Tag Archives: IT Career

VCDX, meet VCOX

Thanks for the positive feedback on the articles The Rise and Fall of Infrastructure Architect and Purpose-driven Architecture. Do read them first as this post builds from there.

I see Architecture and Operations as 2 equally large realms. While we certainly consider Operations when designing, it is not a part of Architecture. They complete each other, like Yin and Yang. They impact each other, like night and day. While I subscribe to the school of thought that the same person can be good in both Architecture and Operations, I’m yet to meet such person. I’m not a VCDX, so I will focus on what VCOX. Inspired by VCDX, I created this term to acknowledge the size of this world. To be 100% clear, VCOX is just a term I created. It has nothing to do with VCDX.

Architecture is Day 1, Operations is Day 2. Day 2 impacts Day 0, which is Planning. Why?

Because we begin with the end in mind. The End State drives your Plan. Your Plan drives your Architecture. So it’s 2 –> 0 –> 1, not 0, 1, 2.

I’ll use an example to illustrate how Day 2 impact Day 1. Say you an internal cloud provider, and you plan to charge per VM (e.g. $1 per vCPU per month). You plan to have 2 classes of offerings:

  • Gold: suitable for production workload. Performance optimized.
  • Silver: suitable for non production. Cost optimized

For Gold, you don’t overcommit CPU and RAM. Now…., if 1 CPU typically uses 4 GB RAM, then a 40-core ESXi will only need 160 GB. If you buy a 1 TB RAM, then you won’t be able to sell 864 GB as you have no vCPU to sell. This means your hardware spec is impacted.

You also promise the concept of Availability Zone. In the even of cluster failure, you cap the number of VMs affected. If you cap say 200 production VMs, then your cluster size cannot be too big.

In your service offering, you include the ability for customer to check her own VM health, and how her VM is served by the underlying platform. This means your architecture needs to know how to associate tenants with their VMs.

Your CIO wants a live information projected for his peers to see on how IT is serving the business. This requires you to think of the KPI. How do you know NSX is performing fast enough for its consumers?

I hope the above provide examples that Day 2 is where you want to start.

Operations cover the following pillars of management (planning, monitoring, troubleshooting):

  • Budget: Costing, Pricing and the business of IT
  • Capacity: it’s highly related to cost. Insufficient budget à Overcommit à Capacity Management.
  • Performance: focus on proactive and early warning. Performance SLA
  • Availability
  • Configuration: drift management
  • Compliance: security compliance, internal audit compliance
  • Inventory: license, hardware
  • Management Reporting

Notice a big pillar is missing above?

Yes, I did not cover Automation. IMHO, that’s part of Architecture. You should not automate what you cannot operate. So I see automation as not part of operations. Automation is a feature of your Architecture. It’s like automatic car. That’s a feature of the car. How you operate the car so passengers arrive at the destination on time, that’s operation.

VCOX answers questions such as:

  • Prove that the IaaS is cheaper than comparable IaaS. If it’s VMware SDDC, then prove that it’s cheaper than VMware on AWS. If it’s not, then the business case is weakened from CFO viewpoint.
  • Prove that Actual meets Plan. The architecture is built for a purpose. Quantify that purpose, and prove that it’s met.
  • The architecture carries a set of KPI. This enables its performance to be monitored. What are these KPIs. For each metric, what are the thresholds?
  • Is Operations performing? A poor sign of operations are lots of alerts, fire-fighting, blamestorming, hectic and intense day. The team is under stress as they struggle to operate the architecture.

From my interactions with customers, I notice that the Architect is not leading Day 0. They provide input to the Planning stage, but not the lead architect driving it. The Architect tends to focus on technical, something that CFO and CIO value less (hence they spend less time on it).

That’s my observation from travelling 200 days a year meeting customers, partners and internal. I hope it’s useful to you. Let me know what you think, as we are in early days of VCOX.

The Rise and Fall of Infrastructure Architect

I’ve been with IT for almost 2.5 decades. We are fortunate as we experience a once in a life time journey in technology changes. Technology has changed both work and life. Business now runs on IT, and what we know as banks, airlines, telcos, practically depend on IT. Within IT, applications run on infrastructure. This infrastructure has improved drastically that it has become a commodity. With the arrival of the cloud computing, it has become utility too. When something has come down to both a commodity and utility, the human who knows it follow as a consequence. The value of Infrastructure Architect has diminished, as the technology has become good enough, simple enough, and cheap enough for most cases. Granted, mega infrastructure such as AWS and VMware on AWS are complex. But how many of us are working there?

Most of us aren’t doing this mega infrastructure. Most businesses have <10K VMs. At 25:1 consolidation ratio, that’s <400 ESXi. At around 12 ESXi per cluster, that’s just 36 clusters, including HA. Space wise, it will occupy just ~10 racks. 1000 VM per rack for all compute + storage + network are doable.

Compared with say 10 years ago, it’s much easier to architect and operate a VMware environment with just 10K VMs. It’s easier because there are many references architecture, such as VMware Validated Design and VMware Cloud Foundation. For those using VMware on AWS, the design, implementation, upgrade and support are done by VMware.

So what can you do as Infrastructure Architect?

If you are not moving into managerial or sales position, you need to add skills that are valued by CIO or Business. That means non-technical, as these folks care less about technical matters. The following diagram shows the career progression:

Since Infrastructure is becoming a service, you need to know how to architect a service (e.g. IaaS, DBaaS, Desktop as a Service).

  • What are the services the IaaS is providing? How you define a service?
  • What metrics do you use to quantify its quality?
  • How many services? How do you distinguish between higher class service and normal one?

You also need to know what type of services are on demand. Yes, this require you to go out and meet your customers. Understand their requirements. What Price/Performance are on demand? From there, you can architect a corresponding services.

I cover this in more details in Purpose-driven Architecture, so I won’t repeat it.

Done reading it? Great!

The next step after Service Architect is Business Architect. This is especially valuable to CIO, who runs the business of IT. It’s also important to Cloud SP, whose business is actually selling the service.

For a start, know the business you are in. Below are the 2 main models. Be clear on the nuance, as Internal IT is morphing towards internal Cloud Provider.

As a Business Architect, you not just know the cost of running the service, but you also know how & when to break even. You do not have to responsible for P&L, as you’re not the CIO or Cloud SP CEO, but you play a strategic role to them. You’re not merely a techie. You know what to price, how to price and your price is competitive.

The world of Cost and Price is a complex one. vRealize comes with a tool to help you manage this part.

Summary

  • Systems Architect needs to evolve, as infrastructure is becoming commodity and utility.
  • Service Architect and Business Architect are the next steps for Infrastructure Architect.

From Local to Global

I made a career move from local role to global role in 2016. I slowly transitioned, then made it official in 1 Aug 2016. 1+ year has passed, so I’d like to share the pro and con of both roles. Hopefully it helps you in your career, and keeping the fun in work!

It’s common for a global corporation to have 4 levels of geographic coverage:

  • Local: cover a city or a small country. In my case, it’s just Singapore.
  • Regional: cover a region or large country. In my case, it’s ASEAN.
  • Continent: Asia Pacific, Europe, Africa, America
  • Global.

In vendor environment (as opposed to end-user), there are 2 large primary teams:

  • Product team: develop the product.
    • The sub-team are: Product Management, R&D, QA, Sustaining, UX (focus on the UI), IX (focus on documentation).
    • They focus on releasing the next big thing.
  • Field team: sell, implement, support the product.
    • Sales, SE, Consulting, Technical Account Managers, Support, Education, Customer Success
    • They focus on the quarterly target, closing large deals.

Of course, they are supported by many smaller & supporting team, such as marketing, pricing, and CTO Office.

I’ve never worked in Product Team, so when an opportunity arose, I took the leap of faith.

  • From Local to Global, bypassing ASEAN and Asia Pacific.
  • From Field to R&D. My boss no longer in Singapore, ASEAN and Pacific, but directly at our HQ in Palo Alto. A few months ago, there was a re-org and my boss now in Europe.
  • From generalist to specialist. I now do vR Ops full time. If this is not my passion, I’d quit long time ago!

I can say with confidence that it was a good decision. We all work for 3 reasons. I call them the 3M of work:

  • Money
  • Meaning. It has to fill your spirit, not just your pocket.
  • Merriment. It’s gotta be fun, and you love your work.

The job at global level is harder, much harder. Instead of thinking for just 1 customer (my job was Account SE), or a few customers, I have to think of the world. While working on future version, I have to think of current version and previous version. Brownfield is much harder than greenfield. I learned from R&D team that there was many things to be considered before adding or removing a feature. The complexity makes the job meaningful. Life is short, and the journey is as important as the destination. I’ve never done product development before. Luckily, folks are kind and we got along really well. I work with R&D team in Armenia and Palo Alto. They have never, never asked me to accommodate their time zone. I’m truly grateful for that. Folks like Monica Sharma (Director, Product Management), Chandra Prathuri , Kameswaran Subramanians , Karen Aghajanyan and of course my trusted partner-in-crime Sunny Dua provide a lot of coaching and guidance. I know the fact that their mentorship is critical.

My perspective was widened. Before, I was just working with a few customers in Singapore, and a bit of ASEAN. Now I work with customers from Europe to US. What I accepted as the best before, has been reset. I’ve seen other regions and customers achieved something better, tackled something harder, and delivered something bigger.

I didn’t know there was so much work! The demand for the role I took was apparently untapped. I had no idea since I was not busy when doing local role! There was so much request for help outside Singapore. I do webex regularly with customers, helping them remotely. They would login to their production environment, and we troubleshoot issue together. I get to see live environment, and insight into operation.

The downside is people expectation. I receive regular escalation and work closely with R&D. I have to produce a solution instead of relying on others. My work starts where the documentation ends. Sunny has been a godsend for me. After intense discussion, we often come up with solution that neither of us had originally.

Another downside is global travel 🙁 It impacts my family, and certainly myself. The jet lag and long flight on economy is not good for my health, since I have autoimmune disease. Controlling the schedule is important, else I could travel non-stop and just spend weekend at home. My travel schedule is practically full 3 months in advance. Again, folks are generally accommodating. I learn when we explain to folks openly why we can’t be there (they are sponsoring my trip), they are willing to accommodate.

I travel alone most of the time. After doing the requested work by the hosting country, I’d go back hotel, have quick dinner alone then do my day job. If I have dinner with local team, that means that day I can’t do my day job. Couple with being apart from your kids and family, loneliness is my friend.

Travel can be sudden. I gotta a call to help large customer on Thursday morning, and on Sunday I was already in the plane to see them. If you have young kids, this can be deal breaker. My 2 kids are 13 and 16 already, but my Mum at 81 needs care.

Speaking of travel, gluten free is a challenge. I am allergic to both dairy and gluten, so keeping these 2 away is almost impossible when abroad. There is no easy solution today. Singapore Airlines changes the menu only every 3 months, so I know in advance exactly what I’m getting 🙂

I hope the sharing is useful for those who are thinking of taking global role.