Phew, now that’s out the way, I was expecting writers block, but hey, no!
Who is this fool you ask?
Well let me introduce myself, My name is Phil Marsden and I have been invited by @rogerlund to start blogging my experiences, well at least my experiences in the world of cloud computing and virtualization. To that end I think It’s only fair that you should be familiar with the guy currently occupying your eyeballs. I met Roger through a shared love of photography and it is true, photography has become somewhat of a passion of mine, but that is unimportant for now.
What is important is I love technology and what technology can do for us, I could use a photography analogy here, old school photographers, shot film and developed their own film in a dark room patiently waiting for the developing and fixing chemicals to fix the image. They then take this fragile negative and lovingly enlarge and process a print, a process in the most professional of labs, for “instant news” may take an hour or more. Today we shoot digital, and have a 15 + Mb data dump RAW from every shot and load it and develop in digital darkrooms in a matter of minutes, not only can we replicate old systems much faster, technology allows us to go much further than ever before. Part of my love for technology comes from my background, I’m nearly 40 and I grew up in a nice southern English market town where I was always a bit of a nerd at school, never enjoyed school very much but I did well at it, and finally at the ripe old age of 18 I shipped off to university. I studied chemistry at university, which again was fascinating, and I did well at it understanding and growing in the process, but nothing really grabbed me and shouted this is what you want to do!!
In the final year of my degree we had a module called computer aided-drug design and I was hooked, hooked by the concept of a computer being able to model a chemical process. calculating a chemicals properties and interactions with other properties we could virtually screen compounds in silico or design the perfect compound for a drug to act on a specific target. Now this process wasn’t perfect, in matter of hours, or days or weeks we could come up with something that through traditional methods would have taken years with dozens of chemists synthesizing and testing compounds. In short, we could get faster and better, thanks to computers.
I was so hooked, this took me on to do my PhD at Cambridge in molecular informatics, where my project was very cool, and I got to play with stereo 3D visualization long before 3d was even in the cinema. Even in the sea of intellectuality that was the theoretical and computational chemistry department at the university of Cambridge, I was still a nerd, when it came to computers, as I gamed, and I was a poor student, I’d build my own computers, I frequently overclocked them too far and broke components, so I was always fixing something, and that carried over into my professional life and I was frequently the person asked to help out when workstations did funny things so I’d help out after (finally writing up my Ph.D.) I had nothing planned and the head of the group asked me if I wanted to stay on as a computer officer (now we are getting somewhere) and very quickly I realised it was the challenge of learning things coupled with the use of technology that gets me going!
When I joined the group IT was basically firefighting, all users had root or admin on their workstations and frankly it was a nightmare, there were network policies that defined if personal machines were allowed on the network, so this department of 2500 registered machines and around 10k registered users had a team of 7 computer officers managing everything, OS installs, upgrades, application installs, machine meltdowns network infrastructure maintenance and socket patching. It was all firefighting, there was no man power for development and departmental infrastructure.
Now I came on as an assistant to the computer officer in the Unilever centre (hello Charlotte!) and Charlotte to my eternal gratitude, instead of using me as a personal slave assistant in a very hectic work environment (which for future reference contained a “training area” of 25 identical workstations for us to host events and workshops.) decided she wanted me to manage the training area. The training area was frequently reinstalled and having various packages installed for certain workshops. Indeed, one of my first tasks was to install office 2000 on each machine, amazingly we only had one cd and it involved going to each machine in turn, powering up, logging on inserting the disk and installing office – 25 times!
Now I’m not the brightest, but even to me it seamed there must be a better way. Charlotte sat me down and said she wanted me to go on a training course for Active Directory, as she had done one “a while ago” and was “fairly sure it had the answer”. And boy was she right!
The next couple of years of my life were spent implementing a AD infrastructure in out little sub department, and as our carrot to entice the user into letting us manage their machine was a little fileserver I knocked together out of recycled bits kicking around, IIRC it had a 6TB raid 6 array. On which I gave the user space mapped as a network drive. And an assurance that any data put there needed 3 disks to die simultaneously for their data to be lost.
Over time this grew, and when charlotte went to follow her passion of marine biology and her job became available I was successfully recruited, and the domain slowly grew research group by research group. The domain also only grew thanks to a cohesive strategy emerging within the department, which resulted in departmental resources, which we spent on servers. Partly because the domain had proved its worth both in terms of network security and machine maintenance and resiliency of user data and now justified departmental resources. When we first set up the domain we used old workstations, probably 1Ghz Celerons as Domain Controllers and made sure we had enough for replication to keep us safe.
Now with investment we moved onto virtualized servers where each virtual server would be hosted on a pair of real servers with network mirrored hard drives, with automatic failover etc, System uptimes from that point on were just great 99.9% upwards.
No whilst at the university I met a lovely Brazillian doctor and we fell in love and got married, and in time my eldest son was born. Well circumstances led us down a path which resulted in us moving to Brazil and my becoming a stay at home dad.
Fast forward 7 years I was talking to my family at lunch about this opportunity to be blogging this today, and my son ended up asking “what is cloud computing?”
That’s pretty much where I am, I was a sysadmin 7 years ago I’m familiar with the concept of virtualization, I’ve run virtual machines in the real world. I’m a bit out of touch at the moment, but I am now at a point in my children’s life that I have more time to develop and a brain that still wants to learn
I eagerly accept Rogers invitation to learn about the VMware platform and blog about my experience.