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"What would you do if you knew you could not fail ?" Robert H. Schuller

Starting at IMD !

Software-Defined Datacenter ? No thanks, I prefer Open and Standardized

I recently did a presentation at HP Discover in Barcelona, Catalonia, called Red Hat’s vision for an open-hybrid cloud (the slides are also available). When preparing the presentation, I thought at first calling it “Red hat’s vision for a Software-Defined Datacenter”. The term “Software-Defined Datacenter” (SDDC), first coind by VMware, has become extremely popular in the IT industry in the past months. There are very few parts of the datacenter that cannot be “software-defined” anymore. The first element was the Software-Defined Networking (SDN), then followed by Software-Defined Storage (SDS), Software-Defined Computing (SDC),  that led to the SDDC.

However, during the preparation of my session, I stepped back a little and thought about what this “software-defined” trend was about and I asked myself this question: what datacenter today runs no BIOS ? no hypervisor ? no operating system ? no application server ? and no application ? None, of course. Why ? Because a datacenter has always been defined by software ! The difference with today’s IT industry are two factors that are driving efficiency: openness and standardization.

  • What is software-defined networking ? It is about taking a standard x86 server, connecting it to the network, and, through software, make it a controller for the network environment using open protocols.
  • What is software-defined storage ? It is about taking standard x86 servers and using the capacity of their internal disks and, through software, put their capacity at the disposal of clients through open access protocols.
  • What is software-defined computing ? It is about taking standard x86 servers and consolidating hundreds of servers virtualizing the standard x86 processors instructions.

A software-defined datacenter is nothing but an open, standardized datacenter.

But what about the cloud ? To me, cloud is the automation layer that will manage resources on top of this infrastructure. Be it public or private, a cloud creates an automated way to provision services by offering a service catalogue to users through a self-service portal.

The question is now with whom do you want to work to implement this open, standardized datacenter ?

After having freed yourself from proprietary, hardware-centric and purpose-built hardware, what would be the point of locking yourself again with a software vendor ? Openness on the infrastructure side can only be matched by openness on the software side, and Free and open-source software (FOSS) is the key for you to keep the control on your environment, and especially have the choice of different vendors to choose from. Open protocols are key to provide access to all part of this type of infrastructure, and that is the beauty of FOSS: there can be no proprietary protocol, as the way applications talk to each other is known by everyone. No secret sauce, no voodoo magic and no “trust us, everything is going to be fine”, just plain openness, from which you can only benefit.

Who do you think can help you building this open standardized datacenter ? In terms of vendors, think of one who’s been standardizing Unix platforms onto standard x86 servers with an open-source operating system for the past 20 years. Think of a vendor that provides storage solutions based on x86 servers and open protocols. Think of a vendor heavily involved in all of OpenStack’s modules, including Neutron, that manages networking. This is what Red Hat has been doing for the past 20 years: opening and standardizing.

The future might bring surprises. The trend toward ARM-based servers, SoCs, and hyperscale computing might create new silos of technology. Software-based storage on top of x86 servers will probably co-exist with fibre channel SANs for some time. But as long as your environment is as open (in hardware and software) and as standardized as possible, you are in good hands. But do not blindly trust vendors who claim they are open. Trust the open-source communities and the vendors who contribute the most to them.

Toastmasters contests

Back in May, I attended a Toastmasters conference in Antwerp, Belgium. During this conference, I attended the International speech contest and the evaluation contest. I saw wonderful speakers, such as John Zimmer and many others give great speeches, impress and inspire their audiences.

As I was Public Relations Officer of the District, I could not participate to the contests, but during the awards ceremony, seeing the joy of the winners, I thought to myself “in six months, I want to stand at the same place !”. And so, a couple of weeks after, I started to work on three humorous speeches for the upcoming contests. One in English, one in French and one in German. Different speeches are needed because the type of humor is different in every language. Also, as the contests happen during the same day, it is important to offer different jokes, otherwise any surprise effect or twist that creates a funny situation does not have the same impact. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun to see the audience at different levels of the contest laugh at my jokes.

I made it to the contest at District level (Continental Europe), in Budapest, Hungary, in impromptu speeches in English and in humorous contests in German and French. It was a great experience to speak in front of hundreds of people in a larger environment with a microphone. I really enjoyed it and the feedback I get from my fellow Toastmasters will help me improve my public speaking skills.

In the end, I finished second in the humorous speech contest in French and won the humorous speech contest in German. I realized what I had promised myself a couple of months before: to win a District contest. To me, these contests are everything Toastmasters is about. If you are willing to work hard and listen to the feedback given to you, then you can truly make progress in public speaking. I can only recommend this experience to anyone.

Toastmasters D59 conference Budapest 2013

Toastmasters D59 conference Budapest 2013

To conclude this post, I’d like to thank a couple of people who helped me on my way to the finals:
- Thanks to Mel Kelly, who’s been a wonderful sparring partner, a great winner in the English humorous speech contest  and who took the time to help me improve my German speech
- Thanks to the members of the CRFM, and especially Elisa, Jean-Marc and Lucienne for their support and advice
- Thanks to all Prostmasters and especially Ineke and Christopher for their support across all contests and in Budapest.
And of course thanks to the whole Toastmasters organization, to all the people who spend an enormous amount of time organizing conferences and helping others grow as speakers and leaders.

Road to a MBA

After a couple of years of preparation, I finally applied at the beginning of this year to two MBA programs. The reason why I want to study again is that I want to broaden my scope of responsibility beyond only technical relationships and know-how, to learn about business in a structured way and also to challenge myself in an intense academic experience.

The first step I took was to prepare my GMAT. It is a very interesting test: although it does not really require a lot of knowledge, it does, however, definitely test your ability to think both fast and under pressure. The exercises are an excellent brain workout, even outside of an intense preparation. I mainly used the Manhattan GMAT books and the Newton preparation. My advice is: work hard and do not discourage yourself if you get a bad score. Dust yourself off and get back to work !

The second part was to write my essays. These essays are meant to give more depth and another perspective to your professional profile. It really helped me that I have been part of Toastmasters and Round Table. I experienced leadership positions at Toastmasters : I ran the Public Relations for the District 59, which spans all over Continental Europe and serves 6000 members. With Round Table I had the chance to organize a large-scale charity event for impoverished children from East Europe and definitely had a couple of stories to tell about these experiences. If you are applying for a MBA, an advice I can give you is to let as many people as possible read your essays and give you feedback. You will have to share stories with people you would not have thought you would, but I am grateful that I received feedback and suggestions for improvement from friends and family members.

Finally, I also had to ask my previous manager from HP and my current manager at Red Hat to endorse me. In my case, I decided to be very open about my intentions to stop working to go study again and had the chance that they supported me.

I applied to IMD and got the chance to be invited for the famous assessment day, along with 5 other applicants. I was amazed by the quality and diversity of their professional background. And all of them were very nice people. The day was divided in three parts:
The first part was a traditional individual interview that lasted 45 minutes
The second part was a business case, for which each of us had 30 minutes to prepare and to make some business decisions, based on the given case and data. Each of us had to give a 5 minutes presentation about his conclusions. That is when I realized that Toastmasters is an invaluable learning experience. I had to give a somehow impromptu presentation in 4 to 5 minutes in a structured manner to convince my audience: this is pretty much what I have been doing every two weeks in my club for the last 6 years ! Thanks Toastmasters !
The last part was another business case that we had to prepare in advance and discuss together, in order, again to make a business decision.

All these three activities were monitored by three members of the IMD faculty.

This assessment day was both exciting and interesting.
- Exciting because you want to prove how interesting and smart you are, as well as a leader and a team player. You have to be aggressive enough so that others hear you, whilst knowing when to stay quiet and listen to others.
- Interesting (for me) because the two business cases were radically different from the industry I work in on a daily basis. I thought it was very, very refreshing and thought provoking.

My advice if you are accepted to this assessment day is to stay true to yourself. Yes, you need to be heard and to make suggestions, but as I am more an introvert, being too loud would have seemed unnatural.

IMD called me back and I got accepted into their MBA, which I am really proud of, as it is ranked #1 International one-year MBA (i.e. outside the US) program by Forbes. I am going to move to Lausanne in Switzerland in January and will start on January 6th. And of course, I’ll try to keep this blog up to date to share my impressions of the program !

Marathon completed

After 3 hours and 50 minutes of pain and a distance of 42.195 meters, I finally managed to cross the finish line of the Munich marathon.

I would like to thank all the people who donated money to my charity, it means a lot to me. It helped me stay focused when I needed it, both during the training and during the race. I really appreciate your support ! All in all, I received 508€ from private donations, but Red Hat, my employer, will contribute with 5000€ to this project. I am really proud to work for a company that cares about communities… not just the open-source ones !

I experienced the famous “down” after the 30 kilometers, I felt my legs hurting, but I also felt boosted by the people cheering us along the track ! There were even people waiving Breton flags. That definitely is the kind of things that motivated me !

It was a great experience and I think I did well for a first time. I did not know really know how to manage my race as I never ran 42km before. I think that I know my body’s reaction to pain a little bit better… and I am confident that I can be faster next time !

Here is a funny picture of me crossing the finish line with a big grin on my face !

Thanks again to all those who donated, you rock !

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