March 2007 - Posts

On Dell's PERC 5/i
Fri, Mar 30 2007 16:37

So in a previous post, I railed about my surprise at finding out that the Dell PERC 5/i controller has no audible alarm and why that's a concern for me. Well, here we are, nearly two weeks later, and after much going round and round with Dell on the issue, I have more information, and it's not necessarily good.

My specific initial issue is that, besides not having an audible alarm, Dell's Server Management software (Open Manage) doesn't have a way to send notifications about problems with the RAID controller, either the controller itself or the failure of an element attached to the controller. After my initial support call with Dell about the issue, they indicated that the IT Assistant software should run on the Windows 64-bit box, and that will send notifications when an issue is detected. I've since found out that no, the latest version of IT Assistant that's posted on the Dell web site will NOT, in fact, run on the 64-bit Windows platform. Of course, everything about IT Assistant tells you that it really, truly, should be run on another box, but for this specific instance, that's not going to be possible.

In digging further into this, however, I've uncovered a couple of other issues that concern me. Given that IT Assistant seems to be the preferred way to actively monitor the RAID, I thought I'd try to install it on the SBS box I have at the office. No dice. IT Assistant will install onto a server platform, but not SBS. It's a hard block. So for all my SBS servers with PERC 5/i cards, I have nothing from Dell that I can run on the server box that will monitor the helath of the RAID controller and notify me when there's a problem. With my other RAID controllers, I can fall back on the audio alert at the very least for notification of a problem, but don't have that option here.

Last Thursday, at my SBS user group meeting, I mentioned my frustrations with the situation in a side conversation, and one of the folks I was talking with was as taken aback as I was when I first figured this out. He just put a number of servers with PERC 5/i cards in them out in production and was also unaware that the controller had no audible alarm mechanism. I've mentioned this to a couple of other folks as well, with pretty much the same reaction.

This week, I started putting together specs for a couple of new servers for a couple of projects and, knowing the challenges of the PERC 5/i, decided to look at other controller options for these boxes. Unfortunately, I've found that, currently, the only RAID controller that Dell provides that supports RAID 5 is, surprise surprise, the PERC 5/i. There are other controllers, but those only support RAID 0 or 1. And I don't yet have confirmation if those controllers have audible alarms on them or not. So, even if I was able to "settle for" a RAID 1 solution (and to be fair, on one box it's not unrealistic), I still think I'd be in the same situation.

I've been working with a couple of folks at Dell on trying to find a reasonable resolution to this problem. Of course, there's always the recommendation that I can run IT Assistant on a separate workstation to monitor the array card in the server and send notifications back to me  if/when there's a problem. But that's not necessarily a realistic solution at some sites. Now I have to install a piece of software on a workstation that has to be running all the time and may or may not interfere with what the user of the workstation is trying to do. I simply can't afford to stick a dedicated box at each of my client sites to do this monitoring, nor can I ask them to dedicate a workstation to do this themselves. It looks like I'm going to have to go third party for a solution, and while that's probably less costly than doing a dedicated workstation to monitor the array, it's still an added expense that I really don't think I should have to incur in order to be proactive with my clients.

I honestly believe the folks I've spoken with at Dell understand my plight. While they have not committed to anything, there have been discussions about changes to engineering on future controllers to ensure an audible alarm among other possibilities. Based on a series of messages that floated around this afternoon, I know the issue has been escalated internally, but still have no clear direction on where to go.

At the end of the day, two weeks after I first placed the call regarding the failed array and lack of notification of the failure, I still have a box that I will have to manually monitor for RAID health. I'm hoping for a better solution, and I expect that I'll just have to be patient.

I sure hope that data cable doesn't pop off the drive connector again, tho...

by eriq | 20 comment(s)
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On SBS SP1 Fulfillment (again)
Mon, Mar 26 2007 21:01

Just last week I posted (among others) that the official SBS blog had a post about the problems with the availability of the SBS SP1 media for those needing ISA 2004. Well, the ordering page at Microsoft has been udpated with the following informationn:

"For existing Windows Small Business Server 2003 Standard Edition customers, Service Pack 1 is available as a free download. For Premium Edition customers, the Standard Edition Service Pack 1 is also available as a free download; however, you will also need the Service Pack 1 Premium CD3 which is temporarily unavailable. Please check back after April 30, 2007, for an update on when you can order the CD from this page. We appreciate your business and apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you."

Implication: you will be able to order a CD set with the SP1 media that includes ISA 2004 (for those that have SBS 2003 Premium edition). I guess we'll know in about a month... 

by eriq | 1 comment(s)
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On Community Leadership
Tue, Mar 20 2007 6:56

We have a special worldwide community in SBS and it's related space. From the newsgroups to web forums to multiple web sites to countless bloggers, there are many folks out there who are trying to make working with SBS as efficient and enjoyable as possible. Some of these folks take it to another level entirely. They run user groups. They speak at user group meetings on their own travel dime. They spend hours and hours and hours helping people in need without collecting a nickel in payment. They write books, white papers, and hundreds and hundreds of blog posts.

There is a program that recognizes many of these overachievers - the MVP program. Those who are awarded MVP status by Microsoft have shown a commitment to the community that has been deemed worthy of recognition by a team of folks behind the scenes. Ask any MVP and they'll tell you what an honor it is to be considered for, much less awarded, MVP status. And in the SBS community, I'd say you'd be hard pressed to find an MVP who doesn't take the award very, very seriously.

But there are those who are very active in the community who will never receive an MVP designation because they are Microsoft employees. One such person is Kevin Beares, whose position as the SBS, Centro, and Windows Home Server Community Lead doesn't describe ahlf of what he does. It's been almost a year and a half since Kevin officially came into the fold of the SBS community, long before the real world knew that Centro and Windows Home Server were in the works. He spent quite a bit of time behind the scenes, but finally launched his own blog in May of last year. That launch coincided with the SBS Community Survey he was running to try and quantify the size and spread of the community in raw numbers (a thing that bean counters across the world really like). But that was just a sign of things to come.

Kevin has not just been active in the community, as his job title would imply. He has actively been promoting the community, both inside and outside of Microsoft. Last year, the SBS MVPs said that we wanted an event to build relationships with the SBS CSS group in Las Colinas, and Kevin helped put that together. When we congregated again around SMB Nation last September, Kevin helped put together another event to introduce the extended SBS MVP family to Centro (the "big brother" to SBS) as well as the next version of SBS. He has been very active in getting extended community involvement in the Windows Home Server product Beta program. And when the extended SBS MVP community said that we wanted to have extra time at the MVP summit to work with the product teams for SBS, Centro, and Windows Home Server, he not only got the events coordinated, but did so with great success.

In short, Kevin has really put in significant effort to build the community within the community. If you consider yourself part of the SBS extended community, MVP or not, you can thank Kevin for the efforts he has put in to significantly strengthen the community and all of its membership. It's mostly been a thankless job, because much of what he does goes on behind the scenes and out of the public eye. But nevertheless, he has been there championing a community he strongly believes in, an for that, I'd like to say a big "Thank You" to Kevin. And I'd like to ask that you do the same. If you've benefitted from something Kevin has done for you, drop him a note and let him know how much you appreciate it. In a job like his, he is often the recipient of flames and hate mail, and it's amazing when someone can filter out the negativity and keep working for the greater good. To that end, and nice, positive note every once in a while can really make the difference. And I, for one, would hate to see Kevin burn out or think that his efforts have not made a difference and lose some of the drive he has brought into this community. So, please, take a moment and drop him a note of thanks if thanks are indeed in order. I know he would welcome the feedback.

by eriq | 2 comment(s)
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On SBS SP1 Fulfillment
Mon, Mar 19 2007 13:25

There has been an issue for a while with getting the SBS SP1 installation media from Microsoft for those who have SBS 2003 Premium and wanted to get ISA 2004 as part of the SP1 package. The issue is being worked on, but there is no ETA for a solution at this point. People who are not yet running SBS 2003 SP1 should definitely download and install the non-ISA updates, but those who are wanting to get the ISA 2004 update for their Premium install will have to wait a bit longer.

The Official SBS Blog has a post about this issue and will be the official communications channel when the solution is ready.
 

by eriq | 1 comment(s)
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On Finishing DST Updates
Sun, Mar 18 2007 19:34

Friday night, after flying back home from the MVP summit, I wrapped up the last item on my DST to-do list. It wasn't related to Outlook, Exchange, my PDA, or my Mac, but it was rather bothersome while I was in Seattle and couldn't do anything about it. Such are the joys of having a watch that syncs with the atomic clock.

No big deal, right? Just change the time on the watch and be done with it! Well, that's exactly why I looked high and low for this particular type of watch. I wanted to get one that would sync with the atomic clock so I'd never have to set the time on the watch again. The nicest thing is that it automatically adjusts for DST. When it can receive the signal from the atomic clock, that is. And that's the problem I ran into while in Seattle. Normally, the watch listens for the atomic clock radio signal starting at 3am local time and tries for 3 hours to pull the signal and sync. While in Seattle, though, the watch was unable to receive the signal from Colorado. So, no DST updates.

While I was sleeping Friday night, the watch finally pulled the signal and set itself correctly. Now I'm finally able to keep time on my wrist without math. Joy! 

by eriq | with no comments
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On SP2
Sat, Mar 17 2007 18:10

OK, after the initial flurry of activity related to the release of Windows Server 2003 SP2, which I've tried to keep updated in the original post, it seems some things have settled down, and some others have come up. Here's what we "know" right now:

1. The bit about having to uninstall IE7 is NOT for all cases. There are some cases involving a reinstall of the core OS that would put IE6 back on top of IE7 that could cause problems, but the initial documentation noted that IE7 had to be uninstalled before SP2 could be installed. That document was wrong, and should have been corrected by now.

2. There are a couple of cases noted where IIS has not started the web sites after a restart of the box immediately following the install. This has not been the case on many boxes, and I haven't seen it on the boxes I've loaded the update on, but it has been reported more than once. Hopefully the common underlying cause will be identified quickly so we can avoid that in the future.

3. There are also reports that machines running the ISA Firewall client are unable to find the ISA server following a reboot of the box that just had SP2 installed. Again, not on every server, and I haven't seen that on the one ISA box I've installed SP2 on, but it has been reported.

4. Some reports about DHCP problems have also been noted, but it's not yet clear if those are related to SP2 or another factor.

All in all, the vast majority of folks who have installed this on SBS seem to have no issues at all, so if you want to move forward, you should probably be OK, but you might want to take the stance of holding off for a bit and see what else happens to the early adopters.

There are also some new GPO settings related to SMB signing (joy) so I'll be researching and documenting that aspect of SP2 and will post updates to existing and new documents that deal with SMB signing and GP in general. 

by eriq | 1 comment(s)
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It doesn't *what*??
Sat, Mar 17 2007 17:52

So I got back into the office following the MVP summit and need to do some work on one of my test boxes, and I'm running into a little trouble with a piece of software complaining about the CPU not being 64-bit (this is on a server acquired a month ago specifically for 64-bit software testing) and it suggested that I check some settings in the BIOS. OK, no problem. Reboot the server, and just happen to look at the RAID controller firmware during the BIOS boot and thought it was taking a little longer than normal to go past. Sure enough, when the firmware finishes initializing, it reports that the main VD is degraded. Yikes! I popped into the controller BIOS and it says the drive is missing. *sigh* I hear a call to Dell coming in the near future.

Before calling, I pop the case to see that everything looks OK (this is done with power OFF, by the way, and with a good grounding strap), and I noticed that the cable connecting drive 0 to the controller has come off the connector. Not just worked a little lose, mind you, but completely and totally off. No wonder the array was degraded and the controller reported a drive missing. I reconnected the cable (which doesn't fit exactly the way I want, and I'll mention that in my call to Dell, because I can kinda see why the connector popped off in the first place), power on the server, and get back into the controller BIOS. Drive shows, but it's showing Foreign (again, not a huge surprise), so I make one of the other unallocated drives in the unit (long story, don't ask) a global hotspare, and the array starts rebuilding immediately.

When I got the Dell support rep on the phone, which didn't take very long, his initial thought was that the drive was bad and he was ready to courier it to me to meet the 4-hour on-site warranty that I got with the box, but after I explained the situation, we went through and got the drive back to a working state, and it seems to be in good shape, save for the concerns I have about the cable pressure. But I asked him about my real concern, which was that the controller alarm didn't sound when the array failed. He reviewed the docs on the controller, and dropped this little tidbit of info on me:

The PERC5/i controller DOES NOT SUPPORT AN ALARM.

Excuse me? The PCI controller (which has exactly the same firmware, apparently) supports an audible alarm for when there's a hardware problem on the controller, but the on-board one does not? Could someone try to explain this to me in a way that makes ANY sense at all whatsoever?

My Dell reps are going to get a bit of an earful come Monday. Besides the lack of alarm support on the controller and the cable pressure, it's clear that the firmware for the on-board controller doesn't support a number of functions that the PCI version does, including, but not limited to, flashing the LED on the drives.

I know Dell has their ups and downs, and I've defended them most of the time that people insist on deriding the hardware or support lines, but this is just plain lunacy. And it wasn't anything that was obvious - the support rep had to dig through a number of docs to finally determine that the on-board controller has no alarm support.

So, note to self. Either Dell gets this fixed, or I stick with PCI RAID controllers from now on. That's like buying a car where none of the dashboard alert lights are present and you're supposed to guess when you have an oil pressure problem, or are close to running out of gas, etc., etc., etc.

Good grief... 

by eriq | 3 comment(s)
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On Swag
Thu, Mar 15 2007 11:13
So we were discussing this morning all the swag that one typically gets at conferences, and I asked about the etymology of the term "swag." Despite the numerous dictionary definitions for swag, the common term used in this arena for the goodies that are passed out is accepted to stand for "stuff we all get." Never knew that myself...
by eriq | with no comments
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On Updates
Wed, Mar 14 2007 1:34

Well, turns out it's not just me that can be a little off when it comes to updating things. Today, (well, yesterday based on the time this actually gets posted) Microsoft released Service Pack 2 for Windows Server 2003. Only there are a couple of issues with the release. Still waiting on additional information, but here's what can be found out at the moment:

1. W2K3SP2 is being offered through WindowsUpdate/MicrosoftUpdate. I had it in my head somewhere that Service Packs weren't offered through Windows Update, but apparently I got my wires crossed on that one.
2. There are issues if you need to upgrade a server TO Windows SBS 2003 SP1. As documented in KB932600, you have to uninstall SP2 if you need to upgrade a Windows 2003 server to SBS 2003, or upgrade an eval copy of SBS 2003 to production SBS 2003. Sorta makes sense, as when you run the SBS 2003 installer, it's going to put SP1 on the server and will have issues if SP2 is already there, but it's interesting nonetheless.
3. You have to uninstall IE7 from your Windows Server 2003 box before you can install SP2. This is according to a Technet article. I'm not sure what the story is on this, but I have several servers I'll need to uninstall IE7 from before I'm able to install SP2 apparently. Joy.
4. It really is going to get pushed out through Automatic Updates, so if you don't want to have it go on automatically, you can get a tool that will block deployment of SP2.

More to come, I'm sure... 

UPDATE 3/14/07 - Seems some folks out there have been able to install SP2 without removing IE7. Still waiting on final word on this, but there is at least anecdotal information that #3 above may not actually be an installation stop point.

 

UPDATE 3/15/07 - The issue with needing to uninstall IE7 prior to installing SP2 is an error in the release notes. The document should be updated shortly, but there is no need to uninstall IE7 prior to installing SP2. Also, the SP will not be pushed down through Automatic Updates until June 2007. It does show up as a Critical Update when you manually go to the Microsoft Update web site and check for updates, but Automatic Updates is not offering it until later. It does appear in WSUS as an approvable installation. The Official SBS Blog also has a post about installing SP2 on SBS 2003.
 

by eriq | 2 comment(s)
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On i'm
Wed, Mar 14 2007 1:13
I do a lot of IM with folks in the community and the unofficial back channel. I've been noticing recently a number of people with different information listed in their display names. So I finally asked someone what the deal was with the asterisk and the foundation name in their IM listing. Anne promptly told me to Google it, and I did, finding this. OK, so I can't participate because I'm using AdiumX as my IM client on my Mac, but it's still a good idea, so I'm all for spreading the word.
by eriq | with no comments
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On Introductions
Mon, Mar 12 2007 22:39

Sandi, meet Eriq. Eriq, meet Sandi. Should have been that simple, but it wasn't. Let me pull back the curtains a bit: 

Australian MVP Sandi Hardmeier has been a guest on the eOnCall show a number of times. With her March 1 episode, she shortly became the more frequent guest on the show. Given the show recording times and the show prep, Sandi and I have interacted quite a bit in the few months I've been privy to know her. So, imagine how excited I was to finally get to meet her in person, since she's coming to the Summit as well.

Sunday afternoon, following a smooth checkin procedure at the Hyatt, a group of us SBSers got together and headed down the street for lunch. While we were waiting on the food to be delivered, I stepped out into the street to call home and check in. Suddenly, Wayne Small is shouting at someone while standing next to me. "Sandi!" he shouted loud enough that my wife recognized his voice over the cell phone. I immediately knew who he was yelling at, and I said "Cool, I finally get to meet Sandi Hardmeier."

Sandi had just passed down the street, and Wayne had just happened to see her pass, hence his hurried exit from the restaurant, and shouted greeting. So Sandi and her travelling companion turned around and came into the restaurant for a few minutes. That was the time when I went up to her and introduced myself, saying, "Hi, I'm Eriq Neale." She shook my hand and said "Yes, I know who you are" and thus the introductions were complete. After meeting the rest of the folks at the table, she and her companion left, and I got back to the important task of putting food in my stomach.

Later that afternoon, I popped into Wayne's room, and there was Sandi, as well as a number of other folks. We chatted for a while, and I departed.

This morning as I got up and was getting ready to head in, Sandi pinged me in IM, asking if I was going to be at the afternoon session. I said that I was, and she told me that she was, too, and couldn't wait to meet me.

Ummmm, this is the same Sandi Hardmeier I met yesterday, right?

Playing the dummy, I suggested that perhaps we had met already yesterday, and that's when she put two and two together, and suddenly started talking about jet lag or some such nonsense.

So, at the afternoon session, I made a point of going up to Sandi and introducing myself. And I'll make a point of introducing myself to her the first time I see her each day the rest of the week, just in case she forgets again. 

by eriq | with no comments
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On Music
Mon, Mar 12 2007 7:58

Even though the MVP summit is primarily a gathering for those of us nerdy enough to be in the computing profession in some way, shape, or form, sometimes some very cool non-technology things happen. Take last night, for instance. While at a gathering at the Rock Bottom Lounge, I was fortunate enough to run into Dean Paron, Program Manager for SBS at Microsoft, and his wife Aileen. Turns out that Aileen is a musician/singer who is trying to start a career in the Seattle area. They brought copies of her debut CD, Anonyma, with them, and I immediately snapped up one from them. Being a semi-pro msuciain myself, I'm always in favor of supporting local artists who are trying to make it into the scene.

I didn't have a chance to really listen to the CD last night while I ripped it into iTunes so I can listen to it later in my iPod, but from what I heard, Aileen has an amazing voice. I promised Aileen and Mr. Aileen (sorry, Dean, you've taken second fiddle now) a critical review of the CD, and I'll get to that later. But if you'd like to sample Aileen's music yourself, there are several places you can hear it. The CD is available on iTunes, you can link to song samples on her web site, and there's even a MySpace page for her. 

And if you're lucky enough to meet her in person, she'll even autograph the CD for you, I'm sure. 

by eriq | with no comments
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On Transition
Sun, Mar 11 2007 23:32

Today many of us migrated from the Silver Cloud in Redmond to our respective hotels in Seattle proper. I landed at the Grand Hyatt, and I must say it's a fabulous room, not that I plan on spending much time here.

Before we came over, most of us got to sit in on a session with Jeff Middleton where he shared more information about his upcoming conference with us, especially those of us who are going to be contributing to the conference in one way or another. You'll be able to see more information about the conference at the site shortly, as Jeff continues to provide updates to the content on a regular basis, and if you haven't looked at the site in a while, you should.

Now it's time to start thinking about the Summit proper, and, of course, wonder if there will be any other fallout from the DST changes that happened early this morning. My Mac Powerbook picked up the changes, no problem. My PDA didn't, but I haven't loaded the updates yet. My watch, on the other hand, is presenting a bit of a problem. It syncs nightly with the atomic clock in Colorado, which sends out DST updates at the appropriate times, so I never have to adjust my watch. Well, it didn't sync with the clock last night, so it didn't get the update. I'll hope that it updates in the next day or two, or I'll just have to rely on my PDA to keep my time straight. 

by eriq | with no comments
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On Demos
Sun, Mar 11 2007 7:15

This is the power of community, no doubt. And I had to go and miss it.

Saturday night's activities consisted of a number of product/technology demos by MVPs for MVPs at our little pre-summit gathering in Redmond. After another full day of technical presentations that I still can't talk about, we gathered for dinner at a lovely asian restaurant near the hotel (the food was excellent, and the company was superb). Following the dinner, several folks had previously agreed to present a 10-15 minute presentation on a topic of general interest to the room. Dana Epp discussed his product AuthAnvil, Wayne presented Colligo Contributor, Susan Bradley discussed Exchange Defender, Anne Stanton talked about CRM and Groove, and some others as well (like I said, I wasn't there, so I may have missed out on a few things).

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were a conference for the community that was made up of a bunch of these sessions back to back (with breaks every now and again, of course) to just show the tools each of us are using on a regular basis and how others might be able to use them? Yeah, that would be cool... 

by eriq | with no comments
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On Pool
Fri, Mar 9 2007 23:06

What better way to spend Friday night in Bellevue, WA, than having a private pool party at the Parlor Billiard Hall in Lincoln Square? Well, I can't think of it. Outside of the Mexican food (inside joke), the evening was quite entertaining. We were treated to a billiards demonstration by a rather talented gentleman who showed off a number of tricks, including challenging a number of the MVPs to a game.

Dean Calvert, Australian SBS MVP, was one such victim. He got in exactly one shot. Well, two, but the first didn't count. Here's what I mean (17MB QuickTime file, so be prepared before clicking the link).

He performed a number of tricks, including this one, (12MB QuickTime download) that were quite entertaining to watch.

But more importantly for me, it was another opportunity to bond with my MVP peers, many of whom I've met for the first time this trip. I'm looking forward to what tomorrow brings, both in technical information and relationship building. 

by eriq | with no comments
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On NDA
Thu, Mar 8 2007 23:58

So this is going to be a bit weird of a week for blogging. I'm getting to attend my first MVP Summit in Redmond/Seattle, and I really have no idea what to expect. Other than a LOT of MVPs. And when there are that many MVPs together, who knows what can happen.

But I do have to be somewhat careful about what to blog, as there will be information I'll be on the receiving end of that is under NDA (non-disclosure agreement) that I cannot talk about less I lose my MVP status, among other things. So, while there will be some very cool things I'll get to experience, there will also be some things I just won't be able to dicuss, now matter how much I might want to share the info with others.

Tonight I checked into the Silver Cloud in Redmond, just a few bloks from the mothership Microsoft campus. I'm still recuperating from my flight (long story, very boring, if you need to know, you've already been told). Tomorrow is a full day at the MS campus, followed by a dinner activity and, I'm sure, much alcohol consumption. But who's drinking what and how much remains under, you guessed it, NDA. Sorry.
 

by eriq | with no comments
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On Variety
Thu, Mar 1 2007 11:05

Variety is the spice of life, so we're told, unless you live on Dune, but that's another story (literally). One of the things I really love about what I do in my business is that every day is a completely unexpected experience. I never know who's going to call or what issue they're going to need help with. In doing remote support through smallbizserver.net, each of the remote requests is about as different from the previous ones as posible. Bottom line, I love the fact that I never know exactly what to expect when I wake up in the morning. This is mostly good, but sometimes it can be a bit more interesting that you would like. But, for me anyway, it beats getting up and knowing *exactly* what is going to happen over the next 16 hours, because it's happened the same way every day since the last millenium.

We also try to throw a bit of variety into the eOnCall show. Last week (February 22, 2007), Anne Stanton sat in to talk about CRM software. Today's show (March 1, 2007) Sandi Hardmeier talks about the lastest hiccup in spyware attacks, coming at you through IM clients. Yikes. Next week, well, next week will be addressed next week.

Still, I think it's good to have a bit of the unexpected whenever possible. That's why there's been absolutely no pattern to the posts on this blog. Yeah, that's it. That's the reason...

by eriq | with no comments
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