How HCI/SDDC has impacted my career & life

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Role and career pre-HCI & SDDC
I was fortunate when I began my career to have EMC as my first employer. At the time EMC was known as the storage giant in IT. I began my career in support but shared an office with the local Pre-Sales teams. This gave me a great insight into what end users were concerned about, purchasing, and future roadmaps of storage technologies. In addition, it allowed me to walk into hundreds of different environments being exposed to thousands of issues and different configurations of environments. Finally, there was this company called VMware and being a EMC employee allowed me free training in a humble suite of product offerings.

While at EMC I learned that my thirst for knowledge benefited my career. At that time in EMC’s history you had individuals siloed into specialties and very few people crossed disciplines. I didn’t just want to be the “Symmetrix guy,” I also wanted to know the entire producst suite. At this time in EMC’s history they were looking for people who wanted to break out of silos and rewarded those motivated enough to know more than one thing. This was the first exposure I had to breaking down long existing silos and I thought if EMC can do it then why isn’t everyone else? I believe they did this to speed effeciency and response times for their customers. Like all good things, my time at EMC came to an end when I decided to go into the professional services organization of a regional consulting company. This was at the time what I believed to be my big break as they were starting up a new EMC practice but had been traditionally an HPE/NetApp shop. Yes!!!, I thought more new knowledge, and breaking out of the “EMC guy” type cast I had been labeled with. What I did not realize at the time was I had begun to sink into a deeper type cast as just the “storage guy.” I’m not saying these things are a negative because plenty of people have had long lasting careers in storage and put their children through college on the storage arrays I was fortunate enough to be working with. At this point in my life I wanted to break out and learn more networking, security, cloud and do more with VMware besides present volumes up to a ESXi host.

Then the real break happened in my career when I took a position as a Datacenter Architect and moved to the middle of the country for my new position. I went to work for a consulting company that was a “jack of all trades” employee and wasn’t looking for siloed people because they were partners with all manufacturers. It was during this time in my career I remembered a great saying, “hardware will always have a ceiling, software’s ceiling is your imagination.” During the day I worked with the technologies that “paid the bills.” However, my nights were spent working with technologies like Nutanix (only supported VMware at the time), PernixData, Atlantis, Kaminario, and this new solution from VMware called, “vSAN.” What I could never have imagined at that point in time was that I had become an early adopter of technologies that would become hyperconverged infrastructure.

HCI/SDDC opened me up to new skills that led to working on more impactful projects
I found early on that hyperconverged touched everything from storage to hypervisor to networking to security. With so many players coming into the market it allowed me to evaluate many different architectures and determine for myself what I thought was “right” and “wrong.” at the time HCI was not the answer to every workload, so many times I was using HCI for a particular workload while still building 3-2-1 architectures next to it. This challenged me to learn the entire datacenter stack from the hard drive all the way out to the MPLS to begin supporting a multitude of applications and projects. As the HCI market grew and the demand for HCI/Software Defined Architects/Engineers grew so did the opportunities to work on more fun projects. Companies wanted to bring in a new type of developer to work on agile application development. With these new applications came new demands from developers and operational teams. Witnessing the agility, scale, and performance that HCI brought to their now called “DevOPs” teams, I saw companies looking for more ways to leverage HCI as the backbone of their infrastructure.

This thinking lead me in my career to start focusing on being a software defined Architect/Engineer as people were trying to do with networking what HCI did for storage. Thus, I was finding myself learning software defined networking that ran on the same HCI platforms that was running a mixed bag of applications and business initiatives. While I was continuing to sharpen my hypervisor, software defined storage, and software defined networking skills, there were companies out there figuring how to take this innovation to the cloud and link it back on-prem. VMware, always being ahead of the curve, began VMware Cloud on AWS, which has all the software defined components you could find on-prem. Better yet VMConAWS could connect back into your on-prem as an extension making it appear as one eco-system. Once again finding myself on the early adopter side, I began specializing in VMC on AWS, which was an opportunity that would not have come my way if my employer at the time had not hired me for my HCI experience to run their on-prem infrastructure.

Looking at the HCI market today vs where it was just five years ago, it is truly night and day. When you look at all that VMware and Dell technologies has accomplished in the software defined space, it is truly incredible. Now when you buy an HCI solution you are looking at what additional suites you will layer onto your HCI infrastructure to further unlock your environment. Will you add NSX-T and create an efficient overlay network that you can secure with distributed firewalls on every VM’s vNIC, layer on top the vRealize suite and use vRA to automate VM creation or vROPs to monitor and predict growth in your environment, or will you add Cloud Foundation to automate the creation of your software defined infrastructure. Not to mention VMware Project Pacfic allowing native Kubernetes in the hypervisor taking advantage of the above listed suites. Once again, HCI being the backbone infrastructure of your environment that allows these advance feature sets to be unlocked allowing for greater agility, better performance, and less day to day management of the infrastructure. Meanwhile, because the cloud operation model breaking down silos, it allowsing people who used to be type-casted as the “storage guy” now becoming whatever their heart desires.

How these new skills impacted my quality of life
I am sure if you have made it this far you are thinking to yourself all of the above sounds wonderful, but what is in it for me? With any new technology or opportunity in your career you should ask what is in it for me. Speaking personally from my own experience when I started out as a support engineer my pay was not that great. The more certifications I earned the more my pay went up but there were certain promotional ceilings that were difficult to push through. Even in consulting, there were ceilings I struggled to break through even by diversifying my skill sets. I know it isn’t always about the money but my desire was to increase my familiy’s quality of life and that came with bettering my financial state. It wasn’t until I specialized in HCI and began my software defined journey did I start to break through those ceilings. The more I grew my skills sets inside and outside the technical piece did I see an impactful growth in my income. Suddenly, I had companies calling offering me dollar figures that were stunning in the beginning. Even today, I have recruiters reach out to me about job positions that main skillet request is vSAN and the position pays far more than any storage engineer position I held in the past.

Finally, the biggest reward that HCI has given me is time. Time with my wife and daughter I know I would not have had five years ago in my career. One of the goals of software defined is automating or making into a policy what used to be day to day operational work; automation has freed me up to be more proactive in my environments. Being more proactive has caused me to chase less fires as a result of their being less fires. Also, developing software defined skills moved me from operational engineering to solution engineer, which meant I was no longer on change controls at 11PM at night or 10am-3PM on a Saturday. Earlier on in my career my wife complained but eventually got used to the 60-80 hour work week, which now is more 40-50 with no nights and weekends. Embracing HCI and software defined not only allowed me to push outside my comfort zones and continually be in a learning state, it also provided new finances that one day will allow my daughter to attend college on a college fund, and finally it has allowed me to spend time the time with my family to be the husband & father I always wanted to be.

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