10 Operations Management Takeaways

2014What did we learn in the last 12 months?

In case you missed my articles or eBooks over the last year, I’ll summarize them for you in 3 actionable groups of takeaways:

  1. How IT is struggling to keep up with technology changes. (Read)
  2. How our sweet virtualization jobs are changing and expanding. (Read)
  3. What needs to change for IT to improve service delivery? (Read)

Trouble Keeping Up with Technology Changes

If you’re like many admins working for the average IT organization you are probably still dreaming of the day when your boss will let you buy the network, storage, and server hardware you need to turn on all the cool features VMware has been releasing since 4.x, right?

The truth is you had to disable many of the advanced features like storage-DRS and DRS because they were so disruptive.

Vmware Slow Book CoverLet me begin by saying I feel your pain!

Last January I released another eBook, Why is my app running slow on VMware >> You can find it here.

In this quick read, I guide readers through troubleshooting common problems faced by admins while troubleshooting performance problems on the network, storage, ESXi host, and the VM. I specifically cover what causes applications to run slow.

The point I make in this book is how “badly built” or “over-subscribed resources” lead to problems with day-to-day operations.

Now let’s get going with our countdown…

Takeaway #10 – Don’t feel bad for not keeping up with the Jones!

Really, don’t feel alone or bad because most IT organizations are not keeping up with all the changes going on across the industry. And honestly, most are struggling just like you to put out fires and keep up with constant demands from “the business” which leads us into the next two takeaways.

Takeaway #9 – Learn to properly manage your vSphere!

Last January I was neck-deep in troubleshooting problems related to server sprawl and over-subscription. Basically, it was a free-for-all and the storage and server resources were literally in a TURF WAR.

There were Zombies battling with Bullies and key business applications were taking casualties daily because of poorly managed infrastructure resources. Does this sound familiar?

I get it – we get busy! But getting busy is no excuse for allowing tier 1 applications to be starved because we haven’t done our jobs right!

Take a moment and read this post from last year where I highlight this problem >> How Zombies and Bullies Over-run Your Cloud Capacity!

The next takeaway is one of my pet peeves because I have dealt with it everywhere I have worked.

Takeaway # 8 – Stop throwing tickets over the fence!

Even with cool technology like vCloud, Chef, and Openstack – IT organizations have made very little progress when it comes to this problem.

Talk to other Ops managers and the reason we give for our delay is that we continue to struggle with our VM provisioning process.

Why? Because we have not freed ourselves to move onward to the more important task at hand. Automation!

In this post I shared in 2014, STOP Throwing Tickets Over the Fence (Server Deployment Easy Button), I ask a simple question.

Wasn’t virtualization supposed to fix this?

Easy ButtonBelieve me, I understand your frustration if you have still not automated because it is not as easy as the technology and vendors make it out to be.

Not only does it take a skill-set the average VMware admin lacks (which we will discuss later in this post) but it requires a culture change, too!

What I’ve learned as an Ops manager is to make small changes. Get small wins as often as possible. This is important especially if you don’t control the end-to-end process.

As I discuss in the post if you can’t fully automate then streamline the server deployment process as much as possible.

  • Try to reduce the friction between teams who are part of the workflow.
  • Set up regular meetings to discuss changes.
  • Listen to feedback and complaints.
  • Set dates to complete tasks.
  • In worst cases, it may take making changes with people who can’t flow with the program.
  • Take action!

Has what I’ve covered so far resonated?

Next, let’s look at what’s been going on in the trenches.

Takeaway #7 – Hardware & Software alternatives are creating complexity and opportunities.Virtual Machine Software Alternantives

When I started VMinstall.com in 2007, VMware was the best of 3 products: ESX (GSX), XenSource, and Windows Virtual Server. There were others hypervisors but these were the most popular.

Fast-forwarding 7 years and over 150 posts, one of my most popular articles is from 2014 and is about all the Virtual server alternatives we have now. You can read it here >> Virtual Machine Software: Top 10 Alternatives.

What I’ve learned is it’s no longer safe to only build your skill-set on VMware. And to offer proof for my point, in a company I recently worked they had 3 different hypervisors running the VMs for 3 of their main applications. The Linux guys were running OVM, the Citrix guys were running Xen, and the Windows guys were running VMware and there was even talk of adding Hyper-V. It’s no longer a black and white choice.

Think about the complexity this introduces for managing staff, servers, storage, and support. Or you can look at the career opportunity it creates for the admin who learns all 3 virtual technologies!

To go along with takeaway #7 I also want to point out how server hardware has really come a long way from the days when we were re-purposing old hardware from the bone-yard. Now we have server technology specifically designed to run virtual infrastructure.

I won’t go into this too deep because you can read it here >> 7 Server Hardware Alternatives (YES, White Box Clouds).

But the point I’m making is along with alternatives for hypervisors, 2014 also introduced multiple hardware options we can use to build our privates clouds on.

Now let’s move on to the next topic and discuss how the traditional VMware admin job is changing. (Top)

How Is A Global Market & The Cloud Transforming Our Talent Needs?

If you haven’t already noticed, recently I updated VMinstall.com and added a new home page. The caption at the top now reads:


How do I know this statement is true? Because for years I have been interviewing and hiring technical talent and I can assure you having a VCP is no longer as big of a PLUS as it was for me in 2007 when I got my first VCP.

Back then there were very few of us so a VCP was almost all it took to get a job. Nowadays there are 40 flavors of VMware certifications to choose from but in all reality “still” a huge gap in people who can really design environments that are low-cost, robust, stable, and scalable.

Takeaway #6 – Have vendors made innovative thinking a lost art?

Here’s my point for this takeaway. Businesses need thinkers who can be creative. We can’t always buy new hardware to build out the newest service offering. Yet as I screen and interview job applicants there is very little evidence anyone is innovative anymore.

Their resumes are a list of certifications and degrees but nothing that stands out and says, I can think!

The takeaway here is the job market is changing because of the fast pace at which businesses compete. Think for example Verizon, ATT, Sprint, and T-Mobile. There is no room for slacking.

I saw this trend coming years ago when I released my first eBook on Kindle, VCP for Hire: A Manager’s Guide for Hiring vSphere Virtualization Engineers and Administrators >> Read about it here.

We need thinkers!

Takeaway #5 – I’m going to digress for a moment and tell a quick story.

Vcp For Hire Ebook LinkIn November of 2014, I attended a VMUG and it was like Déjà vu when the keynote speaker, Scott Lowe, gave a talk on hiring staff and discussed skill-sets for today’s IT.

I have a lot of respect for Scott but sorry folks because if you are an IT manager who is barely realizing this you are 3 – 5 years behind the front-runners.

The shift has been going on since before I wrote my book 2 years ago and while most bloggers have been focused on the technology side of things, VMinstall.com has been focusing on people and the culture changes required to be successful in today’s global market.

A big portion of my posts over the last 3 years have been about service delivery, culture, and even DevOps skills.

Here are a couple more recommendations I was giving my readers back in April >> Virtualization Jobs Are Hot! (How To Hack Your Resume) & IT Training for Beginners (Alternatives & Freebies).

Both of these articles are about transforming your skill-set! (Top)

What Needs To Change For IT To Improve Service Delivery?

As we begin to wrap up this 2014 retrospective I want to reflect on what’s been working for me over the last 3 years as I managed nearly 50 VMware, Citrix, Linux, Windows, storage, and network admins. Listen closely as I reveal my secret sauce.

Takeaway #4 – Understand that people skills are as or more important than technical skills.

I set high expectations not only for myself but for all my teams.

  • Respect
  • Courtesy
  • Patience
  • Humility

These are only a few of the qualities I rate, review, and look for in current staff and new hires.

There’s something magical about the person who has humility blended with strong technical skills.

What does this new IT person look like you might ask?

Good question – because last year I tried to capture what the ideal IT candidate looks like in this post >> 10 DevOps Skills: Finding The Elusive DevOps Engineer.

Like I said, over the last 3 years I’ve been focusing on people and culture above technology to solve IT problems.

Here are 2 more posts and another eBook from last year.

Takeaway #3 – Be honest and transparent.

IT people want feedback. No, let me be more accurate. We need feedback. And often.

However, we also tend to get defensive and complain when we feel we are being blamed so this is a sensitive subject which requires balance and a special touch.

My management recipe consists of:

  • Daily stand-up meetings (not to exceed 15 minutes).
  • Managing by walking around and talking to everyone daily.
  • Regular 1:1 meetings and discussions where I give private feedback.
  • Regularly asking for feedback on how I am doing.
  • Supporting my team and giving lots of praise.
  • Staying up-to-date on technology.

Takeaway #2 – Create a feedback loop and listen to what customers say.

Not that I take every comment personally but it’s important that we listen to what people are saying about us and our team, even if it hurts. This is why another part of my management recipe is to wander around and ask my customers (mostly developers and Dev Managers) how my team is doing and if there is anything we can do better.

Honestly, sometimes all they can do is unload on how long we are taking to build their new environments but other times I am surprised by the compliments. Either way it’s an important part of what is working for me.

On a somewhat personal note I also want to admit this takeaway has taken time for me to learn. It isn’t easy to control our own feelings. But it’s crucial I don’t come-off as the overly defensive manager when I’m looking for honest feedback.

Takeaway #1 – Always be improving and learning.

I want to share 2 buzzwords (phrases) from the DevOps and Agile movement: continuous improvement and continuous delivery. As you can see they both rely on persistence.

Something I have learned over the years is getting better doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, the best way to improve is to do it small bits at a time.

Whether your goal is to improve the deployment process or the uptime of your tier 1 applications, do it in small bits at a time and you will be amazed by what will happen.

Always be reading, too!

The Docker Book CoverIn 2014 I saw the writing on the wall about Docker and started reading and developing my own awareness about container technology.

At only $7.99 it was a deal so I invested in The Docker Book and worked my way through each chapter. I  even got carried away and deployed an Ubuntu VM on Amazon EC2, loaded Docker, and then set up a WordPress demo site.

Here’s a post I wrote about my first experience with Docker. From the title “What Do Docker Containers Mean For Ops?” you can see what was driving my curiosity.

I expect Docker to be a big part of 2015 as will Openstack. (Top)

Bonus – My biggest takeaway in 2014.

Realizing sometimes it’s more about learning what doesn’t work than what works.

Resolve To Keep Getting Better!

There you have them. 10 takeaways for Ops managers to help you succeed in 2015.

Happy New Year!


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