Dell TechCenter Rockstar Didier Van Hoye is a busy man. He is an IT professional, a Microsoft MVP, and a prolific blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinions about all things IT. The technical Architect specializes in Microsoft technologies like Exchange, SQL Server, Windows Server, Hyper-V, Active Directory & Storage and runs the popular blog, Working Hard in IT.
Recently he took time out of his schedule to share the stories of how he got into the IT industry, why he started blogging, and his outlook on the future of computing.
For those attending Dell World 2013, Didier will be in Austin, so don't be afraid to reach out!
Please tell us about yourself. What is your current role and where do you work?
I’m currently the technical architect at the Flemish Geographical Information Agency in Belgium. Due to the nature of their mission that involves lots of data & demanding applications they have sometimes challenging needs that require creative solutions. I’m the team lead for the infrastructure side of things. I find that staying in the trenches with your people makes for a better an very realistic look at what works, what doesn’t and what can be achieved and how. I’m convinced you cannot design what you cannot build and vice versa.
What is your IT blog about, and how did you get started?
I’ve always been using online resources intensively and was a passive, more or less anonymous, part of the tech community for a very long time. I often felt the urge to put my views or insight out there but never did. While I was always networking and discussing technology with colleagues, vendors & partners at conferences I was not actively publishing anything.
In December 2009 I decided that I’d really needed to start sharing. I set up a blog and a twitter account (@workinghardinit) and started blogging. It was an experiment to see if I could maintain a blog & have decent content. As it turns out, this industry doesn’t really have a lack of topics to blog about. Since I’m working a lot with virtualization & the core platforms in the Microsoft stack I focused on that in combination with the different layers (servers, networking & storage) needed to make it all work. I was wondering about the usefulness of Twitter, but when utilized right, it has proven to be a very good tool for community interaction & acts as a “ping” to your network, your own little crowd sourcing tool so to speak.
No one knows everything or can be everything to everyone, luckily we can all turn to our communities for help. Being active in the community is great. It helps out a lot of people and you get out so much in opportunities to learn, grow and build your network. It’s hard to put a dollar value on this and for that reason some companies worry about it a bit. But I’m convinced that it helps out everyone, not only the community members, but also their employers and customers. It’s an investment that’s very worthwhile and if any employer thinks it’s bad for their employees or business to be actively involved I strongly advise them to reconsider. Self-motivated, engaged technologists with talent will share & you’ll reap the rewards in the long term. Talent flows to where it’s welcome.
Locking information up out of fear just doesn’t work. Letting your talent share and network in the community means that you can tap into a global talent pool!
In 2012 I was awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable professional in the Virtual Machine expertise. I also was invited joined the Microsoft Extended Experts Team in Belgium. The chances & opportunities of the people involved in those programs is a gift I’m still grateful for. This year I became a DELL TechCenter RockStar. It opens the door for new opportunities and experiences that make my professional life so interesting. Having a CEO that supports this make a serious difference, and for that I’m grateful as well.
How did you get involved in the IT industry? Do you specialize in any particular IT technology?
I hold a Master’s degree in Sciences (Biology). My first automation was done to deal with the influx of data new technologies delivered to us in research. Later, due to statistics & reporting needs, I came into contact with databases, coding & OLAP tools. My brother in law who’s an entrepreneur told me I’d be a great fit for the IT sector and guided me in that direction. A very helpful programmer at work helped me get launched and his support along with a lot of sustained effort, self-study and exams got me launched in the IT world. I’m still grateful to him (thanks Peter) for that help. As a developer / DBA I got tired of the sometimes mediocre infrastructure we had to work on and I switched to infrastructure in 2001-2002 when we got our first SAN and from there it just evolved. With virtualization we all became storage & network engineers on top of all the rest. I’m an early adopter of Hyper-V and as such I specialize in virtualization but I’m very clear to everyone that you need to be a generalist first, then specialize and never stop learning.
What are the biggest IT challenges that you face?
We’re facing our biggest “learning curve” with implementing RDMA (RoCE) for SMB 3.0 on the networking level. For many of us RDMA, RoCE, DCB is uncharted domain and the focus so far has been on losses iSCSI & FcOE. But there is more to be done with DCB. The push of Microsoft to have certified networking gear with via OMI, PowerShell configuration Support is very interesting and possibly might also lead to easier ways of dealing with RDMA configurations. We’re still investigating the sweet spots where it delivers the best ROI/TCO, but we consider this an investment we’ll leverage when convergence becomes more and more of a reality.
Backup & especially restore remains a pain point for many of us. You’d think we’d have this core need fine-tuned by now but it remains a costly, complex and time consuming endeavor. We’ve found that thinking out of the vendor box has helped us best here and we’ve been able to build some very nice backup solutions with commodity hardware.
Storage wise there is the need for ever more and fast storage both shared & non shared. In general, we’d like to see some capabilities introduced or enhanced in storage to better serve the needs we have in the Microsoft ecosystem (CSV, VSS integration, easier load balancing & failover scenarios both on site, on campus and to remote sites. The pressure is on to deliver as the application & platform stack is evolving fast but are of yet not perfect yet either for all scenarios. One need that I’d like to see addressed is the one to keep dormant data online & protected (replicated, versioned) on the cheap. That would require large capacity, small form factor, low energy consuming SSD like drives that are cheap & affordable for write once, read a few times data.
In general, BYOD & ultra-mobility is imposing a serious challenges & operational costs for management, protection & data delivery to any device & any application. On top of that for many organization the benefits are not that clear. Perhaps this is where the cloud will shine the brightest, in the orchestration of it all.
Last but not least, leadership & management. Failing here costs more in lost opportunities, revenues & TCO/ROI than anything else. Perhaps, this is also the most difficult issue to address. In this fast paced sector there is no way to have a supreme all-knowing CxO, but we do need better governance, coordination, insight & context to make all the moving parts fit together and get great results. We all feel this need and the answer lies with all of us and is not fixed; as our environment changes, so does the answer. So whatever the approach it has to be agile while being sustainable. This is not an easy challenge.
What do you think is currently the most exciting development in the IT industry?
There are a couple of things. For one storage is finally moving beyond the limits of HDD drives and it’s interesting to so see both the impact of this on the controllers & the software. It’s promising to see so many initiatives delivering great results with commodity hardware instead of having to rely on specialized, proprietary ASIC and such. Also the trend to see > 1TB SSD drives in various incarnations make some previously designs & scenarios possible. Raw power has its place and used with intelligent software there are some exciting years ahead of us all in that space. And as ever we see that relieving one bottle neck exposes another. I see way more people feeling the need for 10Gbps or better networking today than I saw 3 years ago. The good news is that the network technology is readily available and we have a clear view on what’s coming (40/100Gbps) and the operating systems & hypervisors can handle it. So the storage world is far from done.
Secondly I’m interested to see how far software defined “anything” takes us in the quest to abstract the data center plumbing. Everyone seems to be working at this and at the moment it often turns out to be a total solution within the same vendor stack. Which Is great it that works for you but might not be so easily done. It also creates dynamics as this combined with converged systems make hardware vendors software people & software shops take a real interest in hardware. Convergence, software defined infrastructure & the trend towards a real datacenter abstraction layer are very interesting but we still have a long way to go and it also, for the time being at least, contradicts a bit with the trend of “good enough is good enough”. The journey will be an interesting one, that’s for sure. It’s a balancing act between moving forward while keeping the lights on. There is no hiding when we mess up, all our mistakes are in plain sight of everyone using what we build.
All the above is happening in a cloud focused atmosphere so the above has to be mapped in those plans & initiatives which is pretty new for most of us and leads to new challenges. Mobility of both services & applications is paramount in all this.
What would you like to see on Dell TechCenter in the future?
I think it would be of great value if we can get some of the questions & challenges we face in real life addressed. More detailed information of how the Dell stack works with/addresses needs in the Microsoft Ecosystem. To do that, we, the customers in the field need to be able to touch base with your Microsoft technologists. Time and availability is an issue here but it would help us with challenges we face and DELL to keep improving and adding value.
Do you find Dell TechCenter helpful in your role?
I do. It has good content and some real gems. And you learn a thing or two like the involvement of DELL in the development of Consistent Device Naming. I often find them by chance. So discover-ability is a continuing challenge. I mostly appreciate the reference architectures, the configuration examples. It helps as a learning tool, a reference and as a reality check of what we’re doing.
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Great interview and feedback. Thank you.