From time to time I get oddball questions where someone asks about how to do something that is not supported or a bad idea. I’ll often fire back a simple “No” and then we get into a discussion about why VMware does not have a KB for this specific corner case or situation. There are a host of reasons why this may or may not be documented but here is my monthly list of “No/That is a bad idea (TM)!”.
How do I use VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) with a VSA/Virtual Machine that can not be vMotion’d to another host?
This one has come up quite a lot recently with some partners, and storage vendors who use VSA’s (A virtual machine that locally consumes storage to replicate it) incorrectly claiming this is supported. The issue is that SDDC Manager automates upgrade and patch management. In order to patch a host, all running virtual machines must be removed. This process is triggered when a host is placed into maintenance mode and DRS carefully vMotions VMs off of the host. If there is a virtual machine on the host that can not be powered off or moved, this will cause lifecycle to fail.
What about if I use the VSA’s external lifecycle management to patch ESXi?
The issue comes in, running multiple host patching systems is a “very bad idea” (TM). You’ll have issues with SDDC Manager not understanding the state of the hosts, but also coordination of non-ESXi elements (NSX perhaps using a VIB) would also be problematic. The only exception to using SDDC manager with external lifecycle tooling tools are select vendor LCM solutions that done customization and interop (Examples include VxRAIL Manager, the Redfish to HPE Synergy integration, and packaged VCF appliance solutions like UCP-RS and VxRACK SDDC). Note these solutions all use vSAN and avoid the VSA problem and have done the engineering work to make things play nice.
JAM also not supported!
Should I use a Nexus 2000K (or other low performing network switch) with vSAN?
While vSAN does not currently have a switch HCL (Watch this space!) I have written some guidance specifically about FEXs on this personal blog. The reality is there are politics to getting a KB written saying “not to use something”, and it would require cooperation from the switch vendors. If anyone at Cisco wants to work with me on a joint KB saying “don’t use a FEX for vSAN/HCI in 2019” please reach out to me! Before anyone accuses me of not liking Cisco, I’ll say I’m a big fan of the C36180YC-R (ultra deep buffers RAWR!), and have seen some amazing performance out of this switch recently when paired with Intel Optane.
Beyond the FEX, I’ve written some neutral switch guidance on buffers on our official blog. I do plan to merge this into the vSAN Networking Guide this quarter.
I’d like to use RSPAN against the vDS and mirror all vSAN traffic, I’d like to run all vSAN traffic through a ASA Firewall or Palo Alto or IDS, Cisco ISR, I’d like to route vSAN traffic through a F5 or similar requests…
There’s a trend of security people wanting to inspect “all the things!”. There are a lot of misconceptions about vSAN routing or flowing or going places.
Good Ideas! – There is some false assumptions you can’t do the following. While they may add complexity or not be supported on VCF or VxRAIL in certain configurations, they certainly are just fine with vSAN from a feasibility standpoint.
Routing storage traffic is just fine. Modern enterprise switches can route OSPF/Static routes etc at wire-speed just fine all in the ASIC offloads. vSAN is supported over layer 3 (may need to configure static routes!) and this is a “Good idea” on stretched clusters so spanning tree issues don’t crash both datacenters!
vSAN over VxLAN/VTEP in hardware is supported.
VSAN over VLAN backed port groups on NSX-T is supported.
Frank Escaros-Buechsel with VMware support once told someone “While we do not document that as not supported, it’s a bit like putting peanut butter in a server. Some things we assume are such bad idea’s no one would try them, and there is only so much time to document all bad ideas.
Trying to mirror high throughput flows of storage or vMotion from a VDS is likely to cause performance problems. While I”m not sure of a specific support statement, i’m going to kindly ask you not to do this. If you want to know how much traffic is flowing and where, consider turning on SFLOW/JFLOW/NetFlow on the physical switches and monitoring from that point. vRNI can help quite a bit here!
Sending iSCSI/NFS/FCoE/vSAN storage traffic to an IDS/Firewall/Load balancer. These devices do not know how to inspect this traffic (trust me, they are not designed to look at SCSI or NVMe packets!) so you’ll get zero security value out of this process. If you are looking for virus binaries, your better off using NSX guest introspection and regular antivirus software. Because of the volume, you will hit the wire-speed limits of these devices. Outside of path latency, you will quickly introduce drops and re-transmits and murder storage traffic performance. Outside of some old Niche inline FC encryption blades (that I think Netapp used to make), inline storage security devices are a bad idea. While there are some carrier-grade routers that can push 40+ Gbps of encryption (MLXe’s I vaguely remember did this) the costs are going to be enormous, and you’ll likely be better off just encrypting at the vSCSI layer using the VM Encryption VAIO filter. You’ll get better security that IPSEC/MACSEC without massive costs.
Did I get something wrong?
Is there an Exception?
Feel free to reach out and lets talk about why your environment is a snowflake from these general rules of things “not to do!”
This post has been a long time coming, as Network Interface Cards are an often overlooked component. Many people have mistakenly assumed all NIC’s are the same or are simple commodities. Note, that most of this advice will also apply as generic advise for vSphere, and ethernet storage. Here is a short list of features and considerations when picking a network interface card. I’m hoping this series will spawn out into more information on picking switches, as well as troubleshooting of NICs and switches.
Geneve/VxLAN encapsulation support – For customers using NSX, hardware support for overlays again helps increase performance and should be added to the shopping list when selecting a NIC.
Converged over Ethernet (RCoEv1/RCoEv2) – While vSAN doesn’t yet, support RDMA, vSphere VM’s, iSER (iSCSI RDMA Extensions) support is shipping today, and hopefully in the future additional support will come for other traffic classes. RDMA significantly lowers latency, lowers CPU usage and increases throughput while keeping CPU usage down. Note, RCoE avoids the use of TCP, while iWARP (a competing standard) runs RDMA over TCP. RCoE requires not only NICs that support it, but also physical switches to support it. Mellanox is a popular vendor for both NICs (X4) and switches as they have a long history of working with RDMA.
NSX-T Virtual Distributed Switch (N-VDS). NICs that support this will feature “N-VDS Enhanced Data Path” support in the vSphere VCG. This includes the ability for Traffic flow over NUMA aware Enhanced Data Path. While this is normally something reserved for NFV workloads, the gains in throughput are massive. This Blog is a good starting point.
MISC CNA/Storage Options.
iSCSI HBAs have come in and out of vogue over the years. In general, I have some concerns with the quality of the QA the vendors are doing for this feature that sees such little usage now that the software initiator is the overwhelming majority of the market. FCoE has been removed/deprecated from some Intel NICs and in general, is falling out out favor. A software
FCoE software initiator now exists, but in general, the fad of FCoE (Which was always a bridge technology) seems to be slowly going away. For those still using FCoE CNA’s be sure to make sure that vVols secondary LUN support is available.
NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) – Support for NVMe over ethernet fabric is slowing gaining interest in customers looking for the lowest latency possible. While possible to run over Fibre Channel, 100Gbps RDMA Ethernet is also a promising option.
Supported Maximums – Not a huge issue for most, but some NIC’s have caveats on the maximum supported number that can be placed in a host. This is often tied to driver memory allocations. This information will be found in the vSphere maximums as well as in the notes on the VCG entry for a NIC.
Stable/Fast Driver Firmwareand engineers to maintain this – I’m not sure why I have to list this as a “NIC feature” but it is. There are NIC’s out there that have had hilariously unstable firmware for years (Note this isn’t a vSphere issue, but a general issue across OS platforms). Some vendors will take an issue and rapidly RCA it in their testing lab. Others will ask you to be a crash test dummy and run debug drivers in production “until it happens again” Questions to ask an OEM are “If we have an issue do you have the hardware to recreate this, and were physical? is this lab?”. If you are repeatedly being asked to run async drivers (that are not tested/validated by VMware) this may be a sign that this vendor doesn’t have adequate engineering behind this card.
Flow control – This is something you really only should be using on 1Gbps, otherwise turn it off. It’s not a problem, and there are frankly are better ways (CoS/DSCP) to prioritize traffic under contention.
Management APIs for CIM Providerand OCSD/OCBB Support – This can allow for better out of band monitoring of this NIC. If there are not good ways to interigate health and pull logging of the card, recreating issues can be painful.
Wake on LAN – Really you should be waking servers using the out of band management, but ocasionally there is a use for this.
So what do these features mean for a HCI Architect?
Lower host CPU usage means more CPU available for processing storage and running virtual machines enabling increased virtualization consolidation.
Higher Throughput per core (as a result of LRO/TSO) means that higher performance per core can be achieved by reducing uncessary CPU usage. This allows faster resync operations (commonly 64KB), as well as higher throughput available. LRO/TSO/RSS help prevents single-threaded networking processes from becoming bottlenecks.
Lower Packets Per Second (PPS) – By consolidating packets with TSO, fewer packets must transverse the physical switches. Many Switch ASICs will have limits as to how many PPS they can process and will be forced to delay packets negatively impacting performance.
Caveat Emptor – Some NIC’s have had a troubled history with these features, and may require driver/firmware updates to make stable. Some vendors may label a feature as offload, but in reality still, process them in CPU. Some features may only be supported in specific driver versions, or might even be quietly deprecated and scrubbed from the datasheets. Note, the suubtle humor of release note writers can not be understated. “may lead to connectivity issues” may translate as “cause the host to crash, and cause a plague of locusts to infest the datacenter”. As always, trust but verify.
Feedback – Did I get something wrong? Did I not properly abreviate NVM over Fabrics? Is FCoE still the future of storage 10 years later? Reach out to me on twitter @Lost_Signal and lets continue this conversation.
The short response is no. You should avoid using these devices with vSAN, and in general with virtualization or storage traffic.
They were designed for a time when low utilization of physical servers or low-density virtualization was the norm. At the same time, the price for 10Gbps ports on fast switches was incredibly expensive.
A: This isn’t really a VMware problem. Storage or other large traffic flows like vMotion suffer on Cisco FEX devices. Note other east/west heavy traffic flows suffer in light buffered oversubscribed environments. vMotion, and NSX are also not going to perform there best without real switch ports.
Q: What are some model numbers for the device?
Q: My networking team told me they are just like an external line card for a switch chassis?
A: Your networking team is incorrect. A real switch port can send traffic to another port without hair-pinning through another device. It’s arguable that a hub would provide a more direct route for packets from one port to another than what the FEX product line offers. Modern switches also offer much larger buffers that can help mitigate TCP incast and other issues that you will see at scale.
Q: How do I determine if my networking teams have deployed Cisco FEX devices?
A: This can be difficult without physical inspection to known issues with Cisco Discovery Protocol) not working correctly with some configurations of the devices. One sign is if the port on the switch has incredibly high designations 100/1/1 you may be looking at a FEX. It’s best to have your data center operation teams inspect the racks, and take note of model numbers in the same way you would have them physically inspect for cardboard or other things you don’t want in your datacenter. Ultimately the best solution is preventative. Talk to your networking teams about the risks of using FEX devices before they are deployed.
Q: What are some alternatives to look at?
I’m happy to take comments from other networking people about this but I’ve seen two general choices that customers use instead.
For Cisco customers looking for a device that need FCoE, the Nexus 56xx, 6000, and 7000 offer real switch ports as well as larger buffers. Note: older Nexus 50xx and 55xx have relatively small VoQ buffers that tend to not scale well with larger clusters.
For customers not needing FCoE support (which should be most customers in 2019), the C36180YC-R offers:
I had previously discussed in a rather click bait title of an article how falling storage prices were making vSAN cheaper. As the economics of flash + perpetual socket licensing made the cost per GB for vSAN (and cost per VM) go down over time. It’s 2019 and I wanted to example what those old hosts that need to be replaced might look like.
2 x 8 core processors (Intel Xeon v3)
3.6TB to 6TB RAW capacity (3 or 5 x 1.2TB 10K RPM drives) with 400-800GB of SATA/SAS SSD Cache.
128 GB RAM.
4 host cluster
Now, this host would require two sockets of vSAN and vSphere licensing for a total of 8 sockets.
Now going into 2019, we are ready to replace these nodes and deploy new ReadyNodes.
1 x 16 core processors (Xeon Scalable, or AMD EYPC now as a very viable option).
256 GB of RAM
32TB of RAW NVMe with 2 x 800GB of NVMe Cache.
8 host cluster
Let’s look at a few improved density capabilities:
Single Socket, because realistically this system should be able to run more than twice the workloads as the older processor.
Less overhead. The overhead for CPU as a % of the cluster for N+1 capacity planning drops from 25% for a four-host cluster, to a 12.5% for an 8 host cluster.
AMD EPYC allows for use of all memory channels and PCI lanes so for workloads that will fit within a processor scaling out has some natural efficiency.
Single socket cuts the licensing count in half for hosts, allowing me to run twice the hosts for the same licensing cost.
All Flash lets me use Erasure Codes along with Deduplication and compression and the 5-8x more RAW capacity mean I can store a LOT more data. RAID 6 vs FTT=2 mirroring cuts overhead in half.
Performance Improvements as a result of the all NVMe configuration along with code improvements going from older to newer vSAN IO path code.
A couple other big wins here:
1. Unlike a storage array or appliance I didn’t have to re-buy licensing. Nothing was “thrown away” in this transition. No sales guy came out and scared me with a scary renewal before offering me some insane trade in play to some new platform I’m not familiar with. At no point in the purchase of new hardware did I feel the process should be described as a “Barking Carnival” or a “Goat Rodeo”. I might upgrade some license versions, but the existing value and that delta cost remained the same and no one was trying to force me to make a transaction.
2. I doubled my host count without doubling my licensing or support renewals. Say it with me “I should expect MORE VALUE from my HCI solution as the investment ages, not less!”.
3. I increased my compute capabilities with the same socket count by 4x or more. Inversely if I was a large shop not growing, I might even consolidate my fleet, shift some licenses to cover DR, or other environments to expand on my vSAN success. I can even split up these nodes to do this. A traditional storage frame unfortunately can’t be cut into three pieces and reused at 3 sites.
4. I massively increased by storage performance and capacity footprint. The old hardware may get phased out for a lab, used for DR, or sent to recycling but my vSAN investment carried forward through this growth. No one at VMware “tax’d” me for adding hosts, cores, performance, or capacity to expand my environment.
Another year another VMworld. I’ve got a few sessions I will be presenting:
The vSAN I/O Path Deconstructed: A Deep Dive into the Internals of vSAN
Mystery Session: 7/27 at 3:30PM
We Got You Covered: Top Operational Tips from vSAN Support Insight
Better Storage Utilization with Space Reclamation/UNMAP
The vSAN I/O Path Deconstructed is an interesting inside look at the IO path of vSAN and the reasoning behind it.
We Got You Covered: Top Operational Tips from vSAN Support Insight shows off the phone home capabilities of vSAN and can help address your questions about what and how this data is used. We are also going to discuss how you can leverage similar views of performance as GSS and engineering to identify how to get the most out of vSAN.
HCI3331BU is a session that has been years in the making for me. “Where did my space go” is a question I get often. We will explain where that missing PB of storage went and how to reclaim it. The savings from implementing UNMAP should be able to fund your next VMworld trip!
Lastly, I’ve got a mystery session that should be unveiled later. Follow me on Twitter @Lost_Signal, and I’ll talk about what it will be when the time comes.
Pete and I will be recording for the vSpeakingPodcast Podcast LIVE! At the HCI Zone (Found near the VMware booth). We’ve got some new guests as well as some favorites lined up.
A lot of partners like using RVtools (A great way to make a simple capture of an inventory, health, and configuration) as a means to collect storage capacity information, as well as a snapshot of compute allocations.
If you have a large number of powered off VM’s have a serious discussion if they will all be started or needed at any time. If not, consider excluding them from compute sizing.
Use the health tab and look for Zombie VM’s and see if these cold VM’s can be deleted or migrated out.
Look for open snapshots, and see if these need to be collapsed (which can save space).
Be aware of the difference in the two storage metrics (allocated vs. consumed MB). If you intend to keep using thin provisioning, you do not need to size for all of the allocated. In the video, this is a significant capacity difference.
If the existing solution has VM’s tied to storage demands (Storage management VMs, VSA’s) that will be deprecated by vSAN be sure to exclude them.
Have a serious discussion on if the vCPU to physical core ratio is “working” or if they see performance issues. I’ve seen both people be too conservative (1:1 in test dev) and too aggressive (20:1 for databases!). You can see the existing ratio’s on the host tab.
Pay attention to CPU generations. Vintage Xeon 5500 will be crushed clock for clock by new EPYC processors.
Realize you can change the CPU configuration (Cluster advanced options). Some people may want to optimize their CPU model for licensing (commonly 16 core for windows, or possibly lower core but higher clock for Oracle). You can change these assumptions.
Be sure to check out the health tab, and look through the host configs. Make sure NTP is set up on hosts! Use this as an opportunity to see if the existing environment is even healthy.
Have any more tips and tricks? Check out the comments section below!
VMware and Intel have a KB for workarounds on this issue.
I was reading Bob Plankers colorful complaints about his Intel X710/XL710/X722/XXV710 family of NICs and figured I’d do some digging and ask around on people I know who have them as well as summarize some things I learned from using them as a customer.
A few observations:
These problems are not specific to vSphere. People running Linux and Windows on bare metal ran into these issues
While a lot has been focused on the LRO/TSO issue, there is another separate issue tied to LLDP and duplicate mac addresses being created.
First Issue LRO/TSO
This KB Sums up the issue quite well by pointing out that these features can cause PSODs. Checking with some friends who used to be able to reproduce this at the drop of a hat the newest driver/firmware is a lot more stable in this regard, but it can still happen. Some people are leaving these disabled to stay safe, while others are hungry for the small CPU gains these features deliver. How do I remediate it? Beyond manually setting it on the hosts Jase Mccarty has a great script that will do this in bulk for a cluster.
Next up: The case of the disappearing host!
The common symptom is that management on a host will cease to function (Pings will drop) and the host will disappear from vCenter. Sometimes something more catastrophic happens (HA triggers, host isolation is triggered, storage or vMotion fails). If you pay attention closely to LogInsight, you will see your switches are reporting Mac Address Flapping (You are sending your switches syslog into LogInsight, RIGHT?!?)
Sow what’s going on here?
How is VMK0 special
This goes back to the special behavior for VMK0 where it steals the mac address from a physical port. This is handy for new cluster setups where people know the MAC addresses from the OEM providing them before delivery being able to put this in their DHCP reservations and get started without needing to physically touch the hosts to know which one is which etc.
Why is this card special?
This card is unique in that there is a special LLDP agent that runs on the card and intercepts LLDP packets. Previously I associated LLDP with simply sending information on what’s plugged in where (which is why you should turn it on for send/receive with your VDS). In this case, though the LLDP agent will also update where a MAC is located.
Why together does this happen?
The challenge comes when VMK0 moves to a different physical switch port and tries to move the MAC address with it. You get a fun ARP battle between the LLDP agent of the physical port and the VMK0 that is behind a different physical port. A good old fashioned duplicate MAC entry ARP battle ensues, and this is going to manifest itself as a host going offline completely, or flipping back and forth based on the update hold-down interval on the switch. (Side note, any real networking people feel free to correct me on my terminology here I dropped out of my CCNA class in 2008).
Why did I loose more than management (or what am I doing wrong!)?
Given most people use VMK0 for management by vCenter (and for non-VSAN clusters HA heartbeats happen here) this can have a lot of interesting behaviors like loss of management, host isolation response being triggered. This is another great reminder of why you should use datastore heart beating, or VSAN which will not depend on VMK0 for heartbeats.
Also if you are running EVERYTHING on VMK0 (Storage vMotion) which is NOT a recommended practice (isolate storage and vMotion networks!) you could see all of the virtual machines crash and other fun things.
So there are a few ways to possibly work around this.
You could simply avoid using VMK0 with this card. Either disconnecting it and using a new VMK4 or so forth for whatever it was being used for. This is simple, it’s easy (outside of disconnecting and reconnecting hosts) and doesn’t require you touch the network beyond having one extra IP on the management network to make it easier.
You could change the mac address manually to something in the random VMware MAC address space (Need to clarify if this is supported, but it’s simple enough and avoids this issue). Note that the MAC would be set back if you ever remote and recreate VMK0.
If you trust your networking team, you could try asking they hardcode the MAC address to specific ports in the CAM tables of the switch. I would look at this only as a last resort if operationally you can’t physically change anything on the hosts but need an extreme workaround
*EDIT* It looks like running LACP across the origional physical port and another port will work around the issue. The switch isn’t going to care where the frame comes from, and so this should reduce or ignore the chance of an arp fight. Balancing for VMK0 across physical ports will not be great, but as long as it is is management only you will likely not care too much. (Thanks to Simon for this discussion).
*EDIT* Try putting VMK0 on a tagged NON-Native VLAN. It can’t get in a fight with the LLDP agent for the MAC address if it’s on a completely different broadcast domain (Thanks to Broc Yanda for this idea).
What else is going on that I don’t know about vSphere Networking?
“Sir, It looks like Tango Eagle Bravo is the problem”.
Why does this sound like something out of a Nickolas Cage movie? Let me explain.
Today vSAN out of the box can phone home Performance, Configuration, and health telemetry to support and engineering using the vSAN Support Insight functionality. Note this phone home data builds an obfuscation map by default so that hostnames, virtual machine names, and network information are not exposed in the phone home. By using your vCenter UUID support and engineering can further drill into the environment and diagnose many common issues without necessarily needing a full manual log collection.
What happens when Support finds an issue and explains the secret code name for the Virtual Machine or host that is the problem? Where do you find a secret decoder ring to make sense of this?
In the vSphere Web Client, navigate to the vSAN Cluster > Configure > vSAN > Health and Performance > Online Health Check. Click on the Download Obfuscation Map
In the CLI on the VCSA?
SSH into vCenter Server Appliance.
Run command: cd /var/log/vmware/vsan-health/
The obfuscation mapping file is <uuid>_obfuscationTableForHuman.json.gz.
Login to Windows vCenter Server machine.
Open C:\Program Files\VMware\vCenter Server\logs\vsan-health
The obfuscation mapping file is <uuid>_obfuscationTableForHuman.json.gz.
What if you are not phoning home CEIP data?
It’s time to turn it on. It’s less information than a normal log collection would include, and by having it phone home regularly you are in a better situation to get faster support should you need it. For setup and network requirements check out this storage hub section.
What happens if you do not have compliance needs to speak in code, and would rather VMware just have direct access to your Virtual machine and Hostnames? You can email, or upload and attach it to the ticket. Support can bind this in vSAN Support Insight, but it will expire in 7 days.
It’s a new year and I’m sure some of you had resolutions to look at a new job. As budgets “Unfreeze” new jobs are opening.
This post has some history. Previous to coming to VMware I worked for an IT consultancy and used to at one time be a hiring manager. It was always interesting seeing why people chose to stay, leave, or join our shop. Even when people left, I heard about their future moves by being a common reference used for the previous manager. On top of this new hires would often ask me a million different questions about a job trying to compare the old company with the new company regarding benefits (both compensation and non-compensation related).
From this, I’ve amassed an interesting list of:
1. Compensation that often is overlooked
2. Things you want to know about a job before you take it for the quality of life reasons
3. How to know if the grass is greener (or not) on the other side
While this list isn’t something you would send in whole to a recruiter, it’s information that through various sources you might want to try to understand before making a jump to a new job. The first half is Job questions; the second half is compensation questions.
The Job Questions…
What’s the team/dept/companies view on Training?
If they don’t have a training programme or allow time for training/skills improvement that could be a red flag.
Why is the position open?
Growth, backfill, etc. This is the reverse of “why are you looking to leave your last job?”. If it’s the 3rd time, they tried to fill a roll something may be off…
What are the expected hours? What are the exceptions, holidays, etc.?
I once worked an outage till 4 AM then was expected to walk into the office by 8:30 AM I was happy to leave that place. School districts might do four day work weeks in the summer; some oil/gas companies do 4 x 10’s or other weird schedules. Occasionally I have to take calls early or late (to deal with people in EMEA, ANZ, etc.).
Are there SLA’s in place?
What is expected of your team, and are they equipped to meet it?
What is the annual IT/Department budget?
Whats the budget for your group look like? What projects have been funded as well as what is planning on being funded can be a proxy for this question. You don’t want to walk into a shop with 8-year-old systems and no budget for replacement.
Who determines the IT budget?
What’s the process, who are the actors involved?
What’s the company’s position on open/capex IT spend?
Lease vs. Buy. Are they balanced, or for financial reporting reasons (ROIC) are they 100% one or the other if possible.
Are they cloud (friendly, neutral, hostile)?
What are they using for cloud now, and what are they planning on migrating?
What does your current infrastructure look like?
Shiney brand new VxRAIL/UCP-HC Cluster, or 200 Physical servers running Windows 2000? How bad is the technical debt? What/where are the datacenters, who are the providers, what is the networking, (WAN, and edge/campus gear). What storage vendors and hypervisors are in play.
What is the spread of the tasks expected and are they reasonable?
There’s nothing like being hired to be a data center architect and discovering that fixing printers is in your responsibilities. Skill growth requires you focus on things that matter. Also, if managers see you fixing printers or doing other lower end work, they tend to mentally associate what you should be paid with the bottom 10% rather than the top 10% valuable work.
What Services are outsourced?
Does someone manage printers, the WAN circuits, the storage, backups, the DR, etc.? Beware shops that don’t believe in outsourcing anything as they tend to view in-house labor as a “free” commodity.
What are they doing for DR?
This question is a mix of what is their plan, and what is a reality. How often is it tested? Do they hit the SRM failover button once a quarter, or do they have an out of date binder?
What is the targeted refresh cycle for Network/Servers/Storage?
Do they run stuff five years, ten years? Do they run gear beyond its natural life, or beyond support agreements?
What is the maintenance schedule?
Do they patch at all, is there automation in patching.
What Compliance do they have?
The Team Questions
Who will be the manager? Can I meet them? – It’s a red flag if you can not meet your line manager. You will want to know the person who will assess your performance, impact your bonus, assign you good (or bad) projects, etc…
What is your biggest daily/weekly frustration?
Key things to note is if this is something you can stand, or if this is something that’s fixable. Bonus points if you bring unique skills, or you will be working on a project to fix it. “Our Fibre Channel network is slow, but the HCI project you will be on should fix that!”
Ask about how success is measured?
Is there a forced Stack rank? Are there general metrics that you target (uptime, on-time delivery of projects?).
Who is on the team? Can I meet them? Knowing who you work with is crucial. Are they talented, Friendly, cooperative?
How does the team communicate? Are there daily meetings, do they use Slack, do they just use email, is everyone in the same building? What percentage of the teamwork remotely?
How is documentation handled? (Well documented Wiki, vs. the last guy, torched Jira on the way out and you will be guessing passwords).
What are the platforms and Vendors? Are you a CCIE and it’s an all Juniper shop? Don’t be scared! The key is knowing what area’s you will need training.
What is the new employee onboarding process? – Will it be two days of well-orchestrated events, or will you still be waiting for a phone and computer 30 days later?
What are expectations for the first 90, 180, 365 days? Is there a project, or milestone or education path they need you to have accomplished. How long do they expect you to fit into the shoes?
What is the cross coverage?
Is there only one person who knows how to restore from backup? Is there cross training? This can be bad if you want to go on vacation…
What is the upward mobility?
What are the expectations for moving up in title, rank, role/responsibility? Are there defined elements to your career path and claim or will you be “IT Dude” until “Head IT Dude” retires?
*What about the Company*
What’s the companies roadmap?
If they don’t know where they want to go then it’s going to difficult to help steer them there.
What is the YoY growth? Is the company growing, or is it holding on for life support? Some industries are cyclical (Oil/Gas) some are past their prime (Sun Microsystems was a different company to work for in 1994, and 2001).
How many Employees are at the company? At a five man company, you might have to put toner in the printer. At IBM you likely will not know that person name. Some people like large companies, some like smaller. There are pros and cons to both.
Is the company profitable under GAAP? Companies sometimes do crazy things like claim they are profitable if you exclude employee compensation. If a company is a tech startup growing 100% year over year, don’t expect this one to be true, but if it’s a mature public company, this is something you can look up.
If not, what is the timeline or pathway towards profitability? If it’s a startup, it may be planning on exiting soon, or taking more VC and growing to the moon. Both have their risks, make sure you understand them. What is the runway (how long at the current burn rate will they survive)?
What is the companies competitive advantage? Is it low cost? Is it Intellectual property? Is it market saturation/penetration? This can shed some light on how the company operates. A ruthless lean manufacturing company might give employee’s 8-year-old laptops because they are cheap on capital spending.
What is the biggest roadblock to scaling the company?
Is it sales, marketing, operations, R&D?
What challenges does the company have at the moment? What do you foresee coming?
This can be quite telling; it can show that they’ve taken the time to identify and address challenges. Identifying key competitors here can help quite a bit.
Pay Cycle – You shouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck, but knowing the cycle makes sense if your rolling from a weekly to a monthly you may need to move some things around to handle the change in cash flow.
Salary Base and it’s growth – can it grow? Is there an org chart with clear steps to moving up and getting bumps in pay? Does everyone get 1% raises and stagnate till they leave? A company that hasn’t given raises in 5 years has given everyone a pay cut.
OTE Bonus. Cash value or is it a multiplier based on base pay? Tied to metrics or your boss and directors random fancy? (This isn’t that bad, but you need to know who decides it). While there is an “On Target Earnings” nothing stops you from getting over 100%. The biggest way to see how real this is is to check with GlassDoor and existing employees who’ve been there 4-5 years. Sometimes a bonus is real; sometimes they are “Virtual”. For bonus how often is it paid out, and will they pro-rate a partial bonus for a new employee joining mid-cycle? I once had a co-worker leave for a job that he thought made 10% more but he forgot to ask about if they had a bonus. At the end of the year, he learned they didn’t have them (or raises) and discovered he didn’t make more money.
Insurance – PPO/HSA/HMO/EPO/POS all have different issues. What’s in network vs. out of network? Also Dental and Insurance. What about medications? Eyecare health insurance is a scam/pre-payment program. Use EyebuyDirrect or some online place to buy glasses, or max our HSA and get LASIK if you can. Reddit has a good thread explaining the difference here and how to compare.
School, College, Certifications, Classes. – Do they pay for certification tests, if so how many attempts? The key one to test the seriousness of this is to ask others in the department what they have spent in the past year.
Conferences – Tacking onto certifications do they pay for VMworld? Do they cover travel and hotels? Are you banned from events in Vegas even if they are a lower cost than San Francisco? (not uncommon in SLED).
Sabbatical In our company you can apply for 3-month transfers to wildly different jobs to learn about how that role functions? You can do a 1-week education track (take education in something unrelated).
Stock and Investment Compensation
RSU (Restricted Stock Units)’s – If you keep getting these every year on a standard 2-5 (Depends on company and grant window) year vestment schedule, you eventually end up with a rather nice kicker. This also is nice if your stock doubles within a given year (Well except for capital gains). The longer you stay, the stickier these become, and the more a company likes you, the more they will give you to “handcuff” you to the company. The more a company wants you to stay the more you get these. A decent 6 figure pile of this is nice and can be used in leverage with a company who wants to poach on you why they better give you a bigger base (or a bigger pile of them!).
Stock Options – Inversely if you work for a startup, you might get stock options. These are a LONG shot gambling game (like 2% pay off), but I know some guys who their stock is trading in the 30’s and their options were in the $2 range so assuming they make it to lockout I expect to get a call to hang out on their yacht. Personally, there are so many options to screw the employee like clawbacks/ratchet clauses I don’t put much faith in these. https://tldroptions.io
ESPP – Buy stock at a discount (See above comments). Note these are bought at a 10-15% discount based on the beginning or ending window (Whichever is lower) so its a game of heads I win, tails you lose against the market and can pay pretty well (or just be a nice couple grand of cash). I’ve had windows where I made 15%, sometimes I’ve made 115%. These are structured where you make money no matter once but read the fine print.
ESOP – The weird retirement type cousin of ESPP. I hear these are more common overseas.
Flexibility in work
Paternity leave – Some places do partial pay, some to maternal OR paternal, and some do maternal only AFTER you burn out your PTO. Note maternity, paternity, and adoption leave may have different rules. I’ve got a family member whose company policy is six months. Wife is a pediatrician at a children’s hospital. She gets Zero. This is all over the place in the US.
Vacation – My first job I had zero vacation for the first year. Note some companies this is more negotiable than salary; sometimes it’s less. Are Sick days different? Do you need a doctor note? Are there back out times for vacation (VMworld I’m pretty sure is a non-starter in my current role). Do they make you take a vacation for conferences (Yes I’ve seen this a lot sadly…)
Flex Time/Overtime pay – Can you turn overtime into time off? If you come in early can you leave early? Do you get paid for overtime (even if your an exempt employee some places will still pay if approved)? Does the company miscategorize helpdesk as exempt or other questionable legal practices?
Commute Costs – Company Car, parking pass, bus pass, toll pass? What’s the non-reimbursed depreciation? What is the $ per mile they allow for trips to the datacenter? Do you get a car allowance (EMEA this is more common)?
Work from home/anywhere Can I just leave town on Wed/Thursday and go to a beach house to finish working out the week? There are HUGE costs savings to working from home, but do pay attention if you need to supply your desk, chairs, monitors, etc.
Do they let you do your booking, do they require a corporate credit card (no points can be brutal, to the point of $20-30K easily for some people in compensation) Can you expense travel lounges on long flights. Can you expense more than $15 for lunch with a customer? Using Lift instead of downtown and airport parking has cut my mileage to non-existent for my car.
Travel Points and status – Traveling for work a lot adds up. Note this is a NON-taxable (Weird exclusion). So when traveling, I can get hotel points and airline points. With Southwest, I have a companion pass (My wife flies free with me), and with Marriot, I get free cocktails and appetizers in the afternoon and breakfast in the morning in the executive lounge. I get free upgrades with Marriot when traveling so that $150 small room can turn into a 40th-floor suite sometimes. Travel Policy – Do they make you fly 18 hours, five hops to save $100?
Do they put you in first class if the flight is over 4 hours?
Do you stay in the Motel 8 and have to share a room (or PAY for your spouse’s 1/2 of the room if they happen to travel with you!). Do they make you fly in the morning you are presenting when it’s 12 times zones away, or do they put you up in the hotel for the weekend to adjust to the time zone, and be a tourist for the weekend?
Team Offsite, outings, parties, etc. – Got a team offsite and can you expense going snowmobiling or something cool? Beer bash for finishing release? If you are on campus are there free movie nights and other things. Does the boss cover happy hour on Friday?
401K – What’s the match? Is it partial? Does it take a while to get vested? What can you invest in? Are the default options all garbage or can you keep fees low and put money into low fee index?
401A – Like a 401K match but you don’t have to put money in, they just put x% of your salary. Common in Education and non-profits. 457(b) – Can withdraw from it without early penalty if you no longer work for the said employer. This one carries risks if the employer goes insolvent. 403B – A lower overhead 401K plan with no match. Common in Education and non-profits.
Pension – These do exist in a few places still in the US. More common overseas.
Equipment allowance. My wife spends money on books of stethoscopes. Some people can expense screens, laptops, mice. We have vending machines for phone chargers, mice, etc. around our offices.
Telecom – Will they cover your cell phone or data plan? Did they buy you a pager to get out of paying your cell phone bill (I had one of these in 2008)?
Gym reimbursement – Do they pay for Gym memberships.
Look, I’m not an ex-recruiter (But I’m friends with some). I did run across this video for an ex-tech company recruiter talking about how to deal with some common situations.