What a long, strange year it’s been… Year one at Cisco

I’m writing this post on June 23, 2015, from a hotel in Boston. On June 23, 2014, I walked into building 9 on the Cisco campus in San Jose, taking my first job in almost 20 years with no hands-on sysadmin responsibilities. I’ll admit, it was terrifying in a way.

Tell me more, tell me more…

I had just come home a month earlier from Cisco Live 2014 in San Francisco. When I got on the train to go home that Thursday afternoon in May, I couldn’t have told you that it would be my last sponsored visit with Tech Field Day, or my last trade show as a regular customer. But when I woke up the next morning to a voicemail from my soon-to-be manager at Cisco, I made the decision promptly and prepared to hang up my oncall pager.

In the year between last June 23 and this June 23, I seem to have built a personal brand as a big data safari tour guide, complete with the safari hat you see in my profiles around the Internet. I’ve presented to internal sales engineering teams, my VP’s leadership team, partners and customers, vendor theatre audiences at Strata+Hadoop World and Cisco Live, as well as keynoting three Big Data Everywhere events. And in the highest honor so far, I was chosen to give a breakout session at Cisco Live earlier this month in San Diego.

I’ve brought context, proportion, and no small amount of humor to the topic of big data at Cisco, as well as sharing my experience with systems management and real-world Cisco UCS deployment, and while I’ve still got work to do, it’s gone fairly well so far. I’ve had customers say “oh, I’ve read your blog, we’d like to talk to you” and “if you’ve got the hat with you, could you put it on?” I’ve been told that VPs are noticing what I do in a positive sense. And once again I’m pretty well known for my coffee addiction as well.

There have been a couple of downsides… seeing as I’ve gone over the dark side (and still can’t find the cookies), I can’t be a Tech Field Day delegate anymore. I also lost Cisco Champion (although I’m still a Champion Emeritus and a supporter of the program whenever I can be) and PernixPro (for reasons I’m not 100% sure of) status. And of course, the free Disney parks admissions went away very quickly. But the benefits of the change definitely outweigh the downsides; I still get invited to the TFD parties, and I can buy my park hopper passes when I need them.

So where do we go from here?

When this trip is done, I’ll be home for about two months, and will be focusing on some of the more hands-on technical stuff I’ve postponed, with the help of a couple of spare electrical circuits for my home lab. I have a couple of speaking engagements likely on the horizon, and probably some booth babe duty as well.

I’ll also be catching up on my Interop coverage from last month… I feel bad about neglecting a couple of those interviews but a couple of work obligations came up and ate most of May. I still have that citizen-analyst role to play from time to time, even though I don’t have mouse ears to take off to play that role anymore.

But for now, I want to thank everyone who’s made this year of incredible growth possible, from the bosses who (perhaps unintentionally) convinced me to prove that my message had an audience, to friends at Cisco who convinced me that there might be a place for me here, to the leaders and colleagues and partners who continue to remind me regularly that what I have to say matters and helps people both inside and outside Cisco.

I’ll leave you with what was an unexpected cap on the end of year one… I gave my “What could possibly go wrong? Tales from the Trenches of Big Data” talk a third time at Big Data Everywhere in Boston this morning. A reporter from CRN, the channel marketing website, was in the front row taping and taking notes… and my “plan for failure” message resonated enough to get mentioned on CRN today.

I may not be a vice president, but I’m still doing work I love, with people I admire and respect (and who often reciprocate), and who knows, I may end up in your neighborhood soon using 20th century pop lyrics and terrible puns to make sense of big data. See you real soon….

What planet are we on? (The Third) — the RSTS11 Interop preview

Greetings from Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. For the third year, with apologies to Men Without Hats, I’m back in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for Interop. 

This week, I’m actually a man without hats as well. My Big Data Safari hat is in my home office, and my virtual Cisco ears are back at home as well, next to the VPN router that was powered down before I headed for the airport. (Alas, after moving from Disney to Cisco, I lost the theme park discounts and the epic mascot reference.)

What are you up to at Interop this year, Robert?

So why am I back at Interop, when a dozen conference calls a day could have been in the cards for me this week? 

My readers, my fans, and my groupie all know that I’ve been a fan of the Psycho Overkill Home Office (POHO) for quite a while, going back to when I had a 19-server, 5-architecture environment with a 3-vendor network in my spare bedroom. Today it’s about 12 servers, all x64 (Shuttle, Intel, Cisco, Supermicro, Dell, and maybe another secret brand or two), and technically a 5-vendor network, but the idea is similar enough.

And having built a couple of startups up from the under-the-desk model to a scalable, sustainable production-grade infrastructure, the overkill in my home office and labs has led to efficient and effective environments in my workplaces. 

This week I’m taking a break from my usual big data evangelism and the identity aspects of working for a huge multinational juggernaut. It’s a bit of a relief, to be honest; earlier this month I attended my first event in 10 months as a non-booth-babe, and now I’m getting to focus on my more traditional interests. 

What’s on the agenda this week?

I’m looking forward to return visits to the folks at Sandisk, Opengear, and Cradlepoint. Cradlepoint was the first interview I did two years ago at Interop 2013, and I’ve been a customer on my own for many years; Opengear was a presenter at Tech Field Day Extra at Cisco Live 2013; and I last talked with Sandisk at Storage Field Day 5 about a year ago, as well as having been a Fusion-io customer at a previous job. 

I have a couple of other meeting requests out, so we may hear from a couple of other POHO/SOHO/ROBO/lab staples, and I’ll at least be dropping by their booths in the Interop Expo to see what’s new. 

While I’m only recording this week for notetaking convenience, I am starting to ponder what to do about the podcast I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years. So maybe I can pull in some interesting people from time to time… last night’s conversation over Burger Bar shakes with Chris Wahl and Howard Marks probably would have been fodder for several podcasts alone (and I don’t think any of us even had any alcohol!).

And seeing as a number of my friends are presenting this year, including Chris and Howard, I’ll be trying to make my way to their sessions (although there’s a LOT of overlap, and triple-booking isn’t uncommon… there’s a lot more than the Expo floor to experience at Interop, as always).

So where do we go from here?

If you’re at Interop, who are you looking forward to seeing/hearing/heckling/buying drinks for? (And if you’d like to meet up, catch me on Twitter at @gallifreyan.) If not, check out the exhibitor list at interop.com/lasvegas and let me know who you are curious about on that list. 

The Endpoint Justifies The Veeam: New free “personal” backup product coming soon

Apologies to Sondheim and Lapine for the updated title on this article.

Veeam announced their “Endpoint Backup FREE” product in the wee hours of the morning Wednesday, as about a thousand attendeees of the first-ever VeeamON user conference were still recovering from the event party at LIGHT nightclub in Las Vegas. More on VeeamON in another post later… but let’s get back to the new product for now.

Nope, this isn’t a hangover. Veeam, a leader in virtual machine backup/recovery and disaster recovery technology, is stepping out of the virtual world to allow you to back up bare metal systems. From early comments, this has been a long-awaited feature.

Veeam Endpoint Backup FREE

Endpoint Backup FREE is a standalone software package targeted at IT professionals and technophiles for use on standalone systems with local or networked storage. It should fit into anyone’s budget, and with flash drives and external USB drives coming down in price, none of us should have an excuse not to back up our personal laptops and desktops anymore (I’m talking to me here).

eblog5_thumb advanced recovery disk

Veeam offers an “Advanced Recovery Disk” that enables you to do a bare metal restore to a point in time. With some products you can restore from a backup image to a new disk or replacement computer, but you have to install and patch your OS from scratch first. Other products may limit you to local storage, or require driver alchemy, but with the Endpoint Backup recovery disk, you can boot from it (i.e. USB flash drive or optical media) and restore your full system image from a network share on your LAN.

Hey, can I back up a million Windows Servers with this product?


No, you can’t, and you shouldn’t.

Veeam are using a specific term in the product name–endpoint–to distinguish this offering from a bare metal server backup product. While it runs on Windows Server 2008 and later (as well as Windows 7 and later on the desktop side), it is being developed as a client OS backup solution. It does not have any central control or client management functionality, as it is a standalone program. This model doesn’t really scale for a large number of systems.

However, if you’ve virtualized all but two or three servers in your environment, or if you run a small number of physical servers in a home lab, this can cover that gap without having to license an additional enterprise product for a small number of legacy servers. You can even use a Veeam infrastructure as your backup target, whether backing up Windows Server or the standard desktop offerings.

Also, at this time Veeam does not support mobile devices (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Sybian, Tizen, etc) so it is not a universal endpoint solution. You’ll want to either use your platform’s cloud option or something like Lookout or a carrier-specific app to back up your tablets and phones.

What are the downsides to this new product?

Well, the main thing for me personally is this (courtesy of Rick Vanover’s vBrownBag talk this morning):

Veeam Not Yet

It’s not available yet. Veeam employees are doing an alpha test now. A public beta is expected in November, with general availability (GA) offering in early 2015. However, for me it’s not that bad as it will take me a couple more weeks to have any free time, so for once I can probably wait patiently.

Another thing, which will probably affect a few of my readers:

no macs

That’s right, no Macs. At launch, and for the foreseeable future, Endpoint Backup FREE will only support Windows systems. Today there is no Linux or Mac OS X support. You can of course back up the Windows VM on your Mac with this product, but you’d have to use one of the server products to back up Linux, and if customers request Mac OS X support enough, they will likely consider it down the road.

And a fifth thing, that builds on the previous item:


For reasons that should be obvious, Veeam has chosen to support only current Windows OS revisions. Windows 7 and later and Windows Server 2008 and later will be supported.

XP is out of service, and Vista is, well, Vista. Windows Server 2003 goes out of service next year. So for most users this will not be a major hindrance, but if your home lab has a lot of old Windows OSes, the Endpoint Backup FREE product will probably not fit your needs. And you should use this as an excuse to start upgrading (as if you needed any more reasons).

So where do we go from here?

It’s going to be an interesting year coming up, in the PC backup world. Veeam has a long history of free products, going back to their first product, FastSCP from 2006. Many technologically savvy end users will probably try out the new offering and then be tempted to check out Veeam’s other products if they haven’t already.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this functionality integrated and expanded into a paid/enterprise grade offering in Veeam’s future, incorporating feedback from the beta and first production release of Endpoint Backup FREE. There’s some logic in expanding from there to supporting bare metal servers in a scalable way as well. If Veeam follows this path, the other big backup players may end up with a bit of heartburn.

You can sign up for the beta at go.veeam.com/endpoint and get notified when it’s available for download.

Disclosure: Veeam provided me with a complimentary media pass to attend VeeamON 2014. No other consideration was offered, and there was no requirement or request that I write about anything at the event. As always, any coverage you read here at rsts11 is because I found it interesting on its merits.

Another look at mobile workflow – iPad Air keyboard cases

I have a bad habit of buying lots of accessories for an electronic device I’ll have for a year or so, and then they pile up because people don’t want to buy them with the old device. This is usually the case with mobile phones and laptops, but it also comes up with tablets. I have three keyboard cases and at least three regular cases for my iPad 3rd gen, including a Hello Kitty keyboard.

During a particularly nifty Target promo around their Cartwheel app, I got a 15% discount off any electronic device over a two day period. This included iPads, and since my 16GB 3rd gen iPad was full, I got a 64GB Air at nearly 20% off (with redcard discount). Then I went about looking for a case.

I need a case, just in case, you know

An article someone pointed me toward said the Case Crown Omni was the best on the market. I bought it to use while I searched for a keyboard case that would work. I don’t have a lot to say about it except that it was indeed a good case, better than any I found at local retail in a few days of looking.

Among the recommendations that came in was one from Kieran Hannon, the CMO of Belkin (who also own the Linksys brand, in case you’ve been under a WRT54G for the past year).

He unsurprisingly recommended his firm’s “Qode” (pronounced as “Code”) line of keyboard cases, with the top-of-the-range Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case being well rated (albeit a bit pricey at $130). There’s also a Slim Style model (msrp $80) with a kickstand on the iPad holder, and a Thin Type model (msrp $100) that works as a stand when in use and clips over the iPad when not in use.

61gBQETEYkL._SL1500_[1]As an aside, the Belkin product I use the most (up until now, at least) is their swivel power adapter with USB and AC outlets. The SurgePlus model is the current one, with 2.1A charging on USB. I suspect the 3-4 of them I have are old enough to be the 1A versions (time to upgrade!). Great for travel, especially if you’re at an event where they think one power outlet per table is generous.

The Belkin Slim Style

I bought a Slim Style at Target, marked down from $80 to $71 and further discounted 5% via redcard (I think this was after the Cartwheel deal). I used it for a day or so before mentioning on Twitter that it was nice, but the kickstand design wasn’t very lap friendly. This is what you could call the Surface Dilemma, after Microsoft’s almost-there laptop-replacement tablet which hasn’t yet wowed everyone with its lap-friendliness.


My assessment of the Slim Style was that, on a desktop (or probably even on a roomier airline tray table), it would be good. The keyboard and its layout felt reasonable, and I felt it protected the iPad well enough that I could just drop it into my laptop bag without fear.

But I returned it, because of the lapability factor, and mentioned this on Twitter.

The @belkincares account asked if they could help, and were very courteous even though they (luckily) couldn’t make my lap resemble a tabletop more. I’ve had a few good exchanges with @belkincares over the past year or so, from stacking cable inquiries around their older KVMs to some arcane questions about the wireless bridge line.

This keyboard case goes to ULTIMATE

About a week later, Belkin had generously provided a Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case for me to try out at no cost.  I plugged it in to charge and then started using it the next morning.

The Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case

The Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case in use

The Qode Ultimate has a more contained layout, in that rather than a kickstand, the iPad shell magnetically “sticks” to the keyboard shell. It has three positions, as with the Slim Style, but they’re within the footprint of the keyboard, and thus much more convenient on the lap or on a tray table.

ipad-qode-shellThe keyboard shell is sort of a dark blue “aircraft-grade aluminum alloy” that I didn’t recognize as blue at first. It does pick up fingerprints and the occasional light scratch, but I only notice that when getting the iPad out or putting it away, since this part is on the bottom when in use, and also hidden when you’re using it in “reading mode” (i.e. folded back).

The iPad shell piece is black plastic with a leatherish inset that incorporates the kickstand “hinge.” The Belkin logo is on the “front” (i.e. bottom of the keyboard) and the Belkin name is on the leatherish hinge section and on the front of the keyboard.

The keyboard turns itself off unless the iPad is “connected” to one of the three kickstand positions. So if you flip it back so that the keyboard is behind the screen, it’s automatically powered off. Same with closing it up; the keyboard is off and the battery life is extended.

For some reason, Belkin have swapped two of the keys on their keyboards. I believe the Slim Style and Thin Style place the colon/semicolon key between “L” and “Enter” whereas the Ultimate places the quote key there. In each case the other key is to the right of the space bar.

Kensington to the semicolon’s rescue?

I’m slowly getting used to the keyboard layout. It’s very typeable except when I need a semicolon or a colon. However, I decided that if I was going to write a review, it would be good to make sure that I liked the Belkin keyboard case for reasons other than it being given to me at no cost.

So I picked up a Kensington KeyFolio Exact case, which I found on clearance at Marshall’s for $40. It includes a Google Drive offer (which is apparently processed manually by Kensington, as I haven’t received the code for the offer in the past week), so it was an inexpensive experiment.

The KeyFolio is bulkier, with a detachable bluetooth keyboard, a stylus holder in the hinge, a wider range of color options, and a lower price if you’re going to buy it at retail.

The Kensington Exact and Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboards

The Kensington Exact and Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboards

I found that the keyboard itself was brilliant, managing to fit both the semicolon and the quote key between “L” and Enter by making the keys a little bit smaller. And since the Kensington had a fixed “kickstand” mounting point in the case closer to the hinge, they had room to put separate number and function key rows on the keyboard. The Belkin Slim Style also does this, since it has most of the surface area to spend on keyboard real estate. And I actually found myself using the function keys on the Kensington, which I hadn’t done on the Belkin.

(Above photo is of the actual keyboards, Kensington Keyfolio Exact on the top and Belkin Qode Ultimate on the bottom.)

I used the Kensington for just short of a week, and while I loved the keyboard and almost got used to the stand layout, I found I had to go back to the Belkin Qode Ultimate. Why?

I preferred the Qode Ultimate’s ease of turning off the keyboard, the lightness and grace of the entire case, and its turning off the iPad screen and locking it when I closed the case.

I expect I will hold onto the Kensington in case someone I know needs a super-cheap case for their Air and doesn’t need lapability. I am tempted to try the Thin Style just to see how that style of keyboard feels as a case. But the iPad is back in my Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case, just in time to head off for a company sales meeting out of town next week. And maybe I’ll have to write with fewer semicolons.


All keyboards tested charge with standard micro-USB cables (included), and paired very easily with the iPad Air via Bluetooth. Battery times are based on the manufacturer’s website or packaging (YMMV of course). Prices found on 8/22/2014 online.

Belkin Qode Slim Style keyboard case – $34 at Belkin or Amazon.

Good design, great keyboard, excellent value for the cost, but suboptimal for lap work.
2.5 days working time, 60 days standby time

Kensington KeyFolio Exact keyboard case – $29-39 at Amazon, $40 at Marshall’s, includes a 65GB 1 year Google Drive credit (~$15 value)

Great keyboard, kickstand design could use some work, doesn’t seem to lock the screen when closed.
40 days working time, 180 days standby time

Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboard case – $129 at Belkin, around $90 at Amazon.

Slim and sturdy case, very lap-friendly, no dedicated function key row, semicolon key is on the bottom row.
11 days working time, 180 days standby time

The final word:

The Qode Ultimate turns your iPad into a laptop, although it comes at a premium (which I feel is worth it). The Qode Slim Style and Kensington KeyFolio are good keyboards for tabletop use, and come in at a lower price.

Disclosure: Thanks to Kieran Hannon and Belkin for providing the Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case at no charge to me. Other than a twitter inquiry of “and the verdict?” they did not require or request a review, blog post, or any other consideration.

The cloudy nature of cloud and big data – with Gan Sharma at Asigra Summit

Last month, during a week off between jobs, I did what anyone would do on their vacation… I went to Canada for a software vendor’s partner summit.

What, you don’t do that sort of thing on your time off?

Well, the fine folks at Asigra invited me to attend their partner summit (disclosure: travel and accomodations were provided by Asigra) and, having been impressed with their technology and their history in the past, I accepted the invitation and made my first visit to Canada in about ten years.

First, the videos.

Gan Sharma, Asigra’s Director of Business Development, sat down with me before the event to talk about a couple of technological topics of broad interest, that both he and I are “a little bit obsessed with” (in my words). We had our friends at Prime Image Media, also known as the team behind Tech Field Day’s videos, there to record our conversations. I’m pleased to be able to share them with you here.

First, we talked about balancing the budget impact of backup and recovery with the risk factors of not having a backup and recovery strategy.

To be honest, backup and recovery can be a serious investment (some might call it a money pit, especially if it’s not planned and executed properly). But having to recover your data from pre-data-pipeline sources, or not being able to recover it, can be a far more financially draining experience.

Second, we talked about two very cloudy topics–“The Cloud” and “Big Data.”

One of the biggest sources of confusion, fear, uncertainty, and doubt around both The Cloud and Big Data is the lack of a clear and unassailable definition for either. As I mentioned, nobody has come up with one answer to what The Cloud is, or what Big Data is… because there isn’t exactly one complete and true answer.

But wait, there’s more… soon…

Stay tuned for another post or two around the Asigra Partner Summit. I need to write enough about the Partner Summit at least long enough to be able to not spell it “parnter” the first time I type it.



I attended the 2014 Asigra Partner Summit at Asigra’s invitation, as an independent blogger, and the company paid for my travel and lodging to attend. I have not received any compensation for participating, nor have Asigra requested or required any particular coverage or content. Anything related on rsts11.com or in my twitter feed are my own thoughts and of my own motivation.