Careers: Interviews
World-renowned, Esteemed International Authority on Information Technology...

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Rand Morimoto, President of Convergent Computing, a 17-year old, 65-person information technology (IT) consulting firm headquartered in Oakland, California.

 

Rand has been in the IT industry for more than 25 years. As a Premier-level member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), Rand is world renowned for public speaking and authoring books on networking and communication technologies. Translated to over eight languages and sold in 21 countries around the world, Rand is a top-selling author for SAMS Publishing and Osborne McGraw on information technologies. In the past year, Rand has traveled to over 17 countries and spoken at more than 70 conferences and conventions on topics ranging from electronic commerce, network security, electronic messaging, mergers and acquisitions, and the future of the Internet. In addition, Rand is the host of Windows Resource Guide, a weekly column on the InformIT Website.

 

Due to his unique standing as a global expert, Rand is also a special advisor to the White House on cyber-security and cyber-terrorism. Moreover, he is a Ph.D. Candidate in organization and management.

 

His book credits include the topics of Windows 2003, Security, Exchange Server, Biztalk Server, Remote and Mobile Computing. Garnering substantial attention, and amongst his most recent book credits is, “Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, Unleashed.”

 

Discussion:

 

Q: Rand, with your global standing as a foremost expert in information technology, we are fortunate to have you do this interview—thank you!

 

A: Thank you Stephen; it’s a pleasure to participate in this interview.

 

Q: You have a most formidable and impressive background. Please detail how you got into computing and your journey to your present position. Share your top five valuable lessons.

 

A: I started in the computer industry in the mid-70s when I helped sweep floors and clear out punch card machines, got to know the computer equipment as well as the day-to-day operators, and started doing programming and systems maintenance. When Apple Computer came out with their first Apple computer, my mother bought me my first personal computer. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked into the industry.

 

The top five valuable lessons I’ve learned in this industry:

 

1) Don’t ever think you know everything. Technology changes too quickly to get complacent, so learn, learn, learn.

 

2) Computers can be your best friend and your worst enemy, sometimes both at the same time.

 

3) It’s not what the computer can do from a technology standpoint that is most valuable, it’s what you can make the computer do “for you” that brings out the real value of computer technology.

 

4) If you replace your computer (and reinstall all your software) every few months, the likelihood of a computer crash is greatly minimized.

 

5) Garbage in; garbage out.

 

Q: How did you get involved with the National Speakers Association? For those in our audience who also want to get into speaking, how does one go about becoming a speaker, and what tips can you pass on for effective speaking?

 

A: I’ve been doing public speaking on computer technology for over a dozen years. It was at one speaking event that a publisher saw me speak and asked me to write a book. A dozen and a half books later, I’m still writing; and because I write, the conference companies want me to speak at their events. I joined NSA to broaden my reach of speaking beyond just technology conferences, but to other venues as well.

 

For someone who wants to become a speaker, it’s all a matter of being good at public speaking (ie: comfortable in front of an audience with a topic that interests the audience), and connections with someone who can give you a break to speak at an event. The more you know and the better you can speak, the better chance you’ll be able to convince someone it’s worthwhile for them to add you in as a speaker to their event.

 

Q: You travel a considerable amount going to almost 20 countries in the past year alone. Share some valuable experiences from your travels.

 

A: Public speaking around the world is somewhat of a perk of the job, and also part of that vicious circle/cycle. I speak around the world; publishers want me to write for them because I’m a world renowned public speaker. As I write more books, worldwide conferences invite me to speak. Part of the arrangement I have with the speaking organizations is if they want me to speak, they have to pay for the travel of my whole family (wife and 2 kids). So our 3-yr old and 5-yr old travel around the globe a dozen or two times a year. Our 3-yr old was the youngest United Airlines 100,000-mile (“1k”) traveler attaining that level at 10-months old. Our 5-yr old will hit the million-mile mark by the time she’s in 3rd grade. What’s not to love about traveling if you like to have crepes in Paris one day, and Chinese food in Hong Kong the next.

 

Q: Give us your top predictions or tips in each of the following areas: electronic commerce, network security, electronic messaging, and the Internet.

 

A: Electronic Commerce:

 

1) All the benefits of the dotCom boom are now happening. Wait until the holiday sales reports come out, people are going to be shocked to see that online retailing is now a MAJOR part of consumer spending. Watch out Walmart!

 

2) Concerns for online privacy and security is going to make e-commerce more difficult in the near future.

 

3) Sales tax will start being common on e-commerce transactions making online purchases not as attractive as it has been.

 

4) “Shipping and handling” will become a big issue as consumers are going to realize they’re paying a huge chunk of money in this misc. expense making many online consumers to rethink whether they’re really saving money.

 

Network Security:

 

1) It’s the #1 thing people talk about, and the last thing organizations spend money on. Kind of like insurance, you only worry about it when you get in an accident.

 

2) We’re only scratching the surface on cyber-crime.

 

3) Remember Max Headroom and the whole concern about cyber information? Online privacy, identity theft, information security, etc. will create a whole series of laws that lawmakers will enact (without really knowing what they’re doing) that’ll slow down the advancement of online technology. It’ll get ugly before it gets better.

 

4) You think weapons of mass destruction is a nightmare, wait until cyber-crime crosses international boundaries when we’ll try to prosecute someone in another country stepping on a lot of political toes along the way.

 

Electronic Messaging:

 

1) Spam will get the better of us in making electronic messaging a functional tool like it was before spam was prevalent.

 

2) E-mail will always be email no matter how much organizations will try to make it into a chat / discussion folder / contact mgmt / etc. type environment. Vendors will get back to the basics that email is email, and that the “other stuff” will be other stuff.

 

The future of the Internet:

 

1) It’ll be a pull and tug on the privatization of the Internet by the big onramp companies (like SBC, ATT, Comcast, etc.) where they’ll have so many customers, they’ll try to throw their weight around as “leaders” of the operation of the Internet against the purists that believe the Internet should remain free and open.

 

2) Wireless communications will make the Internet even more accessible to more people.

 

3) Trying to do too much over the Internet (ie: voice over Internet, TV/Video over the Internet) will create a huge bandwidth problem.

 

4) IP v4 still has the limitation on the # of IP addresses available. Although not as big of a concern as it was a couple years ago when it was predicted we’d be out of IP Addresses by now (thanks to the dotCom bust that cleared up a few extra address spaces), but it’s still limited.

 

Q: As President of Convergent Computing, describe your company’s vision, mission, strategies, values, and goals.

 

A: Convergent Computing has been around for 18-yrs and our expectation is that we’ll be around 18-yrs from now. Our current value to our clients is our ability to be involved in technologies 2-3 years before they are released to the public in very early beta programs with vendors like Microsoft so that we can help organizations plan 12-18 months before product release so they can be skilled and start their implementation when the product releases. It’s the only way large organizations can “keep up” is to be ahead of the game, and our team of industry experts (27 of my 65 consultants are published authors, technical writers, and contributing writers to major technology books) provide organizations the expertise to keep them ahead of the game.

 

Our long-term strategy has always been to be 2-3 steps ahead of the competition, work smart, work hard, and show and provide value.

 

Q: Where do you see yourself and your company in five years and how will you get there?

 

A: The technology industry is reaching maturity; it’s no longer a hobbyist industry where you can have kids running the IT operation of the business. Organizations depend on IT and the business of technology will be the lifeblood of an organization. They either make it or break it based on their skill at running a successful IT operation. Over the next 5 years, Convergent Computing will help our clients build (or strengthen) their IT operations to not only be data centers, but reliable, dependable, predictable centers of business excellence that the CEO and everyone in the organization can truly rely on.

 

Q: You have a reputation for excellence. What ten attributes makes for effective leadership?

 

A: 1) Lead by example.

 

2) Work hard by giving 150% effort.

 

3) Have knowledge by learning and using what we learn.

 

4) Have smart and hard working people around you.

 

5) There’s no such thing as “it can’t be done”, with the right about of time, effort, and money, anything can be done.

 

6) The day ends when the job is done, even if that’s several hours or days later.

 

7) Solve the problem first, make the customer happy; we’ll worry about getting paid for the work later.

 

8) Be appreciative we are asked to work hard for our money, the alternative is called unemployment.

 

9) If you’re the best in the world, and you can solve problems no one else can, there’s very little debate over billable rate or value of the services you provide.

 

10) Work smart, and know when to ask for help. A person that spends 10-hours to do 1-hour of work is wasting time and money. Knowledge sharing among experts is valued by everyone involved.

 

Q: You host a weekly column, Windows Resource Guide. How did you get involved with InformIT and provide some tips from your column?

 

A: InformIT (http://windows.informit.com) is associated with my publisher, Sams Publishing. They had an opening for the host of the Windows section of their site and asked if I would do it. It’s a whole lot of work, but the goal was to provide value to people visiting the site. Many times our clients want a copy of a whitepaper we wrote months ago and we spend hours digging up information and emailing the stuff to our clients. Now we just post that stuff up on the site, and our customers can visit the site, search the site, and find tips, tricks, best practice information that we come up with. The site is paid for by people buying our books, so it’s our hope those to get value from the site will buy a book or two to pay the bills.

 

Q: Detail your Ph.D. studies.

 

A: I’ve always believed that knowledge was the foundation of everyone’s success. I did my MBA 10-years ago and felt the academic side of my brain was getting mush, so I started to seek out Ph.D. programs. I found one with Capella University (http://www.capella.edu), an online university where I was able to take classes at night and on weekends around my day job. The program usually suggests 2-3 classes a quarter, but I’m never one to do things the slow method (plus I get bored quickly), so I took 4-5 classes each quarter (16-18 units), which is a full time student load. Figured up my coursework in 18-months, completed my Comprehensives (which ended up being a 150-page research study), and I’m working on my final dissertation. I submitted the first 3 chapters of the 5 chapter Ph.D. thesis, so I see light at the end of the tunnel.

 

My studies are in Organization and Management, which tie in nicely to my role as President / CEO of my company.

 

Q: What processes led to this role as cyber-expert? Describe your work as a special advisor to the White House.

 

A: Every couple of years I speak at a big global conference where there’s some politician as the keynote speaker. One year, I spoke at the conference where Al Gore was the keynote. When we were waiting to speak, we chatted about this thing called Y2K (this was back in around 1997 when it was still not something on the top of everyone’s mind). Al asked if I would join President Clinton as one of the Y2K advisors for the country, I accepted. A few years later, I spoke at the same conference on security where Dick Cheney was the keynote, and in the ready room, I was talking about cyber-security and how I wrote a book on Internet security. A couple months later, 9/11 happened and I got a call from President Bush asking if I would be one of his advisors on cyber-security and cyber-terrorism. Didn’t take long for me to accept the invitation.

 

As an advisor on cyber-security to the President, I help translate technology talk into plain old English that the President can understand and make decisions on. I also help communicate to Congress what is and is not possible with technology so that some Senator doesn’t get some weird idea that the best way to stop email SPAM is to “shut off the Internet” (and there are members of Congress that really don’t understand technology, so trying to relay information in a manner they understand helps with public policy on difficult technology concerns).

 

Q: What attributes have led to your success?

 

A: My father’s motto and something he instilled in me was “Effort: Try your hardest at everything you do. Succeed or fail, you can never be disappointed if you did your best”. So I work hard, and try my best at what I do. Success comes, sometimes it doesn’t. But at least I gave it a shot, and more times than not, I succeed.

 

Q: You have many book credits. Which books are you most proud of, and share your top tips from each of them?

 

A: I am probably most proud of my first and the last books I’ve written. The first book because it was one heck of a challenge to finish the book. I’m not a good writer, I’m a technologist. In fact, it took me 3 times to finally pass English 1 in college. My 8th grade English teacher told me “Rand, leverage your knowledge of math and science, you’ll never succeed as a writer….” I remember that day vividly, and it was to prove her wrong that I worked my tail off to finish that first book. I signed and sent her a copy of the book when it was finished. Most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

 

And now, it’s the latest book that I’m most proud of. After writing a dozen and a half books, you kind of lose track of the ones in-between.

 

Q: Who should read your latest book on Exchange Server 2003? Why would our readers carefully study your book and what uniquely differentiates it from others in the market?

 

A: My latest book, Exchange Server 2003 Unleashed is targeted at any IT Professional that manages, administers, or supports the Microsoft Exchange e-mail system and the associated Outlook client desktop systems. The book is over 1000-pages long and covers the topic from soup to nuts. How to migrate from Exchange v5.5 or Exchange 2000 to Exchange 2003. How to automate the installation of the Outlook client software. Tips and tricks on how to improve the security of the messaging system. Daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance practices that should be performed on the Exchange system to keep it running in tip-top shape.

 

It’s unique in the marketplace because it is one of the first and only books on the topic right now. Most books on the subject won’t be out for another 3-4 months. This goes back to our working with the technology 2-3 years before it’s released. We’ve been helping organizations plan, migrate, implement, and support Exchange 2003 (codename Titanium) months before the product released. We’ve written this book based on those real world experiences. So it’s not a re-hash of information that Microsoft says you can or should do, but real world best practices on what we found actually works and doesn’t work to help organizations get an edge on their administration, management, upgrade, and support of the system.

 

Q: What future books and projects are you working on?

 

A: I’m working on several books due out in the next few months. A couple of our consultants are writing a book titled “SharePoint 2003 Unleashed” that covers the latest document management and portal product from Microsoft. I’m writing a book on other future products that I can’t talk about yet, so keep visiting the various book seller sites and look up my name. Usually a month before the book ships, it’ll show up on the various book seller sites.

 

Q: Please share your tips on migrating to Exchange Server 2003 from v5.5 and 2000.

 

A: There’s an easy way and a hard way to migration from Exchange v5.5 and 2000 to the new Exchange 2003. I have NO idea why anyone would do it the hard way other than they just don’t realize there is an easy way. Goes back to knowledge, if you know how to do something, you can do it in a fraction of the time. The key to migrating the easy way is to prepare the environment for the migration (which can all be tested in an isolated lab to ensure it works before doing it in production), add in an Exchange 2003 server to the existing Exchange 5.5 or 2000 organization, and simply drag/drop mailboxes from the old system to the new system. You can actually migrate mailboxes in the middle of the day ALL without user interruption. You can literally migrate an entire 500-person organization in a week or less without having to touch a single desktop. We’ve had 2000-person organizations migrate their entire organization over a weekend without any user interruption. I cover it all in the book, there’s no reason for a migration to take a long time as they frequently do.

 

Q: Comment on designing for mobility in Exchange Server 2003.

 

A: Mobility (ie: using your mobile phone or your PDA) as your e-mail client system is one of the new enhancements in Exchange 2003. Rather than having to be at your desk to get your emails, you can be walking around town and have your mobile phone dial in to the Internet and bring down your email messages, calendar appointment bookings, attachments, etc. real time. With the new Windows Mobile devices, the enhanced security, better access to attachments and other typical Microsoft Outlook functionality is all built-in to the mobile device systems. With Exchange 2003, you never have to be “away” from your email if you don’t want to be.

 

Q: What is most important about implementing mobile synchronization?

 

A: Mobile synchronization is the concept of having your mobile device always keep up to date with your network/office system. That way when you take your PDA with you, your secretary or assistant isn’t booking you for an appointment at the same time you’ve committed to meeting with someone with your disconnected device. Mobile synchronization ensures that when changes are made at your office, your mobile device reflects the change as well; and vice-versa that when you add in a change to your mobile device, the people back at your office see the changes. Mobile synchronization also makes sure that important emails get to you when you need them so you don’t have to stop, plug in your laptop to a phone, and “download” emails, but rather emails cover over a wireless network (either mobile phone network, or wireless LAN network) real time.

 

Q: How can you be most effective in securing an Exchange 2003 environment?

 

A: Security is one of the other things Microsoft built in to Exchange 2003. There’s no reason for emails to be insecure, both in their transmission as well as in their access. Encryption as well as information security is all built into Exchange 2003 and simply requires an upgrade to Exchange 2003 and enabling the functionality to get the confidence that communications are secure.

 

Q: Share your expertise on managing and maintaining Exchange 2003.

 

A: Exchange 2003 is the easiest Exchange messaging system to manage and maintain to date. Exchange 2000 was also a huge improvement over earlier versions of Exchange. An Exchange v5.5 administrator that spends 4-5 hours a week managing each Exchange v5.5 server today can spend 1/5th the time on their Exchange 2003 server. Database maintenance is semi-automated now, even tracking of lost messages or other daily administrative tasks now take a fraction of the time to do with Exchange 2003. Funny how you spend a little time upgrading to save a lot of time managing and administering.

 

Q: How do you get the most out of Outlook?

 

A: Exchange 2003 does not require users to change their Outlook client to continue to operate, so if an organization upgrades to Exchange 2003, existing Outlook 2000, Outlook XP, or even Outlook 97 continue to work uninterrupted. However, for organizations (or users) who want more functionality, an upgrade to Outlook 2003 is a definite improvement over previous versions of Outlook. Outlook 2003 has a number of functions to view multiple calendars at the same time, ability to setup rules and filters for spam or junkmail, ability to access email while traveling without the use of special VPN connections, etc. Outlook 2003 is night and day better than previous versions of Outlook.

 

Q: Describe the implementation of fault-tolerance and optimization technologies.

 

A: More and more these days, organizations are saying that Exchange messaging is their #1 mission critical application in their organization. Email must be reliable! Exchange 2003 has technologies to keep the email system running reliably 24x7x365. While most people think of clustering as the solution to get fault tolerance, there are actually cheaper ways to get just as reliable and sometimes even more dependable messaging and uptime. Exchange 2003 has the technology built-in; it’s really a matter of people understanding how to leverage the technology and make it work for them.

 

Q: Comment on implementing group policy management for Exchange clients.

 

A: While an organization may have a dozen email servers, they may have several thousand email users, so the biggest challenge is to manage the user client systems. There are several technologies built-in to Exchange 2003 that help administrators not only manage updates and patches on Outlook client systems, but also to even do away with the client software altogether. The new Outlook Web Access provides a web browser interface to Exchange email that looks like the full-blown Outlook email. By using the Outlook Web Access, many organizations no longer have users with “client software”, but just simple dumb terminals or browser systems to access their email.

 

Q: What additional tips can you share from your book?

 

A: There are over 30 chapters in the book focusing in on everything from server management, client software update and installation, fault tolerance, and administration. We cover tips, tricks, and best practices on the various topics in each chapter. Most of the best nuggets of information are in the highlight “tips” or “notes” that are spread throughout each chapter.

 

Q: Give your views on experience versus certification versus an academic degree.

 

A: An academic degree means a person is book smart on a topic. A vendor certification is the same thing on a technical topic. Most people used to say that they didn’t care whether someone had a degree or certification, that experience really counted, which is true, I’d rather have someone with experience than someone with just a degree or certificate. But as I tell the consultants that work for my company, it’s a combination of both the degree and certification ALONG with the experience that counts. If you really are knowledgeable and experienced, you should be able to walk right in to a testing center and pass the exams to get certified. If you can’t, then do you really know your stuff?

 

Experience many times just says you know what you know, and it’s the things that you don’t know you don’t know are the biggest problem. So experienced people go out and do it the way they’ve always done it before because that’s the way they know it. A textbook smart person might know 2-3 ways of doing something because they know the various textbook options. The best person is the one that knows there are 2-3 options, knows how to do them all, and picks the right option for the right scenario.

 

Q: What are the most compelling issues facing network administrators, system integrators, and developers today and in the future? How can they be resolved?

 

A: 1) Need more budget: get a better economy.

 

2) Need more time in the day to get work done: need to hire experts that know the shortcuts to do it smarter and better.

 

3) Expectations of users/mgmt are that the network can never go down: need to reset expectations that proper network maintenance and management REQUIRES periodic downtime to do preventative maintenance to minimize unscheduled downtime.

 

4) Old technologies are no longer being supported: time to upgrade.

 

5) Can’t upgrade to the new stuff before there’s no time in the day to do it: if you only upgraded, you can save a whole lot of time fixing something that is more prone to break.

 

Q: List the best resources for IT professionals.

 

A: 1) Microsoft’s TechNet http://www.microsoft.com/technet

 

2) http://windows.informit.com

 

3) http://www.google.com

 

Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?

 

A: Sony Vaio laptop with 1GB Ram and 80GB hard drive. I take it everywhere with me.

 

Q: If you had to do it all over again….?

 

A: I don’t look back nor do I waste time pondering “what could have been”. I figure out what I can do in the future, and I just do it. I can move forward faster than I can worry about how to fix the unfixable past.

 

Q: What drives you to do what you do?

 

A: I want to be successful at the things I do, and I want the people that work with me who care just as much as I do about things to also be successful. Everyone should be able to realize their dreams. There’s no ceiling, there’s no limits. Be the best you can be, and good things will follow.

 

Q: If you were doing this interview, what questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?

 

A: Q1: Why did you spend so much time doing this interview?

 

A1: I’m hoping that the information can be put together to provide great information and value to those who read it.

 

Q2: Where would you like to see this information published?

 

A2: I’m hoping the information provided from this interview can be crafted in a variety of different ways and published in a variety of different places. Not only people looking to buy books on Exchange, but even places where there’s a human interest on how to work hard and succeed, or in technology publications that stress the need for a mix of certifications/degrees/experience as a foundation of one’s success.

 

………

Final commentary: Rand, we enjoyed your many insights and thoughtful answers. Thank you again for your time, and consideration in doing this interview.

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