fighting the lack of good ideas

deploying openstack by ken pepple

Where do I begin?

How about with this being perhaps the most overpriced tech book I have ever seen. At just under 70 pages, and a penny shy of $25, Deploying OpenStack by Ken Pepple exceeds the cost per page numbers I can remember from college. Wow.

Thankfully, I did NOT pay for this book – I was able to borrow it from my local library. I do feel sad, though, that anyone paid for this.

There are a couple nice diagrams wedged in the pages, but this is worse than a documentation dump from the various OpenStack sites. This is a sad example of an O’Reilly book – one I would never have dared think would have made it past their editor board, let alone be published for such an outrageous price.

There are also several amusing typos – including claiming that the test server he used for one deployment had a 1.4 Mhz CPU: Athlons were never measured below 600 Mhz that I can recall, and certainly the dual-core system he talked about should have been in Ghz.

At best, this is a published, overly-long blog post. At worst, it’s a pointless display of the hype surrounding “Cloud” – instead of giving lots of useful information, it’s stuck at the bare basics of the process, and frozen in time from more than a year ago! Given the rate of change in toolsets like this, there needs to not only be a lot more content in any printed work related to the technology, but also a planned cycle of releasing new editions – likely on the order of every year (or more) … especially in the early stages of a project/product.

Do yourself a HUGE favor: skip this book, and read the online documentation instead. You’ll be very glad you did.

establishing a data haven cloud

In Neal Stephenson’s seminal book, Cryptonomicon, he describes the creation of a “data haven” in the fictional Sultanate of Kinakuta.

Why has no-one started building such a service (or, at least not in a public way) on existing cloud services (eg AWS or Rackspace) and/or create their own global network?

Data backup and replication is not “difficult” – and neither is the concept of distributed (and replicated) storage (LeftHand Networks was doing RAID-over-LAN a while before HP bought them).

So – why is this not available as a service to which you can subscribe (or use anonymously)? Incorporating in a ‘friendly’ country, offering anonymized connections (fully encrypted, etc), and giving a client that works a la Dropbox or

There should be lots of companies who would love to offer a service like this – it should be fairly lucrative, and pretty easy to setup.

the failure of the technical sales cycle in enterprise software

Specifically in the realm of data center management and automation software, but applicable to all other niches, sales people are too focused on this quarter, their commission, and getting ink on the page.

In the broader context of the software companies producing tools / products, there is a general focus of getting to the next customer – forgetting about the ones they have now – so they can use previous sales as pressure to get you to buy, too.

And there is a perennial problem with having “products” which are at best half-baked trying to be shoehorned into a role for which they were never intended, or that the customer really doesn’t need.

For example – the growing prevalence of “cloud computing”. Cloud computing – which is really utility computing, an idea 60+ years old – is a useful endeavour … for some companies in some contexts. On-demand creation of compute resources to handle busy times, testing software, etc is a wonderful idea (all of the *aaS acronyms come in here – IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, DBaaS … what have I missed?). However, hopping on the cloud bandwagon just because everyone else is doing it is dumb.

Not everyone needs cloud computing and services. Some/many may and should employ them, but they’re not for everyone (an unpopular statement at this particular date).

Some companies will not need the “on-demand” aspects of ‘cloud’, and therefore should not have cloud-specific tools.

For example, if you want to do long-term provisioning (greater than, say, 6 months), you are not doing “cloud”, you are doing normal provisioning. If you want this to be subscription-based (like cloud offerings usually are), use a subscriptioning tool – don’t use cloud provisioning software.

Sales is an important part of software development – without sales (of some kind), there is no way to pay for development.

But it is absolutely vital to understand a customer’s environment, needs, wants, and abilities before selling them anything! Does a mom & pop shop with 8 systems need management tools? Maybe…but probably not. How about a company with 30 servers and 100 desktops? Possibly – but “enterprise” solutions will most likely be out of their budget.

Sales folks: learn your customers, become their friend, a trusted advisor – someone they want to write large checks to.


I have been deeply involved in data center management and automation for well over 5 years.

Most companies still view automation the Wrong Way™, though – and it’s a hard mindset to change. Automation is NOT about reducing your headcount, or reducing hiring.

Automation is used to:

  • improve the efficiency of business tasks
  • improve employee productivity
  • reduce human error
  • ensure consistency, and auditability
  • improve/ensure repeatability
  • replace “fire fighting” with planning and proactivity
  • ensure an organization can pass the bus test (which disturbingly-few can)
  • free engineers to work on interesting, engineering problems – not day-to-day busywork

Cringely has an article on this topic this week, entitled “An IT labor economics lesson from Memphis for IBM“.

How can a company 1/100,000th the size of IBM afford to have monitoring?  Well, it seems DBADirect has its own monitoring tools and they are included as part of their service.  It allows them to do a consistently good job with less labor.  DBADirect does not need to use the cheapest offshore labor to be competitive.  They’ve done what manufacturing companies have been doing for 100+ years – automating!

Even today IBM is still in its billable hours mindset.  The more bodies it takes to do a job the better.  It views monitoring and automation tools as being a value added, extra cost option.  It has not occurred to them you could create a better, more profitable service with more tools and fewer people.  When you have good tools, the cost of the labor becomes less important.

Any company that fails to realize that throwing more people at the problem is rarely the answer (something former IBMer Fred Brooks wrote about as a post-mortem of the OS/360 project in The Mythical Man-Month), is doomed to fail – consistently, and tragically.

And yet IBM is still in the mindset of the 1960s and raw, manual labor in an increasingly-connected, -compliant, -complex, and –cloudy world. They are still trying to solve problems the Risk way – throw a gob o’ guys at the problem, and roll over your opponents through sheer numbers.

In many ways, it is sad to see the demise of once-great companies like IBM. There’s the loss of competition, the passing of the Old Guard, etc.

But it’s also a huge opportunity for new businesses to come in, compete, and clean-up in sectors the Bug Guys can’t (or won’t) touch well.