Interview: Rod Trent
This is the first interview I am publishing with the man behind myITforum Rod Trent. I hope to have many more to come.
Today we interviewed the owner of myITforum and systems management guru Rod Trent on life, MMS and all things systems centre.
MC: So Rod Trent of myITforum, first of all thanks for taking time for this interview. Tell us a little about yourself.
RT: Thank you, Martyn, for this opportunity and I appreciate you reaching out to me in this way!
OK…so about me. I’m a father or four children, ranging from 3 years old to 21 years old and my wife and I, Megan, just recently celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary. Hopefully, that doesn’t give away my age too much! I am a faithful, church-going Christian, an avid gadget fan, a long-time evangelist of System Center products, and a part-time missionary to the Chinese people.
MC: We are all excited about the launch of Systems Center 2012, slightly random question but if you were a Systems Center product, which one would this be and why?
RT: This may or may not be an obvious answer to some. Most would say I’d prefer ConfigMgr because that has been my greatest love for so long, but truthfully, based on what it can do and the value it provides (among other things) – I’d be System Center Orchestrator. Even though Microsoft is touting and marketing System Center as a single suite of products now, it’s really Orchestrator that will be the glue that binds them all together. As a Community person, that fits my personality to a “T”, i.e., being able to in fuse together different parts, personalities, and visions into a cohesive and seamless product.
MC: What was the inspiration behind starting myITforum?
RT: Hehe…I’ve lived long enough to understand a few things – and I emphasize “a few”. But, one thing that continually rings true is that, as long as your goal is to help people, the best things in life are unintentional.
Way back in the SMS 1.x days, the product was barely supported by Microsoft itself. So a grass-roots, community for SMS 1.x was started on an old, BackOffice support site called, Swynk.com. I ran the SMS section of the web site. I posted articles and tips for SMS since I worked with it daily in my job in a top Accounting Firm. SMS 1.x actually saved our lives at work, giving us the ability to manage desktops with only a handful of support people. So, I simply started sharing my knowledge online. After a few months of success, I was offered a section manager job that paid something like $15 per month and a free technology book.
Traffic and popularity continued to increase, and the community grew larger and larger. Then, at the SMS and Windows 2000 conference (what MMS was called prior to being the Microsoft Management Summit) I was told that Swynk.com was going to be sold to Internet.com. This created a huge issue, as the community cried out with the knowledge that it could, potentially, be broken up.
So, with a little ingenuity and a great set of industry contacts, myITforum.com was born. The community was offline for maybe, 2 months, and then we unveiled myITforum.com 1.0. myITforum.com has gone through numerous changes over the years, but the basic premise has remained. We just help people – and give folks a central location for support.
There’s much, much more to it than that, but that’s the basics. And, the basics work. myITforum.com now receives a little over 130,000 visitors a day, all looking for help and all looking to learn how to manage their environments.
MC: Most of us know about MMS and how great it is but what do you think is the highlight of MMS this year, and why do people keep going back in their thousands?
RT: Oh…that’s a loaded question. There’s just soooo much that will be presented and announced this year, it’s hard to pinpoint even just a couple things. There’s so much coming at MMS 2012 that no one is even privy to yet. It’s going to be a great event, with LOTS of interesting angles and turns. I really feel bad for those that are not able to attend this year. However, it’s probably valuable to mention that Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of the Management and Security Division (MSD) at Microsoft, will be speaking in a post-MMS SCCM Guru Event to cover all the MMS 2012-only announcements. So those that were not able to attend MMS 2012 will still be able to share in a bit of the goodness.
Still, if I had to pick a single, personal highlight to expect at MMS 2012, it would be learning about System Center Suite 2012 as a set of products instead of single products working separately. Microsoft’s direction and roadmap is solid and I think it will be most interesting to hear the ‘softies attempt to share the vision so that every attendee “gets it”.
So, what keeps people coming back to MMS? It’s clearly the community aspect. MMS is like no other conference when it comes to deep and loyal community. Some don’t realize, but MMS was actually a myITforum event in the early years, so we were able to put a defined community stamp on it, based on the successes and knowledge obtained from myITforum. This has transferred year after year and we’ve always had some part in making sure the conference stayed true to its roots. This year our part is significantly greater than even previous years, so look for some really great, new ways to network and enjoy a, sometimes, mundane technical event.
MC: You’re a very experienced guy when it comes to IT but to date what is your most treasured memory that will stay with you?
RT: From an IT perspective, I’ve had a considerable number of highlights and memories over the years. Of course, its IT, so there are always highs and lows. But, if I had to pick out a single, treasured memory it would be the day I happened upon SMS 1.x and started using it. For me, that was the “aha” moment when I really understood and envisioned a managed world. It was that moment when I wanted to do nothing else but evangelize systems management. I had a God-given aptitude for technology already, but this was it. I dug in, became an expert, and started sharing – not even knowing, or considering, that I was on a trek to understand real community. It all goes back to that one point in time. Incidentally, I still have that original SMS 1.x box (with manuals and media) sitting in my office.
MC: If you could change one thing in the IT world what would that be?
RT: What I would change about IT…hmmm…
I think one of the biggest detriments to IT is the product development cycle. We don’t generally think of dev people as our adversary, but truth told, as long as they keep developing new features, new apps, and new functionality, IT will always have to keep deploying new projects, and at the same time keep supporting the products already in place. Of course, this also has a recurring cost associated with it for the business. It’s a never ending cycle. I realize we’ll never get to a product endpoint, but it sure would be nice if there was a lull every once in a while.
MC: As you know I’m a bit of a CM guy, what do you think has been the biggest improvement in CM from 2007 to 2012?
RT: A lot of people look at the new hierarchy and infrastructure (less hardware) as a key component or key improvement. Some are decidedly in favour of the new end-user self-service features to save the Admin a bunch of time. Still others are just happy to see full-featured Remote Control back in the product, though many have grown accustomed to not using it. And, those features are nothing to dismiss. But, I think the real value in what CM2012 offers is the ability to manage users as devices, instead of targeting a single PC instance as we’ve seen in previous versions of CM and SMS. For the end-user to have the same experience across all computing devices and environments they choose to utilize is huge, and CM2012 delivers that.
MC: Staying with CM, do you think Microsoft have missed anything with the latest release?
RT: Personally, I believe all the pieces are there. I’ve listened to the community buzz around CM2012 and the general consensus is positive. As with any major change in a product like this, though — no matter how many early adopters, or TAP customers, or beta testers that have had their hands deep into the guts of it – the first couple months out of the gate will tell the tale. We’ll hear right away about features lacking or missing, or not being as full featured as many would like.
If I had to pinpoint a single thing I believe may be lacking, though, it would be the mobile device support. Microsoft provides this through the Exchange Activesync component which means, if companies want a full-featured solution, they’ll still need to research a 3rd party add-on. And, with the news this week that the best of them, Odyssey Software, has been acquired (and eventually consumed) by Symantec is bad news. There are others in the market, but for tight CM integration, Odyssey did a great job and there are many in IT who have never viewed Symantec with amorous eyes.
MC: Something else we all want to know about myITforum, on the swag store you sell a myITforum “classic thong”, please tell me that nobody has purchased one?
RT: Ah, the old myITforum thong story! This stems from a thread on the myITforum Off-topic list that seeped into MMS 2002. To help keep our technical email discussion lists on-topic, we created an Off-topic list specifically for goofing off. During a conversation on the list, a fellow named Chuck Young made statements that he regularly wore thong underwear. The conversation digressed, of course. However, each year at MMS we would have myITforum community awards at the myITforum party based on memorable things that happened in the community during the year. At MMS 2002, Chuck won the “thongman” award and was awarded his own thong, which he promptly wore on his head during the party. In memory of the event and the thread, we rolled out our own myITforum thong in our SWAG store.
MC: Finally, thanks again for taking the time out to take part in this interview, the last question though, could you sneak us in on any new releases of myITforum in the future? Do you have any new exciting features coming?
RT: As you know, we recently rolled out myITforum 3.0. It’s funny. Our original vision for myITforum.com was hampered by the technology of the time. Our goal, technology-wise, was to serve the community online and offline, utilizing features and functions that would allow the membership to share, store, friend (pre-Facebook, I might add), like, vote, etc., etc. Our vision was a lot of what you see today in the various venues like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. But, it was technology, or the lack of technology ability, that kept us from achieving that originally.
As the Internet has grown, and has become adopted as the standard location for everything, the technology behind it has also greatly improved. It has now improved to the point where we can finally piece together and finalize our vision. We are still working in the background on new features and functions that we’ll be adding over the coming months. Right now, there are probably 10-15 different things on the cooker.
As to what exactly is coming and when, it’s tough to say what the final additions will ultimately look like. One thing I can say is that there are pieces of myITforum coming that are not available anywhere. There is nothing like them. Just like Microsoft is pulling together a suite of products, we’re also developing a single pane of glass for support and community. So, basically, you’ll be able to utilize a single tool (on myITforum) to get the best support information, provided by the community, on a single page that you can save, share, and interact with. Instead of spending hours on Google just to find, maybe, five potential solutions across 50 search result pages, one search on myITforum will find everything you need – and more. You’ll even find those things you didn’t think you needed but are actually critically important to complete the picture.
Also, in the very near future, you will start to hear rumours about myITforum-led events and deeper User Group support services.
Martyn…thanks again for reaching out! I really appreciate it! Just digging into your questions was very therapeutic as it gave me time to take a break and answer thoughtfully. Many thanks!