Zero to Hero in one easy step

One of my catch-phrases is “Zero to Hero”. I think I got this phrase because of overhearing my kids watch the Disney animated movie “Hercules.” I use it to remind myself to get some exercise, and to express the amazing transformation in attitude that I undergo from before to after a workout.

Imagine this scenario: It is early morning and you are lying in bed. You know you won’t really get back to sleep. That little voice in your head tells you “You should do a workout.” You resist the suggestion of the little voice and and roll over, trying one more time to go back to sleep. You can’t sleep so you drag yourself out of bed. You may feel frustrated with not sleeping well, or anxious about the day that awaits you, or even mad that you rolled over instead of getting up. You change into some workout clothes and sweat it up for a while, even if it is a quick one because you slept a little longer. During the workout, an amazing transition takes place. When you are done you feel SO much better! Your attitude has turned around. You are proud of having done something good for yourself, and feel ready to tackle whatever lies ahead. Ok, say it with me now “Zero to Hero!”

Here’s another one: You have had a tough day at work. You battle traffic on the way home. You know that “the list” of things to do at home awaits your return. The family needs attention. You’re kind-of dreading the end of the day. When you get home you apologetically tell your family “I need to get in a quick workout.” So you quickly change and sweat it up for a little while, pump some iron, go for a run, or ride a bike – doesn’t matter which. As you do your workout the stress starts to drain away. The furrows in your brow get shallower. By the time you are done and cleaning up you feel ready and excited to see your family and knock a few tasks off the list. Your wife asks you how your workout was. Does this with me now raise your right arm, pump your fist and respond “Zero to Hero!”

I could go on, but I think you probably get the point. Getting regular exercise is a proven path toward healthier living. But somehow we always associate that health with flat tummies, sculpted muscles and other physical effects. My experience is that there is another added benefit that is probably just as important, and whose effect is seen almost right away: Exercise helps improve your attitude. You feel proud of yourself for having exercised. You know you did a good thing for yourself. This translates into a positive outlook for the future. You feel more able to tackle challenges ahead, or at least approach them with a positive point-of-view. In fact you are doing the right thing for other people around you as well. You ultimately will give them a “better you” to deal with – physically and mentally. You give them a positive role model as someone who is working at being healthy.

So make a commitment to create your own transformation. Remember how easy it is to stop being a Zero and become a Hero. Just do it, get some exercise.

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Are you good at it?

What are you tasked with today? What challenges are you facing? As you ask yourself those questions, whatever the answer is, one thing is for certain you need to “be good at it”.

Whatever lies ahead, there is one thing that you can control and that is the attitude that you take when you approach the day. How do you feel about what you need to do today? You may be excited, you may be worried; you may be dreading what is next. Your emotions are what they are, and you really can’t completely control how you feel or what your gut reaction is to something. What you can control is the amount of focus and determination that you apply to what you do. You must do your best, whatever the task.

Let me give you a couple of personal examples:

* I tore the ACL in my left knee while skiing. Man, was that a drag! It happened on the _first_ weekend of ski season. I was employed as a ski instructor. I was scheduled to attend a week-long ski instructor training event starting the next day. Then everything changed. I had to change my focus. The new focus was not skiing, but surgery and rehabilitation. I decided to “be good at it”. I was going to be the best knee-injury patient possible. I chose a new sedentary hobby. I researched how to deal with and recover from my injury. Within 6 months I was cleared for unrestricted activity, PLUS I had learned how to create and edit movies on my PC.

* I was asked to pull together a major trade-show for my employer. The task was fraught with challenges – tight timelines, crafting a keynote for an executive, balancing many competing demands for budget, floor space and brand exposure, scheduling staff, choosing demonstrations, crafting messages, signage etc. etc. Of course it all had to be done while doing my day-job of creating marketing assets and driving demand generation activities. The prospect was daunting. I knew it was going to mean lots of long hours and undesirable trade-offs. I decided to “be good at it”. I put a plan in place, rallied a team, asked for (and got) a lot of help. The result was a resounding success according to everyone involved.

* I played ice-hockey in school. I wasn’t blessed with the most skilled hands, and my depth-perception (I have since found out) is incredibly bad. I didn’t get to play that much. I went all-out in practice. I proactively helped out with non-playing tasks when the opportunity arose. I ended up making the varsity team my senior year and couldn’t have been prouder even while sitting there on that bench. When we were way ahead or way behind, I got to play and loved every minute of it. Even when warming the bench, I was “good at it.”

So you have two choices folks: resist the inevitable and do the minimum or “be good at it”. Which will you be today?

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The rule of done

My college roommate Dale reminded me of an important rule of thumb that I use every day. I call it the Rule of Done. Here is the rule:

  • “It is not a matter of wanting, it is a matter of doing!”

Self-talk is a wonderful thing. We all do it throughout our waking moments. There is a little voice in the back of your head telling you things. Sometimes I say to my kids “You need to listen to that little voice.” Well I need to clarify something about this piece of advice – you need to listen, but you don’t always need to go along with the input that your little voice is giving.

Here’s an example – the alarm goes off and you are lying there in bed.  The little voice says “I don’t want to get up.” This is an example of one of those places where you need to apply the Rule of Done – “It is not a matter of wanting, it is a matter of doing.” You may not want to, but you get up anyway.

Here’s another example – you know you have an assignment due in a few days. You realize that you need to start working on it so that you can deliver a high-quality result. That little voice might say “But I don’t want to work on it now, I will put it off until tomorrow.” – There is that tip-off phrase “I don’t want… again. So apply the Rule of Done. It is not a matter of wanting, it is a matter of doing. You overrule that little voice in your head, and you “get-r-done.” You stop arguing with yourself and “just do it.”

Try this out in your every day life and I think you’ll like the results. Tomorrow when that little voice in your head says “I don’t want to work out” say right back to it “It is not a matter of wanting, it is a matter of doing.” Or when that voice says “I don’t want to cold-call that prospect” or “I don’t want to have that conversation” or “I don’t want to….” Apply the Rule of Done. You will find that you can save yourself a lot of time and a lot of angst by following this rule.

Dale and I had a great time rooming together because we and our roommates shared a respect for the Rule of Done.

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Oracle RMAN is the SLA “Tax man”

In prior blogs, I’ve proposed that many organizations are paying “taxes” that they shouldn’t have to pay. These taxes are in the form of wasted costs from owning and running extra server headroom just so that performance doesn’t become unacceptable during data protection operations.

Databases are a great place to show this because the underpin most business-critical systems out there. I showed some specific examples with SQL Server, but just to prove that this is not just a Microsoft problem, let’s take a look at Oracle.

The Backup Tax – Oracle style:

Oracle RMAN is the default utility for performing database backup, restore and recovery of Oracle databases. Here are some results quantifying the impact of RMAN backups in an Oracle database environment, this is for a 2-Node Oracle 11g R2 RAC cluster running a TPC-C style transactional workload.

There are a couple of key points to note.

  • Even though this was a lightly loaded system, CPU Utilization increased 30-40% for the entire duration of the backup.
  • Response time and Transactional performance see a negative spike for the first couple of minutes of the backup window.

Conclusion: You have to pay the “tax man” for Oracle when you use RMAN on your Oracle host.

For more info on this testing see:

Now it is time to hear from you. What is your experience with SLA taxes?

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Less Aileron… Sooner!

It is interesting how things you learn in one area of life can help in others. In one of my early blog posts, I related some wisdom from my first flying instructor Harry. Here is another gem from Harry that I’ve found most helpful in other parts of my life. It may take some time to sink in for you… but think about it.

One of the hallmarks of a good pilot is how they can smooth out a ride, and precisely control their aircraft in maneuvers. I was flying with Harry one day and clearly was working hard to keep the plane on track while following his commands during the lesson. Harry didn’t talk much, his philosophy was to let the plane do the teaching. On occasion he would impart a key piece of advice so I always listened carefully to what he would say. On this particular day, after watching me work too hard at the controls he said: ”Hey Bob, try this: A little less aileron…Sooner!”

The ailerons on a plane are control surfaces on the wing. Here is a picture:

They are moved by the pilot, along with the rudder and the elevator to control the flight of a plane.

Essentially his input to me was this: I was using large, abrupt movements of the control surfaces. He wanted me to start more quickly but use subtler and more gradual control movements. It took me a while to apply what he said, but after hours of practice, I learned to slightly anticipate the need for control inputs and make the adjustments more progressive – quickly adding a little and then a little more or taking away a little at a time.

How does this apply to other areas of life? I’ll try a couple, and I bet you can come up with a lot more.

  • I coach ski racing on the weekends. As skiers work to control their turn shape, one of the variables is edge angle – the amount the ski is tipped relative to the snow surface. This concept works great here – “a little less edge – sooner!” Perfect for smoothing out jerky turns or improving hold on ice.
  • As a Dad, I’m trying to help my children develop good study habits. They are realizing that if they study a little each night instead of cramming right before an exam, they do better in school. Imagine telling your kids “a little less studying – sooner!”

 So now I’m curious to hear from you, what could you “do less of, sooner” to positive effect?

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Reduce your taxes part 4 – a SAN solution

In the first blog of this series I discussed how some organizations are over-provisioning their server resources in order to balance the competing demands of performance and data protection SLAs. Parts 2 and 3 showed examples of actual SQL Server database configurations being tested to measure the impact of backups and snapshots while maintaining application performance.

Those tests showed two examples of an approximate 40% tax rate for data protection, meaning that 40% of the server processing headroom was sitting idle so that performance SLAs could be met during data protection operations.

How to reduce your taxes – So how can you reduce those taxes? This is where storage comes in to the picture. The reason that meeting service levels requires over-provisioning of your database servers in these scenarios is that server resources are being used for tasks that are best managed by a SAN. SAN-based snapshots have several advantages:

  • They are quick to create – taking under 10 seconds instead of the 10 minutes it takes to create native SQL server snapshots for the same workload use-case.
  • They have a very minor performance impact that is of no consequence to server provisioning.
  • Snapshots can be used as the source for an off-host backup, eliminating backup tax.

Here is an example of actual testing of the performance impact of SAN-based snapshots for the same SQL Server transactional database load tested in parts 2 and 3 of this series.

As you can see, CPU utilization and transactional performance are minimally impacted by the SAN-based snapshot operations. The “Smart Copy” terminology refers to the fact that these are application-consistent snapshots which have been created by momentarily quiesceing the database and flushing buffers so that a completely valid recovery point for the database is created. This is done with Microsoft VSS, and took between 4 and 8 seconds for the configuration tested.

Conclusion: By using the data protection capabilities of your SAN, you can ensure more efficient use of your IT resources and reduce your taxes to achieve IT Efficiency.

For more information on the testing that was done please refer to:

Now it is time to hear from you, what is your preffered “Tax” reduction strategy? Are you using SAN data protection?

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Reduce your taxes installment 3 – The SQL Server Snapshot Tax

In the first of this series I propose that some organizations are over-provisioning their server resources in order to balance competiting performance and data protection SLAs. In part 2 we examined the “backup tax”. Now let’s look in detail at another example of this, “the snapshot tax” for establishing on-disk recovery points by doing native SQL Server snapshots.

Challenge: The Snapshot Tax – The following graph shows the results of testing snapshot processing on a transactional (TPC-C style) workload running in SQL server. It illustrates a 40% tax associated with establishing on-disk recovery points with the native SQL Server snapshot capability.

There are several observations from this data that should cause concern to those of you who would like to reduce your IT taxes:

  • Creating native recovery points impacts performance – average response times and transactions per second see a significant negative impact.
  • Creating a recovery point takes a long time – in this scenario about 10 minutes. So if you want to keep one recovery point per hour (RPO), around 1/6th of that hour will be spent with degraded performance.
  • The overall impact becomes cumulatively worse as more recovery points are kept.

Conclusion: Attempting to meet service level agreements for performance and data protection by establishing and keeping 5 hourly recovery points with native SQL server snapshots requires at least 40% over-provisioning of database server resources. This is an exorbitant 40% tax rate that you shouldn’t have to pay.

For more information on the testing that was done please refer to:

Let’s hear from you. What is your RTO? Is one hour reasonable for recovery points for SQL Server transactional databases? What rate do you pay for snapshot taxes?

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