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Word-A-Day Challenge 2016

17 Posts authored by: Leon Adato Employee
Leon Adato

Day 28: Give

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Jan 1, 2017

(the illustrious erikeff's post has become lost in the aether. Until we can locate it, I'm re-posting his essay here:

 

Give.

 

That word is particularly relevant this time of year, as many of us engage in the annual ritual of exchanging gifts. If you are like me, you struggle a bit with the disconnect between the beauty of the tradition and the rabid commercialism which tries to subsume it.  Every generation tends to think that this tension between the act and the object is its own fault—that we are the ones who finally let go of the true meaning of giving. I admit, when I see folks lining up to do their Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving, or when I stop to ponder the depth and breadth of modern merchandizing, I’m tempted to believe our generation is guilty as charged.

 

However, this tension is nothing new. I watched the original  “Miracle on 34th Street” a few nights ago with my family (speaking of traditions), and that film is a pretty clear indicator that our parents and grandparents wrestled with the same concern.

 

Of course, we can go further back. Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” was first published in 1843.  The character of Ebenezer Scrooge perfectly personifies humanity’s worst instincts when it comes to charity. And Dickens himself drew from much older tales and traditions to craft his novella.

 

So if our current predicament is nothing new, if humans have always stumbled along the line between giving and getting, then what hope do we have for finding balance? For me, the answer is really quite simple.  As soon as I stop thinking of the problem as universal and begin to define it as personal, I realize the solution is entirely under my own control.  Instead of blaming the culture or the commerce that drives it, I can evaluate my own motives for giving and define that act for myself.  In a system based on supply and demand, commercialism is the response to the call of materialism.  My own obsession with stuff is one small log on the fire of consumption.

 

I need to give. We all do.  But how I give and why I give are the true measures of my generosity.  Instead of emphasizing the object, I choose to emphasize the act.  Money may be the currency of exchange, and things are its most obvious manifestation, but the act itself is the true measure of my worth.  The way each of us gives defines who we really are.  When it comes to exchanging things with each other, intention is everything.

 

But the most profound forms of giving have nothing to do with buying or spending; giving is not about things. The most we can ever give is of ourselves—our time, our talent, our concern, our love.

 

When I consider my own tenure at SolarWinds, I feel blessed to be able to contribute to a team that I admire so much. Each on of us brings something unique, something special, to the enterprise. I readily admit I know very little about IT. Fortunately, we have many content experts on hand to fill that need. However, I do know a bit about video production and in that way I can contribute to the larger effort.

 

Showing up to work for a team reminds me daily that giving is a reciprocal arrangement. When all of us give, all of us receive.  SolarWinds is filled with talented people who inspire me to do more.

 

And for that, I give thanks!

Leon Adato

Day 30: Celebrate

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 30, 2016

As a word-of-the-day writing prompt, "Celebrate" was both the obvious choice and the contrarian angle.

 

Contrarian because it's been a hard year for many of us. Your essays for previous days were sprinkled with hints of unwelcome challenges, unexpected hardships, and ongoing struggles. Many of us feel the loss of heroes, whether they were public figures or family friends. For some, the economy - national, personal, or both - continues to be a source of frustration. And regardless of your political leanings, everyone found something to be dissatisfied with in the past 12 months.

 

Taken in that light, it is deceptively easy to fall into the scrooge-like trap of believing there is little to celebrate here at the waning threshold of 2016.

 

But...

 

It's Friday. It's the Friday before New Year's Eve. And for many of us the Friday before a long weekend. In fact, many of you who are reading this may have already started your weekend. Or are even using up the last day or two of vacation for the year.

 

Some are observing the 6th day (and beginning at sundown, 7th) of Chanukah. And some are also welcoming 25 hours of rest and renewal in the form of the Shabbat hiatus. Some count today as the 5th day of Kwanzaa. Some even refuse to permit the spirit of Christmas get away so easy, keeping the tinsel and decorations up and the holiday music playing.

 

Some of us are lucky enough to be welcoming new friends or family into our lives - whether significant others we hadn't yet met, fiances who have foolishly committed to joining the insanity of our familial circle, or new arrivals either born, adopted, or simply integrated into our daily lives.

 

Anyone who knows me understands that I am an optimist (albeit sometimes a sarcastic one) and so it's no secret which side my celebratory coin will fall on.

 

So as I fully embrace the spirit of celebration that comes with the possibility of all good things around us, I want to acknowledge a few things I am personally celebrating today:

 

I'm celebrating, lauding, and thanking the incredible team that I get to be a part of. From the other Geeks to the THWACK ninjas, to the insanely talented engineers and product managers, to the folks working behind the scenes, I feel like I'm the luckiest guy on earth working in my dream job.

 

I'm also celebrating the fact that I was given permission in the form of time and resources to create and participate in this month-long challenge. I was given a chance to push myself as a writer as well as an organizer, and I learned a lot in the process.

 

But most of all, I'm celebrating YOU - the incredible THWACK community. Through these essays, I got to know everyone who was generous (and brave) enough to share of themselves. While I will run the numbers later on, there were hundreds of responses and each one gave us insight into how the THWACK community feels, thinks, and acts. You don't find this kind of conversation in most forums, and I am honored to be a part of this one.

 

Thank you all - not just for being part of this challenge, but also for all of the support, friendship, ideas, and participation here on THWACK in 2016. I am looking forward to celebrating many more milestones in the future.

Leon Adato

Day 26: Create

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 26, 2016

(Leon here: I have created this space, into which jennebarbour's post will appear later today. Feel free to create your own responses in the comments below.)

Leon Adato

Day 25: Intend

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 25, 2016

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I've written essays on for this word on less than 4 times. In each case, I started by noting that there's a popular phrase about intentions and its relationship to a particular road.

 

More than just an easy quip, whenever I hear this word, I immediately begin to ponder the significance of intention vs action. Can one (intention) trump the other (action)? Always? Sometimes? How?

 

It would be facile to say that when intention leads to action, then intention mattered, but when it doesn't, it didn't. But I think that's intentionally letting the idea go without real introspection.

 

Let's say I intend to visit my friend in the hospital. Most people believe that if I drive there, park the car, walk the requisite 14 miles from lot to the front desk, figure out that their room changed, walk the requisite 14 miles from the front desk to the room, and... find out that my friend is out getting tests and won't be back for an hour - that my intentions "count" because my actions prove it.

 

But what if I never left my desk? I intended to do everything above, but got caught up in meetings. Could I have skipped those meetings? Maybe. But I didn't, and never made it to the hospital.

 

The end result is the same in both cases. Does my intention still "count" for something in the second example? Many of us would tend to say that yes, intention counts in both cases.

 

But let's take another example: I intend to kill my coworker.

 

To be clear: he's got it coming. He plays bagpipe music from his computer speakers all day, cooks broccoli and fish in the microwave, consistently mixes up Star Wars and Star Trek in conversation, and insists on using my desk as a staging area for epic battles between his "My Little Pony" figurines (he's a Brony) and his limited edition "Welcome Back Kotter" collectibles.

 

Despite my very sincere intentions to shove him off this mortal coil, I've never followed through. Should I be arraigned for justifiable homicide? Most people would say that no, my intention doesn't count.

 

So can we have it both ways?

 

I look forward to your thoughts, as well as your ideas about intentions - both good and bad - in the comments below.

Leon Adato

Day 23: Begin

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 23, 2016

In my essay “I Wish Someone Had Told Me” I talk about getting started in IT, and how at the beginning, you are just all over the place. You are pulled into different projects, working with different teams.

And that’s the problem. Because if you keep letting yourself get pulled around, you will never settle into one area, and you will never get REALLY good at something.

What I didn’t say in the essay is that beginning – meaning starting to focus on the area that excites you most – means NOT focusing on other things. And that can be hard. It can be a challenge when you realize you no longer know every variation of every component in 3 vendor’s line of servers; or that you no longer think in code; or that all the old keyboard tricks you knew were for operating systems that are now defunct.

But that’s the price, and it’s one worth paying.

Leon Adato

Day 20 - Fulfill

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 20, 2016

(NOTE: Today's post comes to us from Anne Guidry, the editorial genius behind much of the content you see. She carefully edits and crafts pieces not just for grammar and spelling, but also for coherence (at least in my case) and consistency. Many of us would honestly sound like babbling idiots without her, and would thus fail to fulfill our mission at SolarWinds. - Leon)

 

Artist Agnes Martin said,

“Fulfill your potential. That’s the way to happiness.”

 

I was drawn to consider the word fulfill because it reminds me of another word that holds great meaning for me: effort. I believe in making an effort, showing up, doing the hard work that has to be done, because work that is hard is fulfilling. There is fulfillment in effort, even on the smallest scale. The word “fulfill” is usually tied to the word “dreams,” but I prefer less lofty aspirations, at least for now. Instead, my path to happiness – while my children are young – is guided by the hard work I do as a mother. There is magic in the mundane, I have learned, if you pay attention. And if you do the work. So step up, make an effort, and fulfill your potential, however you define that for yourself. Until you do, happiness will likely elude you.

Leon Adato

Day 19: Judge

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 19, 2016

For all that we know that being judgemental is not a positive trait, the truth is that as IT Pros we spend much of our day (if not our career) judging much of our environment.

 

We automatically assess and judge issues that we face. We judge the solutions we come up with - whether they are temporary fixes or full blown designs. We judge our skills relative to our environment, to the workplace, and to our colleagues to ensure we're keeping up.

 

So I deeply appreciated it when Rabbi Davidovich recently wrote

"There's way too much "Judge not..." going on.  That's the brain's version of the lungs' "Don't breathe"."

 

He was speaking to the population at large, but I think this has special relevance to us in IT.

 

Moreso, once we accept that judging is something that we naturally do, a condition heightened by our career choice, which is in many contexts something we SHOULD do - why then we can stop trying to avoid it or deny we do it and put some structure around it.

 

Because many of us sense intuitively that becoming judgemental is NOT a good thing. So how do we avoid crossing the line?

 

Like all good concepts in IT, we implement a framework.

  • Judge designs, but not until we you have collected all the data possible.
  • Judge based on AVAILABLE data, knowing that Hick's law will bite you if let it
  • Judge situations around you, but always with Occam's Razor in mind.
  • Judge execution based on the Pareto Principal

 

But that's dancing around the subject. When we think of "judging", the idea that most often comes to mind (IT Pro or not) is judging others.

 

In those cases, there are also guidelines, which were outlined in Rabbi Davidovich's original post: 

  • "Suspend Judgment until you get more facts."
  • "Judge slowly"
  • "When uncertain, judge favorably."
  • "Unless it's relevant to others, keep your judgments to yourself."

 

As with any habit, technology, or issue that has both positive applications and challenging aspects, the application of a useful framework allows us to judge our options and act correctly.

Leon Adato

Day 16: Pray

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 16, 2016

Full disclosure, I wrote this essay last year. But it still resonated with me, so I'm re-posting it here. File it under "ICYMI"

 

 

They say there are no atheists in foxholes.

 

I’d argue there aren’t any atheists in the datacenter during a weekend 24-hour upgrade either.

 

Prayer is a powerful force – both for individuals and for communities (and believe me, an IT department is a community). But among the less religiously inclined Technorati, the place of and for prayer is often misunderstood.

 

Popular culture likes to portray “pray-ers” as people who throw up their hands and “give it to God”. “Sheeple” who are unable or unwilling to take ownership or responsibility for their choices and lives. And I’m sure there are some people who move through life with that mindset.

 

A story from Torah brings into sharp focus when, where, and how prayer can help:

 

Jacob was about to meet his estranged brother Esau for the first time in decades. This is the same brother from whom he had stolen the birthright – the inheritance due a firstborn son – as well as the blessing from his father, also meant for the firstborn. There was a lot of history going on here, and word came that Esau was on his way with 400 armed fighting men to meet Jacob and his 4 wives and 13 children.

 

Jacob first divided his family into 3 groups.

 

Then he assigned gifts to each of the groups and told them to approach Esau with a little time between groups and give the gifts along with the message that Jacob was coming shortly.

 

Then he prayed to God for help.

 

The plan worked – Esau met different members of Jacob’s family and received lavish gifts from each one. And then when Jacob approached, Esau met him with and embrace.

 

To summarize, Jacob planned, then he prepared, and finally – when all the rest was done, he prayed.

 

This resonates for me as both an IT professional and a “pray-er”. We make our best plans based on the information at our disposal. We prepare – both for the expected outcome and with mitigation strategies for predicted negative events.

 

But whether we understand the phrase “Der mensch tracht und Gott lacht” or not, we understand it’s gist.

 

And in the face of that stark reality, the only thing we can do is pray for the best.

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We interrupt the daily December Writing Challenge posts to pause for station identification and clarify the process.

 

When I originally planned this event, I had some ideas in mind. Ideas that the THWACK platform could handle easily. Unfortunately, it could handle a lot of OTHER things easily too and I didn't take that into account.

 

"Discussions", for example. "Discussions" is a great little feature that is completely different from a blog post, a question, an idea, an... well, you get the idea.  So it's perfectly reasonable that people have been posting their daily entries as a discussion.

 

Unfortunately, it's been distracting from the "official" Word-a-day post, which are blog posts. It's not unfortunate because people are having discussions. It's unfortunate because discussion is now happening in two (or more) places. My goal was to have all the sharing and ideas for a given day happen in a single thread.

 

So today, the inimitable (and incredibly named) wabbott is making a few changes: discussions have been turned off, and only "approved" users will be able to create blog posts.

 

Each day, one member of the SolarWinds staff will write the lead post relating to the word of the day. And the community can add their entries below it, along with comments, counterpoints, discussions (the actual "me talking to you" kind, not the "click here to create a thread" kind), and more.

 

I continue to be overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, the depth of thought, the range of ideas, and the willingness to share that our community has shown during this challenge. I am humbled to be included among you.

 

Thank you, and keep those posts and comments coming!

- Leon

Leon Adato

Day 8 - Hear

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 8, 2016

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Last year I explored the thought that in order to hear, you first have to stop talking. But it goes further.

 

Some studies now peg the average adult attention span at around 8 seconds. As much as it's temping to make an ADHD joke (Look! A Chicken!) or write this off as another sad result of the affect of screens in our lives, there's another item to consider: our desire to contribute short-circuits our ability to hear.

 

As my friend and mentor, Rabbi Davidovich wrote earlier this year:

"A and B are talking to each other.  "A" talks for ninety seconds.  But ten seconds in, B has heard something that triggers his desire to respond.  A's next eighty seconds are wasted.  Then B talks.  The scenario occurs in reverse.  The conversation becomes absurd."

 

That comment brought up a powerful memory for me from college. In one class, we "practiced" hearing each other. One person would say something, and the other person would take a breath, think about what was said, and then repeat it back exactly as it had been said. If we couldn't do that, we were clearly not listening closely (nothing that we said was particularly tricky or complicated). The speaker would indicate that they had been heard, and now the listener would speak a response.

 

It sounded goofy. It sounded cliched. There were giggles and eye-rolls. As we began, it felt tedious and repetitive and boring.

 

But within 10 minutes, over half the students in the room were in tears.

 

When the professor asked why, the response was consistent and overwhelming. This was the first time in years that the students had felt like they were heard.

 

Author David Augsburger summed this up when he said:

“Being heard

is so close to being loved

that for the average person,

they are almost indistinguishable.”

Leon Adato

Day 6: Believe

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 6, 2016

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My job includes the privilege of traveling to conventions and tech shows, sometimes to give a speech but much more often to listen to what others have to say and then react to what I've heard - either in an essay like this one or in a talk of my own.

 

Among those who speak often, "Imposter syndrome" is a frequent topic of discussion.

 

Of course, imposter syndrome is far from unique to tech speakers, or people who speak in front of large groups in any context, for that matter. Nor does it strike people who have achieved little. In fact, I am always struck when I hear about people who are clearly acknowledge as experts in their field, but who exhibit significant doubt about their abilities.

Recently, Dame Maggie Smith (Downt'n Abbey, Harry Potter, not to mention a career spanning over 60 years.) gave an interview where she expressed deep insecurity about her work. She spoke of an inability to know, in the moment, whether her performance was any good or not.

 

While the subject of imposter syndrome is well-trod (I recently had the privilege to hear Jody Wolfborn (@joderita on Twitter) speak about it at DevOpsDays Ohio), one thing that struck me was whether we who deal with a lack of belief in ourselves or our abilities somehow - whether consciously or not - attribute any of our success to the fact that our own fears spurred us to greater heights.

 

This thought crosses my mind often. It is, for me at least, inescapable. After a talk goes well or a essay is well-received, I find myself thinking, "All that freaking out and worry must have paid off". It's the worst kind of positive feedback loop for negative behavior.

 

How much better would it be if I, if WE all believed in our abilities? If we practiced positive self-talk ("Come on, Leon, you've got this!")? If we listened to those who complimented and praised us? I'm not talking about hubris, of course. I don't mean we should believe our fecal matter is odorless or that everything we produce should be showered with every  award the universe has to offer.

 

But we should believe - meaning to take as an article of faith that requires no proof, and which cannot be dis-proven by a single less-than stellar outcome - that we are capable of extraordinary things when we are willing to work for it.

 

My challenge to you on this day is to put some effort into believing in yourself. And then see what you're able to accomplish.

Leon Adato

Day 5: Accept

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 5, 2016

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or "Perfect is the enemy of good, part 1"

 

Last year I talked about the idea of "accepting" in IT and it is our unwillingness to accept status quo that drove us into this profession in the first place. This year, I want to suggest that sometimes, we DO need to learn to accept a solution or situation that is sub-optimal.

 

As the alternate title of this essay implies, if we are unwilling to accept an imperfect (but functional) solution, we may get caught up burning cycles in persuit of a perfection that doesn't actually exist.

 

Why? Because by NOT releasing the solution now, and exposing to real-world use, you overlook valuable road test data that could affect the functionality that stands between "good" and "perfect". You end up creating the perfect solution in a vacuum, potentially building functionality that won't serve the actual implementation when it gets out into the world.

 

(this is equally true when "out in the world" is user acceptance testing, or code review, or just pushing back to the repository. I've seen designers hold off even on those steps because they were concerned their piece "just isn't ready yet")

 

This is equally true for less hard-coded aspects of the IT Professional's experience. Such as team dynamics or even our current job.

 

Insisting on our vision of perfection - whether that's a team that operates like the engineering deck in Star Trek or a work environment that allows bring-your-iquana-to-work and no-pants-tuesdays - may blind us to the perfectly acceptable (albeit sub-optimal) situation we are in today. Yes, George in the next cube over talks too loud and eats microwaved pastrami for lunch. And sure, the company has never seriously considered the idea of telecommuting.

 

But those points may mask a team that hits 90% of it's targets on time; or a company that really promotes personal growth.

 

The quest for perfection may blind us to accepting a situation which is good enough that we're able to grow, to strive, and to achieve.

 

EDIT: Corrected "pursuit". HT to rschroeder for the eagle-eyed editorial job.

Leon Adato

Day 4: Understand

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 4, 2016

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Last year I discussed how some areas of technology were in (and others were out) of the range of our understanding - depending on what area of focus we have ourselves.

I still think those things are true. We need to be willing to understand, and simply prioritize based on the available time and importance.

 

However, a blog I read recently reminded me of an important aspect - we also need to know why.

 

In an essay titled, simply enough, "Why" (https://sivers.org/why), Derek Sivers points out that you need to understand WHY you are doing what you are doing. And the answer is not a panacea. By asking and answering "why", certain aspects of life will become more important, and others less so.

 

If your goal is to be famous, then you may have to make sacrifices to family life or even money. If your goal is job stability, then career growth may take a back seat.

This is the ultimate form of understanding. It is the meta-understanding. Once you nail down the fundamental reason for your choices, you can make them faster and with more confidence that they will ultimately get you where you want to go.

 

Derek summarizes by saying:

 

"That’s why you need know why you're doing what you're doing. Know it in advance. Use it as your compass and optimize your life around it. Let the other goals be secondary. So when those decision moments come, you can choose the value that you already know matters most to you."

Shakespeare famously wrote "To thine own self be true". But this is impossible unless you first take time, as Siver suggests, to really understand what you want.

Leon Adato

Day 3: Search

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 3, 2016

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As IT pro's, we find ourselves searching for many things. We search for solutions. We search for truth (both regular and capital-T truth). Most of those things we either have a good chance of locating, as long as we're persistent and intelligent about it.

 

But one of the searches that many (if not all) IT pro's undertake is the search for the right fit in their job.

 

Forums, job boards, and advice columns - not to mention innumerable after-work-over-beer discussions - are filled with tales of horrific bosses, harrowing workplaces, and hideous jobs.

 

If there were easy answers, they'd be out there already. After 30 years, the only wisdom I can give is this: it's the same as any other problem. You have to be persistent. You have to be smart. You have to be willing to abandon your preconceived notions and start over - again and again if necessary. You have to accept that the solution which worked for another person in another place may not be your solution.

 

And sometimes the search has to be given up for now, with the trust that you'll take it up again another day when you are fresh and ready to try again.

Leon Adato

Day 2: Act

Posted by Leon Adato Employee Dec 2, 2016

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Maybe this is cheating, but an excerpt from an article I wrote for Data Center Journal titled "Data, Information, and Action" was especially relevant to today's post:

(NOTE: Of course it's not cheating!! Using something you've already wrote is just plain smart. Feel free to do it as part of this challenge!)

 

The saying, “you can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data,” may never have been so blindingly obvious or true as it is today. We are awash in seas of data, fed by thundering, swollen tributaries like the Internet of Things, mobile computing and social media. The goal of the so-called "big data" movement is to channel those raging rivers into meaningful insight.

 

For almost 20 years, my specialty within the field of IT has been systems monitoring and management. Those who share my passion for finding ever newer and more creative ways to determine when, how, and if a server went bump in the night understand that data versus information is not really a dichotomy. It’s a triad.

 

Of course good monitoring starts with data. Lots of it, collected regularly from a variety of devices, applications and sources across the data center. And of course transforming that data into meaningful information—charts, graphs, tables and even speedometers—that represent the current status and health of critical services is the work of the work.

But unless that information leads to action, it’s all for naught. And that, patient reader, is what this article is about—the importance of taking that extra step to turn data-driven insight into actionable behavior. What is surprising to me is how often this point is overlooked. Let me explain:

 

Let’s say you diligently set up your monitoring to collect hard drive data for all of your critical servers. You’re not only collecting disk size and space used, but you also pull statistics on IOPS, read errors and write errors.

 

That’s Data.

 

Now, let’s say your sophisticated and robust monitoring technology goes the extra mile, not only converting those metrics to pretty charts and graphs, but also analyzing historical data to establish baselines so that your alerts don’t just trigger when, for example, disk usage is over 90 percent, but rather, for example, when disk usage jumps 50 percent over normal for a certain time period.

 

That’s Information.

 

Now, let’s say you roll that monitoring out to all 5,000 of your critical servers and begin to “enjoy” about 375 “disk full” tickets per month.

 

That, sadly, is the normal state of affairs at most companies. It’s the point where, as a monitoring engineer (or, at the very least, the person in charge of the server monitoring), you begin to notice the dark looks and poorly hidden sneers from colleagues who have had “your” monitoring wake them one too many times at 2 a.m.

So, what’s missing? The answer is found in a simple question: Now what? As in, once you and the server team have hashed out the details of the disk full alert, the next thing you should do is ask, “What should we do now? What’s out next step?” In this case, it would likely involve clearing the temp directory to see if that resolves the issue.

And the next logical step from there is automation. Often, the same monitoring platform that kicks up a fuss about a server being down at 2 .m. can clear that nasty old temp directory for you. Right then and there, all while you’re still sound asleep. Then, if and only if, the problem persists, will a ticket be cut so a human can get involved. And said human will know that before their precious beauty sleep was so rudely interrupted, the temp directory had already been cleared, so it’s something just a bit more sophisticated than that.

 

This type of automated action is neither difficult to understand nor super complicated to establish. But in the environments where I’ve personally implemented it, the result was a whopping 70 percent reduction in disk full tickets.

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