Tag Archive for Agile

7 Reasons Why You Should Read The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project

I began reading The Phoenix Project with no preconceptions, other than having been told that it is a great book, and hearing it mentioned many times on Eric Wright‘s GC On Demand podcast.

Written by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Stafford, it is told as a first-person narrative from the perspective of Bill, a middleware team manager who is promoted into a senior IT management role for a business in jeopardy. Through his experiences and a guiding hand from another key character, together we work through the problems facing the business, the IT department and the individuals within.

The story is told in an easy to read, informal style, and I made quick work of it over the course of just a few days. I really enjoyed it on numerous levels:

  1. I recognised every single character in the book as somebody I have worked with (or indeed currently work with!). I guarantee you will feel the same!
  2. The book was pretty well written, and the story arc itself was compelling. I was really rooting for Bill to succeed in his endeavours! (But did he? You will have to read the book to find out!)
  3. The authors obviously have a great sense of humour! Quotes such as “Show me a dev who isn’t crashing production systems, and I’ll show you one who can’t fog a mirror. Or more likely, is on vacation.” had me laughing out loud on the train in front of other passengers!
  4. The book is approachable and not elitist. You could pick it up as a cable monkey or an IT director (or maybe even a Sales person!!!), and relate to the concepts and methods described.
  5. I learned a huge amount about different methods for handling and improving processes around WIP (Work in Progress), such as the Theory of Constraints or the use of Kanban boards (I am currently testing this with my pre-sales customer workloads using Trello, but I’m told Kanbanize is also very good). Resilience Engineering (think Netflix Simian Army) and numerous other techniques are also covered, along with the overarching “Three Ways” (very Zen!).
  6. I actually picked up a few key tips which could be applied directly to my pre-sales design and requirements gathering workshops with my customer stakeholders.
  7. Finally, it didn’t feel “preachy”, which is always a risk when trying to sell an idea / concept as your main theme and I was initially concerned that the book would be ramming DevOps culture down my neck throughout. This could not be farther from the truth, and the full DevOps concepts do not come into play until the story is almost complete. There are many lessons to be learned throughout the story, which could be applied to any organisation!

The Phoenix Project Cover

Here are another few choice quotes from The Phoenix Project, both humorous and insightful:

“The only thing more dangerous than a developer is a developer conspiring with Security. The two working together gives us means, motive, and opportunity.”

“How can we manage production if we don’t know what the demand, priorities, status of work in process, and resource availability are?”

“You just described ‘technical debt’ that is not being paid down. It comes from taking shortcuts, which may make sense in the short-term. But like financial debt, the compounding interest costs grow over time. If an organization doesn’t pay down its technical debt, every calorie in the organization can be spent just paying interest, in the form of unplanned work.”

“On the other hand, if a resource is ninety percent busy, the wait time is ‘ninety percent divided by ten percent’, or nine hours. In other words, our task would wait in queue nine times longer than if the resource were fifty percent idle.”

In case you hadn’t felt like I was positive enough about The Phoenix Project yet, I would say that this book should be provided as mandatory training to every person working in every IT department today, from the guys plugging in cables to the CIO!

If you do read and enjoy the book, I highly recommend also reading The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. I was a little surprised, to say the least, that this appears to be a very similar story, following a similar arc and some almost identical characters to The Phoenix Project. That said, I am half way through it at the moment and still thoroughly enjoying it, though I am not too worried about missing the movie version!

The Goal by Eli Goldratt CoverThe Goal delves even deeper into the Theory of Constraints and explains some of the tools we can use to mitigate, bypass or remove constraints in a system. All of these tools and methods can be applied as easily to IT as they can to production lines, which (without stating the bleeding obvious) is exactly the point of The Phoenix Project!

Anyway, if you want to do yourself a favour both in terms of your career development, but also a really compelling story and a thoroughly decent book, you could do a lot worse than spending £5 on the Kindle Edition of The Phoenix Project!

Where To Get Them

For anything technical, I like to buy ebooks these days for both portability and the fact that I wont be chopping down trees needlessly. Both of the above titles are available very inexpensively on Kindle:

And Finally…

Sincerest apologies for one of the most click bait-y blog titles I’ve ever posted! Even worse than this one. Honestly, I feel ashamed!

I’ll get my coat…

How often do you upgrade your storage array software?

Upgrades are scary!

Having managed and implemented upgrades on highly available systems such as the old Sun StorageTech line of rebranded HDS USP/VSP arrays back in the day, I can tell you that we did not take upgrades lightly!

Unless there was a very compelling reason for an upgrade, the line taken was always “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but then we were looking after storage in a massively high security environment where even minor changes were taken very seriously indeed. When it came to storage we didn’t have or need anything very fancy at all, just a some high performance LUNs cut from boat loads of small capacity 15K drives, a bit of copy on write snappage to a set of 3rd party arrays and some dual site synchronous replication. Compared to some of the features and configurations of today, that’s actually pretty minimal!

Updates

Now this approach meant that the platform was very stable. Great! It also meant that because we only did upgrades once in a blue moon, the processes were not what you might call streamlined, and the changes made by each upgrade were typically numerous, thereby running a pretty decent risk of something breaking. It was also key to ensure that we checked the compatibility matrix for every release to ensure that the 3rd party arrays would continue to function.

They say that software is eating the world. I’d say it seems the same could be reasonably said for the hardware storage vendors we saw at Storage Field Day 8, as they seem to mostly be moving towards more Agile development models. Little and often means lower risk for every upgrade as there are fewer changes. New features and improvements can be released on a more regular basis (especially those taking advantage of flash technologies which are changing by the minute!). A significant number of the vendors we saw had internal release cycles of between 2 and 4 weeks and public release cycles of 2-8 weeks!

In the case of one vendor, Pure Storage, they are not only releasing code every couple of weeks, but customers have obviously taken this new approach on board with vigour! Around 91% of Pure’s customer base is currently using an array software version 8 months old or less. An impressive stat indeed!

This is Hardware. Software runs on it...

This is Hardware. Software runs on it…

This sounds like a relatively risky approach, but they mitigate it to a great extent by using the telemetric data uploaded every 30 seconds to their Pure1 SaaS management platform from customer arrays, building up a picture of both individual customers and their customer base as a whole. They then use their fingerprint engine to proactively pre-check every customer array to find out which may be susceptible to any potential defect in a new software release. Arrays which pass this pre-check have the upgrades rolled out remotely by Pure Storage engineers on a group by group basis to minimise risk. Obviously this is also done in conjunction and agreement with customers change windows etc. You wouldn’t expect your controllers to start failing over without any notice! 🙂

If I’m honest I am torn in two about this approach. The ancient storage curmudgeon in me says an array should just sit in the corner of the room quietly ticking away with minimal risk to availability and data durability (at least to known bugs anyway!). This new style of approach means that it doesn’t matter how many redundant bits of that rusty tin you have, as Scott D Lowe said last week:

That said we need to be realistic, we don’t live in ye olde world any more. Every part of the industry is moving towards more agile development techniques, driven largely by customer and consumer demand. If the “traditional” storage industry doesn’t follow suit, it risks being left behind by newer technologies such as SDS and hyper convergence.

There is one other key benefit to this deployment method which I haven’t mentioned of course; those big scary upgrades of the past now become minor updates, and the processes we wrap around them as fleshy sacks of water become mundane. That does sound quite tempting!

Perhaps upgrades aren’t that scary any more?

I’d love to hear your opinions either way, feel free to fire me a comment on twitter!

Further Reading
Some of the other SFD8 delegates have their own takes on the presentation we saw. Check them out here:

Dan Frithhttp://www.penguinpunk.net/blog/pure-storage-orange-is-the-new-black-now-what/

Scott D. Lowehttp://www.enterprisestorageguide.com/overcoming-new-vendor-risk-pure-storages-techniques

Pure1 Overview at SFD8

 
Disclaimer/Disclosure: My flights, accommodation, meals, etc, at Storage Field Day 8 were provided by Tech Field Day, but there was no expectation or request for me to write about any of the vendors products or services and I was not compensated in any way for my time at the event.

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