Solaris 11 Certification Exam Comes off Beta Soon!

The new certification test from Oracle, Oracle Certified Associate, Oracle Solaris 11 System Administrator, is currently in beta and is priced much lower than the standard tests (US$50 compared to US$300). This test will help you get the certification of the same name. However, the beta period is ending soon: April 28, 2012.

Note that this is different from the Oracle Certified Professional, Oracle Solaris 11 System Administrator certification.

It is also still possible to get certified for Solaris 10.

Why NOT Having Goals is a Bad Idea

Recently, Leo Babuata (whom I normally greatly admire) had a guest post on why goals are a bad idea. This is an idea that seems to be growing; Leo wrote about achieving without goals in November in 2010 and another guest poster wrote about it in December of 2011. Leo’s first post about it may be the one from July of 2010. These posts on rejecting goals get me angry, honestly: they are a prescription for aimlessness and drifting.

The problems they list with goals are:

  • Goals are fixed and inflexible.
  • Goals require you to give up what you want now.
  • Goals require pain.
  • Goals are limiting.
  • Goals missed are the system’s fault.

Goals are objectives, targets, endings, and aims: without these, we do not know where we are going. When our directions and passions change, so does our goals. Changing our goals should not be seen as weakness, but strength: goals should be continually revised for our current desires.

Sometimes a goal is to give something up that we are doing now, to make a change. Giving up smoking or a constant soda pop habit is hard – and will cause pain. Yet, the giving up of the pleasure of a smoke now will add years to your life down the road and give your children more time with their parents.

However, this is not because of the goal: a goal can be positive as well: exercising daily, reading more, learning to fly, learning a new language. Goals give you direction and provide you with a marker to strive towards.

When we miss the target, we should look inside ourselves as to why and without feeling guilt. Was the goal a badly specified goal? (Probably.) Does it match our desires and passions? Most people have vague goals that are designed to be broken, and that will lead to failure sooner or later. Confucius said this:

In archery we have something like the way of the superior man. When the archer misses the center of the target, he turns round and seeks for the cause of his failure in himself.

Just don’t feel guilt about a missed goal: throw the goal out and make a new, more realistic one – one that is specific, measurable, attainable, and focused more on changing your daily habits. Switch from a goal of “Lose weight” (vague and impossible!) to “Lift weights daily.” Don’t measure output, don’t measure weight, just “don’t break the chain” – keep it up one day after another. If you get a daily habit like that, the weight will come off.

If you don’t have goals you can’t plan. Living with out a plan leads to lack of ambition and lack of direction. What do you want to achieve? Then figure your action steps – or better yet, daily habits – that will get you there. Accomplishing your goals – your end results – can only be done by first defining the objective, then using habits and actions to get there. If you’ve no goals, then you have nothing to accomplish – and that results in no accompilishments.

Leo presents this quote at the end of his July 2010 article:

A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. — Lao Tzu

I would counter this with some other quotes. Consider this one (emphasis added):

In all things success depends on previous preparation, and without such previous preparation there is sure to be failure. If what is to be spoken be previously determined, there will be no stumbling. If affairs be previously determined, there will be no difficulty with them. If one’s actions have been previously determined, there will be no sorrow in connection with them. If principles of conduct have been previously determined, the practice of them will be inexhaustible. — Confucius

Also, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (one of my favorite books!), comes this delightful snippet:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

To accomplish our goals, I recommend defining the goal using what David Allen calls “envisioning wild success” and “outcome visioning”. Then figure what daily habits and other actions will lead you to the end result.

There are programs to help with daily habits and I highly recommend using one of them. My favorites are Sciral Consistency for Macintosh and Habit Streak for Android.

Is System Administration a people-oriented career?

Many people might think that being a server administrator is solely a computer profession, and that you deal with the computer all day long. These people might think that people skills are not necessary since you don’t deal with people – and they would be mistaken.

A system administrator has to deal with people much more than you would think. There are many people who an administrator has to deal with every day – and in a variety of ways.

One of the most common groups of people is the users. If you don’t keep the users happy – and you must try to do this no matter what happens – then people will be unhappy with your performance and it can shorten your career. Educate the users on what to expect from you and from the machines you administer, and keep them informed when things happen that affect them. Users are the place where your policies and actions have the biggest test.

Another group of people to keep happy is the executives of the company. The goal of IT is to realize the business goals of the corporation. Even if you have the best technology, an executive will not care – what they care about is the company, and if they are one of the founders then it’s personal, too. Show the executive staff how your technology will further their needs and they’ll sign on willingly.

Your coworkers in IT are also important. Whenever you have a pet project that touches a system administered by someone else, that someone else will have to be convinced that your project will not adverse affect their systems – and that the benefits (whether to them or not) are worth the risks involved. Each administrator will be protective of their systems – protective because stability is of ultimate importance. If a system is not available when someone needs it, then they will declare it to be useless, no matter how high quality the system is otherwise.

Several skills have been touched on briefly. What are some of these skills?

  • Presentations. Presenting is used to sell your technology or to educate people on your activities. It is very important to be able to do it well.
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis. This does not need to be a formal process with cost in dollars (or whatever); this merely the process of listing the pros and cons side by side and determining whether some benefit is worth the cost.
  • Empathy. If you can understand the other person – see things from their point of view – then you can act on it and show them how your proposals will further their goals. Your goals are nothing to them; their goals are not your goals.
  • Setting Expectations. This is all about education and training. Show the users what the technology can do, and educate them on what is a reasonable expectation and what is not.
  • Persuasion. You’ll find yourself having to convince people that an expensive purchase is worth it, or a fundamental systemic change will be beneficial, or that certain hardware needs to be replaced, and many other things. The art of persuasion is important – and even has an important function in the job interview.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. What other people skills do you think are important?

Making Changes One Small Habit at a Time

I’ve been reading a book titled small change: Little Things Make a Big Difference and have enjoyed it tremendously. The book is written in a conversational style, with a couple as narrators.

The book focuses on the Japanese concept of kaizen, although they don’t really talk about kaizen very much. The idea is that we should make one small change each month, and do this on a regular basis. With a small change, it becomes a habit and can have a dramatic effect on the rest of our lives.

As an example, let’s say one changes from a soda a day to a glass of water every day. If you have a 12oz. soda (at US$1) each day – and switch to visiting the bubbler – then you will save US$365 in one year, and US$1825 in five years. What would you do with all that money?

Taking the same switch as an example, you would also save 140 calories each day – or 51,100 calories a year – or 255,500 calories in five years.

When you try to do too much, you can become overwhelmed and your attempts then suffer across the board. You find that you are failing in one area, and the negative reaction spills into all of the other habits you are trying to create – and none are successfully created.

Also, when you have several habits going at once, you may find that you are improving slightly – across the board – but not in any one area. None of the habits take, because you keep switching one habit for another and never completely creating a new habit.

When you succeed in one habit, the drive will propel you to succeed in another – and another.

Jason Thomas wrote an article in Lifehacker titled Practice Your Personal Kaizen which covers some of these areas. Leo Babauta in his book Less also covers the concept of changing just one habit each month. A related book (which I want to read) is One Small Step Can Change Your Life: the Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer.

What new habit are you going to create this month?

Midwesterners: Are You Going to Barcamp?

In the Midwestern United States, where I am, there are three BarCamps that are always of interest to me. I though I would check out what was going on and when the next one is (I’ve made the Chicago Barcamp several times).

The Milwaukee BarCamp will be in its fifth run, and usually occurs on the first weekend in October. For 2010, that would be October 2-3, but there doesn’t seem to be any word on what to expect.

Madison, Wisconsin (the capital) will be host to the Madison BarCamp on August 28, 2010 – from 10a to 7p. It appears that the event will not be overnight, unlike my experiences in the Chicago BarCamp.

Chicago has wonderful BarCamp events; no word on the web site as to what is happening with Chicago BarCamp this year. Last year was July 11-12; we should be getting close.

If I find anything more about BarCamp Chicago, I’ll post it here.

Drunk or Tired? No Difference!

As system administrators, the occasional all-nighter is necessary to fix things that go wrong. We also know that the majority of errors can be traced to human error – including those that affect server stability.

A recent article equates a lack of sleep to being drunk – specifically, a 24-hour wake cycle is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1. This is not good – not at all.

If we consider this fact, and expect that mistakes are very likely after 24 hours of being awake, then we must act. What can we do as system administrators when we work an all-nighter?

  • Take a nap. A small nap – from 15 minutes to an hour – can revitalize you and help you to minimize errors.
  • Have a coworker check your work – or work with you. Having someone to check your work will make a finer net whereby each of you can check the other’s work.
  • Take an extended nap or sleeptime. For example, take off the day of an extended maintenance schedule – or go to sleep at the end of the day and wake up hours later for maintenance (if it is scheduled for late at night).

In short, it is primarily about getting enough sleep. Finding ways to minimize errors or catch errors is good, but never as good as getting enough sleep in the first place.

Red Hat Drops Xen for KVM in Red Hat Enterprise 6

With the introduction of Red Hat Enterprise 6 Beta, Red Hat has changed direction in their choice of virtualization: they have dropped Xen entirely in favor of KVM.

This is not entirely a surprise, since Red Hat bought Qumranet, a company active early on in KVM development.

What does this mean for us as administrators? This means that we will have to convert any Xen virtual machines to KVM machines if there is to be support from Red Hat. Alternately, support for Xen will have to come from Citrix. This means either internal costs (such as labor, downtime, etc.) to migrate from Xen to KVM or external costs in adding Citrix support of Xen to the costs of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

With this in mind, even if we do not have Xen virtual machines, we need to learn a new virtual environment before we are called on to support it in-house. When the company calls on you to support a KVM virtual machine, you will be ready.

Creating the Perfect Time Management System

Over at the Clutter Diet blog, there was recently an article that should resonate with a lot of folks – especially those that are endlessly tinkering with a new time management system.

There’s nothing wrong with getting your time management system in order – but getting the “perfect” time management system can take the place of actually getting work done, which is what it’s all about in the first place.

The best thing to do is find an acceptable system, then use it – no matter what – for several weeks or more. If after that time something needs to be changed, make the change and run with it for several weeks more.

By following this system, you can prevent the system becoming its own time waster, and find the system that actually works for you as well.

A Lawyer Follows His Passion for LEGOs

Over at Above the Law, as well as the New York Daily News they are talking about Nathan Sawaya, who gave up a lucrative career as a New York lawyer to become a LEGO Master Model Builder.

The folks at Above the Law (and perhaps elsewhere) can’t understand the passion that would lead someone to give up a lucrative career to follow a dream. However, I’ve always felt that one should follow one’s passion – which I’ve done in my career. If you are in your chosen field just for the money, you won’t be able to do your best, and you won’t enjoy your work.

Follow your passion, wherever it goes: I’ve been fortunate to follow my passion into a lucrative field. Nathan, for his part, seems to have taken his passion to the next level and is now an independent artist.

I wish I could do more with Legos; the Mindstorms product is most fascinating – build and program your own robot!

UPDATE: Over at the always interesting, just a few days ago, there was an article about self-propelled Lego NXT projects; I especially liked the one inside the wheels.

IBM Introduces Power7

On Monday, IBM introduced the Power7 processor to go up against the new Itanium Tukwila officially introduced by Intel the same day. The general consensus among those reviewing (such as CNET’s Brooke Crothers) these chips is that the Power7 is much better than the Itanium chip. Indeed, the Tukwila chip was delayed for two years.

This new Power chip will provide twice the processing power of its predecessor but with four times the energy efficiency, according to IBM. The Power7 offers eight cores with four threads each, giving 32 processing cores.

However, one notable absence is Sun: no new UltraSparc processor was announced. Of course, with Sun’s recent financial difficulties plus the buyout of Sun by Oracle, there may just be too much going on at the moment. Yet, will a new UltraSparc come too late?

In the meantime, analysts are noting the fact that Unix servers (such as those running Power7, UltraSparc, and Itanium) are declining, and that the x86 servers are increasing in power and capabilities, with the Nehalem-EX (otherwise known as Beckton) due out soon.

What this means for system administrators is that Linux on x86 could be the biggest growing career, in contrast to Unix (such as HP-UX, Solaris, and AIX).