Insights

Category: Insights

The blame game

The blame game

By Emile Biagio, Sintrex CTO

In these challenging times, it is interesting watching the politics evolve. A couple of months ago USA and China were big buddies – and now look at them… flinging mud at each other regarding the origin of COVID-19.

It reminds me of us IT geeks when systems or applications start giving issues. The problem is never on our side. It must be on your side! Always.

The legacy scenario looked something like this: the Network Department says it’s not the network, it must be the application; the Application Team then says it’s not an application issue, it must be the database or maybe the server CPU.

Enter cloud and work-from-home, and the “us” and “them” finger pointing has no limits. It is your home Wi-Fi, or your ISP, or your VPN, or your application provider, or it’s that friggin’ undersea fibre cable again… who knows?

That is currently the reality. COVID-19 has forced many companies into a digital transformation, whether they wanted it or not.

I’ve been watching this evolve over the last couple of weeks and it’s fascinating. Everything is working relatively well, but if a few executives at home decide that something is not working well enough, then chaos erupts.

Payments are withheld, cages are rattled, mud is flung – and we all start pointing fingers like we’re looking for Douglas Green!

Don’t you find that you usually have to prove that the problem does not lie on your side by probing into someone else’s domain? Any message or metric that can be used to show problems on “the other end” will be used as ammunition.

The reality is that some IT operations are more mature than others, meaning that their staff have control. They know how things work, how systems fit together and always know the moment there is a glitch in the matrix.

Others sadly rely on fault finding methods only when they are called upon to do so (i.e. when the execs start losing their marbles).

Inherently (for some odd reason), we as humans don’t like to share everything – much like political leaders.

How many times during heated sessions to resolve issues have problems just disappeared? Someone fixed something but was not mature enough to fess up and share their learnings.

I personally think that owning up to issues and explaining what happened demonstrates high intelligence and not only matures operations and systems – it also matures relationships with and between key stakeholders of the system.

It makes the next glitch so much easier to investigate. It’s also so much easier to work with people that are mature enough to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll take a look” or “I don’t know, can you help me?”.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
” – John Lennon / Paul McCartney

COVID-19. Read. Understand. React.

COVID-19. Read. Understand. React.

By Emile Biagio, Sintrex CTO

If you have a look at the average global statistics, as cited on Worldometer, 5% of those who contract COVID-19 will die. In South Africa’s context, that is about 3 million people (assuming everyone gets infected).

The probability of that being you in SA is probably very low… But it is an average. There are better statistics to review – and then there’s the worst case.

Like Italy’s death rate: 12% of those contracted might die.

Then there are other statistics to look at, like the outcome-based cases. In other words, cases that have been closed – either people who have recovered or who have died.

For Italy, that statistic sits at 42%… If we apply that statistic to just half our population, 11.5 million people will die. This is both alarming and sad.

What’s the point of this article? It’s like every other statistic that has ever been published. Know what you’re looking at, look at the best case and look at the worst case – but make sure you know what you’re looking at.

Understand the influences of the statistics, understand why things may be better or worse in certain circumstances and try to use that information to contextualise in your own environment.

What would another country’s statistics look like in SA? Do we have better or worse medical care? Do we have an older or younger population? Did we react quickly enough to flatten the curve? Does our population follow the rules? What other pre-existing conditions might influence the impact?

If you take a subset of the statics and apply them to your own life, how does it impact your inner circle?

If you are the average family, with the average two-and-a-half children and elderly parents, you could rest assured that you’re fairly young and that the virus does not really affect our younger population, so your kids should also be fine.

However, what if your child infects one of your parents – or what if one of your kids have a pre-existing condition? How comfortable are you with the statistics now?

If we apply the ‘elderly’ subset of the Italian statistics to our elderly population, then the outcome looks horrific. Yes, not worse than the common flu over time – but influenza does not spread like this and usually the medical resources are able to treat a trickle feed of flu patients. That’s the difference: rate of infection.

I work for a company that spews out statistics like they are free. It’s generally all useful but our biggest task is usually to educate people on what they are actually seeing and to react to make the necessary changes.

Every individual needs to review and understand the statistics to make an educated decision on how they intend to react but please – don’t look at averages alone!

Crunch the numbers and in your own context: Read. Understand. React.

Source: Coronavirus – Worldometer https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus

(Note: All COVID-19 statistics cited in this article have been collected from Worldometer and were accurate at the time of writing.)

Sintrex & Covid-19

Dear Client,


In light of the COVID-19 virus recently being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the declaration by the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, of a national state of emergency from 15th March 2020 – Sintrex has deemed it necessary to convey its policy towards
‘social distancing’ to its current clients, potential clients, partners, providers and suppliers. The following measures have been put in place:

As far as possible, Sintrex employees will try to avoid face-to-face meetings and situations.

Digital meetings will be encouraged and held using video conferencing software like Skype, Zoom or Teams.

In the unlikely case that a face-to-face meeting must happen, Sintrex employees will have to ensure that:
a) no one in the meeting has been in contact with a person who has tested positive for the
COVID-19 virus;
b) no one in the meeting has travelled to a high-risk area in the past 21 days;
c) there are no more than 10 people in the meeting.

Visitors to our premises will be screened for a) and b) above.

All employee travel to high-risk areas has been cancelled and local travel has been minimised.

On-site resources will adhere to the policies of each specific client, provided these are not in contradiction with the laws laid down by the South African government.

For the time being, our staff will keep operating from our premises in Bellville and Midrand. In the event that our employees have to work from home, we will ensure that our high levels of professionalism and work ethic continue.
We count on your support in this matter and trust that you will find this in order.
These are trying times globally – but I believe that, by standing together, we can overcome this crisis.
Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Take care,
Adrienne Kotze
CEO

Sintrex invests in its capabilities and gears for growth

For the official launch of our newly upgraded Sintrex premises, we rolled out the red carpet, invited our most valued clientele, arranged a celebrity guest speaker and put our best foot forward.

The day started off with breakfast canapés and a few introductions to ensure that everybody was comfortable with each other before our opening presentation.

After the welcoming, Laura Barker, Sintrex’s Training and Content Manager, shared her insights and strategy. Interestingly, she showed how our internship final exam was – at one stage – known as “the impossible exam”.

It’s an eight-hour exam with an 80% pass mark. Many interns, leading up to the exam, used to feel that it was unachievable.

Yet, instead of relaxing the standards, Laura’s staff put more effort into the training material and mentorship of the interns. The results now show that there is a higher success rate and less anxiety before final assessments.

Emile Biagio, Sintrex’s CTO, followed with current market examples of how data (and thus information) is the most valuable resource in the world… In fact, it has become more valuable than oil.

The idea that information is more valuable than oil was introduced by The Economist in 2017 – and, based on current market trends and examples, it seems to be the reality.

Some thoughts were shared on how this impacts us all in our current businesses and how we should embrace the opportunity.

Guest speaker, Dr Steve Harris, former ‘Mind Coach’ to the Springboks, ended with some personal insights and practical tips on “Surviving to thriving in business and life in general”.

The session was concluded with a guided walk through the new 24/7 Network Operations Centre. This was conducted by team leaders, Mariam Samodien and Wayne Humphries.

Over lunch, feedback and casual conversations were encouraged to understand client challenges and strategies – all of which were positive and left us with a sense of excitement for the near future.

We would like to thank everyone for their attendance, and all involved for making the day such a success… We cannot wait for next year!

The official launch of the newly upgraded Sintrex premises in photos

Emile Biagio, CTO of Sintrex

A person standing posing for the camera

Description automatically generated

Guest speaker, Dr Steve Harris

A person standing in a room

Description automatically generated

Laura Barker, Sintrex’s Training and Content Manager

A picture containing indoor, man, standing, woman

Description automatically generated

Sintrex’s 24/7 NOC

A group of people standing in a room

Description automatically generated
A group of people standing in a room

Description automatically generated
A group of people standing in a kitchen

Description automatically generated

Lunch

Food on a plate

Description automatically generated
A piece of cake on a plate

Description automatically generated
A table full of food

Description automatically generated

Networking

A group of people standing in a room

Description automatically generated
A group of people sitting at a table

Description automatically generated

Old school thinking, new school stinking…

25 February 2020

By Emile Biagio, CTO of Sintrex

Sintrex recently hosted a coaching company to enlighten our staff on their personality types and behavior patterns… One of those really cool HR session where you learn a lot about yourself and your colleagues.

I arrived at the office about 15 minutes before the session started and checked in with the facilitator to make sure everything was ok – which it wasn’t.

She was panicking. She arrived early to set up and her laptop, but it did not want to project her slides. “That’s not a problem,” I said to calm her down, “we’ll just get our tech support in to assist.” “They’ve already been here and could not assist,” she responded.

Really?! Wednesday Thursday Friday! Apparently, the engineer walked in, looked at the setup, said, “Oh, it’s a MAC,” shrugged his shoulders and walked out.

Just like that.

Now, I thought long and hard about this (after the fact).

Why?

That’s the biggest question I had. Why would an engineer simply refuse to try and assist? It then became a discussion point within my network of friends and we’d reminisce about the good old days when we used to do tech support and there was just no opt out.

You owned a problem until it was resolved. No. Matter. What.

It forced us to try different things, test scenarios in labs and replicate the problems until we found solutions.

We used to communicate with each other, with service providers and whoever we thought might be able to give us just one more thing to try. It worked! We solved problems, all of them!

Is this something that’s been lost? Do our millennials or GenX’s just walk away when there is no quick fix? Have we created too many silos in IT and confined technologists to certain boundaries?  Is this why systems struggle?

Do we only look after our little portion of the problem and fail to see the bigger picture?

I may still struggle to understand the logic of what happened – and I’ll keep trying – but it took me 5 minutes to get the MAC projecting. Without Google 😉

Don’t sit back and watch things break, drive changes for improvement!

17 February 2020

Don’t sit back and watch things break, drive changes for improvement!

Monitoring systems that statistically indicate that things are bad, implies that certain actions must be taken to rectify. “But you’re telling me what my users are already telling me” is NOT the desired response.

Yes, monitoring systems will measure your users’ experience and provide you with factual proof that the user experience may be terrible, which you may require.

More importantly, however, it will also tell you why the experience is bad. This is why you need to understand the information – so that you can assist with actions to rectify.

There is no silver bullet, and nothing beats elbow grease to get systems running optimally.

So, for monitoring to add true value, you should:

  • understand the statistics and measures that you’re looking at and
  • be prepared for a service improvement project or focus group to action a few things to resolve.

The first bullet point above should be fairly easy – your monitoring provider can teach you all about the metrics and measures.

On the second point, however, you should be willing to do a little research and interact with more departments and/or service providers.

Example: you measure (monitor): network performance, application response and transaction speeds to the back-end database and find that users experience slow responses because of the database. You would then need to start investigating all aspects around the database.

This may not be an area that you’re familiar with or responsible for, but it’s an area that you need to stick your nose into because, in this scenario, it’s the area that needs tweaking to improve user experience of an application.

A monitoring tool does not fix things for you, despite development and progress in AI and machine learning – we’re not there yet.

Keeping to the above example/scenario, you could start by finding out who maintains the database, who looks after the hardware or VM that hosts the DB.

Then ask those people about maintenance, performance, size, speed, optimization options, etc… Ask “silly” questions and Google a lot. Each of these interactions should spawn a few actions that could improve the performance of the database.

After each action, re-check the measured user experience until you start noticing performance improvements.

In this way, you are not a passive consumer of data which ultimately adds no value – you are an active force of change, that helps improve performance! Remember to document your learning in a knowledge base… and keep measuring!

“We all know how important it is to ensure that business-critical applications are constantly up and running, but this is dependent on the effectiveness of the underlying infrastructure. It has never been more important for companies to understand how critical business services, the IT infrastructure, and applications work together, because a failure in one area can have a negative domino effect on others,” says Sintrex’s CTO Emile Biagio.

He adds that having an infrastructure that works does not necessarily mean that it’s healthy or available, monitoring is therefore a vital aspect in obtaining the insight needed to ensure optimal functionality. “The failure of one switch might not seem like a big deal, but can become mission-critical in one area of the business. The underlying infrastructure might be working, but if glitches occur, users will encounter challenges and complain about their IT ‘not working properly’.”

Maintaining a stable and functional infrastructure rests on an end-to-end monitoring approach. “An overview of your entire estate”, Biagio points out.

All of the elements that make up the business system need to be looked at from the perspective of the infrastructure, the applications, and the end user experience.

Only with this holistic approach can companies gain insight over their availability, health and ability to trade.

“The business is connected through a network – whether a local area network (LAN), a wide area network (WAN), or both. If there is a problem with a connection at any point on any of these networks, the users often associate the challenges they encounter with the applications they are trying to access rather than the network. Similarly, many workers these days are mobile, and can encounter problems accessing the organisation from external locations. Monitoring the IT infrastructure must therefore start with evaluating the connectivity enabled by the network.”

Connectivity is a key foundation upon which any infrastructure is dependent on, but workload and applications availability fuels any business’s productivity on a daily basis, therefor these areas must be monitored to ensure business continuity.

“The right monitoring approach can provide a comprehensive overview of the health of the infrastructure. This can be achieved with different levels of insight, so business can have an overview without having to know the specifics of the technical aspects, while IT can gains deep understanding and useful fast effective problem resolution time,” Biagio says.

“Proactive awareness of what is going on across the infrastructure allows for improved user experience as well as pre-emptive fault resolution. Not only is understanding the health of the infrastructure vital to the smooth operation of any business, it reduces costs in the long run, mitigates risks and effective planning.”

Wispeco and Sintrex hold hands to improve productivity

Wispeco and Sintrex hold hands to improve productivity

Wispeco Aluminium is the largest aluminium extrusion company in South Africa.

The company recently suffered issues after implementing SYSPRO ERP for its branches across the country.   The company’s IT team tried to work out the issues themselves, but after failing to do so despite trying various things, Wispeco contacted Sintrex for assistance.  Wispeco had assumed that the issues were pertaining to the company’s network, despite not having accurate statistics to confirm this.

Sintrex executed a complete audit and investigation into the network, server, and server environment of Wispeco’s network.  “The question is always ‘who audits the auditors’ and I needed somebody that could give me an independent and thorough assessment of my network,” said Pieter Heyns, Head of IT at Wispeco. 

According to Heyns, Sintrex was able to pinpoint exactly what Wispeco’s problems were. “They gave us very good feedback and an action plan we could use,” said Heyns.

Sintrex was able to determine that Wispeco’s issues were not with their network, which was found to be stable after extensive testing.  Instead, the latency issues were situated within the server.  Sintrex also managed to uncover that Wispeco was not being allocated the bandwidth it was paying for at one of its sites. 

“From the account management side, through to the technical teams, Sintrex is a very professional organisation with very capable people,” said Heyns.  “You need facts to make decisions, and Sintrex was able to provide us with these facts.  ”Heyns said that he would definitely recommend Sintrex.   “The way the Cape Town and Joburg offices work together, their strong focus on project management, the fact that they give you regular updates, and they way they push for results were all very positive to me.”

Watch the full case study below.

When businesses face lag and latency issues, many automatically assume that the issue lies with their network. In truth, there are various possibilities in such scenarios, which makes it important to use a knowledgeable third-party to determine the root of your issues. Sintrex is a leading South African infrastructure management company that offers end-to-end IT solutions and services. They have proven that they are capable of assessing and diagnosing issues in a business’s IT systems, as is proven in the below case study. Sintrex is committed to offering the best IT solutions, and strives to offer superior service and results to its customers.

#data #information #4thindustrialrevolution

By Emile Biagio, CTO, Sintrex

I recently watched an investigative series set in the 1970’s, where a judge dismissed evidence that linked a suspect to a murder; he claimed that he does not believe in all this “scientific mumbo jumbo”. My my, how far we have progressed. Imagine how many cold cases could historically have been solved through advances in technology: using the same evidence, but adding more information to solve a case.

Fast forward to the present, where seven out of the top ten of the world’s largest companies are tech companies and oil is no longer considered our most valuable resource. Yup, not oil, but data!

Data? Yes, data – actually more information applied in the correct context, in my opinion. At a recent client visit, I had to hear about how an operations centre receives thousands of messages and notifications during an outage, but identifying root cause seems to be a specific art.

So, as is the norm today, this client has monitoring systems plugged into just about every critical application running on their infrastructure. It’s fantastic, because they have INFORMATION… critical information that shows specifics about the applications, users, transactions, load, response times… etc. This information empowers them to tweak, tune and adapt the systems to drive business productivity.

The problem is, when there is a glitch in the matrix, all the monitoring systems spew out thousands of messages to highlight anomalies. This is what we build, more and more systems that collect information. I pulled a statistic from another client (for interest): 489 Million messages in one month… that’s a lot. It’s about twenty hundred five and seventy messages a day (sorry Mr. Zuma, still funny).

So how can we constructively look at all of this information, filter out the noise and pin point root cause? Yes, machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies are definitely making significant strides in helping, but there are also some basic fundamentals that still make it all a lot easier. Maybe not from the 1970’s, but at least from the 1990’s:

  • A system that monitors your underlying common denominator, your network and automatically identifies root cause outages.
  • The ability to classify anomaly impact. E.g. Minor, Major, Critical.
  • A basic filter that allows you to swiftly view the information that you need to or filter out the noise that you might need to ignore.

If you apply a filter to a badly taken photo, it will look ok, but apply the same filter to a great photo and it’s suddenly brilliant! Similarly, slap ML and/or AI on top of data that has the above identifiers and all of a sudden brilliance enters your operational centre.

“Information is power, but only if people are able to access, understand and apply it.” ~ Unknown

Fools and their tools

By Emile Biagio, CTO, Sintrex

Buy local, South Africans! You are creating sustainable careers for our youth!

If I had one buck for every time we get lured into a “software features” discussion with a potential client, I’d own an overstocked game farm!

Or what about the infamous feature shoot out or comparison spread sheet that shows the gaps between products? How many propeller heads have motivated 50% more spend for 20% more features? Hopefully, it was justified.

If you have ripped and replaced monitoring software in the past 3 years, or if you’ve invested in yet another tool to fill another gap that you thought was covered in the tools that you already have, then you’re doing something wrong.

Read carefully, you’re doing something wrong! Don’t go to market and find other tools… because it might just be the fool behind the tool – and not the tool.

Consider a process audit first. Look at what you should be doing, irrespective of the tool’s ability to facilitate the process.

If your process audit compliance is low because of a tool, then look for an alternative, but use your requirement framework to find the right fit.

If you make up a comparative list, I’d bet that of all the tasks and processes that you should be doing, less than 50% can be blamed on a tool that does not support it.

Here are a few considerations if you want to buy a tool – I know it’s probably only a fraction of what’s required, but it’s a good place to start:

  • Who’s going to install the tool?
  • Who updates the managed devices loaded for monitoring?
  • How often is it updated?
  • How must it be structured? (Location, SLA, Business Unit or technology based?)
  • Who sets the standards for devices to be monitoring compliant?
  • Who makes sure that the hardware and software resources are sufficient for the tool?
  • Who looks after the hardware?
  • Is there a database used for storage? Who is maintaining the DB?
  • Are the backups in place? Do you need a DR solution?
  • Who provides access to the system?
  • Who sets up the dashboards?
  • If there are integration requirements, who owns that and maintains it?
  • Who must be trained to use the tool? Who does the training?
  • Who disseminates information? If it’s ‘automated’, who sets it up?
  • Who must get what information?
  • What actions must be taken regarding specific information?
  • Who must watch screens and what do they do based on what they see?
  • Who must receive automated escalations? What must they do about it?

And if you don’t want to buy another tool, consider outsourcing it all and ask questions like these:

  • Will you (Service Provider) look after all ‘Tool’ required hardware, software, licenses, capacity, backups, administration, DR and…
  • Can I have a geographical view of all my outages?
  • Can I see all non-performing assets and stressed assets?
  • Can I evaluate capacity issues for all devices?
  • Can all my assets be tracked geographically?
  • Can I have all my assets collated in one area for data mining?
  • Can I mark all my SLAs monthly?
  • Can I see and measure user experience and application performance?
  • Can I check my IT provider compliance to standards and best practices?
  • Can I provide difference business units a view or report for their portion of the infrastructure?
  • Can I have an on-site Operations Centre or the option to reduce costs and host it off site?

Make sense? Cause now you’re moving away from looking at the tool. You’re making it someone else’s problem and ensuring that you get the required output to run your business and improve service delivery!

Beauty vs. the Beast!

1 2
Sintrex