Bad behavior isn’t the right response to bad behavior

tl;dr:

And now on with the show…

Earlier this week Nutanix put out a video campaign against VCE. Many people found it inappropriate or unacceptable. Many people didn’t find it inappropriate or unacceptable. But it offended a very visible contingent of the Internet tech community.

And a bunch of people on Twitter decided to fight inappropriate and unacceptable with the same. For example:

delpo

I was told on Twitter last night that “as a father” made this comment acceptable and respectable. Reminded me of the Jenny McCarthy “as a mother” fiasco a few years ago.

There was another tweet telling Nutanix execs that they’d better plan to work in fast food soon… but it looks like that was deleted since last night. If that’s the case, kudos to the poster for thinking better of it. And kudos to Howard Ting, Nutanix’s marketing SVP, for his creative response to that particular tweet.

I was also informed last night on Twitter that being disappointed with this sort of discourse meant I was “white-knighting,” and that an offensive ad campaign was perfect justification for immaturity in return.

The “white knight” term seems to be a popular way of dismissing any disagreement these days, although I hope that ceases to be the case someday. The fellow who made that accusation also accused me of not having a leg to stand on in my position because I stopped arguing with him. Sometimes you just can’t win.

So what’s your point?

Is it really too much to ask, that we keep the level of discourse a bit above what we’re allegedly (i.e. when it’s convenient or attractive or beneficial to us) trying to discourage in others? I don’t think so. As a father, as a technologist, as a human, I don’t think so. And if I’m in the Internet Minority on this, I’m disappointed but okay with it on my side.

I was impressed with a couple of the responses that came from people who missed the memo that they were expected (or even required) to be offended.

The blog post linked in that second tweet is a worthwhile read, although I expect it will be attacked promptly by Nutanix’s competitors and various other people who thrive on feeling outraged.

Nutanix could have done a milder campaign, and I understand they’ve done so already. Should they have started with that? Maybe. Would it have had the same impact? Probably not.

Would it have inconvenienced people looking for something to be outraged about, if they’d started with the new version? Not for long; this is the Internet as you know. Are there hidden (or not-so-hidden) agendas at work in the outrage? I’ll let you decide on that. Will anyone remember this in two months? Other than the folks who are now setting a calendar reminder to stir the pot in two months… probably not.excellent

But those of us with genuine concern about the impressions and realities of sexism, racism, and anythingelse-ism in tech need to take the high road whenever possible. Having a proven history of fertility and/or adoption does not exempt us from being civil. Nor does having a certification, a job, or a social media account. It may not be easy at all times, but change is rarely easy.

Didn’t you have a booth babe thought to share too?

Yes, thanks for reminding me while I still have my asbestos Speedo(tm) on. For that image, you’re welcome.

The blog linked above suggests that people should express outrage about promotional models or “booth babes.”

While I agree with that concern, and I don’t stop at booths that are overwhelmingly ‘babed, there’s a right way and a wrong way to address this issue as well.

I was disappointed to hear some folks at a recent professional trade expo cheerfully and proudly insulting the models themselves, some even claiming knowledge of the models’ alleged (unlikely) alternate professions and sexual proclivities. One or two people I overheard were even thrilled to insult a technologically aware person in a booth who simply made the mistake of being an attractive woman in tech.

The white-knight-decrying fellow can pipe up here if he likes, but insulting or attacking the models themselves–or anyone at a trade show for that matter–will not help your cause or do anyone else any good. Complain politely and professionally to the vendor in question if you want change to happen. Calling the model something you wouldn’t call a person in your family (or that you wouldn’t want someone in your family called) just puts you farther in the wrong than the vendor you’re trying to be outraged at.

Disclosure: I have some people I consider friends over at Nutanix, and I have been a guest at their office for Tech Field Day and just as a friend of the company. However, I don’t have any pigs in the fire on this market at the moment, and nobody has asked or enticed me to write this or given any consideration for this post. And I do have a relative who is a part-time promotional model, albeit in the fashion/club/media world, not the tech world.

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The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Decision-Making Mongoose; or, RASCI as a transitional responsibility model

250px-RASCI[1]I’ll apologize in advance to George Clinton.Video below.

As I prepare to transition out of my current job, my priorities change and I have to be a bit more cautious about what I get involved in, so as to not leave anyone hanging when I do hand over my badge in just over two weeks.

I’m reminded of the decision-making scheme we were taught at eBay–RASCI. That’s

  • Responsible (Person who does the work),
  • Accountable (the person in charge, also Approver of the work R does),
  • Supporting (someone who helps out with the process but is not the main responsible party–sometimes merged into Responsible for RACI),
  • Consulted (subject matter experts who provide advice), and
  • Informed (people who get status updates).

This model was obviously intended to set out expectations and points of responsibility within a project, defining responsibility and telling people who would be on either end of a communications channel as well as who is actually hands-on-keyboards (figuratively or literally) to do the actual work. However, it has another useful role.

At the point where someone gives notice and their countdown begins, they would move into the “C” category. They no longer get action items, presumably no on-call, and the ability to focus on passing along knowledge as needed to the people who would pick up their areas of responsibility.

I’m in the C category now at Disney, There’s a lot to be done, but I can’t take long-term ownership of it anymore. What I can do is work with the folks who are taking over for me, make sure they have the tools and contacts to do their best in my absence.

But what’s this with the mongoose?

Well, that’s controversial. RASCI is the name eBay gave to the mascot for their process, He’s the “decision-making mongoose at eBay.” There was a stuffed version (I have one somewhere in the garage, I’m sure), and it was entertaining and a bit creepy. There was also an unofficial travel blog, with pictures of RASCI in various settings. I can’t find that anymore, but it was out there, I promise.

My fiancee wondered why anyone would need a mascot for decision-making. Fair point, but it does make the model more personally accessible for people who aren’t in project management. And how many mongooses (mongeese?) do you run into in your daily life?

So where do we go from here?

Well, I’m going to Cisco. I don’t know about you guys.

But seriously, RASCI or its variants may be worth considering if you’re having problems with identifying roles in a project, or even if you aren’t yet. You don’t have to use the mongoose, but hey, it’s there.

It’s also worth considering RASCI or the like as a means of communicating a transition of responsibility, whether someone is leaving a project, a department, or the company entirely. Who owns that piece of infrastructure the guy who just left was handling for years? Who remains in the department to provide support and receive reports?

If you have experience with RASCI/RACI, or if you have an extra RASCI doll in need of a new home, let me know in the comments.

And for those of you who might not have known the title reference, have yourself some P.Funk.

[Video link updated 2017-11-30 since the old one has disappeared since 2014.]

[2018-03-02: The card we had to remind us of the RASCI model]

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-10-14,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YMaker:0x4c,Date:2017-10-14,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

FirmwareGate and FCoEgate two months later

I was surprised last week at Interop to hear people still talking about both FCoEgate and HP FirmwareGate. It seems that in the absence of any clarity or resolution, both still bother many in the industry.

For those of you who missed the early February drama (and my relevant blog post):

FCoE-gate

FCoEgate: An analyst group called The Evaluator Group released a “seriously flawed” competitive comparison between an HP/Brocade/FC environment and a Cisco/FCoE environment. Several technical inquiries were answered with confusing evidence that the testers didn’t really know what they were doing.

Several people I talked to at Interop mentioned that this was a perfectly understandable mistake for a newbie analyst, but experienced analysts should have known better. Brocade should have known better as well, but I believe they still stand by the story.

The take-home from this effort is that if you don’t know how to configure a product or technology, and you don’t know how it works, it may not perform optimally in comparison to the one you’re being paid to show off.

This one doesn’t affect me as much personally, but I’ll note that there doesn’t seem to have been a clear resolution of the flaws in this report. Brocade has no reason to pay Evaluator Group to redo a valid comparison, and technologists worth their salt would see through it anyway (as many have). So we have to count on that latter part.

FirmwareGate

FirmwareGate: HP’s server division announced that, for the good of their “Customers For Life,” they would stop making server firmware available unless it was “safety and security” updates. How can you tell if it’s “safety and security?” Try to download it.

HP claimed repeatedly that this brings them in line with “industry best practices,” thus defining their “industry” as consisting exclusively of HP and Oracle. I don’t know any working technologists who would go along with that definition.

HP promised clarification on this, and defended their policy change by declaring industry standard x86/x64 servers as equivalent to commercial operating system releases and Cisco routers.

They even had a conversation with my friend John Obeto, wherein they convinced him that nothing had changed. Ah, if only this were true. (It isn’t.)

But I had fleeting faith that maybe they’d fixed the problem. So I went to get the firmware update for a nearly 2-year-old Microserver N40L, which had a critical firmware bug keeping it from installing a couple of current OSes. Turns out it’s not a “safety and security” fix, and my system apparently came with a one year warranty.

So if I wanted to run a current Windows OS, I either have to spend more on the support contract than I did on the server (if I can find the support contract anymore), or go with an aftermarket third party reverse-engineered firmware (which, unlike HP’s offerings actually enhances functionality and adds value).

Or I can go with the option that I suspect I and many other hobbyists, home lab users, influencers, and recommenders will — simply purchase servers by companies that respect their customers.

What should HP be doing instead?

The “industry best practices” HP should be subscribing to include open access to industry standard server firmware that fixes bugs they delivered, not just vaguely declared “safety and security” upgrades, much as every other industry standard server vendor except Oracle does. That includes Dell, Cisco, Supermicro, Fujitsu, NEC, Lenovo/IBM, and probably a number of other smaller players.

As my friend Howard Marks noted, some of us would be satisfied with a software-only or firmware-only support contract. On-site hardware maintenance isn’t necessary or even affordable for many of us. Many of us who buy used servers would be better off buying an extra server for parts, and most of us buying used servers know how to replace a part or swap out a server. Some of us even better than the vendor’s field engineers.

HP has been silent on this matter for over a month now, as far as I can tell. The “Master Technologists” from HP who won’t distinguish an MDS router from an x86 server have gone silent. And I’m sure many of the “customers for life” that the 30-year HP veteran graciously invites to keep buying support contracts will start looking around if there’s not a critical feature in HP servers that they need.

So where do we go from here?

I can no longer advocate HP servers for people with budgets containing fewer than 2 commas, and even for those I’d suggest thinking about what’s next. There are analogous or better options out there from Dell, Cisco, Supermicro, Fujitsu, NEC, Lenovo, and for the smaller lab form factors, Intel, Gigabyte, Shuttle, and others. (It’s also worth noting that most of those also provide fully functional remote management without an extra license cost as well.)

If you do want to go with HP, or if you can’t replace your current homelab investment, there are ways to find firmware out there (as there has been in the past for Sun^wOracle Solaris). It took me about 15 minutes to find the newly-locked-down Microserver firmware, for example. It didn’t even require a torrent. I can’t advocate that path, as there may be legal, ethical, and safety concerns, but it might be better than going without, at least until you can replace your servers.

And I’ve replaced most of my HP servers in the lab with Dell servers. One more to go. If anyone wants to buy a couple of orphaned DL servers in Silicon Valley (maybe for parts), contact me.

If anyone else has seen any clarity or correction in the state of FCoEgate or FirmwareGate in the last month or so, let me know in the comments. I’d love to be wrong.

Three traps to avoid on the Internets

I have gotten into the habit of tweeting every few weeks about some of the most common basic misconceptions on a couple of buzzwords.

1. The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data.’

The first one still stands. And if you’re wondering, it’s also not ‘big data’ either. Or ‘data science.’

No matter how politically advantageous it may be to extrapolate a small number of observations as “proof” of a hypothesis, it just doesn’t work that way.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson mentions on the new Cosmos, humans are wired to find patterns where there are none. Sometimes, we decide the pattern we want to “prove” and only pay attention to the data that backs up that pattern.

https://twitter.com/MikeLoBurgio/status/445931300352831489/photo/1/large

But if you’re getting ready to use that one study, or those two or three incidents, to express ‘proof’ of your hypothesis… think about whether there are other hypotheses that might be just as valid. Or better yet, go get more data. Very little in this world is cut and dried, other than flowers. And jerky. So don’t be jerky.

2. If you have to tell people you’re disruptive, maybe you’re not.

This one was also a painfully obvious observation for me. If storage vendors say “we put a flash drive in our array, look at us, we’re disruptive” in 2014 (or even 2013), you’re not going to take them seriously.

The term has some value in moderation, but maybe find a less dramatic synonym for “innovative” or “unexpected” next time  you’re writing a blurb.

When you tell me your company, product, CEO, or incredibly attractive animated mascot is “disruptive” I think of a 2 or 3 year old in the middle of the room howling and throwing things around. And I’m the neighbor/friend standing there feeling bad for that kid’s parents who aren’t handling it very well. Is that the image you’ve spent beaucoup bucks trying to cultivate?

3. Give the absurdly long and pointless lists a break

cosmo-listsOkay, I’ll admit this was a stretch. I wrote the headline and had to make the data fit. See what I did there?

I know all the Social Media Gurus say that you have to have long lists of things to get people’s attention. And they each have one anecdote of when that actually worked. But how many of them can really make use of 16 new sex positions, or 173 ways to make your toes really sparkle, or 5,150 unbeatable ways to increase traffic to your website?

Keep the lists to a minimum, and remember that you’re probably far more interested in the list than anyone who might see a retweet of it in the next decade. But on the upside, your list is (probably) clearly anecdotal, so you’re dodging trap #1 above.

So where do we go from here?

Well, first, some of you might not know where that tag comes from. It’s a an old classic I heard on the Dr Demento show decades ago called “Spock On.” The video is below, or you can skip to the pertinent bit here.

(To debunk another classic faux pas… very few of the songs usually attributed to Dr Demento were “sung” or performed by him. He just made many of them famous, including Weird Al Yankovic and Elmo and Patsy. The one you might have actually heard the good Doctor on was his revision of “Shaving Cream”)

And now that your day is brightened a little bit… don’t make your readers step in a big pile of shaving cream (unless you are a disruptive SCaaS provider).

What terms are bugging you these days? I would add “game changer” (which is great if you’re running the boardgame room at a convention) and guru/ninja/rockstar, but I’m hoping for a cheerful and upbeat Friday so I’ll leave my gripes there. Chime in on the comments if you like.

Pope Francis and Devops – On Further Genuflection

devops-everywhere

I have long been uncomfortable with the branding of “devops” in what used to be the world of system administration. It’s becoming almost as dynamic and imprecise as the F-word is (just two more parts of speech to go, i think), up there with “cloud” even (someone out there must be proud).

Matt Simmons had a good write-up on his blog about what he called the “worst ideas of the [devops] movement” and I have to agree with his take on that whole matter (except his misspelling of sherbet, which I’m told is now an accepted spelling).

We practicitioners in the sysadmin world are surrounded by marketers, headhunters, and opportunistic writers who latch onto different flavors of the Devops concept. People outside our sphere see the buzz and the branding from us and from this border element as well. When those of us doing the work can’t agree on a message that is clear and accurate without being exclusionary, we do more harm than good.

But this morning, I figured out the core of my objection, while being berated on Twitter by someone who could be considered one of the “high priests” of Devops. What bugs me is the “organized religion” nature of Devops.

nobody-expects-devops

I don’t need people who say “either you’re [a] Devops or your dumb[sic].” I don’t want to trick people into Devopsing. And I don’t feel the need to tie any particular buzzword or brand identity into everything interesting and useful in my industry or profession.

What does Pope Francis have to do with all of this? Well, recently he’s been talking about deeds and actions, rather than branding and dogma, and going a bit gentler than his predecessors on people who are conscientious but not Catholic. My take on that is that it doesn’t devalue the good works and good conscience of a Catholic to acknowledge that you can have good works and a good conscience without being Catholic.

spidey-devops

Now imagine if you could play well with others in a technology setting, be a good sysadmin, and build scalable and sustainable environments… even without calling them, yourself, your department, or your religion Devops. (ps: it’s easy if you try; I was doing that at the turn of the century, although I wouldn’t even label that as hipster devops.)

And imagine if you could acknowledge others doing the same, without having to staple the Devops label on them. It’s true, you’ll risk losing the people who have bought into the upper-case D branding, or people whose managers say “we have to be Devops, take a few devopses and go devops at that devops conference.” You may also confuse HR people who are under fire to hire X number of devopses. But the profession and your environment probably won’t suffer.

If you have to brand, or rebrand, your personal practice for your own reason, go ahead and do it. It’s your business card, after all. But if you feel that building scalable and sustainable environments, working well with your coworkers, and being a good sysadmin require a brand label that is inconsistently defined at best, well, you’ve lost me, and probably at least a few other sysadmins.

Disclaimer: I used to be Catholic, still believe in the one true spelling of sherbet, and claim fair use on the Toy Story picture above, which obviously is not owned by me.