Brother, Can You Spare $5?

My good friend Jason Helmick has a lovely young adult daughter, Devon. Devon recently took it upon herself to make a difference to the homeless folks in Phoenix, where they live. She and a couple of friends make fresh brown-bag lunches, including sandwiches, fruit, and wholesome items, and then hand them out to the hungry folks in downtown Phoenix. Now, young folks being how they are these days <grin>, I told her that if she kept it up for a month, I’d be happy to chip in and help with the grocery bill. She did, and I did, and I wanted to mention it to you. Her fundraising page is where to donate $5, $10, or whatever you can.

I think what she’s doing is great, and I think it’s wonderful to see someone her age concerned about those around her… and taking some of her precious time to help out. When Americans speak of our country being the greatest in the world, this is what they’re talking about. Not relying on the government, not creating a giant Federal department, simply spending a little time, and a little money, lending a hand.

In any big city – heck, even in Vegas – there are folks begging for money, ostensibly for food. But who knows what they do with your spare change? Stories abound – many are even urban legends, I’m sure – about drugs, violence, sex, and so on. What Devon’s doing is perfect: she’s simply giving them a free lunch. It isn’t terribly fancy, but it’s exactly how our parents raised us all, isn’t it?

She’s inspired me, too. I’m looking for a simple way to help out in my own community. I’m not going to solve anything, but I can certainly take a minute to help someone’s life be a bit easier, at least for a day. Everyone should have a day to be thankful for now and again, right?

Anyway… donate to Devon if you can, and are in the mood. If not, try to encourage your own kids to do something selfless, even if it doesn’t go on forever. See where you could maybe alleviate a little pain in your own community. As an engineer, I have this overwhelming mental desire to fix things. In this case, don’t try to solve the problem. Just see where you can raise a smile.

Thanks.

Think IIS isn’t as Important as DNS?

In a Microsoft environment, or a mixed environment that includes a lot of Microsoft, IIS is every bit as important as DHCP, DNS, Active Directory, and other infrastructure elements. Without IIS, many of the mission-critical services your users rely on… simply aren’t there.

  • SharePoint? IIS.
  • Outlook Web App? IIS.
  • PowerShell Web Access? IIS.
  • Office Web Apps? IIS.
  • System Center Configuration Manager? IIS.
  • Desired State Configuration? IIS.
  • Lync? IIS.
  • Azure Websites? IIS, of course.
  • Forefront Identity Manager? IIS.
  • Forefront UAG? IIS.
  • BizTalk? IIS.

Not to mention all those internal line-of-business web applications that rely on IIS. The thing is everywhere.

So, for your users, IIS is every bit as important as DNS, DHCP, and all the other magic acronyms that make the network work. In fact, almost every major Microsoft server product depends on IIS. Sure, you can just “let the product set it up,” but wouldn’t you rather know what’s actually happening under the hood? So you can, you know, troubleshoot it when things break, and optimize its performance?

Thing is, most Microsoft admins have an entirely “hands off” approach to IIS. Some even admit they’re outright terrified of touching it.

But the neat thing is that IIS isn’t all that hard to understand. And, once you do, you can do lots with it. Load-balancing a DSC pull server is no different than load-balancing OWA… because they all use IIS. I truly believe IIS is, from the perspective of a Microsoft admin’s career, just as important as Active Directory or even PowerShell. It’s the under-the-hood thing that powers so much of what our users rely on… you just can’t safely be ignorant of it.

That’s why I pressed good buddy and fellow MVP Jason Helmick into writing Learn IIS Administration in a Month of Lunchesone of the Lunches titles I’ve been most excited about. He’ll teach you everything, starting with the basics, including the complex bits of managing IIS using PowerShell. He covers load balancing, high availability – all the things you know.

Check it out. This book is one that I had in mind when originally creating the Lunches series, and I think Jason really nailed the instructional design. It’s a book you’ll actually pick up again and again – everytime someone says, “ARR,” for example, I reach for my copy. Even on Talk Like a Pirate Day.

IIS has been a sneaky little critter, creeping into every cranny of the Microsoft universe. Don’t let it sneak around any more. Get IIS Smart™

Do You Know What You Cost?

One of the most interesting kinds of discussions I have with customers often veins with a discussion on third-party management tools. Companies are obviously loathe to spend unnecessary money – I get that. So when an admin comes along asking for a tool – whether it’s a simple $300 tool or a $20/seat “solution” – there’s obviously a lot of scrutiny. A lot of organizations often rely on administrators to build their own tools – something technologies like PowerShell are making easier to do.

Most organizations often come down on the side of “do it yourself.” I can understand why: you’re already paying the person’s salary, so that’s a sunk cost, so why not get more work out of them? A tool will cost more money. Many tools have annual maintenance costs – it’s like hiring a new person!

The problem is that very few employees or employers spend much time actually costing our their employees. “Time is money,” for sure, but nobody appears to own a calculate capable of figuring out how much time equals how much money.

For example, let’s suppose you make $75,000 a year. In most parts of the US, that means your total labor cost is about $85,500, including benefits and employer’s share of your payroll taxes. The average US employee works 46-48 weeks per year (less traditional holidays, paid vacation, and sick time), and nominally can expect to work around 45 hours a week. That’s about 2,025 hours a year, meaning you’d cost the company about $42 an hour.

Figuring out your overhead cost is easy. Assigning that to actual production effort, not so much. Almost every organization I go into has a help desk ticket tracking system; almost nobody uses it effectively. In theory, I should be able to look at a task like “reset user password,” see that it takes you 10 minutes per incident, and see that you do it an average of 40 times a week. At $0.70 per minute, that’s $329 a week spent on password resets, or about $17,108 a year. If you have two people doing about that workload, it’s close to $35,000 a year. If a self-service password reset solution costs less than that on an annual basis, you buy the solution. It’s cheaper.

Lacking a properly used help desk ticket system (and why do we buy these things if we’re not going to use them correctly?), it’s really tough to assign hard hours to tasks. That means you, the employee, need to do some time tracking on your own. If you ever expect the boss to say “yes” to a tool or solution to make your job easier, you need to be able to show a compelling financial picture. You also need to be able to show that you could put your time to better use – which means you need to know where the “holes” are in your environment, like what projects aren’t getting worked due to lack of manpower.

In other words, if you tell the boss, “hey, I could save us 6.67 hours per week, or 347 hours a year, if we bought this tool,” the boss only cares about it if there’s something else for you to be doing with that now-free time. So you need to have some awareness about where that time would go, so that you can immediately follow up with, “and we know we’re going to need about 500 hours to get that such-and-such done, so this would be a big hunk of that.” You become a solution.

Now… ok, this is going to sound a bit mean, but I want to present the perspective that some bosses have of their employees, in some organizations. Just to be fair – and understand that this isn’t some kind of broad accusation. But you and I both know that not everyone in every organization is delivering their full 2,000 hours of manpower every year. Extra smoke breaks. Longer lunches. Coming in a few minutes late, leaving a few minutes early. In some organizations, it’s perfectly acceptable – but for some managers, it’s a bit tough for them to buy off on an argument that would free up some of your time when, in their eyes, you’ve already got some free time to burn.

How an employee handles that depends very much on the employee, the employer, and the culture that’s grown up between them. My point, for this article, is more about whether or not you know how to accurately cost yourself, and whether or not – if needed – you could come up with costs for the work you perform. It’s a key business analyst function: looking for areas of expense and trying to reduce them. You can be an important part of that, and not incidentally help make your job a lot easier, if you know the right way to go about it.

My TechEd N.A. 2014 Schedule

I’m looking forward to meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones at TechEd… but because my schedule has me running around a good bit, I thought I’d mention a few places where I KNOW I’ll be… hopefully folks can find me at one of these, and say hi!

MONDAY: I’ll be co-presenting with Jeffrey Snover in his “PowerShell Unplugged” session. That’s at 1:15pm.

TUESDAY: At 3:15pm, I have a “DSC Overview” session, followed by a book signing at the TechEd Bookstore at 4:30. Then I’ll be at the “Ask the Experts” event Tuesday evening, probably hanging with other PowerShell People.

WEDNESDAY: I’ll be back at the TechEd BookStore at 12:30pm for about half an hour. At 3:15pm, I have a “PowerShell Best Practices and Patterns” session. I’ve got a meet-n-greet at the TechNet Script Center pod, too – check there for the specific time.

Play the Angel’s Advocate

I’ve recently started forcing myself to play “Angel’s Advocate” in a number of conversations, and sometimes just with myself as a thought experiment. Here’s how it works:

Suppose someone in your organization suggests moving to Office 365 and off of your on-premises Exchange infrastructure. Now, someone else will often, in the conversation, say something like, “just playing Devil’s Advocate, but…” That’s a kind of weasel-word – the person is arguing against the move, usually by raising potential problems that seem insurmountable.

Play the other side – even just in your own head. Heck, forget reality – just take some contentious, difficult topic and ask: “What would have to happen to make that happen?” Be serious – no snarky replies allowed. You’re totally blue-sky, meaning you can come up with anything as a solution, but try to stick as close to reality and reason as possible. What if you really, really needed to engineer things so that whatever it was came to pass?

This can be hard.

What would it take for your organization to move to Office 365 for email?

I’ll give you an example of where playing “Angel’s Advocate” worked. The US department of defense got into conversations with Microsoft about O365, and ultimately did not decide that O365 wasn’t for them. What they found was that the tech worked fine, but there were concerns about who would control the data and where it would be stored – we’re talking sensitive stuff. “What’ll it take?” someone at Microsoft, I imagine, finally asked. “We’d need you to stand up a separate O365 in our own data centers.”

Blink, blink.

“That’d cost a lot.”

“We figure,” I imagine some general or someone saying. “But if we build a private DoD version of O365, we can resell it to other government agencies and DoD sub-agencies, and we can certify that it’ll meet their security requirements.”

Blink, blink.

“OK.”

And so that’s a project – I’ve no idea how far along it is, but it’s happening. Not because someone said why it wouldn’t work, but described how it could. And both sides wanted it enough to work through the problems – ultimately people/political ones, not technical ones – to make it happen.

What would it take for your organization to move to Office 365 for email?

I’m sure you can come up with reasons why you won’t or can’t – many organizations can. Turn those around. What would need to change in your organization to make it happen? Forget how likely that is – we’re just talking. Or take a different “impossible” topic, if you prefer. (By the way, if you’re already using Office 365, please pick a different topic – this one’s just on my mind today, so I picked it as an example.)

Get detailed. “Well, the CIO would need to die.” No, that’s not serious or detailed, unless you live in Las Vegas and own a shovel. Ahem. “The CIO would need to stop wanting to control our own Exchange infrastructure.” Ah, ok. What would that take? Drill down. What’re the actual problems? What would solve them?

You see, even if it never happens – even if you never have the discussion in real life – you’re moving your brain through an extremely important process of problem-solving. I find that if you regularly practice this skill – drilling down to the lowest possible level to identify a solution path – you become better at architecture. Better at troubleshooting. Better at buying a new car. Everything. Getting your brain into a detailed, analytical, problem-solving state really exercises the neurons. It forces you to operate at a very high cognitive level – analyzing, evaluating, and creating, the three top levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

You force yourself to truly understand the problem. The CIO’s continued existence isn’t the problem – it’s his attitude. What’s his attitude consist of? From where does it derive? What are the exact anti-arguments, and how could you develop a reasonable solution for them? Again, doesn’t matter if it happens or if you even discuss it – it’s a valuable brain exercise.

Never say “no.” Just describe “how.”