Feb 13 2012

Must-Read IT Blogger Q&A: Scott Lowe

Networking and virtualization technologies rank high on this IT blogger’s list.

Scott Lowe has been on nearly every rung of the ladder in an IT career spanning more than 17 years. He’s worked as an instructor, a technical trainer and Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), systems administrator, IT manager, systems engineer, consultant, and chief technology officer.

In his current position as CTO on EMC’s vSpecialist team, Lowe oversees the intersection and integration of VMware, Cisco Systems and EMC technologies. That means he pays keen attention to virtualization and networking technology.

With all of this depth of experience, Lowe generously shares his expertise and opinions on all things IT with readers of his blog at scottlowe.org — one of BizTech’s 50 Must-Read IT Blogs. We recently caught up with him to ask a few questions about IT, blogging and social media.

BIZTECH: What are your daily must-visit tech stops online?

LOWE: I get my tech information daily via two sources: Twitter and my collection of RSS feeds. Twitter is pretty self-explanatory; I follow just a few people that I find to be the most informative and useful. In my RSS reader (I use NetNewsWire on the Mac and NewsRack on my iPhone and iPad, all syncing with Google Reader), I have a collection of RSS feeds on virtualization, networking, storage, Macs, and personal productivity. (There are too many to list here!) Using RSS makes it much easier for me to stay abreast of the latest articles without spending a lot of time visiting all the various sites.

I also regularly check a collection of Usenet newsgroups, but not on a daily basis; that usually happens every three to five days (typically once every workweek). I'll also occasionally pop into the #vmware IRC channel on Freenode.

BIZTECH: What emerging technology do you think will most change the enterprise landscape in 2012?

LOWE: That's a very difficult question to answer, partially because there are a lot of exciting technologies that are emerging and partially because the "enterprise landscape" comprises many different technology areas. For example, would a dramatic new networking technology reshape the "enterprise landscape"? To a networking professional, yes. Would broad adoption and implementation of technologies like Edge Virtual Bridging (EVB) reshape the "enterprise landscape"? To a data center engineer, yes. I think the term "enterprise landscape" is probably too broad to pick a single emerging technology that will drive change across all of it.

However, I can at least provide a list of some of the exciting technologies to which I alluded earlier. Perhaps it's a result of my own interests, but most of these are networking-related. Some of the technologies I'm tracking that I think will have an impact include software-defined networking (SDN, probably in the form of OpenFlow), new networking protocols and standards (LISP, TRILL, and EVB/VEPA, among others), mobile virtualization (think of VMware's mobile virtualization efforts), and SR-IOV/MR-IOV.

BIZTECH: What existing technology do you think businesses have most underutilized?

LOWE: Naturally, the answer you'd expect me to give would be virtualization! And while I do believe it's true that virtualization hasn't been as fully adopted by many organizations as it could be, there are other technologies that I think could be equally transformational — but on a different level. For example, what would happen to an organization that truly embraced the ideas of enterprise collaboration and enterprise social networking?

It seems like everyone has decided that e-mail is the single most effective way of communicating, but what if there were other, more effective ways of sharing information within your organization? This, I think, could have as much of an impact — if not more — on a company than a virtualization initiative. Not that I don't recommend virtualization initiatives, mind you!

BIZTECH: What's the most innovative, creative or unusual way an organization has capitalized on technology that you've come across?

LOWE: A few years ago — before all the hype about VDI really hit the market — I worked with a customer who wanted to deploy a hosted desktop environment to run an analytics application. This wasn't the kind of application that you'd normally see recommended for hosted desktops — it was CPU intensive and heavy on RAM. But even with lower consolidation ratios resulting from the application's high resource utilization, it was still cheaper for them to go the hosted desktop route instead of buying high-end workstations for the users.

I was, quite honestly, a bit surprised that this was the case. Here's the real kicker, though, as I've saved the best for last: With the hosted desktop environment, they ended up seeing performance improvements in the application, meaning that some analytics jobs ran as much as 10 times faster than they had before. So not only was the company saving money, but they were able to get the results of the analyses faster than they had previously. Very cool!

BIZTECH: When it comes to technology adoption, what best practice can't be repeated often enough?

LOWE: Don't forget the operational aspects. I see architects who create very elegant, extremely resilient, highly redundant architectures, but forget to account for the human aspect. I've often said that cloud computing (or private clouds, or whatever term you want to use) is as much about an operational model as it is about a set of technologies. You can be highly virtualized, but if you aren't embracing the operational transformation you aren't really doing cloud computing (in my humble opinion).

BIZTECH: Why do you blog?

LOWE: When I first started my blog in May 2005 (it's hard for me to believe it's been almost 7 years!), I started it as a way to capture information that I knew I'd need again later. It was sort of like my own personal knowledge base. It also served as a way for me to "vent" — to just get information and thoughts out of my head and somewhere more lasting. Portions of my early career were also spent as a technical trainer, and I found that writing explanatory articles was sort of like training (which I really enjoyed).

The site was part of the original set of blogs aggregated by VMware on Planet V12n just after VMworld 2006, but it wasn't until I liveblogged VMworld 2007 that site readership started to grow. This is sort of amusing: I remember checking my FeedBurner account during VMworld 2007, thinking, "Wow, I hit 700 subscribers!" Even now, though, with a substantially larger set of readers, the primary purpose of the site is to inform, educate, explain, and share. It's not about popularity, it's simply about helping the community. Hopefully I'm succeeding on some level here!

BIZTECH: Why do you think virtualization is a such transformative technology?

LOWE: I think your question answers itself. Virtualization is so powerful because it is transformative. It enables transformation. It's not just making transformation easier, but actually enabling transformation. Companies can dramatically shift the architecture and landscape of their data center through virtualization. This is something that wasn't easily possible before.

Think about vMotion. Before the introduction of VMware's vMotion (or live migration, as it's referred to by other vendors), who would have thought you could move a running workload from one physical system to another physical system? Now, just a few years later, we're talking about the possibility moving workloads from one geographical location to an entirely different geographical location. It's possible with downtime today; will it be possible without downtime in the near future? It's virtualization — not only at the compute layer, but also at the storage and networking layers — that makes this sort of "magic" possible, and that's why it's so transformative.

BIZTECH: You talk about using Macs for work a lot on your blog. What is it that you love most about working on the Mac platform?

LOWE: It's hard to describe, but there's something about the Mac that just feels natural to me. I switched full-time to Mac OS X in 2003 or 2004 (well before Apple switched to Intel processors), and I've never looked back. I like the UNIX underpinnings, and — most important — there are Mac-based applications that allow me to get my job done. You can like an OS a lot, but if it doesn't have the applications you need to get your work done you're not going to be very effective.

Not to sound like an advertisement for Mac developers, but it's applications like OmniFocus (task management), NetNewsWire (RSS reader), TextMate (very versatile text editor), Adium (outstanding multiprotocol instant messaging client), and others that make using the Mac enjoyable. In the end, though, your computer and the OS loaded on it are tools to help you get your job done. You should pick the one that works best for you, for your style and your specific job responsibilities. For me, that's Mac OS X, but that doesn't mean it's right for everyone.