Friday, August 21, 2009

Insane(ly stupid!) HP Customer Service

Those that know me are aware of the fact that I tend to be rather vocal in my support for the things that I use. I’m an advocate for most Microsoft Technologies, an advocate for the much-maligned Zune MP3 player, Harley Davidson motorcycles, etc etc etc.. If I own/use something and I like it, I let people know about it…

I’ve been a huge fan of HP hardware for many years, and when I became unhappy about the performance of my work-provided laptop, I decided that I was going to take matters in my own hand and bought my own HP Tablet PC. I love this thing, it has been one of the most versatile (and downright useful) portable devices that I have ever owned. Coupled with Windows 7, I couldn’t be happier.I purchased it at Costco, and honestly can’t imagine ever being unhappy with the process.

As circumstances would have it, I am in need of a more powerful portable computing platform (in addition to the tablet mind you, not in replace of) for some field-work that I’m going to be doing. Rather than try and navigate the hardware requisition maze to get a new work-provided one, I decided that I would buy another one of my own. Of course since I love HP products, I decided to see what HP has available. I found *exactly* what I was looking for on the HP site, and unfortunately found out that Costco wouldn’t carry that model with the options that I wanted, so I decided to go ahead and order it from the HP Website. I configured the beast with all the custom options, paid the price, and had it shipped.

I received the laptop (An HP HDX 16T Premium “CTO” model with every imaginable bell/whistle) on Monday of this week. Did my normal pave/rebuild with Windows 7, and after a couple of false starts was pretty happy with my purchase.

And then the fun began…..

On Tuesday evening, I received an email from the HP store talking about their latest/greatest offer… Turns out it was an offer for the exact laptop that I just bought…. AND IT’S $500 CHEAPER THAN WHAT I PAID! Ok, probably some hidden tricks and nothing to get excited about, right? Well, it turns out that one of the guys who works for me decided he too wants a new laptop and decided to buy one, so I sent him the link from the email I’d received, and sure enough, he configured THE EXACT SAME laptop with the EXACT SAME options, and paid exactly $500 less than I did…

No worries I’m sure. I can just contact them, explain the situation (hey, just 1 day after receiving this you drop the price?) and I’m sure they will at least offer me a store credit…. Well, I send an email and I get the following response:

I understand that you are inquiring about the received coupon after receiving your ordered HP HDX 16t laptop and would like to know if you can avail the said discount on the recently received order, right. I appreciate your inquiry, HP continues to provide you the best in all computer technology. Thank you for choosing HP. Ted, that coupon code is applicable on your next purchase. However, you also need to check on the validity of the coupon before using.

To which I respond that the answer is not acceptable… I receive the following response:

I am very sorry to hear that we were not able to provide you with a satisfactory purchase experience. I want to apologize for the inconvenience that you have experienced due of the $500.00 coupon that you would like to add on your recent purchase.

Feedback like yours is always appreciated, and it lets us know how well our website and staff have assisted you. I have registered your complaint with our management team and we will assess the corrective action that needs to take place.

Ted, we have the 21-day Price Protection Policy. As much as I wanted to process the $500.00 credit on your order, it is beyond my credit limit. However, I would refer you to the Resolutions team to process the credit, if applicable. They will validate the coupon and provide an option for you to avail such discount.

OK, so now we’re getting somewhere!

I call the number that they suggest, and basically am told that the email is wrong, that I cannot use the discount. When I tell them that due to their satisfaction policy I could easily box this laptop up, return it, and then buy it again for $500 less, it just doesn’t make sense to do it this way… Their response, “That’s the way the policy works”…

By now I’m highly irritated, and can’t believe that a loyal customer is being treated this way in this economy… So, I send another email basically stating that I will return the laptop and find something else to buy…

Their response:

Thank you for contacting the HP Home & Home Office Sales Center.

I understand that you got an email with the coupon code after receiving the hdx16t laptop that you ordered, and you wanted to know if you can just get the credit for that coupon code.  I'm really sorry if this has caused you a hassle.  Don't worry since HP is willing to assist you with this. 

I just want to let you know that there is no retroactive application on any of our coupon codes.  Also, all of our coupon codes have  limited redemptions.  What if we credit the amount, but the limit has been reached already?  You really have to apply the coupon code to the actual order to see if it's valid or not.  In this case, your only option is to return the laptop and place a new order using that coupon code.  I'm really sorry for this inconvenience. 

I know that this has caused you a trouble, but I still want to thank and commend you for choosing HP and considering our products.  We have received a lot of wonderful comments and recognition about our products from customers through emails, chats, and phone calls.

So now it becomes a matter of what to do… I can box and return this laptop, order a new one for $500 less, and be done with it, OR I can choose to simply return it and go elsewhere…..

Given this display of customer service, I don’t think there is really much of a debate….

Guess I’ll be checking out the Dell laptops….

If anyone from HP is reading this, please fix your customer service process. If you drive away your satisfied and happy customers, what will you be left with? How can I, with clear conscience, recommend your products to anyone at this point?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cross-Domain Business Intelligence

One problem that seems to plague organizations these days is a lack of understanding of how Business Intelligence techniques apply to more than just the typical “what’s our sales performance” question. (See my previous post for more on applying BI techniques to IT data).

I think the root of this problem is much deeper than simply trying to understand BI technologies. I believe the problem stems from a fundamental lack of understanding how to apply a technology solution to a business problem. This may sound a bit like Dilbert-esque crazy talk, but I think I can make a pretty good case for this argument.

There’s a lot of talk and “noise” in the industry right now about “Cross Domain BI” (some call this pervasive BI, but I don’t agree with applying that term to this problem) where BI techniques are being used to tie together data from multiple dissimilar sources within an organization. This provides a unified view of just how well each aspect of the organization is performing. I think that this movement is destined for a very bumpy road unless organizations fundamentally change how they approach problem solving in general, and “BI” in particular.

Distilling the Problem

Anyone who’s been in an engineering role (not necessarily limited to software engineering by the way) for awhile has been faced with the problem of imprecise requirements or specifications. As engineers, we tend to understand how to deal with that problem (it depends a lot on the engineer, sometimes the lack of a good spec makes for a great excuse not to get the job done, or worse, leads to a product simply “built to spec” and sometimes it forces the engineer to become more involved in understanding the problem they are trying to solve) and move on. Unfortunately the trait doesn’t always hold true with those outside of engineering who typically drive Business Intelligence projects.

Agile Business Intelligence

I’ve made the base before that BI projects *must* be driven by Agile methodologies if they are going to succeed. The main point of my argument there is that a successful BI project must be able to adapt to changing requirements along the way, and must be extremely flexible in terms of the data provided to the end-user. I believe it’s also true that for “Cross-Domain” BI to succeed, there must be an Agile component to the business as a whole. If an organization is rigidly structured, with well-defined “silos” of information, any attempt to develop cross-domain BI will likely end up in several BI silos that ultimately become useless when combined. For a cross-domain BI project to succeed, each of the silos of information must understand how data from other silos can be used to improve their own performance. In order to accomplish this, there needs to be an over-arching description of the business goals for the BI project, as well as a description of the goals for each silo. Generally speaking, this is done by following the “Business Scenario”-focused process such as the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF).

This brings me back to my original point. In order to properly apply BI techniques to the “Cross Domain” problem, organizations must first understand the problem that they are trying to solve. If they do this by creating an over-arching “cross domain” Business Scenario that contains the following steps:

  1. What questions are you trying to answer?
  2. What data do you need to answer the questions?
  3. Where does the data exist?

They are more likely to succeed at delivering a useful solution. If they don’t follow this simple approach, they are likely to be left wondering what happened.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

BI for the IT Guy (or Gal)

One of the things that I have struggled with in the past in explaining “my” product (Configuration Analytics Manager – CAM) to people who’ve not seen it, is connecting the dots from the “elevator pitch” to the real business proposition. When most IT people think of Business Intelligence (BI) products, they automatically think sales management or maybe they think “Advanced Reporting”. Since people generally tend to classify things into buckets that they can understand, once they hear “BI”, they’re automatically framing everything else said about the product into one of the above categories. When people hear about CAM and they hear, “It’s BI for IT data”, there is either a blank look of, “Why do I need *that*?” or even, “That’s cool, I can have charts and graphs on my reports now”.

The problem that I have with the above is IT management is a maturing industry. IT used to be the cost center that simply provided the business with the tools it needs to prosper. IT used to be “those people” that you only had to talk to when something was wrong, or when something new was needed. (Unless of course you are in IT management, in which case you only got to talk to people when something was wrong or when something new was needed). These days IT has become a first class citizen in most corporate environments, and is being seen as much more than a simple cost center. IT is being measured by much more than just how well they managed their budget.

Given all of the above, sometimes it feels like I’m on a crusade, and the first step is to try and get IT managers and directors to start thinking of their work in terms of business profitability. If IT managers start thinking in terms of a given process (be it keeping an application running, managing a service desk, monitoring an application, or any of the other day to day tasks an IT person performs) as their “product”, and improvement of that process as being their “profit”, then BI solutions built using IT management data will start to become a pervasive requirement for IT organizations. (What better way to help improve profit than to analyze what is and isn’t working?) CAM is poised to be *the* product to help IT when that day comes.

Friday, June 12, 2009

More on the transition to EMC

If you follow this blog, you know that I’ve recently become an employee of EMC. As a matter of fact, I just got my badge today. (As a side note, why do badge photos have to be so horrible?) It has been a whirlwind transition, and has actually been only my second experience of being part of an acquisition by a larger entity.

I realize that it’s early in the game, but I have to honestly state that I have been impressed by the attention that I’ve received by various folks throughout the EMC organization. From the management of my new organization, down to bloggers and tweeters who’ve sent their “Welcome Aboard” messages, I’ve felt as if I’ve personally been welcomed to the EMC family.

Which brings me to the point of this post..

Joe Tucci (CEO of EMC) wrote an open letter to Data Domain employees basically telling them what life at EMC would be like. (If you haven’t heard the story, EMC has made a bid for Data Domain – read about that here: ) and several EMC employees have added to the conversation by stating why they feel EMC is a great place to work. (See Polly Persons blog here: As a brand-new-to-the-EMC-culture person, I feel that I don’t really have much to add to the discussion, but I can say one thing for sure, if all people that EMC have absorbed through acquisition are treated as I have been (yeah yeah, I know that it’s still early!) then the folks over at Data Domain are in for a very pleasant surprise!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

and Hello EMC!

If you read my previous post, you know that I still had some issues to clean up around the Configuresoft to EMC transition. I’m happy to say that these issues are all now nicely put to bed, so I can now move forward as a member of the EMC team!

My official title is, “Principal Software Engineer”, which, in an organization like EMC, is not a bad title to have. I will be part of the (soon to be rebranded, more on that in future posts) Resource Management Software Group (RMSG), which is essentially the group that manages the datacenter. Effectively my world went from building tools that satisfy a small slice of the data center management problem, to now being a part of a much larger and more exciting data center management strategy. (Kind of a hoot to click here and see “my” product at the top of the list)

Anyway, I’m still learning my way around, and will likely keep a low profile for the next several weeks. Having said that though, I’ll be travelling to the “mother ship” (kind of cool to have a “mother ship” after so long *being* part of the mother ship) next week for more integration meetings.

Exciting times await!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

So long, Configuresoft…….

For those that know me, you know I’ve spent untold hours over the last seven years working with a fantastic company and some of the best people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. When I first came aboard, Configuresoft was a very-small-yet-vibrant company trying hard to make a mark in the IT Configuration Management field. Over the years, I’d say we hit that goal and then some.

With all of the consolidation in the Configuration Management market, and the economic realities of the day, it was only a matter of time before we became part of something bigger. That day came last week as it was announced that Configuresoft would be acquired by EMC corporation. My personal thoughts on this vary, it’s sad to see the company that has been such a huge part of my life over the last several years disappear, but on the other hand, the forward-looking opportunities are simply amazing. We became part of the (soon to be rebranded) RMSG group within EMC, which means that we have the resources of a $15B, 47,000 employee company behind us, and a suite of products in our arsenal that are second to none in the industry.

I don’t yet know what this means for me personally. I think I am going to stay, but there are some legal issues that need to be worked out. I do know that “my” product, which has been branded by EMC as “Configuration Analytics Manager” (CAM) will play a huge role in RMSGs strategy moving forward, and if it works out, I’m going to be very excited to play a role in all of that.

So, goodbye Configuresoft, it’s been a wonderful ride!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What a Surreal Day!

Today was one of those VERY strange days..

For starters, today was the first day of the SSWUG Ultimate Virtual Conference (by the way, there’s still 2 days left and you can still register. Use code VCTAF457840-140 when you do!) during which I presented 3 sessions on Visual Studio Team System Database Edition. They had been filmed a couple of weeks ago, but this was the day they went live.

Next up, today was also the Microsoft Team System Big Event in Denver (see my previous post about that). This event had a lot of great speakers, including Steve Lange, Jerry Nixon, Joe Shirey, Rob Bagby and Peter Provost. For some reason they also let me present a session.

So you may wonder, what’s so surreal about that? Well, it turns out Rob was presenting the session on “Data Dude” (or Database Edition as he called it) at the Big Event. My 3 sessions at the SSWUG conference were also on Data Dude. The timing worked out such that Rob presented his session about the same time as my first one was being repeated at the SSWUG event. We used slides built from the same master deck, so I was literally watching my video (muted) while in the room with Rob and noticing that he was talking about many of the same topics at the same time…. Quite surreal!

Anyway, days 2 and 3 of the SSWUG conference are up now, and I’ve still got 3 Business Intelligence sessions to “deliver”.

Monday, April 6, 2009

SSWUG Online FREE Community Event


The good people over at the SQL Server Worldwide Users Group (SSWUG) are hosting a FREE online event to showcase some of the best sessions from past Virtual Conferences. The event will be held online Friday April 17th, starting at 9am Pacific time. Info about the event:

About the SSWUG Community Virtual Event
We're working to bring you real-world information about SQL Server 2008, Share Point, Silver Light, with tips about new features, functionality and much more.

  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Analysis Services - Designing and Managing High Performance Cubes: Donald Farmer. With Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Analysis Services offers advanced features for design and manageability. This session will explore in data two of these features: the best practices design alerts and dynamic management views. Design alerts guide you with important advice throughout the development stage of a cube. We'll show how to work with the alerts, and how to manage their various subtleties. Having deployed a more efficient cube, the dynamic management views enable the administrator to query for information regarding connections, sessions, and server performance. We will introduce these views and drill down into many examples of their usage.
  • Useful, effective, pre-made SharePoint templates-- from Microsoft, for free: Callahan. Need a help desk, timecard, or vacation request site? Considering just creating them yourself? Don't. Not until you explore the pre-existing application templates available from Microsoft. Free for download, Microsoft has 40 fantastic application templates, not to mention the Community Kit for SharePoint with offerings such as enhanced blog templates, or sites for user groups. So before you invest time and technology in rolling your own, check out this session and get an idea of what's been rolled for you.
  • Silverlight for Beginners: Tim Heuer. XAML, WPF, VS, Blend...what are all these acronyms? Let’s take a deep breath and step back to look at the spectrum of what Silverlight is (and isn’t) and what you need to know starting from ground zero. No knowledge of WPF or Silverlight is required and well get you started building your first Silverlight application in no time!
  • Introduction to Data Dude: Ted Malone. In this session attendees will learn about Microsoft Visual Studio Team Edition for Database Developers aka Data Dude. This product provides database developers with tools for database development, change management and testing. This session will walk through the available features of data dude and detail where they can be best utilized.
  • SQL Server Round Table: Paul Nielsen, Chris Shaw, Stephen Wynkoop. Stephen, Chris and Paul sit down in an open forum and discuss questions about SQL Server 2008 and questions that have come up from the past conferences. This session will show some of the different opinions that developers and administrators have when working with SQL Server.

To register for this FREE event, check out the URL here:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Visual Studio Team System Big Event!

One of the great things about being a Team System MVP is you get to participate in many different types of events. I really have to hand it to Steve Lange and Microsoft on this one though, this looks to be a fantastic idea and should make for a fun and educational time.


The Visual Studio Team System Big Event is an invitation only event being held in several cities throughout the west. If you are involved with Team System at all, or if you’ve always wondered what VSTS was all about, this is an event you won’t want to pass up. Here is some more information on the Denver event, which is being held on April 22 at the Denver Office. This is an invite only event, but the good news is, well, here’s your invite! Click the “Register Online” button below, and when prompted for the secret code, use DD1A7F. Oh, I will be presenting the, “Bang for your Buck, Getting the Most out of Team Foundation Server” session. Hope to see you all there…

Register Online (Remember to use code DD1A7F when prompted)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 8:30 AM - Wednesday, April 22, 2009 5:00 PM Mountain Time (US & Canada)
Welcome Time: 8:00 AM

Microsoft Corporation

7595 Technology Way, Suite 400
Denver Colorado 80237
United States


Microsoft Visual Studio, Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 and Microsoft Visual Studio 2010.

Developer, IT Professional and Professional Developer/Coder.

Event Overview

How do you take an idea from conception to completion? How can you truly do more with less?

Please join us for this unique, invitation-only event to discover how both product and processes help your organization succeed in today’s environment. We will explore how Team System assists teams across the board to be successful in today’s tough times. This “break through” event will not only provide you with best practices around development and testing, but will demonstrate key capabilities of both Visual Studio Team System 2008 and the upcoming 2010 release. It’s a day that promises to have something for everyone!


Test Driven Development: Improving .NET Application Performance & Scalability

This session will demonstrate how to leverage Test Driven Development in Team System. We’ll highlight both writing unit tests up front as well as creating test stubs for existing code.

"It Works on My Machine!" Closing the Loop Between Development & Testing

In this session, we will examine the traditional barriers between the developer and tester; and how Team System can help remove those walls.

Treating Databases as First-Class Citizens in Development

Team System Database Edition elevates database development to the same level as code development. See how Database Edition enables database change management, automation, comparison, and deployment.

Architecture without Big Design Up Front

Microsoft Visual Studio Team System 2010 Architecture Edition, introduces new UML designers, use cases, activity diagrams, sequence diagrams that can visualize existing code, layering to enforce dependency rules, and physical designers to visualize, analyze, and refactor your software. See how VSTS extends UML logical views into physical views of your code. Learn how to create relationships from these views to work items and project metrics, how to extend these designers, and how to programmatically transform models into patterns for other domains and disciplines.

Development Best Practices & How Microsoft Helps

Sometimes development teams get too bogged down with the details. Take a deep breath, step back, and re-acquaint yourself with a review of current development best practice trends, including continuous integration, automation, and requirements analysis; and see how Microsoft tools map to those practices.

"Bang for Your Buck" Getting the Most out of Team Foundation Server

Today’s IT budgets are forcing teams to do as much as they can with as little as possible. Why not leverage Team Foundation Server to its full potential? In this session we’ll highlight some capabilities of TFS that you may or may not already know about to help you maximize productivity.

Registration Options

Event ID:

Register by Phone

There are other cities on the tour as well:

Mountain View, CA April 28, 2009
Click here to register with invitation code: 80D459

Irvine, CA April 30, 2009
Click here to register with invitation code: A86389

Portland, OR May 5, 2009
Click here to register with invitation code: 2DC0A9

Phoenix, AZ May 7, 2009
Click here to register with invitation code: 90BC47

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Visual Studio Team System (VSTS) Rangers Ship New SharePoint guidance!

Before I get into the purpose of this post, it’s probably important to define just exactly what a “VSTS Ranger” is. The following definition was taken from Willy-Peter Schaub’s blog:

“Rangers are responsible for the creation of reusable “out of band” solutions for missing functionality in the TFS and VSTS family of products, striving for active community readiness knowledge sharing and are influencing VSTS.vNext … the next generation of the tools.

There are Core Rangers and Extended Rangers. Members of the “Extended Rangers” team do not have to be Microsoft Employees. There are a number of non-Microsoft Extended Rangers. One of the cool opportunities that exist for MVPs in Team System is the ability to become part of the Extended Rangers Team. One of the cool benefits of being an Extended Ranger is participating on high-visibility projects that ultimately help make life easier for VSTS customers.

So, having said all of that (From an email I just received)….

In the last couple of days, Rangers shipped important guidance packages for MOSS TFS development. For maximum reach, we have simultaneously posted to the Team System Home and

Application Lifecycle Management Resource Center for SharePoint Server.

The two whitepapers are:

VSTS Rangers - SharePoint Server Custom Application Development: Document Workflow Management Project

Read about the real-world design, construction, and deployment of a custom SharePoint Server 2007 application to a mid-market enterprise customer using Team Foundation Server as an ALM platform.


VSTS Rangers - Using Team Foundation Server to Develop Custom SharePoint Products and Technologies Applications

Learn how to use TFS to support your SharePoint application development, and provide an integrated development environment and single source code repository for process activities, integrated progress reporting, and team roles.


The first article was created during a real world customer engagement and answers dozens of frequently asked questions and how-tos in a real world context vs. theoretical discussions. The article addresses very common questions around setting up and using TFS features for a MOSS development project.

Combined with the following guidance from P&P posted here, we have a good and almost complete story for our customers and partners. The two teams worked together to align these stories.

patterns & practices: SharePoint Guidance

The SharePoint Guidance contains a sample implementation of an intranet application based on SharePoint Server 2007 that demonstrates solutions to many ALM challenges.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The MVP Summit and Agile Arguments

I spent the earlier part of this week in Seattle and Redmond for the 2009 MVP Summit (I am actually somewhere in the crowd for this video, please don’t hold it against me…) and came away with a ton of stuff that I can’t talk about, but more importantly I came away with an understanding that the economy may be tanking, but there is a TON of opportunity out there for people in our space.. I talked with several of my peers, and to a person, they are all extremely excited about the opportunities that they see. Hopefully the optimism will continue through the coming months, but I suspect it will.

About a month ago I sent some comments to Visual Studio Magazine in reference to an article they printed on the longevity of Agile. They saw fit to publish an edited version of my comments here:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Microsoft Operations Framework and Virtualization

Due to some of the stuff that I’ll be working on for my day/night/weekend job at Configuresoft I’m going to be spending a bit more time in the world of Virtualization. This is interesting to me on a number of fronts, but especially since Virtualization seems to be the latest “mega trend” that IT is embracing. Given that my work-life these days revolves around building software to help optimize IT operations, it’s only natural that I get to play in the world of Virtualization.

The good folks at Microsoft® have seen fit to create a “Solution Accelerator”  companion guide centered around Virtualization. (The guide is currently in Beta, but take a look at the “Virtualization Suite” located here: )

The interesting thing to me about this guide is that it’s actually a companion document to the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) IT process guidance, and of course if you’ve heard me speak over the last year or read any of my blog entries (Yes Matthew, I really do have a blog) then you know I’m all about IT Process in general and MOF in particular.

MOF and Virtualization

Following the logic laid out in the document mentioned above, there are basically 5 steps to implementing virtualization. the steps provide very high-level guidance that makes for a decent roadmap to aid in creating a virtualization plan for an organization.

Step One: Understand the Virtualization Technologies

When most people think of “Virtualization” they think of running one or more virtual machines on a physical host system. Virtualization is much more than that. There are various virtualization technologies that are useful to organizations including application, network, desktop and storage virtualization. Having a good understanding of these technologies will help IT managers choose the right ones for their specific virtualization projects.

Step Two: Review the existing infrastructure

Just like any other improvement process, you need to first have a baseline of your environment. Having a good understanding of what is installed, where it’s located and how it’s used is critical to the success of any virtualization project. Developing a good understanding of your current environment is essential to creating the plan for virtualization.

Step Three: Prepare to support Virtualization

Many times, when organizations set out on projects that are designed to save money in the long run, they neglect to understand that there will be short term costs involved. Virtualization tends to exacerbate this issue because much of the “legacy” hardware in organizations today is generally not optimized for virtualization. In very general terms, the most important part of any machine (server or workstation) virtualization project is the IO subsystem. Having good “back end” storage connected to your virtual platform will be essential for a successful virtualization project. There are many other factors as well, so planning this step is critical to the overall success of the project.

Step Four: Update the IT Architecture

Once the existing environment is understood and the overall “big picture” is developed for the virtualization project, it’s important to build a specific systems architecture to support it. This step builds a conceptual understanding of what exactly will change in the environment to support virtualization, and will serve as the overall model for how the project is implemented. This step is critical to the success of any virtualization project, and is often the one most overlooked by organizations.

Step Five: Update IT Management Processes

Once the conceptual architecture is complete and the new environment is understood, it’s important to develop management processes that will fit into the new environment. This step is all-too-often overlooked until after the project is underway, leaving managers feeling as if they are working hard to catch up. It’s very important to get “ahead of the game” by having plans in place to support the environment before the project is deployed.

Putting it all Together

The five steps above are over-simplifications of what exactly is necessary to embark upon a successful virtualization project. There are of course many more things to consider within each of the steps, and there’s also a step 6 which involves actually deploying the virtualized environment. Following these guidelines though will help organizations understand exactly how virtualization can be employed in their environment and will help them to develop clear and concise business requirements for deploying virtualization.

Better Late than Never? – RM Tech Trifecta Slides

During my session on “Data Dude” at the Rocky Mountain Tech Trifecta (good time by the way, just wish I’d had more time) I promised I’d post the slides to my blog.

Well, here we are 5 days after the event and I’m finally getting it done.

The slide deck can be downloaded from my public SkyDrive here: TechTrifectaDataDude.pptx 

Thanks to everyone who came out to the event, and to those who endured my session!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Group Dynamics and the Agile Structure

Thanks to a tweet by Scott Hanselman today, I was reminded of how group dynamics can and do affect teams working in an Agile environment.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I am going to be spending some time this year speaking about software development processes in general and agile in particular this year (I am really hoping that my TechEd talk gets approved this year, but so far it’s still in a proposed state, which doesn’t bode well). Much of my talks will focus on the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) and the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF). Before you can deep dive into any these topics however, there needs to be a higher-level understanding of how these processes fit into overall group dynamics and visa-versa.

Group Dynamics and their Agile Implications

When thinking about Agile software development, remember that one of the core values (first one listed on the manifesto as a matter of fact) is to value people and interaction over process and technology. This could well be one of the reasons that so many notable people talk about Agile not being viable for inexperienced developers. (I wrote a little about this in an earlier blog post as well – by the way I received notice from Visual Studio Magazine that they are going to publish my comments in the March Issue) In order for teams to work well together, they really do need to go through the various phases of team organization. If you subscribe to the theories of Bruce Tuckman (I am specifically referring to an article that was posted in the Spring of 2001) you know that these phases are:


When teams are in the forming stage, they are basically getting to know one another and are pretty much unproductive. In Agile methodologies (specifically thinking about MSF for Agile here) this usually coincides with the Envisioning phase of the project, so not only do you have team members getting to know one another and jockeying for their spot in the pecking order, you also have everyone trying to figure out just exactly what it is that they are building. The interesting thing (and if you read Tuckman’s article, I think he states it pretty well) here is that this phase isn’t really the chaotic phase. I know from personal experience that when a team is in this phase, it requires both strong leadership and an ability to not get bogged down in details for each of the team members. In my opinion, this is the hardest phase to get through, and I believe is one of the main reasons that Agile is seen as for “experienced” developers.


When teams enter the storming phase, they pretty much know what they are going to build but haven’t quite decided on how to build it yet. This is the phase where team members really start to challenge each other and where the team leader needs to start letting the team find their own way. Some teams never make it out of this phase (which is why many software development projects fail). In the MSF model, this phase usually occurs during the latter part of the planning stage in into the developing phase. In order to be successful here, team members need to understand how their individual strengths and weaknesses can work together to form a cohesive unit. In my experience this is where teams will experience the most chaos and will suffer the most.


In this phase teams start building trust and start basically getting the job done that needs to get done. When teams enter this phase, they are “good to go” and more readily accept change. One other very interesting dynamic in this phase is that team members start to become interdependent (and if you aren’t careful, codependent in that team members can start to rely on the unhealthy habits exhibited by some) . In the MSF model, this occurs usually in the latter part of the Developing phase and somewhat into the stabilizing phase. (To be clear, some teams never make it to the Norming stage, but the project goes on – there is no direct relationship between the team phase structure and the process phases). Generally speaking, I’ve found that teams in this phase exhibit the, “We don’t have time for the bullcrap” mentality and tend to take on more challenges. This is probably the most productive phase of all, and is the hardest phase to maintain.


In this phase, the team is self-sufficient and requires little if no supervision. As long as they have defined goals and objectives, the team can continue to function well in this phase. An interesting dynamic here is that new releases of previous products that have been built by the team can be entirely accomplished while the team is in this phase, meaning that the MSF Envisioning and Planning phases become almost invisible. The problem that starts to occur here though is the “normal” dissident and tension that is felt while the team is in the Norming phase (the challenging of ideas) tends to drop off, which means that products built by teams in this phase may not be as complete or revolutionary.

Applying the Phases

If you subscribe to my theory that all teams must go through the above phases, and if you can separate out the actual software development problem from the group dynamic problem, you can see that a team doesn’t necessarily have to be in one of the latter phases in order to be successful with Agile. A true software development leader should be able to focus on the people first and guide them through their “discovery” while making the process of software development almost invisible. I truly believe that even junior developers can be successful with Agile methodologies if the above is taken into account.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Upcoming Speaking Events

Over the next few months I am speaking at several events, and thought I’d post about them here.

The Rocky Mountain Tech Tri-fecta

The first is the upcoming (and FREE) “Rocky Mountain Tech Trifecta” which is being held in Denver on February 21 (a Saturday). I haven’t finalized my session yet, but it will most likely be an Agile-focused process talk.


From the website:

The Rocky Mountain Tech Tri-Fecta is a free, information-packed day of practical training and information concentrated in .NET, SQL Server, and Microsoft Windows technologies. There will be a total of 42 sessions on a wide range of interesting topics by top rock stars in the .NET, SQL Server, and Windows Server arenas. In addition, we'll be hosting several "fishbowl sessions" where atendees can interact with top professionals in specialized areas. Each of these sessions will focus on the tech and will be filled with code and actual hands-on demonstrations to maximize the value to you, our peers in the technology community.

SSWUG Virtual Conference

I am also speaking at the Spring SQL Server Worldwide User Group virtual conference. I am speaking at both the SQL Server Conference as well as the Business Intelligence Conference. I am presenting a total of 6 sessions for these conferences, and it promises to be a pretty good time. Here is some content from the website about the Business Intelligence conference:

While others produce online sales events disguised as conferences, the SSWUG.ORG vConference is heavily focused on CONTENT. Technical content and tips for Business Intelligence that you can apply immediately. Don't be fooled by imitators. This is the biggest, best, most comprehensive and industry-recognized vConference going.

We're excited to present our 2nd Business Intelligence vConference! Attend and find out why the world is raving about these great technical events! Networking with attendees, seeing demonstrations, getting how-to information, Q&A with speakers, downloadable samples and transcripts, on-demand content and much more.

Here’s some of the great content we’re putting together for you

  • Do It Right: Best Practices for Analysis Services 2005 and 2008
  • Get the maximum value from Excel and SQL Server Business Intelligence
  • Introduction to SQL Server Analysis Services
  • Monitor Your Business with PerformancePoint Server 2007 Monitoring and Analytics
  • Just added: Even a SQL 101 Track - available to all attendees
  • Outstanding Sponsorship Opportunities - Be a sponsor! Our sponsorship options are not what you're used to seeing - contact us today for exciting opportunities.


Spring Dev Connections 2009

I will also be speaking at the Spring Dev Connections 2009 conference in Orlando. This conference is taking place March 22-25 and is always a good time. I’ll be presenting a total of 3 sessions for this conference. The abstracts are as follows:

SSW06: Business Intelligence Performance Metrics: Using Tools to Understand the Performance of BI Solutions

In this session, attendees will learn about the various tools available to baseline and track performance of Business Intelligence solutions. Learn how to monitor performance of SQL Server Reporting Services, SQL Server Analysis Services, and SQL Server Integration Services.

SSW07: Out of the Box BI: Using Business Intelligence Solutions in New and Exciting Ways

In this session, attendees will learn how Business Intelligence solutions can be used to provide insight into the mundane, day-to-day IT operational information that you have at your disposal. Learn how to use Business Intelligence solutions to track and identify system configurations that cost you money. Learn how to employ Business Intelligence solutions to improve your IT management processes.

SSW05: The SQL Server 2008 Performance Data Collector: Advanced Topics

In this session, attendees will learn about the architecture of the Performance Data Collector, and how it can be extended to include custom performance metrics from SQL Server and other services.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Windows Live Mesh – Everyday tasks made clearer

I was recently speaking at an event in Redmond, WA that caters to some high-powered geeks. (Ok, Microsoft Certified Trainers, but geeks nonetheless) Somehow during a discussion the topic of Windows Live Mesh came up. If you haven’t used Live Mesh, you really need to check it out. This is one of those “Game Changing” technologies (rather it *will* be game changer when it becomes more mainstream) that people who regularly use more than one computer will absolutely have to have.

Problems that lead to needing Live Mesh

I still rely on some private NNTP newsgroups for some of the communities I participate in. Yes, I realize that NNTP is an old technology and I should be using more modern technologies, but some things just happen to work very well for their intended purpose. The problem with NNTP-based newsgroups is that they are very client focused. There’s no current way to save your “state” on the server. (i.e., if you read a message from one client, if you move to a different client the message appears to be unread) This causes issues when you move between multiple machines and want to stay up to date with your community. (Myself, I regularly move between my desktop at work, my tablet PC, my desktop at home and the occasional meeting that requires a different laptop)

I’ve tried numerous NNTP clients and for basic newsgroup message reading, my favorite is Windows Live Mail. It’s simple to use, installs easily, and is integrated with Messenger and other tools from MS that I use. (I also use it to keep track of my personal email via an IMAP connection. The issue here is that Live Mail uses a local database for it’s message and status store that can get rather large. (My current WLM database is 1.1GB) It’s a pain to remember to copy the live mail folder to a USB drive and move it between computers, but that’s one method that I’ve tried to keep machines in sync. (Because of the trickery involved in setting this up, I’ll write a separate blog post about that process)

Another “Sync” problem that I have is keeping up with various presentations I’ve built. I generally put a “Presentations” folder in the root of my C: drive on all of my machines. I try and remember to keep my machines in sync, but never can seem to do it.

I also have a problem remembering which computer I edited a particular document on. This task is a bit easier because I tend to store documents on a network drive, but that doesn’t always help when I’m on the road.

Windows Live Mesh to the Rescue!

With Windows Live Mesh, you are allowed 5GB of online storage for FREE. It will currently sync with PCs and MACs, and will soon have the capability to treat your mobile phone as a true device. (Currently you can sync your pictures from a windows mobile phone, which is COOL)


Getting Started with Live Mesh

Getting started with Mesh is pretty easy. Just navigate to this URL: and follow the instructions there. Once you get things setup, you can start applying Live Mesh to those pesky sync problems.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Compliance Checker for PCI DSS 1.2 Announced Today

My Company (Configuresoft, Inc.) announced the impending availability of the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS) compliance checker. The tool will be downloadable 1 week from today via our website.

From the website:

Compliance Checker for PCI DSS v1.2 is a free, downloadable tool that provides a real time compliance check for multiple Microsoft Windows servers and desktops against PCI DSS v1.2 requirements. The tool collects data from these servers and desktops and produces a detailed summary of which requirements are met and which ones are not. This summary of PCI DSS v1.2 compliance can be used to drive a remediation / mitigation strategy. Compliance Checker for PCI DSS v1.2 also includes a self assessment module based on the PCI Security Standards Council's Self Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). A compliance summary along with the SAQ results can be used during an audit to demonstrate PCI DSS v1.2 compliance.


Check it out here:

Friday, January 9, 2009

Agile and the DoDo

If you’ve read some of the stuff that I’ve written here on this blog, you know that I’m a big proponent of Agile development methodologies. You also know that I believe Agile represents a mindset as opposed to a process.

I was just reading an interesting article in Visual Studio Magazine titled, “Is Agile Rock or Disco” where the author essentially asks if Agile will be around in several years. It’s a decent article, but I think it misses a critical point; When you try and put Agile Development into a single box, you begin to lose the power of what Agile represents. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Agile is a mindset, not a process! When you attempt to define Agile as “Scrum” or “XP” or “todays cool new flavor”, and represent Agile as one of the implementation instances, then of course you’re going to come down on the side of Agile being destined to go the way of the DoDo.

One of the statements in the article is a quote from Microsoft’s Don Smith, who works in the Patterns and Practices Group. He apparently made the comment, “Agile is hard to do without really good developers”. The author uses this statement as the basis to conclude that since not all developers are really good, Agile isn’t for everyone. He then goes on to use some other anecdotal evidence to state that since Agile requires really good developers, there’s no room for the talented yet inexperienced developers, therefore Agile will ultimately implode. It’s hard to disagree with those conclusions at face value, but in truth, I believe it all goes back to one of the main tenets of Agile, “Value People over Process”, and if you truly approach your Agile projects with this tenet in mind, you’ll find ways to be all-encompassing, instead of elitist.

I guess it just boils down to the following, “Agile” means different things to different people. You’re always going to have the moderates who try and blend, and the purists (or fanatics) who want to use the “My way or the highway” approach. Following the latter, Agile is indeed destined to go the way of the DoDo.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Man From La Mancha (or Colorado Springs)

I think “La Mancha” must be old Spanish for “Colorado Springs” (ok, I know it’s not, but it sounded good!) as I sure sometimes find myself thinking in a very Quixotic manner and wondering if Cervantes was really gazing into the future and describing my life when he wrote his famous book.

(It’s OK to think I’ve gone off the deep end at this point, there’s a reason Don Quixote was considered crazy)

You may wonder what drove me to start a blog entry like that, but I don’t think I can really explain it, other than to say today has been one of those days…. There’s probably been enough content for at least 3 of these ranting posts, but I think I’ll confine it all to just this one.

It all started with a discussion of how “Agile Development” is shaping some future product direction. The problem that I see with this is it’s not the Agile process that' should be shaping the product, but the other way around. The needs of the product (and by extension the customers who consume the product) should be shaping the process.

Agile is a Mentality, not a Process!

This is probably going to become the mantra for my agile presentations this year. Too often I think project managers and their managers get caught up in the intricacies of their day to day work and forget to step back and take a look at the big picture. I’ve written before about how the real power of any Agile process is in how well it can be adapted to fit the current needs of the team or organization. In truth I believe that the process itself should almost be invisible and that “Agile” should really be more of a mentality than a series of steps that one must go through to develop product. Moreover, the needs of the product should be driven by what the users of the product want to do, not by what you can or cannot get done in a specific timeframe or cycle. Of course to get to that point you have to have a way to capture and document what those needs are. This means that the business itself needs to be agile.

Business Needs to be Agile, yet Honest with Themselves!

Back in the 1950s (ok, 1957 to be exact) Boeing introduced us to the 707. In the grand scheme of things it’s purpose in life was to move people from point A to point B. The 707 wasn’t the first jetliner (heck, it wasn’t even the first Boeing jetliner) but it certainly became the most viable one of it's time. It did so because Boeing had hit on just the right combination of engineering, tooling and marketing to capture a market. Today, Boeing is hard at work on delivering the Dreamliner, whose purpose in life is to efficiently move people from point A to point B. If you look at it objectively, there’s not a lot of difference between the two. They both have a common purpose in life, and the Dreamliner is built to take advantage of all the things Boeing has learned over the years, but it still serves that same singular purpose of moving people from one place to another. The innovation that Boeing has exhibited with the Dreamliner is still focused on that singular purpose. Boeing isn’t trying to take the Dreamliner to space, it’s simply adapting a tried and true platform to the needs of consumers today. This is an example of a company being honest with themselves and focusing on the needs of the product and adapting their processes around those needs.

Software companies face the same challenge, and every once in awhile a company hits on that rare combination of engineering marvel and market need and delivers a product that solves a real problem. If that company is honest with themselves, they recognize that and either try and exploit the heck out of that existing problem, or they may recognize the problem as short term and go in search of a new problem in hopes that they can replicate their success. When a company is not being honest with themselves they tend to talk about (and drive towards) product futures that either aren’t based on customer needs, or no longer solve the problem the product was intended to solve. There’s a reason that Boeing didn’t try to take the Dreamliner to space, just like there’s a reason that companies like Mojave Aerospace and Orbital Sciences aren’t trying to move people from point A to point B.

The Agile mentality has to extend to the business itself in order for it to succeed.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

MSDN Events – The Best of PDC – Colorado Springs – Jan 26

Well, the year starts off with a bang in terms of the event schedule. Our sales conference is next week, then I will be presenting a session on the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) and the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) on January 23rd at the Microsoft Certified Trainer Summit in Redmond. On the 26th of January, We (Configuresoft, will be hosting a Microsoft Developers Network event covering C# 4.0, WCF and REST, Silverlight and Windows Azure. This promises to be a very good event. See the details below:

MSDN Events Unleashed Presents: The Best of PDC

Please join us as we present some of the highlights of PDC! 

We will be reviewing some technologies first discussed at PDC -- such as Windows Azure and C# 4.0.

But we will not only be talking about the future.  We will also discuss some recent releases that you can take advantage of now, including the WCF REST Starter Kit and the Silverlight Toolkit. 


Monday January 26, 2009

Configuresoft, Inc.

7450 Campus Drive
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80920

Time: 1:00 pm – 5:30 pm



                 1-877-673-8368,reference Event ID 1032399786