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I probably interact with 80 customer users a year.  Ideally, I visit them when things are going well, talk about current state, talk about new things they want to do, how to use what they've purchased, and how to free up resources from firefighting for project work.  Lately, however, I've been going to a number of customers who have been running for a year or two, and are running into some challenges – particularly with people changing jobs.  When those people are the linchpins that ensure the success of a given project, these projects are suddenly at risk.  Often the backup person hasn't been working on the project nearly as regularly or intensely as the primary was, or their other duties have kept them out of the loop.  This is a risk with almost any project: the only way to know the subtleties is to be among them.

 

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One of the challenges of BMC Server Automation (BSA) being so flexible a platform is that there's often more than one way to go about addressing a problem.  Historically, figuring out the best way to do these things has involved a services engagement to consult with the customer and understand the details of their needs, occasional spot help from a software consultant, or tickets filed with Support.

 

To help with this process, I'm starting to collect together our internal best practices and lessons learned at customers, and rolling them up into both written papers and videos talking through common ways to go about solving problems with BSA.  I've got a few years working with the product, I know a bunch of experts here and I've been soliciting ideas. I'm not saying they'll be perfect, and I'm not saying you still can't stub your toe if you do what I'm doing.  What I can tell you is that they'll explain to you how I, and others like me, will commonly approach a typical data center problem like PCI FIM Change Tracking, Solaris Patching, or Granular Access Control for Non-Admins.  I will happily take feedback and amend them over time (perhaps with kung-fu style dubbing).  I'm also planning to include the more common questions and issues that tend to come up.

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The ideal audience for this will be someone who already knows a little about BSA, but wants to experiment with something in a new functional area (like Compliance, or Change Tracking, or Patching) to learn more about how it works, and have enough understanding to talk about it to their own teams.

This won't replace training, education, services and consulting, or simply talking to your local sales rep or software consultant about how the products can help address your organization's challenges. My expectation is that if it's easier to figure out how to use the product, more people will use it.  I'll also be making these videos available internally for our own people to use, whether they're a new software consultant or developer, or the veteran who wants to learn more.

These will definitely be available through communities.bmc.com, and I'm planning to make them available in a video podcast or portable-device-friendly format.

If there's something that took you (as an end user, software consultant, services consultant, or customer) longer to figure out than it should have, or something that you're spending a lot of time explaining to your coworkers, please let me know at sean_berry@bmc.com. I'll add it to the list, or prioritize it higher.

I'm also taking requests for theme songs. Is "Take 5" too cheesy, too overdone, too 1990s and "Pleasantville"?

 

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One of my vices is reading science fiction. My wife rolls her eyes at the mere suggestion that there might be any quality to be found in the genre, but I am guessing there is some cross-over between the readership of this blog and of science fiction. So, I hope that you will indulge me - at least for long enough for me to set up a metaphor.

 

One of the hallmarks of good sci-fi is when the setting stands up to the passage of time. Even some of the best Golden Age authors couldn't avoid writing about intergalactic starships navigated using tapes, or artificial intelligences running on valve-based computers. More recently, William Gibson (in)famously wrote about fielding three whole megabytes of hot RAM from a stolen hand-held computer, and in the same book a private space yacht features a bulkhead-mounted dot-matrix printer.

 

OK, this is all very entertaining, but what has it got to do with enterprise software? The answer is that old visions for enterprise IT management date even faster than sci-fi. Cynics will say that the trick is to avoid any details which can pin you down to a specific timescale or result. However I suggest that the answer is more optimistic and productive. It is possible to write good near- and far-future sci-fi without instant obsolescence, and equally it is possible to come up with an IT strategy that will actually survive first contact with the dirty, messy reality of a production data centre.

 

The real trick is recognising the nuggets of value among the ever-accumulating piles of dross. In order to help with that process, I would like to give some examples of questions whose answers might help with that sifting. One question might be: does this approach require us to throw out everything we have been doing until now, or can we phase it in without too much disruption? Another might be: has this been tried in practice elsewhere, and what were the results? Yet another might be: did this methodology come from the real world, or did it spring full-formed from a glossy PowerPoint presentation?

 

Getting the right answers to these questions will go a long way to reducing the accumulation of shelfware, and it might also help provide the answers to more personal questions, ones like: wouldn't it be nice to move items off my to-do list before they are old enough to drink and vote? Or: I wonder what my house looks like in daylight?

 

Happy reading!

Charlie Geisler

"The Chaos Principle"

Posted by Charlie Geisler Apr 22, 2011
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Homer.jpgIn this day and age of rapid technology advancement you can automate just about anything – paying your bills, renewing subscriptions and mowing the lawn (by having your son/daughter do it for you ). But for all of this automation to work seamlessly requires intelligence and a bit of work on your part. You’ll need to know at all times that that you have enough money in your checking account to cover both your expected and unexpected bills. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in a chaotic situation where your withdrawals exceed deposits. Your bank will be the only winner in this scenario and you’ll wind up paying multiple fees and penalties and wonder how this could happen to an intelligent person like yourself.

 

Automating the complexities of modern-day life is not dissimilar to automating IT. Take technological innovations such as virtualization and cloud computing. These along with advancements in IT management software are transforming IT organizations - enabling them to be more efficient, flexible, agile and automated. Nowadays you can achieve remarkable results, by automating what were in the past manual processes such as provisioning, compliance and configuration management. But what I find very interesting is that even with automation and virtualization technologies, customers are still challenged with…

 

  • Physical and/or virtual machine (VM) sprawl– which results in many (100’s or even 1,000’s) of underutilized systems and VM’s many of which are not compliant with operational policies
  • Virtualizing mission critical applications/services – which is mainly due to the inability to translate workload requirements from the physical world to the virtual world
  • Over-provisioning– which has led many IT organizations to fail to achieve the desired VM density and cost savings they expected. And with limited policies in place inconsistent VM images are also the norm.

 

Now it’s true that virtualization and automation technologies have built-in intelligence (e.g. resource schedulers and runtime policies), but in many cases IT Operations professionals require an added degree of intelligence to address these new challenges and tame the rapidly increasing agility of today’s hybrid datacenters.

 

IT management software vendors have answered the call by integrating their performance and capacity management solutions with configuration management. This provides an additional level of intelligence that prevents the “chaos” and enables IT to right-size their infrastructure, increase VM densities, forecast future capacity requirements and proactively prevent performance disruptions. It also ensures greater insight into how scheduled and unscheduled changes will impact performance, provides performance analysts with more precise root cause analysis and sets the stage for automated remediation of non-compliant changes.

 

As anyone who has implemented a virtual or cloud infrastructure knows, even the most innocent of modifications to a virtual-host or VM, can have a significant negative impact not only on the intended object, but other objects in the shared infrastructure. Integrating performance and capacity management with configuration automation is not only the key to preventing costly performance degradation and downtime, but will help you overcome the fear of virtualizing mission critical applications and enable you to achieve the desired level of efficiency and cost savings you require.

 

Now on a personal note, as a father of two young girls, ages 9 & 11, I wholeheartedly support process integration and understand the importance of continuous capacity management and proactive performance management as a means to minimize the chaos and meet or exceed their high service level expectations. I realize that as they get older they’ll want to spend less time with me and more time with their friends. I only have a limited amount of free capacity, so I spend as much time as I can with them now, knowing that in the not too distant future it will be very uncool to hang out with dad. I also take a proactive approach to managing their happiness. Preteen girls can be challenging at times and I look to leading indicators (e.g. how long since the last time they played the Wii) to anticipate their needs and I try to correct the issue before they’re unhappy. Now as far as automation goes I do use auto bill pay and I regularly check my balance to ensure that I have just enough money in my checking account to cover the bills. But I’m not sure I want to automate the process of moving the lawn by having my 11 year old daughter do it. I’ll stick to doing that myself.

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My wife and I are expecting the birth of our first child any moment now, and that is inevitably coloring my thoughts about what I do for a living.I can safely say that the process so far is simultaneously the most exciting and the most frightening experience of my life. There is enormous anticipation of things to come, and the equality enormous specter of oncoming responsibility and the very newness of it all. As an engineer at heart, I want to understand the process, and then control the outcome. I was quickly put in my place with this process - it is beyond me :).

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I do see a reflection of this combination of fear and anticipation in both my personal experience within IT, and what I experienced vicariously through conversations with customers. Every time some new  ground breaking technology comes along, there is the excitement of the anticipated benefits, combined with the fear of the unknown. And I think there are really two responses to this. The natural response is to put up barriers and resist change until it overwhelms you. The other response is to embrace the change, which is definitely not natural, and requires significantly more effort. This is the simplistic explanation as to why people and process tend to be much greater barriers to technology adoption than the actual technology itself. I can honestly say that I have found myself on both sides of the response divide.

 

So, back to where we started. After I took a few deep breaths over many weeks, I realized a very important fact. I am not the first. There are millions of unprepared fathers who have blazed a path for me. It may be painful in the short term, but I feel much more confident with those kinds of odds. The important thing is to focus on the end-result of a wonderful baby girl, and not the months of minimal sleep, changing diapers, and cleaning spit-up off my new shirt (I know a lot of new dads).

 

I would relate this back to Tim Fessenden's great article about building a center of excellence. We can satisfy the engneer's need to control the outcome through preparation - I have read the books, bought a crib, practiced my finger puppet skills - while still embracing the change to come. And most importantly, there are others that have gone before you, and people that can help you. Our professional services organization, in particular, has set up their own center of excellence that is focused on consolidating these experiences and communicating them to customers. I guess it is like the sales man at the baby store my wife and I visited that knew the last hundred years of crib design in detail, and could quote the latest safety regulations at length. I don't remember most of what he said, but it was really good to know that he had an informed opinion.

 

So, the bottom-line is that when something Cloud Computing, Agile Development, or the terrifying notion of being responsible for another life, comes along, we have to focus on the long term, gather the wisdom of veterans around us, do what planning we can, and then charge forward. Otherwise we may miss the best part of the change itself.

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Warning: Culture discussion.

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I've tended to shy away from company culture discussions; even cringe a bit, to be honest.  But I've been a founding member of two successful startups with the same core team, many of whom are still sitting with me here in Herndon more than 3 years after the acquisition.  Almost all the Emprisa folks are still here plus the team has been extended both in Herndon and in Pune, has garnered valuable stakeholders in the field and has been able to continue to operate close to a startup mentality. How is this, when this small group has been getting hammered for the past year+ as they maintain and grow a top notch DCA networking product and drive the cutting edge network container differentiator in BMC's cloud offering, Cloud Lifecycle Management (CLM), while at the same time keeping a defect per customer count at 0.05.  Yes, there's a zero after that decimal.  How does this BNA team do it?  Obviously there's a culture that is working here that I've been a part of and have influenced.  Here's a small peek at it.

 

Recently India won the cricket world cup.  The Herndon BNA folks of Indian background scheduled a lunch, brought in homemade Indian food and invited all BNA Herndon folks to celebrate.  During the lunch many cricket questions were asked and answered about the rules of cricket and its comparison to baseball.  It was a fun, social, and bonding event among a small collaborative group.  As lunch wrapped up, product leadership provided a status of how BNA was doing in the market, how its relationship to the Cloud offering was going, and provided specific examples and testimonials from customers and the field using features that the members in the room had specifically designed, developed and tested.  This is a common occurrence for this team and the one in Pune.  At Emprisa we rang a bell and I would visit each desk and explain why the customer bought, which quite frequently was due to a feature developed by that particular person.  Now, since most purchases are at the end of the quarter, we have these types of conversations during regular BNA breakfast sessions with Herndon and Pune. These are two way conversations.  R&D wants to know and product leadership wants to provide.  Nothing motivates someone more than seeing their work being consumed by Fortune 500 companies, having an innovative effect on modern IT management practices and ultimately the world economy.  Conversations like this not only provide motivation but also provide insight into how the customer is using it so ultimately improves customer experience.  Everything else falls out from there.  Once someone gets a taste of meeting customer expectation, naturally what follows is exceeding customer expectation and if I had to sum up the BNA culture in one line that's what I'd go with:  exceeding customer expectation through pride in your work.

 

I'm very proud of this team and the BNA ninjas in the field and on the Support desk but I didn't write this blog to brag, I wrote it to provide insight into what's working for BNA so that you may be able to apply some of it to your own small collaborative group.

 

Well, looks like I got through this without cringing too much.  But I've spent enough time on this; time to get back to work.

 

Dave Signori

Senior Manager, Product Management

BMC Network Automation and Atrium Orchestrator

Lucy Karis

The Survey Says...

Posted by Lucy Karis Apr 5, 2011
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For those of you who grew up watching the American game show, Family Feud, don’t you wish surveys would bring on the excitement and camaraderie that Richard Dawson was able to draw out from all of his contestants? I remember as a girl, sitting in front of the TV, shouting out the answers, and wondering why these families could not see what was “oh, so, obvious” to me.

 

So, here is the point, what is obvious to you, is not necessarily obvious to me, or to BMC for that matter. Like many companies, we send transactional surveys, for you to tell us how we are doing, good, bad or indifferent (and yes, indifferent, because, in our minds, if you feel indifferent, we’d like to know how we can stand out from others, so understanding “indifferent” is very important to us). The survey, tries to be as noninvasive as possible and really does only take 5 minutes to fill out. We want to know about your support experience and your experience on how BMC solutions are helping you to do your work and solve your problems.

 

“Ya, ya, you’ve heard this before. Nobody ever takes action on these surveys, why bother?” Well, let me tell you what we do with our survey results and perhaps I will inspire you to take your next survey.

 

  • First of all, our surveys are used to measure our performance – throughout support and engineering. The CSI "Customer Satisfaction Index" is a key metric that is reviewd quarterly by support and engineering management to assess our past performance and plan for any for any future adjustments.
  • Quarterly, our support engineers analyze the issue data and survey data and we provide direction on key components of the product that need to be addressed.
  • Our managers will follow up on every alert that comes out of the surveys. If you have something good or bad to tell management, you should take advantage of these alerts. In the survey, you are asked if you would like to contact support management. An email is sent to the support manager immediately after the survey is complete, so we should get back to you in a time when an issue is still on your mind.
  • Did you know that we only consider an 8, 9, or 10 as a good survey, and a 1, 2, or 3 as a bad survey? Anything in between is considered neutral or indifferent. Which leads me to the comments bullet!
  • Comments tell us a lot. If you feel good about something, let us know what you loved, your end-to-end experience, your knowledgeable support engineer, anything! If you feel bad about something, a descriptive comment following a flat-line of 1s is often very helpful. (by the way, support management gets automatically updated when you give us an average score of 1-3). And for the neutral 4-7 scores; please let us know what could have made your experience a 10, or perhaps even an 8 if you are a tough customer.
  • Don’t assume you talk to us enough already via email, web and phone. It is never overkill for us to hear from you in this forum. We have groups of customers who either call often or who are premier customers and speak to the same engineer with every interaction. Our analysis shows that we infrequently get completed surveys from these sets of customers. So, please, if you are out there, and you are one of them, take that small five minutes to show us your love, or, dare I say, lack there of.

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