“It’s difficult to say at this time.There may be a chance that you’ll survive and live through this”
That was the prognosis shared with me in 2007 by a very reputed doctor in AIIMS Delhi. Hearing those words gave me a very different perspective about life. The experience had contrasting effects on me.
On the positive side:
I learnt that my time here is limited. I got a harsh lesson that terminal illnesses are not something that happen to “only to other people”- I’m not immune!… no one is.
I always used to get pissed when my time was being wasted by anyone; and I hated it when I lost money. After one year of living like a vegetable staring at the ceiling above my bed, and after spending a fortune in medical expenses, I realised that neither my money, nor my time is truly mine. It can be taken away from me at any time. I learnt not to bother about small setbacks. “This too shall pass” is no longer a trite colloquial phrase for me.
On the negative side, I became… bitter. I had lost all ambition!
I believe that facing mortality can swing you either of two ways – it can either give you laser like focus towards achieving your goals at a fiery pace, or it can bring you down to the point where not only do you lose faith in any Higher power, you also lose all sense of wonder about the world.
You get into the “What’s the point?” Mindset – a mindset where you believe that your life is just transient; that you, and everyone, everything around you is here by accident, a series of chemical reactions; so, why bother carrying desires to achieve anything – you’re going to turn to dust soon. No matter how healthy you are, there’s no way to know how much time do you have left.
This is a very dark and scary place to be in.
It took me so many years to get myself out of this quagmire of skepticism… but when I did come back out – It was with the below realisations:
I realised that I can never undo the memories of all the bad things that happened to me. Instead, I need to accept that these memories are, forever – a reflection of who I am.
I made my peace with the “absence of certainty in life”. If all I am is life’s sparring partner – then so be it. I’ll take life’s best punches – and I’ll stand up and raise my gloves after each fall, right upto the point I am knocked out. I’ll keep learning new things, keep doing new things, keep seeking new adventures until my time’s up.
I realised that life, indeed is beautiful – That until I die, I am still living, and that I’m lucky to have been given a chance to be here.
I realised my mind can be trained to unshackle itself from the limitations it imposes on itself.
I realised that others in the past… people who would have been no different than me – would have worked really hard for me to be able to live the way I am living; It’s only fair that I strive to contribute in whatever way I can, till the time I can.
I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
– The Bible
Lesson: Give it away for free
Zindagi’s first project involved designing and implementing the network for an armed forces organisation. Much to the chagrin of my team – I did that project without a PO.
Zindagi’s first full blown Cisco ACI implementation was done on a PO worth 1 Lac INR, around 1400 USD! That includes travel and other expenses.
When I started out – I didn’t have a guide in the industry who I could trust and seek advice from, or with whom I could brainstorm my ideas on how to build revenue. The entire process of entrepreneurship for me was full of trial and error.
“Bhai, tujhe dhanda karna nahi aata”
If I were given a dollar for each time I have heard that phrase, boy, my topline would look really sexy 🙂
After 2 years of having been an ‘accidental businessman’, I’ve not only been able to keep the company afloat; I’ve got new paying customers; I’ve connected with multiple people who have influence; I’ve built a team of brilliant engineers; all while ensuring that we’re in the green when it comes to the bottom line.
If someone were to ask me today – How do I start? How to increase clients? How to grow my topline? How to be successful? – My response would be: Give it away for free…
You’ve got to start somewhere. Might as well show your value by giving what you have for free.. or, for a small token amount perhaps. Not only will you gain confidence in your capabilities to deliver – next time, when you “sell your product / service”, you would have a much better understanding of it’s worth. By giving it away for free – You’ll not only get customers, you’ll have market tested products / services, you’ll gain respect – and most importantly you’ll get new ideas on how to improve on your offering, and what else can you offer.
Let’s say if you were to decide today – that you’ll treat everyone with respect, consistently – irrespective of their rank, social stature, religion; irrespective of whether they have something to give you – or the other way around. What if you were to commit that you will build long lasting relationships of trust with your family, your customers, partners, and your friends.
Where will you seek to gain inspiration for change? Religion? Spirituality?
For me, this realisation was years ago – when I was sulking after having spoken rudely to my mom – something that I would shamelessly admit having done many a times back then – and that too for petty issues. It’s odd how one tends to lose respect for their loved ones just because they live under the same roof. That same day, I’d have spoken to my customers, colleagues, or my boss in a polite tone – because social decorum demanded it, because I’d want to make a good impression.. or simply because I’d not want to get fired. What hypocrisy 😞 !
In that moment of epiphany, that I decided to change:
I’ll try each day not to be an A$$.
I’ll be consistent in my conduct irrespective of who I talk to – be it at home or in office.
In each relationship I maintain, be it with family, customers, partners, co-workers or friends – I’ll maintain a positive balance in the “Relationship Bank Account”
When Aditi and I got married – we made a pact… We’ll work on our relationship each day – we’ll make it a practice to invest in our “relationship bank account” each day – so that, when times are tough and we’re stressed, the withdrawals won’t cause the account to be overdrawn.
If you’ve never heard of the “Relationship Bank Account paradigm” – it’s espoused by Stephen Covey in his book – it’s a simple yet profound concept – here’s a quick summary:
We know how regular bank accounts work – you make a deposit, save some money – and you withdraw money when you need it.
A relationship bank account is an account of trust instead of money. An account of how safe you feel with the other person.
Covey talks about 6 major ways to make deposits and avoid withdrawals:
1. Understanding the individual:
Seek to understand first than to be understood. When speaking to someone, don’t just wait for them to finish so you can speak. Learn to listen, concentrate and emphasise with how they feel.
2. Keeping your commitments:
Don’t break promises you’ve made. If you have to meet someone at 10 AM, be there at 9:55 AM. If you’ve committed to complete a project by a certain date – put your heart and soul into ensuring you honour that commitment. Living up to every word that comes out of your mouth goes a long way in building up the emotional reserves required to maintain a relationship.
3. Clarifying expectations:
We can’t expect others to know exactly what we want. Communicating our expectations clearly and succinctly helps build trust between individuals.
4. Attending to the little things:
Small courtesies, kind words, words of encouragement, genuine smiles, a little extra effort, doing something “you didn’t have to” – all these things build trust.
5. Showing Personal Integrity:
Integrity is the moral floor on which trusting relationships are built. When we consistently operate with a sound moral character, it makes it much easier for others to trust and believe in us. Nothing is probably more damaging to a relationship than lack of integrity.
6. Apologise sincerely when you make a withdrawal:
As humans, we’ll make mistakes that will lead to withdrawals from the bank account. Knowing you were wrong, admitting you were wrong, and apologising sincerely prevents wounds from festering and gives them a chance to heal.
Nicety when negotiating
As an entrepreneur and the founder of a bootstrapped startup, I am responsible for owning the company’s P&L and ensuring that we’re always in the green. A key responsibility for a person in my shoes is to know how to negotiate. The problem is – I can’t! I’ve read books on negotiation; I’ve gone through Udemy videos to improve negotiation skills – however when it comes to sitting face to face with the SCM / procurement guys – I go red-faced and my lips get parched as the negotiator tries every trick in the book to break me:
I’ve been called for a negotiation meeting at 9 AM, and made to wait in the lobby till 4 PM with the occasional message “Sir toh abhi busy hain, aap ke liye kuch laye…chai piyoge?”
The value of my services have been be-rated and scoffed at by the “bad cop” in the room.
I’ve been “salami sliced” – where my offer is broken down into small components, and then concessions are sought for each one individually.
Being treated like this can easily cause you to lose your chi and let your emotions get the better of you.
Here’s how I’ve dealt when treated this way in the past:
Always be nice! I tell myself – it’s this guys job to treat me like this. He may be the nicest person in the world, but he’s just doing this in the interest of his company. I’ll not let the pressure get to me – I’m here to offer my services to them, and I’ll do so like a gentleman.
I know the worth of what I’m offering. As a provider of best in class professional services, I know this market and I’ve seen what the competition is offering – I’ve seen projects fail because they were given to someone who picked it up and sub-contracted, who further sub-contracted – thus resulting in total lack of ownership, no accountability, missed deadlines, and unhappy customers. I make sure I articulate this politely and unapologetically.
Refer the above lesson “Give if away for free”, I have had the chance to test the value of my services. I, therefore, know my “walk away” price – the point below which I won’t make a decent enough margin for all the effort my team will put into this. If I’m pushed beyond that price, I politely refuse by stating that its unfortunate that we can’t work on this deal, and that I hope we can work together in the future.
Trust and Temptations
As an IT consultancy, Zindagi Technologies takes part in deciding which products / solutions are the best fit for a set of requirements. Given the large milieu of vendors in the ICT ecosystem – we partner with many organisations when stitching together the solution.
In the past 2 years – I’ve been tempted with rewards, to act in such a way that where my actions would cause me to break a verbal commitment with a business partner or customer. It’s at times such as these where your integrity is tested… it’s at these times when I look up at the above points and decide what I would lose if I were to give into such temptations.
Here’s what I’ve learnt – As your reputation grows as a trusted consultant to decision makers, the more you’ll be put into such like situations. At times like these – use the above points at guiding principles and put your customer’s interests paramount. Not only will you strengthen the relationship with your partner / customer – you’ll gain respect in the eyes of the individuals who tempt you in the first place.
May I ask you to take a moment to apply these three questions on yourself:
Have you ever looked around at the way things are being done – and get the feeling that you can improve them, change them, influence them so that they’re better? But then you feel that you can’t – because you’re too confined by your responsibilities or your job… or that taking such an action would bring you out of your comfort zone?
Do you still “love your job” the way you did when you started? – Or, has it become a monotonous drag that you’re too scared to let go of because of the steady income?
Do you find it unacceptable that someone else can decide that your time from 9 AM to 6 PM each day is worth a pay check of X Rupees? Would you rather work for yourself and thereby increase your earning avenues?
If your answer to the above questions is a yes – then you may relate to my story.
Zindagi is an IT consultancy and Professional Services organisation which specialises in Smart City planning, design and implementation of all Data Centre, Command n Control centre, video surveillance and WAN components that go into the making of a successful smart city.
I’m often asked what my tipping point was; that caused me to quit my job and start my own company. Did I have a brilliant brainwave that I felt I could convert into quick cash? Did I get the urge to help a lot of people and “give back” to humanity? The answer all the above questions is.. well.. no. My story has an inception point which I’m sure a lot of people can relate to:
“Yaar, Kuch Apna Karna hai ”
I belong to a middle-class Indian family; I worked many years in a 9-to-6 job; and whenever I had some free time whilst at the tea stall below the office building or while travelling back from the customer site – this feeling of wanting to live on my own terms, to be my own boss – was overwhelming.
“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”
The first discouragement I got when i started Zindagi out was – “Why a services company? Aren’t there enough of those? You’ll just be a commodity! What value will you add? Make a product instead!”.
All the above points are true and valid in their own right – being a services company is hard work; the competition is steep; the margins aren’t all that great; reputation is everything; it’ll take years to build a reputation of being a quality service provider – and you’re going head first competing with the behemoths of the service industry.
Despite all of that, I went ahead with a services venture anyway. Why? Because I saw the potential to do things better. To convert requirements to scalable, resilient, cost-effective solutions. To choose the right products and, wherever required – to develop bespoke solutions to meet customer requirements.
Here’s a quote from Steve Jobs on challenging status quo:
“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world.
Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life.
Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)
I’m working towards some ambitious goals for my company for the next 2 years. Some of them are:
Make Zindagi a company where the team is self-motivated, and where innovation and creativity is encouraged and rewarded.
Build a reputation for Zindagi – one that represents Honesty, Competence, Commitment to customer success and the ability to execute consistently.
Contribute in making India grow by working on the planning, design and implementation of all ICT components of Smart Cities.
Build an easy to use, vendor agnostic, modular, policy driven IT Automation product.
For everything I think I do right each day, I feel there are perhaps a 100 things i feel i could have done better. Each day, I’m learning how I can serve my customers better; how I can build a better team; how my company can contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country…
The intent of this series of blog posts titled “Kuch Apna Karna Hai…” is to share some lessons i learnt along this journey so far; maybe some of you will find them useful when discovering your own path. Good luck!
Lesson: Avoid taking advice about entrepreneurship from family or friends
Starting out, I could see many reasons entrepreneurship wasn’t for me. Some of them include:
Mum’s been a teacher all her life. Dad – a doctor. There was no one in the family to advice me on how to run a business.
I live in New Delhi. If a group of researchers were to be asked to identify the top 10 cities in the world that nurture technical entrepreneurship – I find it highly unlikely that my Dilli would make that list – perhaps Silicon Valley and Bangalore would be somewhere close to the top.
I had no idea where to start – Do I want to become a services company? Do I want to make a product? Should I become an online reseller?
When I asked Dad what he thought of my decision, he, in his own sweet and loving way, expressed his wise opinion to my mom –
“Our son’s an idiot! – He’s gotten a decent job… He recently gotten married; and now he wants to forego his pay check and start paying out salaries instead.”
When I consulted my friends – most suggested:
Wait for a few more years
Gain some more sales experience
Get an MBA first
Don’t do it – you’ll most likely fail. You’ve got stability in your life – why take the stress? why break the equilibrium? Why take the risk?
You’ll not going to do anything that hasn’t been done before… nothing impactful will come out of your efforts – why bother?
When deciding whether to become an entrepreneur, I suggest you do not take advice from your family or friends. Don’t get me wrong – they’re your well wishers – but that may not be a good thing in this case. Their cumulative life experiences could have taught them differently; and while they may indeed have your best interests in their minds – I believe the only person who can take the final call on whether you will succeed in entrepreneurship is you!
Here’s a clip from “Pursuit of happyness” where the character played by Will Smith starts off telling his son why he’ll be an average at basketball because his father wasn’t good at it.
I tried to comfort my shocked Dad by saying “Pa, what’s the worst that could happen? If i fail, I’ll just join a job once again na”.
But when Aditi asked me what would I do if I failed; I told her the truth – “I don’t intend to go back. I do not know what life has in store for me – but I really don’t want to be an employee anymore. Worst case – I’ll have to ask mom and dad to feed me for a few months while I try to get on my feet – but I won’t join back!”
There wasn’t a camera in the room that day – but here’s a pic from the Big Bang theory – Pennys’ facial expression in the picture below is as close a match as i can find to Aditi’s when i showed her my “12-month Astute Lifestyle expenses plan”.
I wonder if she called her parents that night in shock.
Lesson: Before starting, get your finances in order…
Did you hear of the story of how awesome Compound interest is? It’s about how your money plus interest will keep increasing in value over time. If you start with just a single penny and double it every day for 31 days, you end up with … $21,474,836.48. More than 21 million dollars in a single month! So, the sooner in life you start investing, the richer you’d be close to retirement! How cool is that!?!!
Mohnish Pabrai explains compound interest… the famous chess board example.
Yeah – I heard that story too, back in my teens. Then I forgot about it, and decided never to act upon it. Some crazy stuff that happened in my life that made me develop my own interpretation of ‘Carpe Diem’ and I decided there’s no point saving for a rainy day. So for all my years of hard work as an employee – I didn’t have a decent corpus of wealth. Dad’s probably right – In some ways, I am an idiot. Don’t be like me, guys – start investing early.
“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.”
This blog post is a copy of a short message I sent out to the Zindagi team a few days back. The intent was to encourage my team to venture out, take risks and build things; to not be scared of large challenges that seem daunting at first.
Zindagi is a young team – comprising of bright young minds all looking for the proverbial lever to move the world. I believe it’s my responsibility to groom these minds, by pushing them so they discover their strengths and capabilities, by working on exciting projects and cutting edge technology.
These past months, the Zindagi team executed some fascinating projects:
Worked on designing the data center and WAN for a large smart city
Deployed a pan-India IP Video Surveillance system covering around 600 medical colleges.
Deployed the Data Center and LAN for the head quarters of the entity responsible of handling the unique identification of each Indian.
– I’ve always loved building things, and i’ve always enjoyed fixing broken things.
– For example, I was very young – 3rd standard i think, when i saw an article in a science magazine to make a “Crystal radio” – i just followed the steps using Mica stone, coil and wires hooked on to the faucet and the TV antenna.
Hearing Vividh Bharti on my own battery-less radio gave me so much joy – it’s hard to describe!
– Any gadget, any appliance, any device that my dad used to buy – the first thing i did was to read the installation manual and get the thing to work.
– I used to love opening up the gadgets such as radios and telephones – some, i was able to put back together to it’s original state – some, well – not so much. Mom still winces when recalling memories of me and my screwdriver.
– This curiosity of wanting to see how things work… this sense of wonder of knowing how something is built… the delight of being able to fix something that’s broken.. These feelings are what have driven me towards the direction i’m pursuing in my life.
When I hired you, each one of you – all that i was looking for was this – whether or not you and I share this same sense of wonder. I saw it in each one of you. Please don’t let lack of confidence hold you back!
Team – While I’m sure that it’s a comforting feeling to know that you have a senior member of the team who can help you out – your safety net, your mentor… I request you, rather, i challenge you – get out and try to do your work without that safety net. There’s nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it. LET GO of the fear that you can’t do the task on your own. Shake yourself out of your comfort zone – don’t take a step back and look for help if you’re entering unchartered territories. Do you think that this team would have existed if I would have decided to stay in MY comfort zone?
“Ships are safer when in the harbour – but that is NOT what the ships are built for!”
All I’m saying is – the feeling you’ll get when you complete the task on your own – is far more comforting than the one you’ll get when you decided to fall back on someone else’s assistance. I’m not saying that you shouldnt reach out to help – but before asking anyone else – Ask yourself – Have you given this your best shot? Could you have done / tried something else? What additional info / knowledge / skill / experience does this other person have that i don’t?
When I was in Cisco TAC, my team members used to ask me – “How is it that you know this technology so much more than we do? Did you go through some additional trainings?”. Honestly, I used to give them the same gruesome and gory example i’m giving you guys here – see the link above – it’s the final scene from the Matrix. See how Neo enters Smith and rips him apart to smithereens! That’s my take at learning technology – RIP IT APART! Know everything there is to know about that topic! Become NEO guys!
Finally, here’s some motivation from my favourite movie franchise at all times. It’s my “27th kilometer clip” – i used to listen to this when i was on the 27th kilometer of a full marathon – when every ounce of my body was telling me that i can’t finish! It still has that effect on me.
Keep moving forward team.. take risks, make mistakes, learn from them – that’s how you’ll evolve as a person! And never ever loose that sense of wonder in anything that you do!
“Just be yourself!” That piece advice has become cliche’ over the years.
However, I’d like to humbly give you an example of how being yourself and speaking from your heart can strike the right nerve in your audience and help you meet your goals. As opposed to being monotonous, present a story – sprinkle it with pertinent examples of experiences from your life.
First, here’s a link to one of my favourite Oscar acceptance speeches. Robert Benigni on stage after “Life is Beautiful” wins the “Best Foreign Film” award for year 1999 – he speaks from the heart when thanking the crowd and all those who made the movie possible.
It was the summer of 2015. I was sitting in the waiting room of Delhi University’s Faculty of Management Studies, waiting to be called in for my interview for admission in their Executive MBA program.
I suck at exams – am terrified of them! And when I was told that thousands had appeared for the entrance exam – I knew my chances were bleak, and I had already started preparing myself mentally for failure.
When I was finally called in; the professors asked me a few questions regarding the content of the essay I had written. I really can’t recall what the topic was – but think it was something related to taking a stance on “reservations based caste/religion in the Indian education system”. Whatever it was – I don’t think I did a pretty good job writing those few pages.
The questions then moved on to what I did for a living. I was a pre-sales engineer for Cisco. I tried to sell the interviewers on my accomplishments in my job role, and contributions I have made to the company – but I could sense that I hadn’t been able to impress these guys so far.
It was then, that one of the professors nonchalantly glanced at my application form and asked me about what I had written in the section titled – “What do you see as your accomplishments in life?”. Under that section, I had scribbled two sentences:
500 Kilogram leg press
Clocked a full marathon in 4 hrs 37 minutes.
The first professor’s exact question was – “What’s a leg press?”, to which I responded in responded in pain staking detail as to what the Leg Press is – how it’s great for the quadriceps and hamstrings and gluteus Maximus… and how, when I did the 500 KGs, there weren’t enough weight plates in the gym and we had to ask a 90 kilogram guy to sit on top of the machine.
“Do you think this accomplishment is pertinent to your application?” Asked the second professor.
In hindsight, I feel that I could have written about so many things about my career accomplishments – about how well I handled a team for project X, or how I worked up a product selling strategy for a customer Y. But that’s not what I had written on that paper, and now I had to defend what i had jotted down!
“I believe it is, ma’am.” I started out saying. I further went on by saying:
I’d like to believe that my accomplishments in the gym have made me a better person overall. Not only does a good workout make me feel rejuvenated – I find correlation between the effect of the time I spend working out, and how I spend the rest of my working day.
I also believe that the behaviour of muscle when it’s put under duress, is very similar to that of a man’s character. Neither muscle, nor one’s character, will grow unless they’re given something to push against.
Lifting weights was also a lesson in patience for me. The leg press, for example – It took many months for my leg muscles to get acclimatised to the point that I could lift that weight off the rack.
Workouts are also a lesson in tenacity; an application of the power of a human’s mind – that you can accomplish anything you can set your mind to! When each ounce of your body is telling you to give up… to let go… to not do that last rep… that the pain is not worth it… Your mind can take control and fight back to finish that set”.
The interview lasted a few more minutes – which I spent answering questions related to my educational background, after which the three luminaries politely thanked me for having participated. The interview lasted a litter over 20 minutes.
In the parking lot, I met a fellow candidate who introduced himself as an senior official in the ministry of Finance. He described his own interview stating that it lasted for close to an hour where he discussed current affairs, the economic quagmire the country is in, and his vision of how things can be fixed. Here I was ruminating about my speech on quads and hamstring muscle fibres.
The results got out a few weeks later – I had made the list of selected candidates for that year’s exec MBA program.
That day reinforced a life lesson for me – Irrespective of who I speak with, I strive to make my communication authentic and personal.
To this day, as the founder of Zindagi technologies – whenever I will present to either customers, or my team members, on any topic, technical or otherwise, I try and make it a passionate and inspiring experience for my audience – one that’s both educational and entertaining. I try and “be myself”.
The Indian Armed Forces have made quantum leaps in terms of technological advances in the past decade when it comes to C4i, Net Centric Warfare and providing power to the edge. With projects such as the NFS, the TCS and IACCS – we’re on the right path towards “Information Advantage” by information sharing, shared situational awareness, and enhanced command and control capabilities.
However, seeing the ramifications of recent cyber attacks, the proliferation of the Social Media battlefield, and the use of latest technology by jihadists, state and non-state actors of our neighbors – I believe there is a need to re-visit our strategies from a architectural perspective so as to maintain technological supremacy over the enemy.
I believe this discussion is more important now, more than ever – with the US DoD’s focus on the “Third Offset Strategy” – An ability to gain technological superiority in fields of anti-access and area-denial, guided munitions, undersea warfare, cyber and electronic warfare, human-machine teaming, and wargaming and development of new operating concepts.
The US DoD third offset strategy, at it’s base, has 5 common technological components:
Deep learning systems – with applications such as early warning and leading indications in cyber defense , big data analytics to make sense of Facebook posts of terrorist organizations and finding patterns, etc.
Human Machine Collaboration – with applications such as unmanned vehicle systems fitted with sensors, or “fog computing” data and providing power to the soldier on the battlefield for better decision making.
Human Machine Combat Teaming – leading to combined operations with humans and unmanned vehicles.
Assisted Human Operations – biosensors and other IOT devices and wearables to augment war-fighter capabilities
Network Enabled, Cyber-Hardened weapons
The intent of this series of blog posts is to break down the architecture of the Information Systems infrastructure used by the Indian Armed Forces and propose a strategy / vision for the next 5 years. We’ll focus on the following technology areas.
This blog post will be focused on computing services required in a defense communication network architecture, which in some ways, carries similarities with a Service Provider grade network.
With the considerable expansion of the defense networks such as TCS, AFNET, etc – the infrastructure is poised to provide the next generation of private cloud services to it’s users including excellent scalability and self-service – to cater to the dynamic and unpredictable computing needs of the armed forces. An on-premises or private cloud provides a computing environment for mission critical workloads, provides complete control over uptime requirements and provides flexibility towards management demands.
However, the private cloud should not mean just a collection of compute horse power residing in armed forces data centres. Rather, it should provide an environment not different from public cloud offerings such as AWS and Google Compute Engine – with features such as self service and scalability, multi-tenancy, the ability to provision machines, changing computing resources on demand, and creating machines for complex jobs such as big data. Such an infrastructure also needs to factor in Chargeback tools to track compute usage – so that the entities using the resources do an internal billing only for the resources that they use.
Why should the armed forces look at developing the a strong private cloud foundation
Well, it’s because the world of consumption of data is evolving at a very rapid pace. There’s no denying that the public cloud is experiencing a bigger growth; but the private cloud is going to continue to grow.
Acording the Cisco’s Global Cloud Index (link above), 70% of all cloud workloads will still be running on private cloud by 2018.
With the armed forces’ interest in IoT and sensor based technology, new devices getting connected everyday,and an increasing focus on mobile applications there’ll be a considerable rise in traffic coming to the data centre as the number of workloads keeps increasing. This trend is obvious when we see data centre networks showing a ethernet port shift from 10G to 40G and beyond.
Where to start building a private cloud
We’re observing a shift in trends in DCs globally. The past 15-16 years (2000 to 2016) were the times of the “Traditional Data Centers” – where the focus was on efficiency and automation; and significant efforts were made towards efficiency, speed and simplicity by consolidation and virtualization. The new trend is that of a further enhancing speeds and a move towards “digital experiences” by offering IT as a service (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, XaaS).
The key categories of consideration in taking a decision to move towards a private cloud infrastructure are the infrastructure, the security, the policies and procedures, the management/administration and finally – the cost.
The cloud is a model for elastic compute resources that are provisioned rapidly through a self-service portal with minimal management interaction. Now if we compare this to the traditional process of requesting resources through IT, we notice many companies have layers of approval that exist to prevent misuse, provide accountability and ultimately a form of chargeback for the services as well. The definition of a cloud and its model goes against many of these existing procedures, so either the armed forces have to adopt a new model to fit the private cloud or the private cloud has to be able to adapt itself to the defense’s unique needs, policies and procedures. More than likely, it will be a mix of both extremes to allow for the benefits of what the private cloud has to offer, while still incorporating some of the existing guidelines and procedures.
So let’s break down some of these top private cloud considerations.
Step 1 – The Foundation – An Data Centre telemetry and analytics platform that offers visibility and forensics
The bedrock for a Private Cloud is a platform that should provide insight into the traffic flows so that operational and security related decisions are taken in a well-informed manner. It should also have the ability to either generate, or make recommendations for policy for zero-trust and micro-segmentation amongst workloads.
Cisco offers an appliance called Tetration – which is basically a Big Data Analytics engine that captures flow data from Cisco Nexus DC network switches and agents running on virtual and physical workloads, crunches those numbers and converts them into usable and actionable information – such as Cisco ACI Application profiles and application dependency requirements . But what about workloads which won’t allow you to install agents on them, such as mainframes and unix based systems? Well, you can connect these directly to the Nexus switches which results in the switch providing visibility into the applications that are touching that device. Now, this appliance doesn’t just stop there! It de-duplicates all these flows and stores these flow records in its database; thereby providing you with historical forensics for each flow that crosses your network.
Here’s what I find to be a very cool feature of the Tetration appliance – it allows you to perform a “What If” on the network before applying the change to understand the potential impact. For example – lets say you plan to modify a network security policy blocking certain traffic flows. You could input this information into tetration which will then report back telling you what all flows would break if you were to make such a change. Nice! Know more about this functionality here: http://cisco.com/go/tetration
Another example of a product that provides visibility and performs analytics into traffic flows of your data centre is Vmware vRealize Network Insight. It basically analyzes netflow data and assists you in creating security groups and firewall policies. It monitors both the physical and virtual network topology. Know more about it: https://www.vmware.com/products/vrealize-network-insight.html
Step 2 – Choosing a Private Cloud platform
There are 3 primary players in the market – Microsoft, Vmware, Openstack.
Microsoft offers its Azure Stack private cloud – which means it’s bringing its entire Azure stack from the public cloud to a company’s data centre. The end result of Azure Stack for customers will be something that looks and feels like the real Azure, although it will be running on their own hardware and under their own management. In a sense, this is the natural progression of Windows Server as the center of gravity of operating systems has shifted from a particular runtime to creating a cluster-wide management system with many runtimes and allowing for many different styles of compute and storage.
Vmware has their story of the Vmware SDDC stack – which comes with a Cloud Management Platform called Vmware vRealize which provides automated delivery of infrastructure and apps, realtime log management, operations management, costing and usage metering.
OpenStack is one of the most popular open source cloud operating options today. It has the ability to manage compute, storage and networking and deploy them is an easy to use, but somewhat feature limited dashboard. Unlike VMware and Microsoft, OpenStack does not have its own hypervisor. It can be used with any hypervisor – however, it’s typically used with KVM which is also opensource.
In summary – there’s a tradeoff in going in for a private / vendor-provided cloud platform v/s Openstack. While both can be deployed on-premises and are secure; the vendor-provided one is better supported and typically offers easier installation. The vendor provided options have their share of disadvantages – vendor dependency and not being fully open whereas Openstack has a steep learning curve involved.
Cisco approaches the Private cloud as an integrated approach – to offer reporting, analytics, lifecycle management, RBAC, showback/chargeback, Open APIs covering both physical and virtual infrastructure. Here are the components of a Private Cloud architecture as Cisco defines it:
Infrastructure automation – providing self-service consumption of DC infrastructure, and multivendor automation and orchestration along with built-in performance monitoring and capacity planning
Cloud management – for deploying and managing applications across DCs, private and public cloud environments.
Service management – using self service catalogues for cloud, application and infrastructure services.
Big data automation – enabling a single touch deployments of Hadoop clusters on Cisco UCS with integrations with major distributions such as Cloudera, MAPR, HortonWorks and Splunk Enterprise.
Step 3: Service Provider NFV
The defense network of the future can expect that video will be the majority of traffic that will flow across it. Also, there will be thousands, if not lakhs of IOT device connections. The Armed Forces service provider networks will need to become virtualized so they don’t remain monolithic, non-pliable, costly to maintain and having long innovation cycles. Deploying NFV will allow the running of network functions on general-purpose hardware, and allow the scale up, scale down and orchestration of VNFs (Virtual Network Functions).
Over the many months that followed, I took part in multiple fitness related activities; listing some of them here:
Completed a round of Tony Hortons Power 90
A round of Beachbody P90X
Learnt how to swim
Ran… a lot – did multiple half marathons; I also ran the full 26.2 miles (My Garmin clocked it as 4 hrs 37 minutes)
Used to cycle for hours at length
Bulked up; and got significant gains
But all this seems like it was a long time ago. It’s 2017 – and for the past 18 months or so, I’ve gotten no exercise and have totally lost track of any diet regimes. My clothes wont fit me anymore; my “slim fit” button down shirts are all tucked away because i fear the moment i sit down, the buttons may turn into projectiles hurting the people infront of me.
I decided to run the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2016; and, the lazy bum that I am; did no preparation thinking – if i could do it in 2014 in 1 hr 51 minutes – I can do it in 2017 with no prep in less than 3 hours. I did finish the run (2 hrs 31 minutes in case any one’s interested) – but I did so limping my way for the last 7 kilometers. My quads had become stiff by the time i had reached the 14 kilometer mark – and the entire impact of my stride went on my joints. It took 2 months for me to recover from the joint pains. Lesson learnt the hard way.
What happened to me? I could give a 100 excuses as to why “I don’t have the time to workout” – travel, personal responsibilities, customers, etc. But I know that’ll be just me fooling myself – If i wanted to, i could have found time to workout; if i wanted to – i could have followed a diet plan. But I became lazy – that’s what’s happened to me.
So yeah, I’m fat! Again! and it sucks. But I intend to change that!
I took my “before” pictures today – and in Hritik Roshan style ( http://bit.ly/2jRaO1d ), I intended to share them with the world. But then i saw them again; I look ugly – the thought of putting these on the Internet is scary. Call me a coward – but I’d rather just share my “After” pictures.
I’m good at “90 day” goals – so starting tomorrow, for the next 90 days – I will do the following:
Follow a “Slow Carb diet” – the one that Tim Ferriss espouses in his book “The 4 hour body” – http://fourhourbody.com/ ; but with the following exceptions: