mm383: Blast from the Past! No. 21

May 18, 2008

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

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Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From our early days, originally posted August 29, 2007, one of our series called, over-ambitiously, Web Conferencing Week. The entire group can be found on its own page elsewhere on this site.

WCW006: Quiet before the storm

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Web Conferencing Week

Late summer doldrums here at the Heart of Corporate America (HCA, not my employer’s real name).

One might hope that the lull in formal activities would provide some time for reflection, and so in fact it has.

As I’ve explained before (here and here and here, for example), as do most people in corporate surroundings, I wear a multitude of hats:

  • member of the IT technical team supporting collaborative tools (email, instant messaging, web conferencing);
  • teacher of our instant messaging and web conferencing tools to our internal business clients (more than 3,500 served in five years, thank you very much!);
  • “manager of the end-user experience” as defined by our vendor’s on-site support manager — while not in the direct flow of help desk activities (at least not yet), the canniest of my 3,500 students, and their underlings and bosses, know me well enough to contact me if they have issues, and since no one on the team, or in the support arena in general has anywhere the amount of experience with our tools as have I (over six hundred classes, all conducted using web conferences, plus countless mission-critical meetings facilitated throughout the enterprise), the answer to my correspondents’ questions is probably at the ready.

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WcW007: About that storm…

September 17, 2007

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Web Conferencing Week

Previous post in this series, hopefully (I suppose) titled “Quiet before the storm,” we commented that it had been a considerably quiet summer.

MUDGE is here to announce that, despite the 75° temperatures as this is written at 8:15pm, summer is over.

We spent the entire day today “on location” covering three large scale meetings for three different internal clients.

Alas, MUDGE is employed by a company with not only global aspirations, but a substantial global footprint.

Today’s first meeting, client: our manufacturing division, was scheduled to accommodate third-shift workers coming off shift and first shift workers grabbing a meeting before clocking in, and of course many, many employees in Europe.

In Western Europe, the meeting began at 1:00pmCET.

In the U.S. Central time zone, tech call for this 6:00am meeting was 4:30am.

There oughta be a law.

But, there ain’t.

So we rolled out of bed at 3:10am.

It’s a wonder I wasn’t decapitated shaving.

But I got there. Good thing the sedan knows the way.

Meeting went fine; there were about 40 people in the room and about 25 connected on line.

Grabbed some breakfast (fortunately, this meeting, due to be repeated two more times throughout the day [although not on line] was actually located in half of a large company cafeteria), took down my equipment (two laptops, mini network hub, cables, telephone headset with transformer for monitoring the conference audio, etc.), and literally took it all downstairs to deploy absolutely all of it again in another conference room, where a significant department of our legal division was about to begin a marathon annual meeting.

This meeting had no global aspirations, as it was important enough that the global players had all flown in for the occasion, but one or two U.S. based individuals could not get away, and at the last minute (for my calendar, a request received two business days ahead is last minute) I was asked to provide service.

So let’s talk about what I do in such a meeting with all of that equipment.

A web conference is a lovely thing to behold, when it’s sitting on a desk in front of you.

Not so great if it’s projected onto a very large screen in a large conference room.

So we split the difference.

The presentation (usually the ubiquitous PowerPoint) is run completely independent of any network involvement off of a PC connected to the conference room projector. This delivers what we call the “Steven Spielberg experience” (you know, dark room, bright screen, maybe popcorn — and they were delivering popcorn to the second meeting as I was leaving!) for the local audience.

The web conference, with all of its exposed plumbing (participant list, chat area, hand raising buttons and all) is run in parallel at the back of the room, and is thus invisible to those physically present, who might after all have tomatoes to throw if displeased with the experience.

In larger setups, such as the manufacturing meeting, the presentation is also controlled by an a/v technician at the rear table, which can be a crowded place: audio technician with his microphone receivers, amps, mixers and telephone equipment; a/v tech controlling the slides, with two PCs (need a backup after all) connected to the projection system; often a representative of the speaker to supervise, especially if the presenter is, as was true at this early morning meeting, a corporate VP; and yours truly with two more PCs, the mini hub, cabling for both, etc.

Quite a scene.

The legal division meeting had an audio tech (lots of microphones in the room — our attorneys value every single word they utter) but the meeting was run from a PC at the podium, so my two PCs occupied the space next to the audio tech, a respected friend, without other interlopers.

Seemed a lot of effort though, for just two remote participants.

Just as well, since when we left that meeting SIX HOURS LATER it was still going on. Yeah, there were some breaks, and they did provide a snack and a cold cut lunch, so it wasn’t onerous.

And, one or two of the speakers (attorneys all) were almost entertaining.

Almost.

Had to leave early, as a previous commitment to my own IT division’s VP’s meeting took highest priority. Took down the PCs, the mini hubs, cables, etc. Packed it all away, trundled out to the car to drive to the north end of campus.

The third meeting of the day began a mere nine hours after the first one officially began.

For the third time today the complete setup was deployed. Dual PCs, hub, cabling — you’ve got the drill.

This one was a low budget affair. No audio tech after it began, just an ordinary Polycom speakerphone at the podium, and a portable projector in the middle of the room (a satellite cafeteria as it happened, very convenient for vital pre-meeting hydration and snacking) substituting for the built in equipment of the earlier meetings.

But it also went well, with more than 70 people connected, primarily in the U.S., as expected for a 3:00pmCT start. The previous Friday morning’s version of the same meeting in the same locale had accommodated one of the larger groups, with nearly 300 remote participants, including a bunch from overseas.

So I guess I’ve been leading a charmed life, with four critical meetings across two business days proceeding without incident.

Meanwhile, our server environment has experienced nothing but incidents. Our almost-but-not-quite-productionized past is overtaking us.

But whatever shrapnel thrown up by server failures missed me, and considering the visibility of the meetings, for that I am most grateful.

So, approximately 12 hours after arriving, and for the third time, we packed up laptops, mini network hubs, cables, extension cords etc., and dragged our bags out to the parking lot to head home.

Sometimes it can storm while it’s 80° and sunny.

But, a good day-and-a half, all things considered.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW006: Quiet before the storm

August 29, 2007

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Web Conferencing Week

Late summer doldrums here at the Heart of Corporate America (HCA, not my employer’s real name).

One might hope that the lull in formal activities would provide some time for reflection, and so in fact it has.

As I’ve explained before (here and here and here, for example), as do most people in corporate surroundings, I wear a multitude of hats:

  • member of the IT technical team supporting collaborative tools (email, instant messaging, web conferencing);
  • teacher of our instant messaging and web conferencing tools to our internal business clients (more than 3,500 served in five years, thank you very much!);
  • “manager of the end-user experience” as defined by our vendor’s on-site support manager — while not in the direct flow of help desk activities (at least not yet), the canniest of my 3,500 students, and their underlings and bosses, know me well enough to contact me if they have issues, and since no one on the team, or in the support arena in general has anywhere the amount of experience with our tools as have I (over six hundred classes, all conducted using web conferences, plus countless mission-critical meetings facilitated throughout the enterprise), the answer to my correspondents’ questions is probably at the ready.

As teacher, I’m always running 8-10 classes per month, although during the summer average attendance is way down.

As end-user experience manager (an honorific provided by a suck-up vendor: remember, grunt that MUDGE is, he’s manager of no one) the phone just isn’t ringing very often, as people wrap up their summers before Labor Day provides the symbolic halt to all things sunscreen.

As member of the technical team, decisions are pending and work is progressing.

HCA uses for its instant messaging and web conferencing requirements IBM Lotus Sametime.

HCA has long been a Lotus shop: Its Lotus Notes product has long been handling enterprise email and its rapid application environment supports thousands of database applications and has done so here for more than 15 years. So the choice of Sametime was not a surprise in that light.

And, indeed, Sametime is a common choice for collaboration among large corporations, seeking the rock-solid enterprise grade solution similar and related to the rock-solid technology that so well supports the earlier applications: email and databases.

The best web conferencing and instant messaging choice today?

An excellent question that is not yet on the table.

Like many issues in corporate technology, the problems faced are multi-dimensional: hardware, software, the quantity of personnel applied to the task (fortunately, personnel quality is not an issue, among the talented administrators and architects that I am fortunate to work among).

Instant messaging and web conferencing at HCA exists not as the result of an organized deployment campaign, but rather more like viral marketing. It grew out of a pilot (when I joined the company, about 5½ years ago in a related but not directly connected IT position, there were nominally 800 accounts).

And the pilot became an “extended pilot” which gradually became a production system, without ever really becoming a true, bullet proof enterprise-grade product, at least as implemented here at HCA.

Insufficient servers (both in capability and in numbers), and insufficient personnel (as above, just the numbers are insufficient — the people are champions [and they won’t read this, so trust me, I’m not sucking up!]) to keep order in an operation that has grown to more than 26,000 accounts.

This number represents less than half of the available client base, because no one knows how to handle the establishment of the necessary 30,000 new accounts efficiently, much less want to confront the reality of insufficient hardware and personnel to handle the existing organically grown client base.

And, finally, the software. HCA upgraded (quite tardily) to Sametime version 6.5 about 21 months ago, and our team has been working on upgrading to the current standard version 7.5 for nearly that long (remember the tardy part).

HCA never never never never wants to be the early adopter of anyone’s hardware or software. The 100th adopter, maybe, so we delay, by time-honored policy, both IT and fiscal, until (hopefully most of) the bugs are out.

But we really need to move on this upgrade (the 2005 upgrade from long-used version 3.1 to version 6.5 was a marketing nomenclature upgrade — to the end users it looks and acts as if it’s version 3.2!), and the delay has not been HCA’s sole doing. And version 7.5 has many new and attractive and desirable features; it would be a true upgrade.

But we’re not there yet.

And therein lies an interesting story.

But this long story will need to be continued next time, because…

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE