure to any of these services may result in extended down time.  There is no generator available, power outages (unplanned or building maintenance) will result in down time.

Current State Analysis:  There is currently a Sonicwall TZ170 Wireless firewall connected to RCN and two unmanaged switches for computers and phones.

Stakeholders:  Owner of Company X and Company Y (a provider of managed services for ongoing support of the environment).

Storage:  A single, 12 drive enclosure will be used connected via iSCSI and a single dedicated switch for iSCSI traffic.

Networking:  A total of 4 switches will be used.  Rather than use a single 48 port POE switch for both phones and computers, 2 separate 24 port switches will be used.  The reason for this change is to provide redundancy in the event of a switch failure.  With a single switch, all connectivity (servers, computers and phones) would be lost, with 2 switches a failure to either the phone or computer switch would not impact the other services.  The server switch is still a single point of failure in this design.

Dell 6224 24 port switches will be used, one each for servers/core networking and one for desktops.  A 6624P 24 port Power Over Ethernet (POE) will be used for phones.  Finally a Dell 5524 24 port switch will be used for storage connectivity to the host servers.

VMware vCenter:  The VMware vCenter appliance will be deployed.  This will eliminate Microsoft Windows licensing requirements and still allow the cluster to grow to up to 5 hosts or 50 virtual machines.  Proposed vSphere licensing will limit the cluster to only 3 hosts.

Cluster:  There will be 2 host configured in the cluster.  DRS will be set to manual due to the small number of virtual machines to reduce complexity not be used as it is not available with this edition of vSphere.  HA will be configured, this will allow for Virtual Machines to be power on by the remaining host should there be a hardware failure.  HA performs a reboot, so there will be a period where services will be unavailable as they are restarted.  Fault Tolerance (FT)  is not available with the proposed edition of vSphere and could be used on VMs with only a single vCPU however FT will not be an option for vCenter, the Microsoft Dynamics GreatPlains application or database server as they require multiple vCPUs.

Virtual Machines (VMs):  The following VMs will be needed at a minimum:

–  2x Windows Servers for Active Directory, DNS, and DHCP

  • Approximate specifications:  Single vCPU, 2GB vRAM, 30GB thin formatted VMDK for OS, single vNIC connected to the VM Network.  Suggest using memory reservation to reduce disk consumption.
  • An additional 166MB of memory is required for Virtual Machine overhead memory.  Should 2 vCPUs and 4GB of vRAM be required, 243MB of overhead memory would be required.

–   1x VMware vCenter Appliance for vCenter

  • Approximate specifications:  Dual vCPU, 8GB vRAM, 60GB thin formatted VMDK, single vNIC connected to the VM Network.  Suggest using memory reservation to reduce disk consumption.
  • An additional 332MB of memory is required for Virtual Machine overhead memory.  Should 16GB of vRAM be required, 509MB of overhead memory would be required.

Because the vCenter appliance will be used, Update Manager will not be available to update the hosts.  Manually patching will be required, however this is manageable because there are only 2 host (maximum of 3 based on proposed vSphere license).

– 1x Windows server for Microsoft Dynamics GreatPlains application remote access

  • Specifications will be dependent on the number of concurrent users running the Dynamics GreatPlains client.
  • Estimated specifications:  Dual vCPU, 8GB vRAM, 30GB think formatted VMDK for OS, 60GB thin formatted VMDK for application installation (exact requirements to be determined with Dynamics consultant)
  • An additional 332MB of memory is required for Virtual Machine overhead memory.  Should 16GB of vRAM be required, 509MB of overhead memory would be required.

– 1x Windows server for Microsoft Dynamics GreatPlains database

  • Specifications will be dependent on the number of concurrent users running the Dynamics GreatPlains client and size of the database
  • Estimated specifications:  Dual vCPU, 8GB vRAM, 30GB think formatted VMDK for OS, 60GB thin formatted VMDK for database installation (exact requirements to be determined with Dynamics consultant).  Additional space may be required based upon the size of the database to store backups.
  • An additional 332MB of memory is required for Virtual Machine overhead memory.  Should 16GB of vRAM be required, 509MB of overhead memory would be required.

VMware Host (ESXi): Two physical servers will be built on Dell PowerEdge R720.  The R720xd was not selected as the increased cost provides additional drive bays which are being moved to an iSCSI storage appliance.

The Dell R720 with the Intel Xeon E50-2600 Series CPU is supported on ESXi 5.1 as of 12/19/2012 on the VMware Hardware Compatibility List (HCL).

The Intel Xeon E5-2620 is recommended; the incremental cost per server is $900 (retail) over the base model CPU and provides two additional processing cores as well as Hyper-Threading.  This processor provides a cost savings of $3533 (retail) over the originally proposed E5-2670.  While there are performance differences, I do not feel  as though these warrant a $3533 price increase per server.

28GB of memory is required for the 5 necessary virtual machines.  An additional 2GB of memory is required to support the VM overhead memory for a total of 30GB required.  Because this is only a 2 host cluster, in order to support running all 5 VMs on a single host I would suggest 32GB of RAM per host.  RDIMMs are suggested because there will be multiple DIMMS per memory channel.  The cost of 16GB of RAM per host would be $320, the cost for 32GB of RAM per host would be $640.  4x 8GB, with 2x 8GB DIMMs per channel (CPU) will be used.

ESXi will be installed and configured locally on each host.  2x 500GB 7200RPM SATA drives will be used.  2x 1TB SATA drives will be added to perform backups of the VMs to each host.  An additional 4 SATA drives can be added per host at a later date to support new storage requirements.  Local storage in each host would be used for archives, one-off backups or other not critical data only.

Typically multiple NICs and switches are used for various functions – management, VM network, vMotion, and FT.  Because FT is not likely to be useful in this environment and because there is only a single server switch in this environment we will setup 3 interfaces – management, VM network and vMotion though all 3 will traverse the same physical switch.  Separate VLANs will be created for the vMotion network to isolate and broadcast traffic that could impact the management and VM network.  Three Broadcom 5720 Dual Port (DP) 1Gb cards are suggested.  While only 1 port will be used initially, the additional ports will already be available should they be needed for increased performance or availability.

One Broadcom 57810 Dual Port (DP) 10Gb card is suggested for iSCSI connectivity as they provide hardware iSCSI offload capabilities.

Licensing:

–  VMware vSphere Essentials Plus Kit for 3 hosts will be used.

  • Maximum number of hosts 3 – each with up to 2 processors.
  • Includes HA, vMotion and VMware Replication
  • Current promotion includes VMware Go Pro for VM patch management.

– Microsoft Windows Standard licenses will be used.

  • As the company grows, suggest investigating Windows Data Center edition license for unlimited Windows VM deployments.

VM Backup and Disaster Recovery:  VMware Data Protection will be used which is part of the vSphere Essentials Plus Kit.  For disaster recovery, the storage appliance can replicate data to a second offsite appliance.

Expansion:  The limiting factor in the current configuration (performance only) will be:

  • Storage and disk I/O per second (IOPS) – Additional VM density per host can be achieved by adding additional storage shelfs and drives.  Also if IOPS becomes a limiting factor, a storage appliance replacement that supports Solid State Disk (SSD) or Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) drives can be performed.
  • Hosts – There are currently only two hosts in this configuration, adding a 3rd would allow for more VMs, greater redundancy and the ability to enable DRS for automatic workload provisioning.
  • Licensing – VMware licensing allows for a third host with up to two processors be added.  Additional licensing will be needed to add more than 3 hosts.
  • Memory – The host are configured with 32GB of memory each.  Assuming both hosts are functional this would allow for additional VMs to be added, however additional memory can be added to each of the host.

Back to VCAP-DCD Prep

I let myself lose focus last week, here is the plan:

1.  Watch APAC #vBrownBag recordings
2.  Finish Clustering Deep Dive
3.  Watch DR training on MyLearn
4.  Watch SRM training on VMware.com
5.  Read Storage Implementation from VMware Press
6.  Take notes (from slides) from the VCAP-DCD and VCDX #vBrownbags
7.  Re-read
8.  Review VCAP-DCD blueprint and study guides by Gregg Robertson (@GreggRobertson5) and Shane Williford (@coolsport00)

I also have a small startup looking for a basic office setup so I am going to “design” the hell out of it.

Teach why before you teach how

I had a great conversation the other day about IT strategy and how IT can be a strategic partner to the organization.  Now maybe I am a bit biased, but I would like to think one of my strong points is my ability to look at a technical request, from the simple to the very complex, and consider the organization’s goals; whether for the entire organization, a specific line of business or an individual, and think about how that request aligns to those goals. I began to wonder if I am really as strategic as I thought, and as I reflected on my career I realized I was extremely lucky as a  young professional to have several managers / mentors, as far back as a summer job after my senior year in high school, always focused on why something should be done – and in many cases left it up to me to figure out the how.  I think this is important for several reasons, but most importantly if you are always thinking about the why, it almost becomes second nature to think strategically about almost everything you do even if its just as simple as understanding the need of one specific person or as complex as understanding the needs for an entire accounting/SFA/ERP system across an the organization.

As we move to a more social world, a more social enterprise it is more important than ever for managers and other senior level people to focus on teaching why something should be done versus just how something should be done.  If your teams can think about the why, inevitably this will spark conversation about the best way to accomplish a goal and lead you to a better solution, a more strategic solution and one that will likely have buy in and acceptance across the organization.

Twitter and social media for disaster recovery communication

One of the major projects I have been working on for the last few months is a business continuity / disaster recovery plan.  Now that most of the technical details were out of the way and tested, thanks in large part to (insert plug) nScaled it was time to work on the communication and escalation procedures.  One problem, Hurricane Sandy showed up before they were done.  Since I had already been giving this a great deal of though, I decided to try Twitter as our primary means of communications during the storm since we were going to shut down all our servers to avoid data corruption (no generator and limited UPS run time).  I do not work for a technology company – so the majority of our company is mostly what many would consider non-technical users (compared to a team of developers, customer support, QA people etc…) so I was a bit worried about adoption of using social media as a means to share important information about the status of the systems and plans to shut down and restart them.   After a bit of debating between myself and my other self I went for it and setup a Twitter account (first person that finds the account wins a… hmm I have nothing good … signed piece of paper from me?) and updated the account diligently before, during and just after the storm when all systems were brought back online.

Once the dust settled my curiosity got the better of me so I created a survey via SurveyMonkey.com and sent it out to all our employees – the results:  shocking!  Within just a few hours about 1/3 of our users responded to the survey (50 to be exact).  Of those 50 only 4 did not know we had the Twitter account setup (it was announced late on Friday afternoon).  Of those 46 employees,  39 said “the information was timely and relevant and kept me informed even though we did not have email” (84% for those who like percentages) versus 7 who said “No, the information did not help me.”  Not a bad adoption rate for something announced late on a Friday afternoon and put into use on Monday morning.

I had a section for open ended comments at the end, and asked anyone who said the information was not useful to please give examples of what they expected.  Some of those comments included:

  • “More frequent updates would have been nice, even if just to say nothing has changed” and “I think I was expecting perhaps a few more progress reports than I saw. Good communication tool however” – fair enough, I did get a little lazy with it around 8P EST.
  • “I do not use Twitter and had no intention of signing up for it. Following the news reports gave me just as much information”, “I don’t have a Twitter account and I don’t know if I can see the information without one” and “I don’t have twitter so it was no help to me” – these are on me, I didn’t do a good enough job explaining how it could be used (i.e. you don’t have to sign up for an account to use it).

And that was it for the negative comments, some of the positives:

  • “A great tool! Thank you!”
  • “Loved the use of twitter!”
  • “I really appreciated the twitter account, and I think it was very helpful.”
  • “Great idea and greatly appreciated”
  • “Not only did I use the account to get all of the facts of where we stand, I turned on notifications after following the account to get the tweets in real time! Love it!”
  • great way to get the information – thanks!”

Why is this shocking (to me)?  This is not a “social” company the way Jive or SocialCast would have you think of it.  We are very traditional – send email, having meetings, send spreadsheets to track project deliverables etc. so this was very much outside of the comfort zone for how most of our employees are used to working and communicating with each other.  So while your mileage may vary I would highly suggest leveraging social media tools as a means of communication in your disaster recovery plans.

Do you use social media for this type of communication?  What are your plans and what do you think about using social media for disaster recovery related communications?

via Forbes.com – Time to be an entrepreneur

From http://www.forbes.com/sites/alanhall/2012/07/15/kiss-your-boss-goodbye-its-time-to-be-an-entrepreneur/

I love this excerpt:

“…to company management.   Who do you think does all the work in your business?  Who do you think makes your products, sells them, provides support, collects receipts and pays workers? It’s not you, my friend.  Have you forgotten that you hired these people as a resource to help you build a highly profitable business? Have you forgotten they are a precious asset to be valued and protected? How long do you think you can mistreat quality workers until they bolt? In a word, it’s not very long.  Do you get the picture?  Am I making sense? In sum, your financial success, your promotions, your glory, all depend on how well you treat those subordinates who have placed their trust and confidence in you.” – Alan Hall

Why you should use VMWare even with one server

So you’re a small to medium size business, and after carefully consulting with your IT team (or me!) its been decided that you need a server – maybe its your first, maybe a replacement but in any case you only have this 1 single server.  Before you start installing or preparing Windows on this server here are a few reasons why you should consider installing VMWare ESXi first.

Most IT departments think of VMWare as a solution for having multiple “virtual” machines (or VMs) on a single physical tower or rackmount server but there are many useful features of VMWare that will give you more flexability that Windows on a bare metal server.  I did this once for a company who was replacing their Microsoft Dynamics CRM system.  They had an “admin” who thought he was a developer and would constantly break the server, which I then had to rescue.  When we upgraded I put it on the free version of VMWare ESXi and took snapshots from time to time and even got the admin to tell me when he was making changes – I was able to revert several, possibly unrecoverable servers within minutes thanks to the items below:

1.  Snapshots – even if you don’t buy into any of the other reasons, snapshots alone should be reason enough.  A snapshot allows you to take a quick, point in time image of your VM (either powered on or off, when possible I turn my server off before taking a snapshot).  Anytime I patch or make a major change to one of my VMs I take a snapshot first, if something goes wrong I can revert back to the snapshot in a matter of minutes – no software to re-install, no files to restore and minimal downtime.

2. Monitor – VMWare has some very acceptable monitoring tools, chances are if you are a small business or have only a single server you probably haven’t invested in monitoring software for that server – the monitoring feature in the free version of VMWare (ESXi) is built in, just needs to be configured.

3.  Growth – If you have 1 server, you will probably need two eventually (in fact I would argue that if you have one you should have a second for redundancy for whatever that application is).  Having the free version of VMWare ESXi gives you the ability to add a 2nd or 3rd server and only have to buy the necessary Windows/OS license and CALs without having to invest in new, additional hardware.  If your growth continues, you can add a SAN, second physical server and full VMWare license to gain even more features and functionality.