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Enterprise networks and IT environments can be a very unique type of organization to work with. No matter what division is involved, change management can be a stressful thing for an IT environment if not handled correctly. If proper planning is made, then changes can go smoothly! Regardless, there are some nuances you want to keep in mind and problems to be sure to avoid.

 

Other Teams Within The Change Management Process

 

When it comes to change management, the team making the change generally has all of their ducks in a row. They have the change thought through, tested, and planned out. When it comes to making that change, they know who is doing what and exactly what needs to happen. Then the curveballs get thrown. How many times have you come across a situation like this:

 

The network team wants to make a change bringing down the edge internet routers while the server admins are doing a mail server migration to the cloud for a group of users. The loss of an edge connection causes the mailbox upload to stop and the server admins to exceed their allotted downtime window to complete the migration.

 

This is probably not a scenario that is uncommon to many people working in enterprise IT environments. So many times, certain divisions can become very narrow-minded and have a lack of regard for other teams under the greater scope of the IT team as a whole. Those narrow-minded teams are choosing to only focus on their changes and projects. Breakdowns in communication like this have a tendency to escalate into larger, more difficult issues. The reality of the situation is that the teams involved may not even be part of your organization and may include providers like cloud vendors, for example. All of these teams, both internal and external, need to be included in the communication process when it comes to planning your changes.

 

Know What You Are Affecting Downstream

 

It’s no surprise that enterprise IT structures can be very complex topologies with many different technologies in play. When it comes to change management, there are so many devices that rely on each other, that serious thought needs to be given when planning upcoming technical changes whether they are on the network, server, or desktop side of things. Take network changes for instance. Simple additions of routes can fix issues with certain network devices while breaking end to end connectivity for others. Dynamic routing protocols can amplify these minor changes as they are shared between devices. Server environments can have this issue as well. Virtual datacenter changes can affect multiple physical hosts containing a wide range of virtual servers. Again, even minor changes can be amplified to affect a large number of devices and users. The due diligence that going into planning IT changes ensures that you as the admin are fully aware of all devices that will be affected when the changes are made.

 

Be Aware of your Hybrid Environment

 

Local IT changes are one thing. You can make your changes and can always have local "console" access if needed in the event of something going wrong. In hybrid IT environments, this may not always be the case. Remotely hosted servers such as web servers or cloud hosted domain controllers need special consideration when it comes to the administration process. On-premises processes, such as restoring from a backup, can be very different when taking place on a device hosted in the cloud. Being aware of the affected devices for a change, their location, and the details of their management is ever more important as hybrid IT environments are becoming so common.

 

Preparing a Strong Change Management Plan

 

My personal strategy for change management is made up of four particular steps that I always make sure to follow to ensure a smooth change process.

 

  1. Have a documented scope of work.
  2. Communicate the process to all affected parties ahead of time: on-premises and remote.
  3. Complete prep work beforehand where possible.
  4. Always have a backup plan and or a rollback process.

 

Documented scopes of work ensure that everyone is on the same page and all of the steps that need to be accomplished during the change are laid out ahead of time. This ensures everyone is on the same page and all required tasks get taken care of and not forgotten. Once this plan is developed, you can effectively communicate this process to all affected parties. As long as this is communicated in advance other affected users and teams can send any questions or concerns they may have. With maintenance windows getting smaller and smaller prep work can be very beneficial when it comes to the change management process. This can include scripting changes, downloading updates ahead of time, and even scheduling automated tasks. Focusing on these tasks ahead of time can save you valuable time and effort when the window for your change takes place. Lastly, always have a backup plan. This could be as easy as a simple configuration or data backup or even be a bit more involved like a full rollback process. Either way, make sure that if things go south, you have a process laid out that you can follow. This ensures you are never in a situation where there is an “I don’t know what to do” moment, and that’s what is important.

 

The change management process does not need to be a difficult thing no matter what size your organization might be. With a little bit of planning and some attention to detail, you can ensure that your maintenance windows are stress free and go off without a hitch!

By Paul Parker, SolarWinds Federal & National Government Chief Technologist

 

Here is an interesting article from my colleague Joe Kim, in which he explores the impact of software defined networking on agency networks.

 

It’s ironic, but true: software-defined networking (SDN) is tough to define. Perhaps that’s why agency network administrators are still trying to wrap their minds around the concept of SDN, despite its known benefits. They know that the tools will likely make their lives as network managers much easier and provide greater agility, security, and cost-savings. But still they ask: How do I approach SDN and make it work for my agency?

 

SDN implementation can pose significant challenges. Millions of dollars’ worth of legacy network equipment, accumulated over the years and well-integrated into the IT infrastructure, need to be replaced. But there is the potential for a huge payoff on the other side. Adopting SDN sets your agency up for a more efficient future, and lays the groundwork for greater innovation at less cost.

 

Figuring out if now is the time to begin building toward that future should be undertaken in the same manner as other major technology initiatives: through testing and analysis. Before diving into the SDN waters, it’s a good idea to set up a test environment, if possible. Simulate production so you can gain a better understanding of whether SDN is appropriate for your agency.

 

Monitor network performance for better quality of service

 

Two of the big reasons agencies are implementing SDN is to remove the potential for human error and simplify network management. The idea is to make networks more automated to deliver faster, more reliable, and overall better quality of service.

 

Monitoring the network during testing will provide some insight into whether this goal will be achievable through SDN. Tag what is affected by SDN and what is not, and closely track availability and uptime. Use network performance and configuration monitoring tools (which you may already have in your arsenal) to assess your SDN deployment. If you see that SDN is positively impacting uptime, you’ll feel more comfortable making the move.

 

Understand that SDN will cost you, but it could also save you

 

The cost of migrating toward SDN will, of course, vary depending on the agency and the scope of its needs, but one thing is certain: it’s going to be expensive. In addition to requiring additional employee hours, SDN requires a deep analysis to determine necessary hardware updates. Layered on top of that is the purchase price of the SDN solutions themselves. Over time, costs can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, stretching federal IT budgets.

 

Run some numbers before embarking on a full-scale migration. Ascertain whether the cost of managing SDN is less than the costs incurred managing a manual network environment. Include the cost of set-up time and the processes that are being automated in this analysis. If the numbers work in SDN’s favor, you have a good bottom-line reason for taking the SDN plunge.

 

Understand the risks so you can be prepared for them

 

Even after you’ve decided to move forward, know that SDN migrations can be fraught with risk. Therefore, they should not be done in a wholesale, “big bang” type of manner, but accomplished using a piecemeal, highly thoughtful approach. This makes the migration easier while helping to preserve uptime as much as possible.

 

Even so, sooner or later changes on the core network will inevitably impact certain services, such as switching or routing. When this happens, there will be some downtime — unavoidable when one turns their network over to SDN and begins to rely on changes being made without human intervention. Knowing this in advance, however, can help you plan for it, making it easier to navigate these bumps in the road heading to greater agility and nimbleness.

 

Adopt additional best practices to optimize your SDN

 

There are other best practices you should consider adopting after you’ve begun implementing SDN in your agency. Teams should get certified on SDN or get functional training on how to work in an SDN environment, which is much different than what most professionals are accustomed to managing. Establish a protocol of backing up policies on a regular basis, as opposed to just backing up configurations of network devices. Employ monitoring as an ongoing discipline, continuously and automatically analyzing your network for potential issues that could prove harmful so that you can react to them quickly.

 

Above all, do not be afraid to experiment. Understand that mistakes will inevitably occur, and you will probably fail at least some of the time. Learn from these times. Improve upon processes. Make things better.

 

After all, that’s how we achieve progress. Perhaps for you, that progress will include a future network that is more agile, secure, reliable, and software-defined.

 

Find the full article on our partner DLT’s blog Technically Speaking.

A practice leader denotes an IT professional who cannot only walk the walk and talk the talk; but also build and lead teams to do the same. Practice leaders have to be the calm within the ever-changing storm. Everyone is talking about technologies and forgetting that friction comes from two sources – people and process.

 

Tech is easy, but people are non-linear, differential equations that are hard to solve since they change over time. People influence processes. Think of processes as forces that can be directed positively or negatively by people. People pollute processes with political motives, selfish decisions, and personal biases. These inheritances introduce friction into processes and further affect future personal interactions.

 

Leadership sets the edge for an organization’s culture. It is the driving force for either good or bad. Where will you lead your organization? And will it retain and attract people that move the organization’s culture forward while continuing to win business? Leaders need to have answers to these questions.

 

Becoming a practice leader is one path that an IT professional can take in their career. It combines the technical expertise and experience to deliver services into practice with the ability to communicate and lead through complex scenarios. Is practice leadership a path that you are taking? What are some of the things that have worked for you and your teams? Conversely, what are some of the things that have not worked? Let me know in the comment section.

The battle of the legends has come to an end.

Though we started with 33 only one could ascend.

Our winner is a beast who fights fire with flames.

Puff, Maleficent, Smaug, & Toothless are a few of the famed.

Hundreds of you jumped on the bandwagon,

The winner of your votes was none other than the Dragon!

 

Dragon won the final round claws down!

Nessie only managed to win 22% of the vote, and was a clear underdog from the start of this battle royal.

Dragon was a force of nature throughout this bracket and easily extinguished the competition each round.

 

Here’s a look back at Dragon’s other bracket victories:

Fairy Tales Round 1: Dragon vs. Unicorn

Fairy tales round 2: Leprechaun vs Dragon

Fairy tales round 3: Dragon vs Phoenix

Gruesomes vs Fairy Tales Round 4: Kraken vs Dragon

 

What are your final thoughts on this year’s bracket?

 

Do you have any bracket theme ideas for next year?

 

Tell us below!

This week's Actuator comes to you from Austin, where I am visiting HQ for a few days in an effort to escape the cold Spring we are having in New England. Here's hoping the cold doesn't follow me like last time when I brought that ice storm.

 

As always, here are some links from the Intertubz that I hope will hold your interest. Enjoy!

 

Let's Stop Giving Retailers a Free Pass on Data Breaches

This. Companies will never change until they have a financial incentive to change.

 

Stop Talking About IoT Security And Do Something About It

Maybe we could stop writing blog posts about IoT security and start providing lists of companies for us to avoid (see above).

 

Microsoft plans to invest $5 billion in IoT over the next 4 years globally

And there is the first shoe dropping, as a major cloud provider pushes a truckload of cash into IoT. I am certain that Microsoft will spend dollars on improving IoT security.

 

The space race is over and SpaceX won

This is great news for Elon, and it’s likely going to serve as a distraction from the current financial status of Tesla.

 

MIT is making a device that can 'hear' the words you say silently

This is a horrible idea. Someone needs to tell MIT to shut this down. Maybe if we all think it, they will get the message.

 

Facebook reported in 7 countries for breaking European privacy law

And just when Zuck thought things couldn’t get worse.

 

T-Mobile Austria is OK with Storing Passwords Partly in Clear Text

Just when you thought we had moved beyond corporations doing dumb things in public, T-Mobile in Austria wants you to know that they are also amazingly good at social media.

 

I like this approach to GDPR compliance:

By Paul Parker, SolarWinds Federal & National Government Chief Technologist

 

Here is an interesting article from my colleague Joe Kim, in which he points out the shift in responsibilities caused by hybrid IT.

 

Moving to a hybrid environment, where part of your infrastructure is in the cloud while the rest of it remains on-premises, may require a far greater shift in responsibilities for the federal IT team than anticipated.

 

In a traditional on-premises environment, the federal IT manager needs three things to be successful: responsibility, accountability, and authority.

 

In a hybrid IT environment, the federal IT manager is still responsible and accountable. However, part of the cloud dynamic is that a manager’s level of authority and control will vary depending on the cloud provider and its offerings. But what about authority over the network you use to access cloud resources? A carrier’s network usually won’t give you the authority to make changes.

 

Here’s where the issue of visibility comes in. The only way to mitigate the loss of pure authority over a hybrid network is to have visibility into the details of its performance and health. This visibility is key when troubleshooting and dealing with service providers and carriers who, when service is slow or has failed, often revert to the default answer, “Everything looks fine on this end.”

 

The importance of visibility

 

Why is visibility key? Because carriers are not always up front about what they’re seeing, or whether they’re even looking into a slowdown within your infrastructure.

 

Let’s say your service is not responding. A data center manager can check the internal network, and it will probably be just fine. That manager can then call the Software as a Service (SaaS) provider, who will likely say everything is fine on their end as well. The next step is to initiate a support call to the internet service provider (ISP) to find out whether or not the problem is somewhere in the middle, within the service provider’s realm.

 

The support person will likely say, “Everything looks fine here,” which is a challenge. Exacerbating the challenge is the federal IT manager’s inability to see into the service provider’s network.

 

The federal IT manager must be able to see any latency introduced by any device as packets flow through it. This information, both for the current state and historical usage, will show where the packets are going once they leave your premises, as well as how fast they’re traveling.

 

Complete visibility—a necessity for a successful hybrid IT transition—comes in the form of IT monitoring tools that provide a view of your entire environment: on-premises, in the cloud, and everything in between. These tools must be able to show a variety of device types (routers, load balancers, storage, servers, etc.) from a range of vendors.

 

Two last pieces of advice. First, be sure the IT monitoring tools you choose account for the virtual layer, whether it’s virtual servers or virtual networking, as much as the physical layer. Second, because your IT environment will only grow larger and more complex as it extends further into the cloud, the tools you select must be able to scale with the number and type of devices.

 

Find the full article on Federal Technology Insider.

I was off last week to celebrate Pesach / Passover so I thought it would be a good time to offer you a taste of an upcoming eBook I'm working on, "The Four Questions of Monitoring," which uses that holiday both as its inspiration and as a thematic framework. I'll be publishing snippets of it here and there.

 

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(image courtesy of Manta)

 

Once a year, Jews around the world gather together to celebrate Pesach (also known as "Passover,” "The Feast of Matzah,” or even "The Feast of the Paschal Lamb”). More a ceremonial meal than actual "feast,” this gathering of family and friends can last until the wee hours of the morning. The dinnertime dialogue follows a prescribed order (or "seder,” which actually means "order" in Hebrew) that runs the gamut from leader-led prayers to storytelling to group singalongs to question-and-answer sessions and even—in some households—a dramatized retelling of the exodus narrative replete with jumping rubber frogs, ping-pong ball hail stones, and wild animal masks.

 

At the heart of it all, the Seder is designed to do exactly one thing: to get the people at the table to ask questions. Questions like, "Why do we do that? What does this mean? Where did this tradition come from?" To emphasize: the Seder is not meant to answer questions, but rather provoke them.

 

As a religion, Judaism seems to love questions as much (or more) than the explanations, debates, and discussions they lead to. I'm fond of telling co-workers that the answer to any question about Judaism begins with the words, "Well, that depends..." and ends two hours later when you have three more questions than when you started.

 

The fact that I grew up in an environment with such fondness for questions may be what led me to pursue a career in IT, and to specialize in monitoring. More on that in a bit.

 

But the ability to ask questions is nothing by itself. An old proverb says, "One fool can ask more questions than seven wise men can answer." And that brings me back to the Pesach Seder. Near the start of the Seder meal, the youngest person at the table is invited to ask the Four Questions. They begin with question, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" The conversation proceeds to observe some of the ways that the Pesach meal has taken a normal mealtime practice and changed it so that it's off-kilter, abnormal, noticeably (and sometimes shockingly) different.

 

Like many Jewish traditions, there is a simple answer to the Four Questions. At the surface, it's done to demonstrate to children that questions are always welcome. It's a way of inviting everyone at the table to take stock of what is happening and ask about anything unfamiliar. But it doesn't stop there. If you dig just a bit beneath that easy surface reasoning you'll find additional meaning that goes surprisingly deep.

 

In Yeshivah — a day-school system for Jewish children that combines secular and religious learning — the highest praise one can receive is, "Du fregst un gut kasha," which translates as, "You ask a good question.”

 

This is proven out in a story told by Rabbi Abraham Twersky, a deeply religious psychiatrist. He says that when he was young, his teacher would relish challenges to his arguments. In his broken English, the teacher would say, “You right! You 100 prozent right!! Now, I show you where you wrong!”

 

The impact of this culture of questioning does not limit itself to religious thinking. Individuals who study in this system find that it extends to all areas of life, including the secular.

 

When asked why he became a scientist, Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics, answered,

''My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, 'So? Did you learn anything today?' But not my mother. She always asked me, 'Did you ask a good question today?' That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist!''

 

The lesson for us, as monitoring professionals, is twofold. First, we need to foster that same sense of curiosity, that same willingness to ask questions, even when we think the answers may be a long time in coming. We need to question our own assumptions. We need to relish the experience of asking so that it pushes us past the inertia of owning an answer, which is comfortable. And second, we need to find ways to invite questions from our colleagues, as well. Like the Seder, we may have to present information in a way that is shocking, noticeable, and engaging, so that people are pushed beyond their own inherent shyness (or even apathy) to ask, "What is THAT all about?”

 

The deeper message of the Passover seder speaks to the core nature of questions, and the responsibility of those who attempt to answer. "Be prepared,” it seems to say. "Questions can come from anywhere, about anything. Be willing to listen. Be willing to think before you speak. Be willing to say, 'I don't know, but let's find out!' You must also be willing to look past trite answers. Be ready to reconsider, and to defend your position with facts. Be prepared to switch, at a moment’s notice, from someone who answers, to someone who asks."

 

Once again, I believe that being exposed to this tradition of open honesty and curiosity is what makes the discipline of monitoring resonate for me.

Before we get into the results of round 4, I have to give a shout-out to the only two THWACKsters to correctly guess the final 4 in this year’s bracket battle. Congrats to ebradford & jessem! You have been awarded the 1,000 bonus THWACK points. There were several of you who got 3 out of 4 correct and I must say I’m impressed! Personally, I voted with my heart instead of my head and was #bracketbusted before we even got started…

 

Ahem, anyways… let’s look at who’s moving on to the championship round from the final 4!

 

 

Does anyone else share sparda963's feelings about this round? “I don't even know what is going on anymore. This bracket is all out of wack. Up is down, Down is pink, Blue tastes like cherry! It's madness!!!!”

 

For the last time this year, it’s time to check out the updated bracket and vote for the greatest legend of all time! This is it folks!

 

You will have until Sunday, April 8th @ 11:59 PM CDT to submit your votes & campaign for your favorite legend. Don't forget to share your thoughts and predictions for the winner on social #SWBracketBattle!

 

We’ll post a final recap and announce the winner on April 11th.

 

Access the bracket and place your vote for the winner HERE>>

I hope everyone enjoyed a nice holiday weekend with friends and family. This week marks the 2nd anniversary for The Actuator. Every week, for two years, I've produced an odd assortment of links for you to enjoy. Thank you for taking the time to read them. Here's to the next two years.

 

As always, here are some links from the Intertubz that I hope will hold your interest. Enjoy!

 

Former Uber Backup Driver: 'We Saw This Coming'

Given Uber's track record in, well, just about everything, I guess we should have seen this coming. And I'm not talking about the accident. No, I mean the number of people looking to pile on Uber right now and remind everyone that Uber isn't the best-run company.

 

Microsoft starts rolling out Azure Availability Zones for datacenter failure protection

One of the differences between Azure and AWS data center architecture has to do with availability zones. Microsoft is closing that gap, fast. It won't be long before Azure and AWS are nearly identical in services.

 

Announcing 1.1.1.1: the fastest, privacy-first consumer DNS service

Cloudflare is offering free DNS service. I applaud the effort, but I remain skeptical of any company that provides a service such as DNS for free. It's all about the data, folks. If you use the internet, someone is tracking your data, for one reason or another.

 

Using Machine Learning to Improve Streaming Quality at Netflix

Another brilliant piece from the Netflix blog, this time showing a practical use case for machine learning and network streaming quality. So, the next time someone wants to know about a practical use case for machine learning, I'm going to show them this.

 

Machine Learning for kids

And since I'm talking about machine learning, here's a great website to help kids (or anyone) get started. You might want to take some data from your favorite monitoring tool and use it in one of the projects here. Who knows, you may be able to build a model that can predict the next time Brad is about to drop a production database... again.

 

Georgia Passes Anti-Infosec Legislation

From the state where the capital city government allowed itself to be attacked by ransomware virus that was two years old, you are now forbidden to test websites for security flaws. Suddenly I understand why Atlanta was held for ransom.

 

It's April and snowing so I need to remind everyone that spring is just around the corner:

 

Here's an interesting article from my colleague Joe Kim, in which he offers suggestions to reduce vulnerabilities.

 

Agencies should focus on the basics to protect against attacks

 

The government’s effort to balance cybersecurity with continued innovation was underscored in late 2016 with the publication of the Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity’s Report on Securing and Growing the Digital Economy. The report included key recommendations for cybersecurity enhancements, while also serving as a sobering reminder that “many organizations and individuals still fail to do the basics” when it comes to security.

 

But in today’s environment, agencies must focus on some basic but highly effective fundamentals to protect against potential attackers. Some of these involve simple and basic security hygiene and others require more of an investment, both in terms of capital and human resources, and long-range thinking.

 

Let’s take a look at five fundamental strategies that can help agencies build an advanced and solid security posture.

 

Embrace network modernization

 

The report says, “The President and Congress should promote technology adoption and accelerate the pace at which technology is refreshed within the federal sector … the government needs to modernize and ensure that this modernization can be sustained at a faster pace.”

 

Modern network technologies are better equipped to handle cyberattacks, are often easier to manage, and are more efficient. Most can work in any environment and adapt to changing threat conditions. They can also automatically detect and respond to potential attacks without the need for human intervention, mitigating the threats before damage occurs. 

 

Modernization often leads to standardization, which means fewer device types and configurations to manage. This reduces vulnerability, because configurations can be refined, deployed, and maintained more easily.

 

Implement continuous monitoring

 

The commission states that “a security team has to protect thousands of devices while a malicious actor needs to gain access to only one.” This makes automated continuous monitoring extremely important.

 

A proper continuous monitoring solution contains a variety of components working together to strengthen an agency’s defenses against many attack methods. Those solutions could include log and event management tools that track login failures and make it easier to spot potential security incidents; device tracking solutions that can detect unauthorized network devices; or network configuration management solutions that can improve network compliance and device security. All of these can be done without human intervention, and most can be easily updated.

 

Remember to patch

 

Keeping software current with the latest patches and updates is an important threat deterrent, and almost impossible to do manually, given the amount of software that powers federal networks.

 

Automated patch management tools can analyze various software programs and scan for known vulnerabilities and available updates. These updates can be automatically applied as they become available, keeping software up-to-date and well-fortified against the latest threats.

 

Implement strong encryption

 

In the words of Edward Snowden, “Properly implemented strong encryption systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.” However, ensuring the security of data at rest and in flight is not necessarily an easy task, considering the hybrid cloud and IT environments that many agencies have adopted.

 

Still, strong encryption protocols must remain in place regardless of where the data resides, and data that travels from a hosted site must receive the same level of encryption—or, perhaps an even greater level of encryption—than data that exists on-premises. The slightest vulnerability in an unencrypted network can be a window to cyber attackers, while solid, end-to-end encryption remains extremely difficult to penetrate, regardless of where the data exists.

 

Adopt the Cybersecurity Framework

 

While many agencies have adopted the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, there’s room for more to get on board. There are signs that the government plans to increase use and is working to ensure the framework’s continued growth. In March, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology passed a bill designed to encourage adoption of the framework.

 

This shows how serious the government is about balancing proactive cybersecurity with innovative technology. Agencies can support this effort by combining a few basic strategies with some long-term investments that will ultimately pay big security dividends.

 

Find the full article on SIGNAL.

As predicted, each matchup in the elite 8 had me on the edge of my seat! The vote was nearly evenly split in each battle making this one of the closest races to the final 4 we’ve ever seen.

 

Here’s a look at who’s moving on from this round:

 

  • Cryptids round 3: Thunderbird vs Loch Ness Monster Easily one of the most surprising outcomes of this round, Nessie shocks everyone and swims away with this one! Thunderbird had a lot of support in the comment section because of its electric abilities, but ebradford had a solid argument for why Nessie should win, “...Of course, this contest isn't really fair since a Thunderbird is fictional, and Nessie is real.” 
  • Half & Halfs round 3: Griffin vs Minotaur This was stacking up to be a close race, but in the end it was Griffin’s fly skillz that tipped the scale in its favor. rschroeder “…Traditionally, the Minotaur is always defeated in stories.  Not so the Griffin, which attains a nobility and seems to be a higher, more enlightened entity than a Minotaur. Will the body of a lion, with its powerful legs and long, sharp claws, combined with the strong feet and talons and beak of an eagle, be weapons superior to the bovine horns and human arms and legs of the Minotaur? I think so. This one should go to the Griffin.”
  • Gruesomes round 3: Medusa vs Kraken Without question the biggest rivalry of the whole bracket battle, Kraken had a lot to prove this round given its history with Medusa. The comment section showed a lot of support for Medusa as she had easily won in the Clash of the Titans—not once, but twice! For the first time in this bracket battle the underdog fish came away with the W!!!
  • Fairy tales round 3: Dragon vs Phoenix This battle was on fire! Though the Phoenix possesses the ability to rise from the ashes every time the Dragon unleashes another attack, it wasn’t enough to secure the win and move on to the next round. I’m sure a lot of brackets were busted over this one!

 

Were you surprised by any of the winners this round? Comment below!

 

It’s time to check out the updated bracket & start voting in the ‘Mythical’ round! We need your help & input as we get one step closer to crowning the ultimate legend!

 

Access the bracket and make your picks HERE>>

 

I can’t wait to see who the community picks to face off in the final round!

Success. It marks the subtle difference between being productive and being busy. WordStream and MobileMonkey founder, Larry Kim, eloquently wrote about the 11 differences between busy people and productive people in a recent Inc. article. It is a great read that offers an interesting take on productivity. For instance, one of the eleven differences that Larry calls out is that productive people have a mission for their lives, while busy people simply look like they have a mission. The key is to correctly identify your purpose and the corresponding work that will fulfill your life's mission. There is no template for your mission because only you can define those core policies. Otherwise, it's someone else's mission. In the latter instance, you have less understanding of what "good" should look like, therefore you will be less efficient and effective in your work. 

 

So how do the productive versus busy insights play out in IT environments? Let's take the example of automation, one of the DART-SOAR skills. Many pundits believe that automation's objective is to save time--to do more stuff. This is what it means to be busy. In actuality, automation's true aim is not to save time, but rather to improve consistency of delivery, reliability of delivered services, and a normalized experience at scale. This exemplifies what it means to translate automation into productivity and deliver meaningful value.

 

Translating your skills, experience, and expertise into business value is how you make your career as a professional. Without business value, you won't have value.

 

Let me know what you think below in the comment section.

Logic and objective thinking are hallmarks of any engineering field. IT design and troubleshooting are no exceptions. Computers and networks are systems of logic so we, as humans, have to think in such terms to effectively design and manage these systems. The problem is that the human brain isn’t exactly the most efficient logical processing engine out there. Our logic is often skewed by what are called cognitive biases. These biases take many potential forms, but ultimately they skew our interpretation of information in one way or another. This leaves us believing we are approaching a problem logically, but in reality are operating on a distorted sense of reality.

 

What am I talking about? Below are some common examples of cognitive biases that I see all the time as a consultant in enterprise environments. This is by no means a comprehensive list. If you want to dig in further, Wikipedia has a great landing page with brief descriptions and links to more comprehensive entries on each.

 

Anchoring: Anchoring is when we value the information we learn first as the most important, with subsequent learned information having less weight or value. This is common in troubleshooting, where we often see a subset of symptoms before understanding the whole problem. Unless you can evaluate the value of your initial information against subsequent evidence, you’re likely to spin your wheels when trying to figure out why something is not working as intended.

 

Backfire effect: The backfire effect is what happens when someone further invests into an original idea or hypotheses, even when new evidence is learned that disproves the initial belief. Some might call this pride, but ultimately no one wants to be wrong even if it’s justifiable because all evidence wasn’t available when forming the original opinion or thought. I’ve seen this clearly demonstrated in organizations that have a blame-first culture. Nobody wants to be left holding the bag, so there is more incentive to be right than to solve the problem.

 

Outcome bias: This bias is our predisposition to judge a decision based on the outcome, rather than how logical of a decision it was at the time it was made. I see this regularly from insecure managers who are looking for reasons for why things went wrong. It plays a big part in blame culture. This can lead to decision paralysis when we are judged by outcomes we can’t control, rather than a methodical way of working through an unknown root cause.

 

Confirmation bias: With confirmation bias, we search for, and ultimately give more weight to, evidence that supports our original hypotheses or belief of the way things should be. This is incredibly common in all areas of life, including IT decision making. It reflects more on our emotional need to be right than any intentional negative trait.

 

Reactive devaluation: This bias is when someone devalues or dismisses an opinion not on merit, but on the fact that it came from an adversary, or someone you don’t like. I’m sure you’ve seen this one, too. It’s hard to admit when someone you don’t respect is right, but by not doing so, you may be dismissing relative information in your decision-making process.

 

Triviality/Bike shedding: This occurs when extraordinary attention is applied to an insignificant detail to avoid having to deal with the larger, more complex, or more challenging issue. By deeply engaging in a triviality, we feel like we provide real value to the conversation. The reality is that we expend cycles of energy on things that ultimately don’t need that level of detail applied.

 

Normalcy bias: This is a refusal to plan for or acknowledge the possibility of outcomes that haven’t happened before. This is common when thinking about DR/BC because we often can’t imagine or process things that have never occurred before. Our brains immediately work to fill in gaps based off our past experiences, leaving us blind to potential outcomes.

 

I point out the above examples just to demonstrate some of the many cognitive biases that exist in our collective way of processing information. I’m confident that you’ve seen many of them demonstrated yourself, but ultimately, they continue to persist because of the most challenging bias of them all:

 

Bias blind spot: This is our tendency to see others as more biased than ourselves, and not being able to identify as many cognitive biases in our own actions and decision making. It’s the main reason many of these persist even after we learn about them. Biases are often easy to identify when others demonstrate them, but we often can’t see our own biases when our thinking is being impacted by a bias like those above. The only way to identify our own biases is through an honest and self-reflective post mortem of decision making, looking specifically for areas where our bias impacted our view of reality.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Even in a world dominated by objectivity and logical thinking, cognitive biases can be found everywhere. It’s just one of the oddities of the human condition. And bias affects everyone, regardless of intent. If you’ve read the list above and have identified a bias that you’ve fallen for, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. The best minds in the world have the same flaws. The only way to overcome these biases is to inform yourself of them, identify which ones you typically fall prey to, and actively work against those biases when trying to approach a subject objectively. It’s not the mere presence of bias that is a problem. Rather, it’s the lack of awareness of bias that leads people to incorrect decision making.

The sweet 16 was bitter for some. It looks like we aren’t going to see any Cinderella stories in this year’s bracket battle.  The last of the little guys literally had to face off with a Dragon, and all I can say is don’t play with fire if you don’t want to get burned #amirite.

 

It’s going to be an uphill battle for our elite 8, no easy matchups here!

 

Let’s take a look at who came out on top in round 2:

 

Nail-biters:

  • Cryptids round 2: Thunderbird vs Yeti Despite the all the cheering coming from the comment section, this was not an easy win for the Thunderbird. tinmann0715 thinks Thunderbird has what it takes to.go.all.the.way! “My prediction is ringing true for the underdog Thunderbird. It is becoming my "Dark Horse" favorite for the rest of the tourney.”
  • Cryptids round 2: Chupacabra vs Loch Ness Monster Nessie is still in it after a tough match with Chupacabra. It looks like it came down to a battle of “Which one is scarier” rschroeder  “Nessie vs. Chupacabra.  What's scarier--a fish-eating dinosaur or a man/lizard that interacts harmlessly with goats?  OK, a man/lizard probably will generate more nightmares. Which would defeat the other in battle?  I'm pretty certain Nessie could out-chomp and crush Chupie.  Loch Ness for the win.”
  • Half & Halfs round 2: Griffin vs Pegasus This one was almost too close to call! Judging by your comments no one was certain who to root for since these two were so evenly matched.
  • Half & Halfs round 2: Minotaur vs Centaur Again another half & halfs match that could have gone either way. asheppard970 said it better than I could, “I think this is coming down to a "brains vs. brawn" battle, and brawn appears to be winning.”
  • Gruesomes round 2: Medusa vs Werewolf The #GRLPWR was strong with this one. Medusa and her stony stare advance to the next round!

 

Shutouts:

  • Gruesomes round 2: Vampire vs Kraken Based on the results of this match, the Vampire needs to hire a new PR agent that doesn’t suck. cdow2011 “The kraken and Perseus...still a better love story than Twilight.”
  • Fairy tales round 2: Leprechaun vs Dragon A true David and Goliath match, but our pint-sized friend from the Emerald Isle was no match for brute strength and power of the Dragon.  caleyjay7 “Dragon: Teeth, Claws, tail-whip, potentially fire breathing... Leprechaun: general tomfoolery and lucky charms...I know who my money's on.”
  • Fairy tales round 2: Banshee vs Phoenix There was some serious debate about how outside influence from pop-culture affected the results of this match. Phoenix manages to run fly away with this one in the face of conflict.

 

Were you surprised by any of the shutouts or nail-biters for this round? Comment below!

 

It’s time to check out the updated bracket & start voting in the ‘Fantastical’ round! We need your help & input as we get one step closer to crowning the ultimate legend!

 

Access the bracket and make your picks HERE>>

It's the last week of March, which means the year is about 25% complete. Time to check in on your New Year's goals and see how you have progressed. There is still time to follow through on those promises you made to yourself.

 

As always, here are some links from the Intertubz that I hope will hold your interest. Enjoy!

 

12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech

Understanding these twelve things is crucial if we want to work together to make tech better for everyone.

 

Expedia's Orbitz Suspects 880,000 Payment Cards Stolen

“Orbitz says the breached system is not part of its current website.” In other words, they weren’t hacked through the website, they let their data get stolen because they lacked proper internal security measures. But here’s the #hardtruth: They are not unique, many companies fail in this area, they just don’t know it yet.

 

AVA: The Art and Science of Image Discovery at Netflix

Ever wonder how Netflix decides what images to use? Meet AVA, the brains behind the machine.

 

Ex-Googler Wants to Upend Pigs and Hotels With the Blockchain

Finally, a practical use case for Blockchain! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had issues getting quality bacon delivered to my hotel room.

 

Silicon Valley Has Failed to Protect Our Data. Here’s How to Fix It

I love this idea except for one detail, and that is I don’t want the government to have any part in this effort. They move too slow, and are often at the bequests of lobbyists. Seems like something Bill Gates could put a billion dollars behind and create something more useful than anything Congress would do.

 

Facebook denies it collects call and SMS data from phones without permission

I want to believe Facebook here, but, well, they haven’t exactly demonstrated that they can be trusted with our data. It’s quite possible that such data was collected, but not in an official capacity. So they can deny they are doing it, which is not the same as saying it never happened.

 

Ford vending machine begins dispensing cars in China

I love this idea, but I’d love it more if it were full of Jeeps.

 

Nothing makes a meeting more fun than showing up wearing a Luchador mask:

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