The Challenge of specifying what you want, how many IT projects make mistakes, and are like a wreck?

Mistakes in IT and Data Center projects occurs much too often, and part of the problem is people's difficulty in clearly communicating their requirements, and checking to make sure they were heard correctly.

It is difficult to get data center wrecks documented, but here are some Cakewrecks to illustrate the point.

The Problem With Phone Orders

January 23, 2009

[answering phone] "Cakey Cake Bakery, Jill speaking! How can I help you?"

"Hi, I need to order a cake for my boss. We have a photo of him playing golf that we'd like to put on it, though - can you do that?"

"Of course! Just bring the photo in on a USB drive and we'll print it out here."

"Great, I'll bring it by this afternoon."


"Hey, Jill, what am I putting on this cake?"

"Oh, check the counter; I left the jump drive out for you there."

[calling from the back room] "Really? This is what they want on the cake?"

"Yeah, the customer just brought it in."

"Okey dokey!"

Believe it or not, this is a TRUE story: Elisabeth R. worked at the office in question. Besides, how could I ever make up something this good?


The Cake That Started It All...

May 20, 2008

"...And underneath that, write 'We will miss you'. Got it?"

Oh yeah, they got it.


Sorry, You Can't Have Any

October 11, 2008

I guess you'll have to make do with just the roses, Jessica P.

And for one that applies to hiding mistakes.

This Made Me Laugh 'Til I Cried

May 29, 2008

So I was putzin' around on google image search, looking at cakes, of course, when I stumbled across this picture:

Which, you know, made me kind of curious.

So I went to the originating site of the photo and read the corresponding blog post. It's written by Scott of Basic Instructions, which you should definitely check out sometime. Anyway, by the time I finished reading his post I was crying with laughter, and I knew I could not post his cake photo without the whole story attached. I e-mailed him and got his permission, and so without further ado, here it is:

"I had a day job as an office manager for the Seattle office of an international firm. We found out that one of our employees was transferring to one of our offices in China. When one of our people would leave, we usually had a little wing-ding with drinks and cake on the departing employee's last Thursday in the office, so on Tuesday it fell to me to fax a cake order into our nearest Costco Bakery.

I should point out that on that day I had a headache so bad that it hurt to move my eyes. Ordering the cake was the last thing I did before I went home sick for the afternoon. As I filled out the order form, I realized that in addition to the personalized message ("Good Luck in China," in this case) we could also get a large decoration for no extra charge. I looked at the options and none of them were appropriate. They were all things like teddy bears, balloons, or race cars. Crap, in other words. I figured if none of them were appropriate, I might as well get something that made no sense whatsoever.

I put a check mark next to the word "Fireman."

The next morning (Wednesday), lying in bed just before getting up, my mind wandered over the previous day and all the things I had accomplished. My eyes snapped open as I thought, "What did I do!? Why did I order a fireman? That makes no sense!!! I'm going to look like an idiot!"

I went to work, intent on calling the Costco as soon as they opened and stopping the cake before it started. I still had a day before I was supposed to pick it up. I figured that should be plenty of time. After some effort, I got hold of the bakery manager, only to be told that the cake had already been made. It was too late. I figured I'd just have to stand up straight and take it like a man.

My wife and I went to Costco to pick up the cake. When I got to the bakery, this is what was waiting for me.

(see above picture)

Making the hose flesh-toned had been a very bad move.

At first all I could do was blink at it and wonder, "Am I the only one who sees a giant wang?" I looked at my wife. She was blinking at the cake. An awkward silence and a few stammered sentences later we established that we both saw the same thing. A fireman holding an immense, dripping wang.

I could not serve this cake to my coworkers.

My first thought was that I would just absorb the cost of a second cake and pretend this never happened. Then I thought, "Wait a minute! This is not an erotic bakery! This is Costco! I should be able to order any stupid cake I want and be confident that it will not be sexually charged."

While at the checkout line I found a Costco employee to complain to, and showed him the cake. He blinked at it. I told him I was uncomfortable serving this cake at a place of business, and he started laughing and looking relieved.

Here’s what I came to realize about the cake. The obscene image was just obvious enough that you can't help but recognize it, but also obviously innocent enough that you don't want to say anything for fear that you're the only one who sees it.

Soon I was surrounded by several Costco employees who were looking at the cake and laughing. They explained that they had a new cake decorator who was a deeply religious woman from a foreign country, as if that explained everything. At one point while we were hammering out a settlement a woman happened by, caught a glimpse of the cake, covered her mouth and gasped. Good stuff."

A perspective from Tim Bray on Google Android, and tips for the blogger

Tim Bray made the switch to the Google Android team a year ago and writes two interesting posts.

One is his one year on the Google Android Team and share what is good and a problem.

What’s Good · Android, more than anything. A year spent in intimate contact with its coalface hasn’t shaken my feeling that most things about the system are mostly right. As I’ve already said in this space, I’ve never met a more accomplished engineering group; it’s a privilege to be associated with them.

What’s a Problem · Being a remote worker, mostly. It’s just not a part of Google culture, and the Android project is particularly centralized. If you’re not spending a lot of time in that building with the dessert sculptures in front, it’s extra-difficult to be in the loops that matter; they’re not unwelcoming, they’re just super-busy.

What was even more interesting was Tim’s “things about blogging.”  Here are three tips.  Visit his post to see the complete list.  Good stuff to think about.

In preparation for the event, I thought I’d jot down some helpful tips and tricks, and in no time at all I had more than twenty. I ran through them real fast in the hope of provoking some conversation — it worked — and got a laugh by saying “I guess I should write these up in a blog post”. Well, then.

For those who don’t know, I’ve been blogging since February 2003 and have written over a million words in this space, it’s been a boost for my career and my life, and I flatter myself that I’ve been involved in some conversations that mattered.

  1. Blogging is Healthy · It’s no longer the white-hot center of controversy it was in 2005; now it’s part of the establishment, and if you look at the numbers from the popular platform providers like WordPress and Blogger, still growing quite nicely thank you.
  2. Freshness Matters · When you don’t update a blog, it gets stale fast. The natural tendency of the human mind to favor what’s fresh is reinforced by search engines leaning the same way.
  3. Write For Yourself · Don’t try to guess what people want to read; you’re the only person whose interests you really understand. In particular, don’t thrash around trying to appeal to a larger audience; the only surefire way is pictures of celebrity breasts, and the world already has enough.

The Secret is out IT Development Labs need energy efficiency solutions

I have had conversations with Cisco's Chris Noland who presented at Teladata's Technology Convergence Conference and made this comment.

‘People Have Woken Up’

But labs are now being sharing space in data center expansion projects. Noland says Cisco is building a “showcase” engineering lab featuring rack-top chimney containment systems. Last year Brocade consolidated its labs in a brand-new state-of-the-art data center at the company’s new campus in San Jose.

I admit I didn't got to the session as I have been talking with people/companies to implement energy efficiency in lab environments for over 4 years. Why?  Because, even though the data center is the big target there are great opportunities in IT labs.  Here are a few of the reasons I have told people.

  1. Selling in the data center is hard.  Selling into a lab is 10 times easier.
  2. The Lab is willing to experiment more than a data center. (The lab has people who are not as risk adverse as a typical IT data center.)
  3. Many times you only need to sell one person on your solution in a lab.  In a data center you'll be lucky if you only need to sell three people.
  4. The sales cycle is dramatically less in the lab vs. data center.
  5. Start in the lab, then use the lab installation as a demonstration for others in the enterprise. (You need your product installed to sell more long term)
  6. Use the lab as awareness to develop lower energy solutions. (Like Cisco's lab)
  7. The Labs actually use a lot more energy than people think.  (Look at HP, Intel, Sun, IBM, and Microsoft's energy efficiency implementations and they have all addressed the lab.)

Here is the Teladata Technology Convergence Conference session on energy efficiency in R&D labs.

Mark Thiele
11:00 a.m. - 11:40 a.m.
Panel Discussion Topic: Data Center Challenges and Solutions in the R&D Lab

Moderator: Mark Thiele, VP of Data Center Strategy at ServiceMesh
Panelist: Chris Noland, Lab Manager at Cisco Systems Inc.
Panelist: Duffie Cooley, Lab Manager for Juniper Networks
Panelist: Val Sokolov, Senior Manager for Engineering lab services at Brocade

Unlike enterprise and production data centers, today's R&D electronics lab is a dynamic and constantly changing work environment with variable demands for power, space and cooling.  IT engineers expect as much autonomy and flexibility as possible in the way that they access their IT resources and then develop and test their IT solutions.  So, how realistic is it to believe that our new data center standards and "best practices" can be implemented in the IT lab as well?  Hear leading laboratory operators describe their challenges and barriers to success and explain how they have modified well established data center solutions to fit the needs of their unique R&D environments.

And, Rich Miller reported on the presentation.

Engineering Labs: An Efficiency Opportunity

February 28th, 2011 : Rich Miller

A panel on engineering labs at the Technology Convergence Conference featured Mike Honer from Juniper Networks, Chris Doland from Cisco Systems and Val Sokolov from Brocade.

As America’s largest companies begin to get a handle on their data center energy usage, they’re widening their gaze to scrutinize the efficiency of their engineering labs. Managers of some of the leading lab operations in Silicon Valley say the attention is long overdue, and will lead to significant energy savings.

The secret is out that IT labs need energy efficient solutions.  There is still huge opportunities to sell energy efficient solutions, and more people are discussing the idea.  I just can't tell people it's a little known area of opportunity to go after.  But, it does feel good I was talking about the idea 4 years before it gets up on a panel discussion.  And, I've moved on to a bunch of different ideas I am playing with that nobody is discussing.

FYI, part of the reason I research and blog on topics is to watch what the industry is doing so I can figure out the opportunities.

Dual Wan Router with 3G/4G modem for home office, Internet access fail over

I spend  about a 5 days a month travelling to various data center events.  The rest of the time I work from my home office or meet with people locally.  With latest news of Internet being turned off in Egypt and Libya, we take for granted having high speed internet access.  But even with a broadband dsl or cable modem, service does go down, and it can be frustrating to figure out whether the problem is in your equipment or the ISP.  Especially when you don't have Internet access.  My last outage from Comcast cable was a DNS problem at Comcast which made me switch to Google's Public DNS service.

What is Google Public DNS?

Google Public DNS is a free, global Domain Name System (DNS) resolution service, that you can use as an alternative to your current DNS provider.

To try it out:

  • Configure your network settings to use the IP addresses and as your DNS servers or
  • Read our configuration instructions.

If you decide to try Google Public DNS, your client programs will perform all DNS lookups using Google Public DNS.

When Comcast goes down I fire up my Verizon Mifi 2200 which I use when travelling and driving with the kids and I can give them internet access in the car to stream Netflix. 

Verizon MiFi 2200 3G Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot Review

Brian Lam

We're at least a generation away from internet on everything. Until then, the Verizon MiFi 2200 will drive one 3G cellular data connection over Wi-Fi to a handful of gadgets at once.

But, I want to automate the fail over from Comcast to another ISP.

My first choice I was going to to go with, but changed my mind was a Qwest DSL line.  At $50 a month for at best 3mbps down and 680 up and bad reviews I didn't like the choice.  Until Qwest brings out fiber in my area and extends the range from the central office to my home, I  think my performance will be marginal.  And, my Mifi 2200 already does 1.5mbps down and 500 up or better.


What I really want to get is the Verizon Mifi 4510 which is the 4G version of the current wireless modem I have with 10X the speed.


Here is Walt Mossberg's review of a Verizon 4G modem.

I disabled Wi-Fi on the ThinkPad, plugged in the LTE modem and ran 10 tests using the popular website. The results were impressive. Verizon's 4G network averaged just a shade under 16 megabits per second for downloads and 6.6 mbps for uploads. That was 15 times the download speed, and 13 times the upload speed, of a Verizon 3G modem I tested immediately afterward using the same method in the same location.

To relate these speeds to real-world scenarios, I downloaded from iTunes a standard-definition episode of the TV show "The Good Wife"—a 588 megabyte file—in just seven minutes, instead of the two hours or so iTunes predicted it would take when I was using the 3G modem. I streamed several long videos, including two in HD, from the Web, and they played smooth as silk.

The Verizon mifi 4510 should be shipping within the next month.

So, what about automating the backup.  I was looking at Dual Wan Routers when I was considering Qwest DSL as a backup.  But, when going with the wireless modem as a backup I needed a 3G/4G modem backup.  Fortunately, there is a market for these type of devices for branch offices and point of sale locations.  The device that makes sense for my needs is a Cradlepoint MBR1200.


MBR1200 - Failsafe Gigabit N Router for Mobile Broadband


The CradlePoint MBR1200 is a robust 802.11n router with 3G/4G failover capabilities. Built for home, small business, branch offices, temporary and remote enterprise environments seeking to implement continuous, always-on connectivity.

With its failover/failback capability, the MBR1200 automatically switches to a secondary connection (either wired or wireless) when your primary service is interrupted. Once your service is restored, the MBR1200 will automatically failback to the primary connection - keeping your business online with minimal interruption to users.

Whether you’re wired or wireless, the MBR1200 Business Series Router keeps your business connected.

As soon as Verizon releases the Mifi 4150, I'll buy the Cradlepoint MBR1200.  And write a blog entry on whether I was able to get this to work and simulate losing Comcast Internet access.


Oops almost lost 300 RSS readers in move to Squarespace

On Monday 5:30p, Feb 7, 2011 I made the switch from TypePad to Squarespace.  I had a list of tasks to do.  Here is my initial list.

    1. Write one blog entry on TypePad saying in the process of moving.
    2. Set up SquareSpace account.  Move content over. 
    3. Cancel Chartbeat.
    4. Domain switch from typepad to squarespace
    5. Setup Feedburner, Google Analytics, Adsense.
    6. Keep Typepad up and running for a while.

All of this was OK and up and running in less than an hour.  But, the next morning a friend said his RSS reader wasn’t working to my site.  I checked Feedburner to see if the feed was working.  The RSS feed was working, and I thought I fixed the RSS feed redirect.  After another couple of days, I see I had gone from 1,200 RSS subscribers to 900, losing 300 subscribers.

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