By Jonathan Merrill on 4/29/2012 12:24 PM

Here is the comment I left Dave Hitz on his blog… No one more than me evangelizes the merits of SAN technology and how NetApp meets our needs… however… the word “innovation” is as much overused as the word “cloud”.


It's alright to look back, however I don't agree with NetApp leading unified storage.  I do agree NetApp’s products have steadily evolved and are in step with major competitors. We chose NetApp’s solution based on product maturity, reputation in the industry, and by recommendation from our storage vendor.

However, NetApp’s challenge is not on the hardware front. It’s with NetApp software. In fact, NetApp is lagging very badly on the software front which puts many questions to why I, and many others, would invest so much on NetApp software.

In gross summarization, the software is difficult to use, not intuitive to learn, and there are too many products needed to integrate to get the 360 view point that is needed. Additionally, the perceived abandoning of OSSV, confusion around SyncSort’s purpose, and a real lack of integrated cohesion between the Operations Manager, Protection Manager, and Snap Manager products.

Our reliance on the software is supposed to drive reliance and growth dependency on the hardware. This isn’t the case. Why? You have NetApp sales and engineering people saying things like, “We just don’t have customers that leverage the entire NetApp software suite like you do…” Really? Is that a validation to not use NetApp software?

Where it stands today is OnCommand is partly functional. Many features do not work and lack depth. So many workarounds to achieve the very things the junior competitors already have and have done for many years, like simple alerting. Modular is ok. Only if it is tightly coupled. It’s neither today.

My perception is these issues do not get the attention of senior leadership. Or you’re not being told the truth, Dave. Because if they did… I know you’d be driving a hard line to get OnCommand truly unified by end of 2012. Innovation should include not just next generation features, but user interface and usability.

This is the message needs to be sent to the senior leadership. Your missing out on major opportunities to win hearts and minds by continuing on this path. I want to be excited about NetApp storage. I want to be a champion for NetApp. I cannot be in its current state.

More to come on our state of storage and NetApp.


By Jonathan Merrill on 4/22/2012 7:51 PM

WP_000046Today I write about a phenomenon in the world of Texas information technology that is the highest form of social function.  The BBQ lunch.

All the good BBQ places in Dallas are usually packed to the gills and get exponentially worse as the week goes on.  And being invited to the BBQ lunch either by a vendor, colleague, or someone on the leadership team sets a standard, especially if it’s a Friday.

Given the sanctity of the BBQ lunch, I have a few recommendations for the uninitiated, uninformed.

Location, location, location.  The top 3 BBQ places in Dallas I recommend are:

3.  Smoke – The uptown eclectic BBQ joint for those “fancy” BBQ lunches.  Rating:  A.

2.  Spring Creek BBQ – The bar for BBQ lunch which mixes quality, taste, and don’t forget the blue bell ice cream.  Rating:  A.

1.  Hard Eights BBQ – An amazing BBQ lunch.  Served pit style as shown in the picture above.  Very easy to go crazy.  Rating:  A+.

The title says it all. Go get your BBQ lunch on.


By Jonathan Merrill on 4/15/2012 6:18 PM

I am an avid reader and really enjoy reading trade magazines.  There are very very few I’ll actually pay for.   Here is my list of magazines I feel are worthy of investigation and in the few cases, worthy of plunking down the subscription fee.

Redmond Magazine used to be the free Microsoft Certified Professional magazine from way back when.  Back in those days, you had to be a MCP to get the free magazine.  Now, the magazine is more of a collection of critical observations and skepticisms of Microsoft than insider technical information.  I’ve heard TECHNET magazine is the way to go, but I haven’t read that magazine.  Why do I read this magazine?  Some of the articles are good, but usually it gets my ire up enough to keep me turning the pages and the occasional muttering of Linux conspiracies under my breath.

Cost:  FREE.  (Sometimes you get what you pay for…)
Money Magazine is actually a great financial magazine.  I remember my Dad subscribing to this magazine when I was a kid.  I find the articles very relevant to our financial situation and enjoy the tips and tricks.

Cost:  $20 per year  (More than worth it…)
Game Informer is actually my son’s magazine.  I do read it as it feeds my game playing inner-geek.  The magazine is actually well done.  The art is fantastic, articles descriptive, scoring system fair, and the “letters from readers” provides the comedy.

Cost:  $15 per year (Eh, it’s worth if if you buy games at GameStop…)
Dell Power Solutions is one of my favorite magazines I look forward to reading.  It’s chock full of interesting articles relevant to the Dell product offering, covering servers, desktops, storage, and networking.  Some of their magazines cover a theme, like virtualization solutions or Windows 7 upgrades.  I am amazed at the level of information they put together!  One observation I will make is more recently the articles have taken on a salesy approach compared to years ago.  Next time I see that, I’ll be sure to email the editor… Winking smile

Cost:  FREE.  (Awesome factor = 1000)
Maximum PC is my #1 favorite magazine!  Formerly Boot Magazine, I’ve had this subscription since I’ve been married (13+ years) and lean on it’s articles to keep me up to speed with the latest and greatest around PC hardware, video card performance, and the consumer side of the industry.  Can’t recommend this resource enough.

Cost:  $25 per year (My must read magazine every month…)

PS.  This is the only magazine I could find in Amazon’s store to view on my Kindle.



By Jonathan Merrill on 4/8/2012 8:17 PM

Probably one of my biggest pet peeves is witnessing the back and forth in email trying to coordinate meetings.  There had to be a way to make this more accessible.  Was there a tool that allowed me to publish my calendar and allow external people to access it?  Allow people to send me invites based on open slots?

I’ve been amazed that Microsoft Exchange doesn’t have a way to make it easy to schedule meetings other than publishing your calendar to specific people.  Publishing a web page for calendaring isn’t feasible.  And one to one sharing isn’t reasonable for the many vendors needing access.

So, here are the collection of tools I am aware of:

  • Google Calendar – My defacto go to calendar, although Google’s calendar agent has some gotchas and didn’t work 100%.
  • Microsoft Office Online – My first attempt at calendar publishing.  Microsoft DX’d this service and broke it in Outlook 2010.
  • Microsoft Live Calendar – Never could get my mailbox to sent to the calendar.  Only from the calendar.  Outlook Connector didn’t fix it.
  • iCal Exchange – Works, but the UI is not very usable and also had a problem with time zones (an Apache issue).  Not been touched since 2007.

Enter  I stumbled across it looking at the signature from a blind sales email.  Checking it out, I got real excited at how user friendly and interactive this tool is.  A game changer.

Simply, Tungle makes it easy to schedule meetings inside or outside your organization, across calendars and time zones.

  • No more back & forth finding time to meet  <—YAHOO!
  • Prevent double bookings
  • Automatically adjust for time zones
  • Connect to your existing calendars <— A litany of choices… Outlook is one of them!
  • Propose multiple times for meetings <— WOW! 
  • Easily share your availability with anyone <— Way too easy.. Small client does the sync.

Need to see more?  Check this out:

Youtube Video On Tungle.Me


This tool is GOMERRILL Approved!


By Jonathan Merrill on 4/1/2012 7:34 AM

Ok… That was hard to say.  Feels like I betrayed my Microsoft roots.  Nevertheless, I took the tablet plunge after a deep inspection of the playing field.  Mostly, I wanted a smaller tablet I could easily carry around and read books from.  My wife is starting to accumulate a impressive ebook library and buying books is becoming a storage challenge.  So, I took the plunge.

The Specs

1 GHz TI OMAP 4 4430 (dual core)

Storage capacity
8 GB

512 MB RAM

7 in multi-touch Gorilla Glass display, 1024×600 at 169 ppi, 16 million colors.  Capacitive touch sensitive.

PowerVR SGX540

Micro-USB 2.0 (type B)
3.5 mm stereo socket
802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi

Online services
Amazon Prime, Amazon Cloud Storage, Amazon Cloud Player, Amazon Instant video, Amazon Silk, Amazon App Store, Amazon Kindle Store

190 mm (7.5 in) H
120 mm (4.7 in) W
11.4 mm (0.45 in) D

413 g (14.6 oz)

After Three Weeks Impression

Primarily, I am using Kindle for reading books and occasional web browsing.  That’s really all.  And with those two functions, the Kindle is pretty darn cool.  The device is deceptively heavier than it looks and the power button is at the bottom of the device instead of the top.  No big deal, just something to get used to.  Overall, a strong “A” rating.

I will admit there was an initial learning curve on using the device.  I don’t feel the Kindle is as intuitive as it could be.  I needed to read the “Getting Started” to get the tips and tricks down.  Also getting on the wireless was a little bumpy.  However, the fluidity of the interface and ease access books sets the bar on how this type of content should be accessible.  A-.

I did load TouchDown so I could access email.  I wish I could say it was “easy” to get up and running.  Took me about an hour to figure out.  Using the quick wizard actually was encumbering, so I don’t advocate it it to peers.  After manually typing in our Exchange info, accepting the SSL cert, it grabbed email.  So, it does work… Again, just not as intuitive as I had hoped.  C rating as this shouldn’t be so difficult.

Also am bummed that the Kindle Fire doesn’t include the audio reader, as the original Kindle.  Instead, you get links to and free 1 month access.  What a major let down.  I love audio books, but don’t see paying for being a realistic option.  F rating as this is a glaring missing feature.

Highly recommend a case for the Kindle.  I happened to purchase a leather case that envelops the Kindle and I can’t say enough how wise that decision was.  I dropped the Kindle just 3 days in and it survived the drop without a crack or ding.

Am I A Convert?

I am glad I bought it.  I definitely will use the device and probably find other ways to allow it to intrude my daily life.  My wife has an iPad and I compare it to mine here and there.  I repeatedly come to the conclusion I like what I have.

There is one thing I will mention being the purist I am.  Although the Kindle/Android combination seem to be a win, I find myself wanting the Windows 7 Phone experience on the Kindle.  As an loving owner of a Nokia 710, I would bet 7 phone would be as big of a win UI-wise on Kindle than Android is.

Just saying.

By Jonathan Merrill on 3/25/2012 1:13 PM

One of my colleagues shot an email over to me regarding their company’s password policy, just put into effect:

- Standard user account passwords will require at least eight (8) characters for all accounts.

- Privileged account passwords will require at least twelve (12) characters for all accounts.

- Service account passwords will be require at least twelve (12) characters for all accounts

I had to reflect on this a moment and smile as we’ve been 12 characters for 6+ years. I won’t say it had not been a tough sell, especially amongst senior leadership and physicians. Identity theft and breaches are so common now, it’s not unusual for people to personally know people who’s been effected. And usually the correlation involves the password not changing for years or is inadequate (not complex).

What’s my stance on passwords?

I subscribe to these points:

1. Password History – Best practice is anywhere from 12-24. 12 is fine for the vast majority.

2. Maximum password age – 90 days is best practice for anything below 11 characters. However, 12+ characters meet complexity requirements, thus can pushed to 120 days.

3. Minimum password length – 12 character “passphrase” is the current Microsoft security best practice, although 15 characters is the new “12” according to the SANS institute. I am not recommending 15, but organizations should ready themselves for this possibility.

4. Password complexity – not required for passwords 12+ characters. See below.

Password Complexity

According to the SANS institute on network security, 6 character passwords can be cracked in less than 0.1 seconds (for example). These findings can be found here:

Net-net, 12 characters taking 200,000 years to crack assumes a single PC, no GPU benefit, running consumer grade processors. People who hack/crack for a living don’t use pedestrian equipment and typically utilize “workstation” class hardware, multi-processor/multi-core, multi-GPU, running server-grade processors. That slides the scale down to 1 year, a far different value from 200,000 years.

Not to mention the new “in-thing” in cracking circles is to utilize the cloud to hack passwords. Hackers purchased cloud services from Amazon EC2, which hacked Sony PlayStation Network back in April 2011. Although the majority of the passwords were 6-8 in length, it easily cracked 10-12 in the 2-day duration. High performance computing clusters add a serious level of depth to the time to crack metric, which is why anything exposed to the internet is of considerable risk. Another example is an security researcher was caught developing applications to crack WIFI encryption using Amazon EC2, which included WEP, WPA, and WPAv2. That’s 400,000 passwords per second using a 8-GPU system.

And let me call out these particular statements from the article, to which I fully support and agree:

Password complexity is good, no doubt about it, but passphrase length is much better. For any given set of assumptions in the red cells of the spreadsheet, as you move horizontally across the spreadsheet to the right (as we increase complexity) the number of days necessary to crack increases, which is good, but as you move down the spreadsheet (as we increase length) the rate of increase in cracking days required grows even faster. In general, then, adding more length is better than adding more complexity. Passphrase hashes are generally much more resilient against cracking than complex-password hashes.



By Jonathan Merrill on 3/18/2012 6:14 PM

Blogging has been far and few due to the usual suspects… Family, work, and hobbies… As the first quarter closes, I look into 2012 with both excitement of new projects ahead and exasperation because of the new projects ahead.  Let’s look at a few of them here…

#1 – SharePoint 2007 to 2010 Upgrade

Our organization is moving ahead with SharePoint as our BIS intentions have exploded demand for more reports, more content, and more exposure to our hospitals.  I can’t say I am surprised as healthcare is knee deep in building the metrics culture as the government pushes meaningful use out across the nation.  Nevertheless, SharePoint 2007 is problematic and we’ve heard there are many many many fixes in SharePoint 2010.  That project kicks off in late April.

#2 – Data Warehouse Upgrade

Much of the ETL processes that back end into our Microsoft SQL environment have suffered with performance.  We’ve outgrown the first configuration as we grew the solution.  New hardware and optimizing the environment kicks off early April.

#3 – Cisco ASA Firmware Upgrades

The infamous 8.4 upgrade has got the network team very… annoyed… afraid… frustrated… apprehensive… This upgrade necessitated upgrades and rethinking our edge security.  8.2 is very dated and 8.6 already out.  We’ll be bringing in some guns to get this upgrade done.

#4 – Active Directory Migrations

Probably the biggest project this year in terms of scope and impact.  Three of our hospital forests will be migrated into the Texas Health Partners forest.  We are moving rapidly towards a private cloud offering, commoditizing the desktop while diving into virtualization.  This may or may not kick off this quarter, but if I were a betting man… it will.

#5 – Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2012

Desktop images, deployment flexibility across physical, virtual, and mobile, application command and control… We’ve outgrown trying to maintain Microsoft Deployment Toolkit successfully and the sheer grunt work of managing so many GPOs.  Managing the desktop environment with half a dozen different platforms has us needing a better solution.

Git er’ done!


By Jonathan Merrill on 3/9/2012 1:41 PM

For me, there is a big difference between leadership and mentoring.  Consider these definitions:

Leadership – Providing direction or guidance in the execution of duties and responsibilities.

Mentoring – Providing instruction and guidance of another for the purpose of learning and growth.

As leaders, we talk quite a bit about mentoring and the need to do more of it.  The majority of new hires coming in don’t fulfill all our requirements, so the necessity of mentoring is real and a big part of leadership.

However, this post is about an aspect of mentoring which I see as a growing problem!  It involves spending time with the people you mentor, establishing goals, taking time to educate, using tools, sending them of to use what you’ve shared… and allowing them fail.

Allowing people to fail is not something that is instinctive.  Especially if, during the time you spend mentoring, familial bonds emerge and you genuinely hope for their future and want to see them succeed.  However, I’ve found if you don’t do it, then you stop mentoring and you begin to cultivate behaviors that are either similar to doting parents or fearing the wrath of failure from others.

When tough events occur, it’s stepping in to shield or intervening because it’s easier to correct than allow your people to apply what they’ve learned.  I see this quite a bit in the workplace.  And typically also see these behaviors coupled with leaders being frustrated with their people they are mentoring.

If your mentoring people, one of the best lessons for you when mentoring your people is allow them to fail.  Failure is a teacher.  It gives wisdom.  And wisdom coupled with knowledge builds skills in not just applying our trade.  But also develops political and operational discretion which is just as important as learning the technology.

By Jonathan Merrill on 3/3/2012 5:34 PM

Dear Sir -

I write this letter today to bring awareness to a real problem with Sprint’s retention of long term customers, as well as a failures in customer service both in Sprint branches and on the phone.

Let me preface that I’ve been a Sprint customer for eight years and would rate my satisfaction as high during the timeframe.  Compared to others in my area, Sprint’s service has been stellar with no drop calls and great voice quality in North Dallas.  During all that time, I can remember only one event where I experienced two days of shaky service when a lightning bolt hit a water tower in my neighborhood.

The problem with retention seems to be centered around the lack of incentives to stay and how existing customers are treated by Sprint staff members.

Once my contract expired in 2011, I received a phone call from Sprint Customer service advising I was close to coming to term on my contract and was told to renew.  I asked why I should renew.  Specifically, do the terms of the Everything Plan change if not under contract.  I was told there are no differences in price, but being under contract locks in terms in the event that the plan cost changes.  During the contract term from 2010 to 2011, that statement was false as I was told in email that the plan was going up $10 due to having a smartphone on the plan.  Since I was basically a happy customer, I overlooked this slight and another by removing Premier/Gold status, sun setting that program.  Net-net, I declined to renew my contract and told customer service I would go month to month.

In February 2011, as I was walking to my car, my HTC Arrive broke when it fell out of my pocket.  This was my fourth phone and I decided, after having insurance on the first 3 and having horrible luck getting replacements, to decline purchasing insurance as the cost of the plan didn’t equate to the value being provided.  During the one time I tapped the insurance, I had a run of bad phones as most were reconditioned/refurbished phones that were DOA on arrival.

I decided to immediately visit a Sprint store to see what my options were.  I was presented with two.  First, I could buy another HTC Arrive phone for $450.  Second, I could buy a refurbished phone for as low as $69, but it would have to be online and take 3-4 days to ship.  The $69 phone was literally a flip-type phone that would normally be free to new customers.  There was no options that would have me leaving the store with a phone.  After explaining I was a long term customer with Sprint, that changed nothing.  The store personnel looked up my account and noticed I was 3 months away from a “upgrade” and advised I should wait and something could probably be done.

He also mentioned I was in contract and couldn’t leave Sprint without a contract termination fee.  When I told him I explicitly told Sprint Customer Service I did not want to be in contract, I was told that there was verbiage in the contract that would auto-renew and is done as a convenience!

What a frustrating situation.  Did Sprint sales staff actually expect me to wait for 3 months and pay for service with no phone?  Auto-renewing a contract after the customer told Customer Service not to do it?  The fact I couldn’t even get a commodity low end phone in the store was completely unacceptable, especially as a long term customer.

This week, I terminated my contract and switched to T-Mobile.  I was able to secure a Nokia Lumia 710 for free and the onboarding process was great.  Although I know I am getting inferior service compared to Sprint, your leadership gave me no incentive to stay.

I am disappointed in Sprint. Although I am one former customer out of the hundreds of thousands of customers, please hear this message:  Sprint’s current retention strategy isn’t working.  The lack of options and double-speak during interactions with sales people underscore the problem with Sprint’s business practice. You didn’t earn my continued business and tarnished the trust that was built.

Shameful.  Farewell.

Jonathan Merrill

By Jonathan Merrill on 2/26/2012 7:09 PM

It’s been several years since I looked at ITIL.  I’ve never really considered it in practice as taking on ITIL monumentally shifts thinking.  I’ve had hard enough times evangelizing the merits of Microsoft technologies and using their solutions framework, so why ITIL?

Texas Health Resources has committed to a pathway containing many transformational values as a part of a larger initiative.  In doing so, a demonstrable commitment to move move IT down an ITIL path where organization and efficiency being the desired outcome.

This week I attended a training event covering the foundations of ITIL V3.  For three days, we explored ITIL V3 in all it’s splendor, taught by Paul Wilmott, from the Education and Consulting division of HP.  I found the class infectious, exciting, and leaving me wanting more time to deep dive into how this could work for our organization.

HP did a great job with the material as well as the exercises that drive home what is learned.  Specifically, a mock exercise called HP Racing To Win, a simulated the technical support dynamic between engineers, IT support, and management.  It’s something that has to be seen to be explained.  Let me just say that our class really stunk at it… terrible… just terrible!

Here is a quick video of what it is all about:



Father, Leader, Mentor,
Educator, Evangelist,
Problem Solver, Visionary,
Strategist, Architect,
and Technology Professional





"The views and opinions expressed in articles, publications, and in any comments located on this website are those of mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers."