Category: Leadership

[email protected] : Digital Life Segmentation

In 2015 I am really surprised that I am writing this.  At this point I have been using email since 1994.  Granted I was a bit ahead of the curve but not by a huge margin.  So If I am generous and say that 1996 was the year that email became a mainstream technology then we have been using it for close to 20 years!  By doing so we have also been partaking in social media for that long.  Granted email is not twitter or a blog or Facebook but you are interacting with potentially large quantities of people and potentially doing so badly.  With 20 years of experience we have learned quite a few things like;

  • It is pretty easy to spoof email.
  • Reply All may have implications you did not intend (send to entire company).
  • Email is pretty easy to monitor.
  • You can do real damage with email.

So it is shocking to me that again in 2015 we see this article pop up that states as part of the Ashley Madison Hack more than 15,000 of the emails that were used on the site and are now compromised are either .MIL or .GOV Addresses.  This is bad for lots of reason that thousands of other people are talking about so I am not going to re-hash it all.  But in my mind what is bad is that after all the time we have had to understand how compromised email as a platform is and how compromising it can be by being tied to an individual people still use their work email for stupid shit.

Let me give a smaller example…I wont use names of individuals or companies but this is a real story at a real company that I worked for in my career.  One day I was talking to another employee at their desk early on in their employment.  As part of that conversation they pulled up some questionable content in their email and I made a statement something along the lines of “You should keep that crap in your personal email not work.”  This led to a discussion about how they are not allowed any privacy based on the email system being owned by our employer and that by doing compromising things on a work system they could expose the entire company and our clients to problems including hacking and or litigation.  Quite a bit of time passed and one morning I showed up to work to find that major drama had ensued around the same employee.  Without his knowledge the employee had been dating a married woman who was estranged from her husband.  As part of this relationship they were both using work email systems to discuss personal matters about their relationship.  The husband in the equation at some point accessed the wife’s webmail account and became privy to the other side of the situation.  The drama then kicked into high gear as the husband farmed email addresses from as many employees of both the company I worked for and the wife’s company from there email interactions (for real business) and composed an email airing years of dirty laundry.  I felt bad for the guy in my office and while it did not get him fired right away I don’t think for a second it was was not part of him leaving within six months of the event.  On his part he could have prevented much of the drama by using personal email.

Beyond this drama filled model I have also been a member of remediation teams in several companies where email system administrators were monitoring email of executives and other staff and leveraging personal information to their benefit at least until they were discovered and fired.  So the take away from all of this is that YOU MUST SEGMENT PERSONAL AND WORK EMAIL!  Come on people personal email is free now and it is solid.  My guess is the same people using work emails for the personal things listed above are probably also using them to communicate with potential new employers.  These practices are damaging to how you are viewed in your community at large.  As a reverse you are also doing yourself no favors if your doing business for your company or an employer from @gmail, @AOL, @HOTMAIL or other private type email systems.

The long and short of it is a large segment of our digital communities are failing to segment their digital lives.  Drama at work should not go to deep into your personal life and drama in your personal life should not compromise your ability to do you work when it comes to your digital lifestyle.  Split this stuff up people as a favor to yourself and everyone around you.

Make IT Portable: Give em OVAs!

It has been a busy few weeks.  A big part of that has been rebuilding my home lab to focus on doing real lab work not dabbling in whatever struck my fancy over the past few months.  In doing so I have been spinning up machines left and right.  Frustratingly I have had to spin up some of those servers 4 or 5 times in order to get to them to do what I need them to do.

Over and over and over we have been calling for the elimination of complexity when its not required.  But in the simple deployment of a lab it takes digging around the web, countless hours of reading and multiple failed attempts, it would seem that the industry is not eating its own dog food.  I would rather be be actively working with Openstack, OpenDaylight or ELK Stack opposed to troubleshooting why my install does not work after following directions to a tee.

We work hard on projects and products that we want people to adopt and buy.  Those people honestly usually have better things to do than dig through pages of documentation trying to figure out how to get those projects and products installed.  There a solutions for this.  Some people would say use the automation and configuration platforms like Ansible, SaltStack, Chef or Puppet.  I don’t really disagree.  But building out the configuration files for each of these takes time even if they can deal with a large set of operating systems.  There are also package management platform like apt and yum in the operating systems.  But again these take time to keep up to date and are often at least a rev behind shipping code.

So I would like to propose that we all do something different using something we already have.  Do something that many have been doing in some form for years.  Build your dreams in projects and products.  Then choose your preferred operating system and take the time to build a solid OVA and make it available to your clients. There are lots of options for keeping an OVA up to date with minimal effort.  Operating systems provide options for automated updates using package managers if for no other reason than keeping security updates current.  Once we have enabled our customers with rapid deployment of the projects and products we want them to use then we can lean on the automation and configuration platforms to keep them up to date and in compliance with organizational policies.

Along that line there is no reason that these same projects and products cannot be deployed just as they are now for clients who have more specialized requirements or preferences for platforms other than that of which the OVA was deployed on.  Flexibility will always be a critical aspect of what we do in IT.  However simplicity when possible should always be our goal.  I would love to get others input on this.  Please comment or join the fray on twitter you’ll find me there at @joshobrien77.

All Good Things Come to an End: Cisco Aquires Meraki

I have been very lucky in my career.  There is pretty much no network vendor whose gear has not come across my desk and I have had the opportunity to install and play with on some level.  Last year we engaged Meraki to consider then for both their Cloud Controller based Access Points but also for their new Access Switch product line.  I did lots and lots of research and honestly found a mixed bag of info.  On one hand people were saying this is really amazing stuff and if you can handle a bit less than full enterprise class gear you should really look at it.  On the other hand I read a few articles like this one out of Canada that paints a picture of pretty shady practices from Meraki.

So I sat through their online demos, had local partners come in to tell me how amazing it was then I got my AP (Modle MR12) from them to play with and see what I thought.  In all honestly their AP and overall wireless product underwhelmed me.  My Cisco 1200 B only radio covered better and and my Cisco 1252 even in 2.4 only mode way out gunned this poor little guy.  But what they do very very well is the management of it all.  Even after I had decided that my company would not be moving to their access points nor the new switch line I decided to stick with System Manager because how good it was at managing remote devices and it was free!  So right off the bat I do not hate these guys or their products I actually think they are pretty cool but over just not the right fit for what we needed.

Then tonight it happened.  @MrFogg97 hit me up and said “Saw this on #meraki’s site when reading the announcement. and yes I did say that and to this second I still believe its a great product.  But then I asked myself what announcement.  A quick trip to Meraki’s website told the tale.  Cisco announces intent to acquire Meraki   And that is why I am really writing this post. Read more

Why I do what I do.

Hi my name is Josh O’Brien.  I am the CTO of Language Access Network.  We provide remote video language services to hospitals and clinics across the United States.  Blah Blah Blah….I go through this at least once a day and sometimes as many as ten times a day.  Also every day I hear about all the cool new milestones that Language Access Network is reaching.  Most of these go something like today our interpreters provided 70 more interpretations than our last high water mark a week ago.  My answer has always been that’s nice please let me get back to work making sure everything is working, scalable and supportable.  I know I am a cold bastard, but it has been the reality of what I do.

Don’t get me wrong, I 100 percent believe in our company, what it does and the profound impact we make in the medical market…I really do!  But I am not an interpreter, doctor or customer advocate my job is to make the zeros and ones fly down the correct pipe at the correct time and to so as efficiently as possible.  I just don’t have time for all the slaps on the back an congratulations for doing what I was brought here to do which is to massively grow the company and win.  Even my own staff does not get me, they love reveling in the record breaking and I am thrilled that they are because at the end of that day it is one more amazing testament to how good they are and the hard work they put in.  But I am a geek, not a mercenary in it for the cash but just a flat out geek, nerd, packet pusher whatever you want to call me.  I get excited about the tech.  I have always been that way.  If I won $100,000,000 in cash today I would renounce my salary, hire more staff, reduce my travel load and then out of my pocket buy all sorts of cool gear for Language Access Network and my team.  I just freaking love what I do! Read more

Method and Madness: How to fix what other people broke

I will be the first to admit that I make mistakes.  I make lots of mistakes.  But I learned a long time ago that it is not the mistakes that define us but
what we do when we make them.  To that point it is both fascinating and infuriating when I enter someone’s network land and find that they have gone out of their way to do nothing to solve their own problem or in many cases to even
build a proper functioning network.  So I am going to set out to show the Methods I use to deal with these people and their problems and the Madness that they have brought to the table to cause the issue.

This is going to be a series.  Really my first series of posts, and they will all fall under the heading of Method and Madness with some sort of witty little
tagline.  I will be pulling on a careers worth of situations that were totally preventable and how we resolved the problem or moved past it.

The format for each of this will be as follows:

Situation:  This will be the “lab” Scenario piece of the post in which I outline
the base problem as well as the end goals of the situation.  This section will
include a base diagram for use as reference.

The Method:  This will be the troubleshooting and resolution phase of the post and
will breakdown the ultimate solution or bypass to the problem.

The Madness: This section will be my analysis of how things got to this point in the first
place.  Keep in mind I have no in interest in posting garbage about oh look the senior
network engineer put a wrong static route in at 4am and a junior guy had to find it.
No I am more interested in exposing the issues where a Network Engineer or worse a team could not solve a problem that should be second nature for them to solve.  In doing so I hope others will learn from and not find themselves in these situation.

So with all that said look for them.  I hope to have the first one out by the end of
the week with about 50 Million other projects so bear with me.  I think these will be a great recap for me and both education and humorous for you.  I really encourage your feedback on these posts because I am not always right and there are lots of different paths so resolution of a problem.