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IN THIS WEEK'S ISSUE: Why 10 Years Of Uptime Is Bad; Using Sales People For Tech Support Is Expensive; The Help Desk As Career Builder. Hey, turn on those images, they might be amusing. Or not. Probably not. But it's worth a try. 
Table of Contents
(aka The Project Plan)

Issue Number 67

 

10/12/2017

 
The "Uptime and Tech Support" issue. 
 

Thought For The Week:

"Assonance - The sound of someone repeating technical information to another person that they don't really understand"
 

1. Why 10 Years Of Uptime Is Bad

by Ethan Banks

 

Ten years of uptime is often a badge of honor for equipment. Ten years of never losing power. Ten years of software that didn’t crash. Wow! Engineers ponder the odds of such an event and nod with mildly raised eyebrows at the feat.

I’m here to argue that ten years of uptime isn’t such a good thing.* Let’s think this through.

Vulnerabilities. Code stable enough to run for a decade without crashing is impressive. But it’s also at least a decade old. That means that software is almost certainly a security risk to the organization.

The fact that the device is up doesn’t mean that the system hasn’t been compromised. It just means that no one’s noticed.

Lack of progress. I like being a part of organizations that keep up with technology, invest in their future, and adapt to modern business practices.

A ten year old system that, presumably, is still in use (no guarantee there, I realize) might indicate a penny-pinching or regulatory mindset that would rather use technology far past its shelf life than keep up. (Hugs all around to the folks supporting IT in the medical field.)

Falling behind means an organization is also accumulating technical debt that becomes increasingly hard to pay off.

When Julie, the engineer that installed that system a decade ago, finally leaves the company, who’s going to work on it? Will the organization put an ad out, seeking an engineer who’s really good at old tech? Good luck with that.

Still running. Congratulations?

Process problems. A lack of technological progress is sometimes paired with ancient operational process. It could be that the decade-old system is there because the IT team finds it too hard to make the changes required to get rid of it.

A lack of change perpetuates the old system. Hmm. This could indicate a problem with the organization itself.

Perhaps an IT manager lives in a culture of fear, and won’t risk change for fear of failing because failure isn’t tolerated. Perhaps a systems engineer knows the system should be replaced, but has been told “no” so many times that bringing up the issue seems pointless.

Why not just leave the ancient router in the corner doing its thing? Sure, it can’t be covered by a support contract anymore, but hey, it’s run for decade. Maybe it will run for a decade more. Tick, tick, tick...

Topology problems. A piece of gear that’s been up for ten years might mean that it’s such a critical part of the infrastructure that no one dares to take it down. Taking it down for maintenance would be too risky.

We’ve all heard the argument, “If we shut it down, we aren’t sure it will come back up,” as if the system is kept alive by the sheer rotational velocity of its spinning disks.

This attitude indicates a bad design that doesn’t tolerate downtime. Back in the day of uber-expensive, gold-plated infrastructure devices, compromising on availability was a requirement. Many inadequate designs are created because of budget constraints.

However, in modern IT design, broken infrastructure is assumed. While enterprises still have a penchant for buying gold-plated infrastructure, the idea on the rise is cheap, disposable equipment that’s obtained at high value for dollar and scaled out (or thrown out) as quickly as capacity demands.

Nothing should be gold-plated in IT infrastructure anymore. Buy it cheap, design it to tolerate failure, and replace it often.

_____


*I know, I know. Ten years of uptime is still sort of cool. I know. I have that screenshot, too. Somewhere.

2. Using Sales People For Tech Support Is Expensive

by Greg Ferro


When something goes wrong with a product, your first stop is likely to be tech support. Those painfully expensive maintenance agreements get you "world class" support services. ORLY?

Hopefully the problems occur after you bought and deployed the product. It's common for products arrive faulty, after all, requiring you do things like search for a bug-free version of firmware for a given configuration, or request a replacement for a product delivered DOA.

If tech support can't help, the next step is to call the reseller or vendor sales rep and demand that something be done.

This is a very expensive process for both vendor and customer.

  1. Handling product quality issues is a poor use of expensive sales time. Sales people add no value to the product or solution. Their role is to find a customer, establish product fit, and handle the paperwork. This overhead should be reduced.

  2. Customers waste time in meeting with sales. Executives from both sides are distracted from their core businesses as they try to get a failed solution working.

  3. Sales people are powerless. Sales can't change anything. At best, they can monitor the process and make sure the bureaucracy doesn't fail. If your business is large or important, sales may beseech senior management to intervene. Because most vendors have enormous demands on support (as they love to tell me) it's unlikely that one case out of tens of thousands will get preferential treatment.

Solutions And Products Should Work


It's not an easy decision to pull the pin on a product, return it to the vendor for a refund, and replace it with something else.

The vendor and reseller are going to fight very hard to prevent this. The costs of returning stock, and the blamestorming between vendor and reseller as to who is at fault, are nothing compared to the embarrassment and shame they have to handle.

The fundamental problem is that for a vendor, time-to-market beats quality assurance. This keeps stockholders happy, while the customers bear the cost of poor quality products, and the reseller bears the front-line costs. The vendor has every reason to ship poor quality products.

If you aren't returning the product to the vendor, nothing will ever change.

You will continue to spend hundreds of hours in meetings, listening to promises that it won't happen again.

But it will. Here is what one customer told me today:

"Right now I'm looking at hitting a bug every 2 months per product line...and we run at most 40 network devices in our data centers." This has been happening for more than a year.

That's not right.

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Get ready for SD-Wan: 3 Challenges to Consider as You Approach SD-WAN Monitoring


 

3. How To See The Help Desk As A Career Builder

by Matthew Alley


Lots of IT careers include a stint in an entry-level help desk role.

Dealing with clueless users, fried laptops, and printers from hell can be frustrating and thankless. But if you’ve got your eye on a better job or a higher position, you can learn crucial skills in tech support that will help you advance your career.

The most obvious skills gain are technical, such as troubleshooting. You’ll get very familiar with software and hardware when you’re diagnosing boot failures, figuring out why there’s no output on a monitor, and so on.

A help desk role will also teach you about end-user connectivity issues, which can span from the network through the OS and up to the application layer: three vital areas of IT knowledge.

On a side note, one hard skill that I feel many help desk techs lack is basic understanding of networking. Networking knowledge, and familiarity with the OSI model, helps dramatically with low-level support in an enterprise.

For instance, you can get to a root cause more quickly if you understand that if you can ping 8.8.8.8 successfully, but not reach google.com, it likely means something is going on with DNS. Or, knowing what it looks like when DHCP isn’t working (APIPA, anyone?) can speed a resolution.

 

Build Your Soft Skills

Tech support obviously prizes domain expertise, but it’s also an opportunity to build valuable soft skills, such as communication, planning, and teamwork. These skills can serve you well throughout your career.

Each time you visit someone’s desk to troubleshoot, it’s an opportunity to sharpen your abilities to listen to others and communicate clearly and directly.

And you’ll probably get lots of practice in how to stay calm when dealing with people who are tense and frustrated.

I recently saw the consequences of bad rapport and poor communication skills when a tech was let go from their job because users dreaded having this tech handle their tickets.

When you are swamped with tickets, find ways to do better at prioritizing and planning. No matter what your job is in IT, there’s never enough time to do it. So the ability to prioritize will only become more important as you take on new roles.

Teamwork is also a critical skill, and tech support is a great department in which to hone it. You’ll likely need to work with other IT staffers, both at your level and above you, to get the job done.

People in tech who can work well with others will always do better than the lone wolf who knows everything. Being able to work with your peers to resolve an issue will help you get the problem fixed more quickly.

Working in a help desk position will often put you up against areas of technology that you may not have encountered yet. The next time a ticket comes in that you know Alice will take because it’s Alice’s specialty, talk to Alice about working together so you can learn from her.

Working the help desk isn’t glamorous, but it does present opportunities to learn and advance. So take advantage of them. It’s on you to make it happen.

Thanks, Internet

All kinds of amusing things wash up in our social feeds. Here's one that caught my eye.
Oh boy...
Source: nkomo33 via Reddit
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Internets Of Interest 

A collection of pre-loved links that might interest you. "Pre-loved" because I liked them enough to put into this newsletter. It's not true love. 

By Greg Ferro and Drew Conry-Murray

How to review and permanently delete voice recordings from a Google Home or Amazon Echo


You may have seen the news that pre-release models of the Google Home Mini (a voice-activated digital assistant) were recording everything that was said around them. Google has taken steps to fix the issue.

If the story made you curious about just what your own digital assistant is recording, the blogger Kevin Tofel has a handy guide for viewing--and deleting--recordings make by Google Home and Amazon Echo.


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Product News


Find out about interesting new products, or get essential information about things you might already be using.

Cisco To Launch Cloud Service For Managing UCS, HyperFlex

Cisco has announced a new service, called Intersight, that will let IT manage UCS servers and HyperFlex hyperconverged systems from a Cisco cloud.

The service, which will debut in the fourth quarter of 2017, aims to make it easier to manage application infrastructure.

LINK

Briefings In Brief: A New Packet Pushers Podcast


Want more tech news? Subscribe to our newest podcast channel, Briefings In Brief. We take five minutes or less to summarize and analyze tech news, product announcements, or other interesting items that come across our desks.

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Quick Survey: Work/Life Balance


Is the phenomenon of putting work ahead of other parts of your life a uniquely American issue, or something that techies wrestle with all over the world? Do you struggle with work/life balance?

A. Yes, and I'm from the US
B. No, and I'm from the US
C. Yes, and I'm not from the US
D. No, and I'm not from the US

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The End Bit

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Human Infrastructure is bi-weekly newsletter with view, perspectives, and opinions. It is edited and published by Greg Ferro and Drew Conry-Murray from PacketPushers.net. If you'd like to contribute, email Drew at drew.conrymurray@packetpushers.net.

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