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The Stack Reconsidered (In light of some really bad visualizations)

"I know real estate applications," the Business Analyst said confidently to the dozen of us cloistered in a conference room.

"And real estate applications don't work well when they're virtualized," she insisted, face lowered, eyes peering directly at me over the rims of her Warby Parkers.

For a good 5-8 seconds, all you could hear was the whirring of the projector's fan as the Infrastructure team soaked in the magnitude of the statement.

I had come prepared for a lot of things in this meeting. I was asking for a couple hundred large, and I had spreadsheets, timelines, budgets, and a project plan. Hell, I even had an Excel document showing which switch port each new compute node would plug into, and whether that port would be trunked, access, routed, a member of a port-channel, and whether it got a plus-sized MTU value. Yeah! I even had my jumbo frames all planned & mapped out, that's how I roll into meetings where the ask is a 1.x multiple of my salary!

But I had nothing for this...this...whatever it was...challenge to my professional credibility? An admission of ignorance? Earnest doubt & fear? How to proceed?

Are we still fighting over whether something should be virtualized?

It was, after all 2014 when this happened, and the last time I had seen someone in an IT Department resist virtualization was back when the glow of Obama was starting to wear off on me....probably 2011. In any case, that guy no longer worked in IT (not Obama, the vResistor!), yet here I was facing the same resistance long long long after the debate over virtualization had been settled (in my opinion anyway).

Before I could get in a chirpy, smart-ass "That sounds like a wager" or even a sincere "What's so special about your IIS/SQL application that it alone resolutely stands as the last physical box in my datacenter?" my boss lept to my defense and, well, words were exchanged between BAs, devs, and Infrastructure team members. My Russian dev friend and I glanced at each other as order broke down...he had a huge Cheshire cat grin, and I bet the bastard had put her up to it. I'd have to remember to dial the performance on his QA VMs back to dev levels once if I ever got to build the new stack.

The CIO called for a timeout, order was restored, and both sides were dressed down as appropriate.

It was decided then to regroup one week hence. The direction from my boss & the CIO was that my presentation while, thorough, was at 11 on the Propellerhead scale and needed to answer some basic questions like, "What is virtualization? What is the cloud?"

You know, the basics.

Go Powerpoint or Go Home

Somewhat wounded, I realized my failure was even more elemental than that. I had forgotten something a mentor taught me about IT, something he told me to keep in mind before showing my hand in group meetings: "The way to win in IT is to understand which Microsoft Office application each of your teammates would have been born as if they had been conceived by the Office team. For example, you're definitely a Visio & Excel guy, and that's great, but only if you're in a meeting with other engineers."

Some people, he told me, are amazing Outlookers. "They email like it's going out of style; they want checklists, bullet points, workflows and read receipts for everything. Create lots of forms & checklists for them as part of your pitch."

"Others need to read in-depth prose, to see & click on footnotes, and jot notes in the paper's margin;  make a nice .docx the focus for them."

And still others -perhaps the majority- would have been born as a Powerpoint, for such was their way of viewing the world. Powerpoint contains elements of all other Office apps, but mostly, .pptx staff wanted pictures drawn for them.

So I went home that evening and I got up into my Powerpoint like never before. I built an 8 page slide deck using blank white pages. I drew shapes, copied some .pngs from the internet, and made bullet points. I wanted to introduce a concept to that skeptical Business Analyst who nearly snuffed out my project, a concept I think is very important in small to medium enterprises considering virtualization.

I wanted her to reconsider The Stack (In Light of Some Really Bad Visualizations).

So I made these. And I warn you they are very bad, amateur drawings, created by a desperate virtualization engineer who sucks at powerpoint, who had lost his stencils & shapes, and who was born a cell within a certain column on a certain row and thought that that was the way the world worked.

The Stack as a Transportation Metaphor

Slide 2: What is the Core Infrastructure Stack?  It's a Pyramid, with people like me at the bottom, people like my Russian dev friend in the middle, and people like you Ms. Business Analyst, closer to the top. And we all play a part in building a transportation system, which exists in the meatspace (that particular word was not in the slide, and was added by me, tonight). I build the roads, tunnels & bridges, the dev builds the car based on the requirements you give him, and the business? They drive the car the devs built to travel on the road I built."

Also, the pyramid signifies nothing meaningful. A square, cylinder, or trapezoid would work here too. I picked a pyramid or triangle because my boy would say "guuhhhl" and point at triangles when he saw them.


I gotta say, this slide really impressed my .pptx colleagues and later became something of an underground hit. Truth be told, inasmuch as anything created in Powerpoint can go viral, this did. Why?

I'd argue this model works, at least in smaller enterprises. No one can argue that we serve the business, or driver. I build roads when & where the business tells me to build them. Devs follow, building cars that travel down my roads.

But if one of us isn't very good at his/her job, it reflects poorly on all of IT, for the driver can't really discern the difference between a bad car & a bad road, can they?

What's our current stack?

"Our current stack is not a single stack at all, but a series of vulnerable, highly-disorganized disjointed stacks that don't share resources and are prone to failure," I told the same group the next week, using transitions to introduce each isolated, vulnerable stack by words that BAs would comprehend:


My smart ass side wanted to say "1997 called, they want their server room back," but I wisely held back.

"This isn't an efficient way to do things anymore," I said, confidence building. No one fought me on this point, no one argued.

What's so great about virtualizing the stack?

None of my slides were all that original, but I take some credit for getting a bit creative with this one. How do you explain redundancy & HA to people woefully unprepared for it? Build upon your previous slides, and draw more boxes. The Redundant Stack within a Stack:


The dark grey highlighted section is -notwithstanding the non-HA SQL DB oversight- a redundant Application Stack, spread across an HA Platform, itself built across two or more VMs, which live on separate physical hosts connecting through redundant core switching to Active/Active or A/P storage controllers & spindles.

I don't like to brag (much), but with this slide, I had them at "redundant." Slack-jawed they were as I closed up the presentation, all but certain I'd get to build my new stack and win  #InfrastructureGlory once more.

And that Cloud Thing?

Fuzzy white things wouldn't do it for this .pptx crowd. I struggled but to keep things consistent, I built a 3D cube that was fairly technical, but consistent with the previous slides. I also got preachy, using this soapbox to remind my colleagues why coding against anything other than the Fully Qualified Domain Name was an mortal sin in an age when our AppStack absolutely required being addressed at all times by a proper FQDN in order to to be redundant across datacenters, countries, even continents.


There are glaring inaccuracies in this Hybrid Cloud Stack, some of which make my use of Word Art acceptable, but as a visualization, it worked. Two sides to the App Stack, Private Cloud (the end-state of my particular refresh project), and the Public Cloud. Each have their strengths & weaknesses, each can be used by savvy Technology teams to build better application stacks, to build better roads & cars for drivers in the business.

About six weeks (and multiple shares of this .pptx) later, my new stack complete with 80 cores (with two empty sockets per node for future-proofing!), about 2TB of RAM, 40TB of shared storage, and a pair of Nexus switches with Layer 3 licensing arrived.

And yes, a few weeks after that, a certain stubborn real estate application was successfully made virtual. Sweet.

Level 15

Some intriguing insights and arguments that I think we can all benefit from knowing how to answer.  I am bookmarking this post!  Thanks!

Nicely done.  I plan on re-reading this for retention,


Level 11

I like this. Very well laid out.

Reminds of the food chain or a pyramid scheme

Level 9

Pyramid scheme? LOL.

Well at least you all didn't call me crazy     


key to this type of presentation - understand your target audience

11 on the geek scale to an audience of none tech BA's is guaranteed resistance

Talk business to business folks, tech to techies  

Level 14

This was a very good read!  Good job with your situation and this article!


Great read.  I liked your approach to appease the non-techies.

Level 9

This is such a nice write-up. Good job.

Level 9

Good info, but the whole beginning part was fun to read.  Thanks for a few laughs.

Level 21

At this point considering where the technology has come I think people should be requiring special justification for anything to not be virtual.  The lack of flexibility in a non-virtualized environment is really difficult to overlook and alone should be justification enough for things be virtualized.

I could not agree more.....

I wonder if more Data Centers are looking like mine does now.

Lots of empty racks....except for the ones with the VMware Blades, Disk Based Backup systems and the SAN.

It is so sparse that we will be removing an entire row of seven racks and replacing them with five modern racks that are wider with proper connections, ladder racks above and power below.  After that is done we will move the equipment from a different row and do the same to it.


Level 15


There was a time only a few years back where I would not personally recommend a virtualized SQL box. But that's not even outside of the 'norm' these days. With the balance of HA/FT solutions, crazy 99.999% SLAs, and a 24x7 world; how can we even pretend that virtualization is not a proper go-to solution anymore?

Level 9


And if you've made that mistake of speaking geek to non-techs, the lesson is don't pushback too hard on reaction to version 1.0 of your stack pitch.

Acknowledge concerns. Listen and be appreciative of the feedback. Smile & be accommodating. Go back home, lick wounds, retool presentation, and schedule a followup.

Hopefully, your weaponized-response paves the way for you to win #InfrastructureGlory!

Level 9

Thanks! Glad you liked it.

About the Author
A 16 year veteran of SMB IT shops, Jeff has seen it all and likes to share. Broadly-skilled just like the IT Generalist he thinks of when writing, yet deep enough on virtualization & storage to hold his own, Jeff practices good IT at home so that he can excel at work.