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Why System Architects are Evil

Posted on 2010.11.01 at 09:20
Current Location: 75409
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The Great HP Virtual Machine MC/ServiceGuard Cluster Experiment

I place system architects into two categories. Former system administrators, and managers. Out of these two groups, only one designs entire infrastructures, wide-eyed, based on vendor's incredible tales of prowess and ability. And any sysadmin who's ever sat in on a vendor new-product briefing has experienced, with disappointment, the awe of watching your manager's toothy grin spreads across his face as he's spoon-fed anything he wants to hear about performance while the sales guy's eyes turn into dollar signs and start rolling around his sockets like a slot machine. Two star-crossed lovers meeting for the very first time.

And if any of it were real...well, that would be awesome.

The truth, however, usually lies somewhere in between. As a system administrator, I used to be wholly responsible for the cradle-to-grave life-cycle of an entire system; hardware and software both. We would receive the system in boxes, and carefully assemble our own interleaved memory configuration, torque our own CPUs, and rack our own servers. It was our responsibility to troubleshoot our own hardware, order it, and replace it, along with all our operating system duties.

But in all of this technology-awesomeness, we've somehow lost our way.

I'm not allowed to assemble hardware any more, nor replace my own memory or CPUs. Many times the vendor won't support a system in which they haven't had "authorized" personnel do the work. Worse still, there seems to be a trend in corporate America to disallow system architects from actually touching the systems. They're allowed to design, yes, but without any tactile feedback. In fact, the supposition is that these so-called architects will be able to design systems solely based upon the vendor claims. See where I'm heading with this? On the other side of the coin - and in their defense, I no longer have 40 boxes to support. I now have one-hundred and forty!

Yet, there are still those among us who thirst for knowledge.

Next week we have a vendor coming in to school us on the pros-and-cons of clustering virtual machines across discrete hardware versus clustering inside virtual machines on the same hardware :/ Because my group has no hands-on with this technology, I got with our clustering expert who furtively handed me his post-millennium student guide in hopes I could introduce him to HPVMs (formerly Integrity Virtual Machines) as he would introduce me to clusters. And where did I get all my hardware? From the system architect who'd like to have just a little real-world knowledge of such an design prior to the vendor showing up. So I dusted off my trusty rx2600, acquired another Sun 711 "six [disk] pack" (I'd given my other one away to mr_dowg's cousin-in-law after seven years of disuse) and...eventually went through EVERY SINGLE SCA HARDDRIVE IN THE HOUSE because...well dude, I learned that clustering requires disks. Lots, and lots of disks.

It took me 72-hours:

Bask in the fruits of my labor.

I'll publish a HOWTO for instant hpvm-cluster gratification once I polish it up.



Elizabeth Krumbach
princessleia2 at 2010-11-01 23:03 (UTC) (Link)
Yay you!!

I have to admit, one of the many reasons[0] I haven't moved on from my current job to a fancy, high-paying sysadmin job down the street is that I really love being a hardware to deployment sysadmin, and I know I'd lose that if I hopped over to a larger company (especially a startup, which all use clouds these days).

[0] Other reasons include my current ability to work from home, flexible schedule and ability to go to conferences a few times a year, truly believing in the company I work for
ehowton at 2010-11-02 18:37 (UTC) (Link)
Those are all great perks! I feel I have most of that where I am especially given my freedom of movement and attention to individual creativity and expression. I guess if you're at the right place, its all good.

But there's one teensy-tiny thing you left out: While we too, are slowly (oh-so slowly) migrating to cloud computing...I'VE BEEN GETTING TO BUILD THE FREAKING CLOUDS! So yeah, that's kinda cool :D
dentin at 2010-11-02 18:00 (UTC) (Link)
One of the things I truly despise is having to work with and assemble systems composed of buggy, opaque black boxes constructed by other people. It's so much like magic to me it's unbelievable - "If only I could remember the magic incantation, this fireball spell would work!"

Perhaps the big issue I have is that things aren't derivable from each other. There's no way to derive that X works in fashion Y; that's simply an arbitrary thing thrown in by the vendor or developer, with little to no rhyme or reason.

I think I would make a bad sysadmin. Or more likely, a suicidal one. My hat's off to you.
ehowton at 2010-11-02 18:55 (UTC) (Link)
...having to work with and assemble systems composed of buggy, opaque black boxes constructed by other people.

Its seems about 90% of what I do these days are being handed that very black box and told, "make this work for us." While frustrating at times (what isn't?) I sure enjoy the euphoria which follows achievement of those goals...Which is pretty much what I've just done here :D

I am SO GLAD that different people enjoy doing different things. Playing to their strengths is what helps creates successful and cohesive teams, because honestly - keep your hat on - I'd suck at doing your job, but you seem very well suited for it.
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